Respect, safety for the West Country

With 40,000 people expected to ascend on the West Country for Victoria Day Long Weekend, local rangers are hoping they do so with respect and safety in mind.

With 40,000 people expected to ascend on the West Country for Victoria Day Long Weekend, local rangers are hoping they do so with respect and safety in mind.

Their concerns range from wildfires to environmental impact, littering and bad decisions made by those enjoying themselves.

“We’re welcoming many people to our backyard and … we hope that they use it with respect,” said Barry Shellian, a wildfire ranger and information officer for the Rocky Wildfire Management Area.

On Wednesday, Clearwater was upgraded to a high wildfire hazard rating, resulting from cured wild grass and high winds.

However, Shellian says if the forecasted wet weather swings through over the next few days, that rating could drop to low by Saturday.

There is one active fire, burning 0.1 hectares by the Brazeau Dam, but it is considered held.

On Wednesday, crews completed a prescribed 172-acre burn in Upper Clearwater, as part of a 400-hectare burn scheduled for the area.

There are no fire bans in place in Central Alberta and only three in the province, in Black Diamond, County of Paintearth and the Municipal District of Peace No. 135.

There are several fire advisories around Hwy 16 and north of Edmonton.

Still, it does not mean people can let up on their awareness regarding fires.

Last year, more than 100 campfires were found by volunteers still burning in the region after the May long weekend. Fires can also start as inadvertently as by a spark from an ATV or discarded cigarette.

To help combat this, wildlife partners — the Environment and Sustainable Resource Department and Clearwater County, among others — will be distributing rubber soaker bags as part of their Sasquatch program. These bags can be filled with water to help put out campfires, but are also multi-purpose as they are durable enough to tote supplies around or be used to wash off ATVs, instead of driving them through streams.

Shellian is hopeful people become educated about their surroundings before they head out, pointing to a new information page on the ESRD called Know B4 You Go.

“Folks can find out many of the conditions for the trails, what’s open, what might be closed out there,” he said. “We really want people using respect when they’re using the land.”

Respecting the environment is a major issue this weekend.

People burning objects like garbage that give off harmful fumes or leaving the wreckage of their campsites behind are a big problem every May long weekend. It is preferred that people take their refuse home with them. But for the weekend, ESRD has partnered with a number of industry agencies and will have garbage bins set up throughout the region to make disposal simple.

Shellian also wants people to be mindful of environmentally sensitive areas like streams and their embankments, and not to go quading in these areas.

Local rangers and volunteers will be out en masse to not just enforce regulations and bylaws, but to reward those who are being responsible.

The other big issue is the spike in injuries from quading and other activities during this time of year, and Shellian says it is important for people to remember to wear helmets and make smart decisions.

“That effects all of us as citizens when people have to respond to ATV accidents out there,” he said. “We want people to take care of themselves this weekend.”

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