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Fire risk prompts North Cowichan to close forest reserve to motorized public access

Effective Thursday, North Cowichan will close the gates and prohibit motorized public access to three areas within the Municipal Forest Reserve — Mount Prevost, Mount Sicker and Grace Road — until further notice.

“The recent and forecasted warm, dry weather has increased the risk of forest fires,” municipal forester Shaun Mason said in a statement posted on the North Cowichan website.

“As a result, we will be restricting public motorized vehicle access into the Municipal Forest Reserve to help mitigate the potential of forest fires.”

Forestry gates on Maple Mountain, Mount Tzouhalem, Mount Richards and Stoney Hill are closed year-round.

The forest reserve remains open for non-motorized recreation such as hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking.

“We encourage the public to continue visiting the MFR as recreational users are extra eyes and ears in the forest and are often the first to detect a wildfire which can provide quicker reporting for our emergency service crews to be able to respond to a wildfire,” Mason said.

Overnight camping and campfires are not permitted in the forest reserve at any time, but violations are widespread.

Evidence of illegal campfires can be found in every cutblock, yet fines are rare due to lack of enforcement in evenings and weekends.

On Wednesday, found one site on Mount Prevost where five illegal campfires had occurred. Pallets and other wood were piled up, ready to fuel the next fire.

To report a wildfire, call 1-800-663-5555 (*5555 from a cell phone) or 911.

Council approved tougher penalties for forest violations two years ago.

In August 2018 an arsonist is thought to have caused a 5.9-hectare wildfire on Maple Mountain. According to a North Cowichan forestry report, fighting the wildfire cost the municipality $122,314 and the BC Wildfire Service about $210,000.

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— Larry Pynn, June 7, 2023


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