There is a permanent ban on campfires in the Municipal Forest Reserve — obey it
I drove to the top of Mount Prevost this past sunny weekend. The place bustled with sightseers, mountain bikers, hikers, and motorcycle/ATV enthusiasts.
I took a spur logging road and drove through a grim clearcut — part of the 5,000-hectare Municipal Forest Reserve — until I reached a considerable collection of pickup trucks and young people drinking around a campfire.
“Want a beer?” one offered. “We don’t have coronavirus.”
There was a lot wrong with this picture, including the fact that people can have the virus without knowing it and that they should maintain a distance of two metres from each other.
The campfire also bothered me. The clearcut was littered with so-called surface fuels, wood waste left behind from logging that could help fuel a wildfire.
When I returned home, I did a google search for “campfires and municipal forest reserve” and found a link, https://bit.ly/3adc4Hf, to the municipal website stating:
“Campfires/Recreational Fire Pits: Under North Cowichan's Fire Protection Bylaw … campfires less than 24 inches in diameter are permitted anywhere in the Municipality as long as a fire ban is not in effect for the Coastal Fire Zone.”
That seemed so wrong — so I went to municipal forester Shaun Mason for clarification.
“Campfires are not permitted within the MFR,” he assured sixmountains.ca.
Mason noted that the public might not realize that the campfire ban in the Municipal Forest Reserve is covered under the Forest Use Bylaw. “I do agree that it is confusing to the general person looking to see if campfires are permitted. I will work with our Fire/Bylaw staff to see what we can do to make this clear to the public.”
Regarding my concerns at Mount Prevost, he said: “The gates are closed when the fire hazard increases in an effort to reduce this type of activity. We simply don’t have the resources to patrol the MFR on a consistent basis, especially given the situation we are all in now. Unfortunately, locking the gates likely won’t work either as people will either find a way around them and/or cut the locks/gates to gain access. We have already had initial discussions about permanently deactivating access to known high activity spots but in doing so restricts access for emergency vehicles should a situation arise. Even if we deactivate one area, it is very likely people will just move to another so it is a tough situation to manage.”
Domenico Iannidinardo, chief forester for Mosaic Forest Management, the largest private timber holder on Vancouver Island, described gate closures as “partially effective.”
Mosaic says gates can be necessary to protect the public during active harvesting, to reduce the fire risk, and to prevent damage to sensitive plant ecosystems and habitat.
For more information on how to access Mosaic forest lands, visit: mosaicforests.com/access.
As for the Municipal Forest Reserve, better signage might improve the situation.
I returned to Mount Prevost Road today, just where the pavement turns to gravel and starts uphill. There is, in fact, a “no campfires” sign, but it is one of seven signs of about the same size posted at that location.
I highly doubt anyone drives past and reads them all.
Maybe a larger sign on its own is the solution, potentially adding the words “report offenders” and a phone number — as one sees on Crown forest roads as a deterrent to poachers.
Says Mason: “Now that we are in fire season, I have already been working on updating the 2020 Fire Plan. Part of this is making the rounds and checking signage as we get closer to summer.”
There is much talk these days about ways to reduce the fire risk along the urban/forest interface. Adhering to the existing ban on campfires in the Six Mountains is a good start.
— Larry Pynn, March 23, 2020