This is the final instalment of a three-part series about sustainable use in the Comox Lake Watershed.
A goal of the Comox Valley Conservation Strategy Community Partnership is to enhance and protect public recreation values — but not at the expense of the health of the Comox Lake Watershed.
The partnership has compiled a proposal to develop a sustainable use recreation area for the watershed, more than half of which is privately owned. The group recognizes that forest companies are not obliged to provide public access to their land.
Watershed access has become more restrictive in recent years, which the partnership says is a concern to 11 user groups surveyed last year. It suggests designated areas would ensure access and minimize conflict between hunters, hikers, mountain bikers and other groups that can serve as the ‘eyes and ears’ of the area.
The growth of mountain biking in Cumberland illustrates the potential economic impact associated with improved access.
The United Riders of Cumberland have negotiated trail use permits and purchased insurance to host events and to conduct trail maintenance. The result is a network of world-class biking trails used for the Island Cup XC, the Dodge City Downhill and other elite-calibre races.
The group has also secured a land-use agreement with the Village and forest companies. The Memo of Understanding will help the club to further promote mountain biking in Cumberland — and to further build a destination tourism product.
UROC has twice met with majority owner TimberWest and with Hancock Timber Resource Group.
“It’s been positive in the sense that it’s allowed our group to understand the needs of the landowner,” UROC president Mike Manara said. “One of the things we are aware of is the importance of respecting the landowners and what their needs are…People need to remember they’re in a working forest. We’re grateful for the access we have.”
Some of the landowners’ concerns are legitimate, added Manara, who wants to ensure communication is effective and users are respectful of the land.
“We feel that we can help bridge the gap between the recreation groups and the landowners,” he said. “I think through continued meetings we’ll put together some draft proposals between the groups and slowly move it forward.”
Another user group is the Courtenay and District Fish and Game Protective Association, which has developed activities and hosted events that have attracted visitors from south of the border and from overseas.
The club speaks with TimberWest directly about matters such as access.
“At a club perspective we’re trying to talk to them about access agreements,” said association member Wayne White, who also belongs to the Tsolum River Restoration Society. “We’ve also offered them a wilderness watch program where members could keep an eye open for goings on.
“This initiative seemed like it met some of our needs and concerns around access, to both the lake itself and the watershed areas,” White added. “We’ve always thought recreation on the lake and around the lake is something that can be sustainable if it’s done in a proper way. There’s always concerns about it being a watershed but if it’s done in a manageable way, there shouldn’t be a conflict, those two uses. That’s part of it is to get that management into the area. Right now, there isn’t really management except for the company and its own rules that it wants to impose.”
While the Fish and Game board shares the same desire to recognize the watershed as a recreation area, it is unable to endorse certain details of the partnership’s proposal. For instance, the association sees no need to create a new body to run a watershed that it says is already governed by existing government structures.
“Our membership doesn’t think we should be enforcing different agencies, or creating another agency, to police that,” Fish and Game president Dale Frame said. “We already have the regional district, we have VIHA and everybody else.”
The association is not a governing agency that polices people. That job, says Frame, belongs to TimberWest.
“If TimberWest is doing business and the governments of today are going to allow them, they should be regulating them,” Frame said. “That includes cabin owners. If TimberWest is going to lease property to people with cabins on the lake, that’s their business.”
He feels groups and individuals — including DFO and BC Hydro — need to work together to enhance the resource.
“Regulating doesn’t fix it,” Frame said. “We want to introduce coho this year to the upper watershed. We want to move adults to the Willemar lakes, and start re-introducing those salmon stocks to the upper watershed to improve what’s going on in the lake.
“Instead of putting money into a new organization to police people and what they’re doing, let’s put some money into the watershed as far as enhancing and upgrading what we’re doing out there. Let’s get these restrictions back off so a little child can put a worm on a hook with a bobber and throw it in the lake and catch a trout. Right now he can’t put a worm on a hook because there’s a bait ban on the lake. We need to fix that before we start worrying about government bodies to run a watershed that’s already being done.”
To view the Proposal for a Comox Lake Watershed Sustainable Use Recreation Area and for more information about the CVCSCP, visit www.cvconservationstrategy.org.