Conservation officer Mike Peters stands in an area on Vedder Mountain

Conservation officer Mike Peters stands in an area on Vedder Mountain

Vedder Mountain eyed for forest designation

The province plans to transform Vedder Mountain into an interpretive forest. Local residents welcome this as a solution to illegal dumping.

A plan is underway to transform most of Vedder Mountain into an interpretive forest site, which local residents welcome as the only viable, long-term solution to illegal dumping on the mountain. The province’s recreation management branch is holding the first open house next Wednesday night in Yarrow to tease out concerns about the project.

About 90 per cent of Vedder Mountain is crown land. Mike Peters, provincial recreation officer for the Chilliwack district, is working alongside the Vedder Mountain Trails Association to establish all of these “thousands and thousands of hectares” as an interpretive forest. This means that the area would become a designated provincial recreation site, which allows the government to apply for operational and capital funding to manage it.

“We have opportunities every year to apply for capital projects, to build new rec sites, and build trails, and do developments on the land. We can only do those when they’re in areas established under legislation,” says Peters.

This includes applying for funds to build a proper parking lot, install outhouses, improve and maintain the trail network, and post legal signs that explain the purpose of the trail. Provincial conservation officers and natural resources officers would have legal enforcement rights over the uses of the area.

“It gives the province some tools that we don’t have. We could bring in recreation regulation and apply that to the mountain to help control uses up there. And still not impacting industry and other natural resource operations that are going on up there,” says Peters.

The area would not be a “park,” but rather a “working forest,” says Peters. Logging operations would continue, people would still live on the mountain, species at risk would remain protected, and recreation would expand.

The area would encompass some of the common sites where people illegally dump waste, including an informal shooting range that is easy to identify through the thousands of leftover spent shells.

Right now, there is no department with a mandate to clean up household waste dumped on Crown land.

“There is nobody who is ultimately responsible,” says Peters.

The only recourse is enforcement by conservation officers, who work after the fact and rely on people to call in with information on polluters.

Another major concern is the discharging of firearms. Although currently legal on the mountain, the activity can pose a security risk to residents at the mountain base.

People also frequently hold parties on the land, which disturb local residents.

The Vedder Mountain interpretive forest would be only the second such site in the Lower Mainland. The other is the recently established Mission Interpretive Forest. The area is infamous for attracting a tremendous amount of burned cars, shootings, and waste dumping, to a much greater extent than on Vedder Mountain.

“We have a lot of problems over there. So this is one little step to try to give that back as a family place to play,” says Peters.

The main access point for the Vedder Mountain interpretive forest would be from the eastern Cultus Lake side, because that is the only public access forestry road.

Private land lies at the base of Vedder Mountain. On the West side, people need to pass on a private road before getting to crown land, where the interpretive forest would be. Because private land is closest to the main road, Majuba Hill, it receives the most illegal dumping. The interpretive forest would not extend to here, so the area would not directly receive its benefits.

Nevertheless, local landowners expect that the forest would discourage illegal dumping even on their land, because more people using the trails means more visibility on polluters.

Vedder Mountain signsA unique environment, Vedder Mountain is one of the best sites to grow trees in the lower mainl

and because of the soil type and elevation. An analysis by a biologist also uncovered unique species that flourish, and may exist, only on the mountain, such as the pacific giant salamander and the tall bugbane plant.

The VMTA has been working to get official recreational status for the extensive network of trails on Vedder Mountain since 2004.

“We did some digging, we found out that none of the trails that were there, even the Vedder Ridge hiking trail that has been there for eons, had no official designation, no legalized status,” says VMTA president and local veterinarian Dr. Mark A. Steinebach.

Once the province established the new position of recreation officer about six years ago, which Mike Peters holds, Steinebach and Peters came up with the interpretive forest plan. The two have been seriously pushing this plan forward for the last two years.

Peters has held talks with First Nations groups, industry, and recreational groups. He has also looked at how to ensure that wild habitats and species at risk remain protected.

He is now opening up the floor to the public to voice their concerns, and has locally distributed 2,000 flyers to advertise the open house, which will be on Wednesday, March 27, 7–9 p.m., at Yarrow Elementary School.

“Is there a red flag that we haven’t seen yet? Before we go to referrals, here’s what we’re planning, here’s where we’re at so far, here’s a generic management plan. What are the issues out there?” says Peters.

He will have maps and preliminary project plans on display, and hopes to see residents, city and regional district managers, and industry representatives at the meeting.

Peters hopes to have a public referral in the fall, after which he could begin to hash out the various procedural agreements with First Nations groups and other stakeholders.

“People are coming far and wide to use those trails,” says Steinebach. “If it’s not governed appropriately, and regulated appropriately, it will be destroyed.”