Island Timberlands will be closing some of their gates for the May long weekend to manage the risk of fires due to recent warm, dry weather.
And the decision is not sitting well with Alberni Valley residents who have spent many years camping in the local backcountry.
Long-time camper and Port Alberni resident, Tim Sherwood, is upset with Island Timberlands’ gate closures as he will not be able to continue a traditional Elsie Lake camping trip this year.
“We’ve been camping out there for 40 years. We have a fishing derby out there every May long weekend. We have 40–50 people coming—family members from babies to a 79-year-old—and nobody knows if we’re going to be able to do it,” Sherwood said.
Sherwood was told by an Island Timberlands representative that over-night camping in certain areas is no longer permitted.
He was also told gates would be closed due to fire risk, vandalism and garbage dumping.
“As of right now we don’t really know what we’re going to do. Were trying to save the weekend with all these people and the tradition,” Sherwood said.
Not all Island Timberlands gates will be closed, said Makenzie Leine, manager of community and government relations with Island Timberlands. She suggested accessing the Island Timberlands blog to check specific closures and restrictions.
“All through the fire season we’ll monitor the weather conditions daily and then we’ll adjust access accordingly for fire risks,” Leine said. “I would suggest that if it is not clear from the blog postings to add a comment on the blog. We do check them regularly and respond.”
Island Timberlands does have access agreements in place for people to access Crown land through Island Timberlands property but even under those agreements, Leine said the company still has the ability to restrict access if there’s a safety concern or fire risks.
“We do allow public access for the purpose of day-use recreation or other approved uses and when it’s compatible with our forest management policies,” Leine said.
Environmental enthusiast and City of Port Alberni Councillor Chris Alemany agrees that restricting access to certain camping areas could help prevent a forest fire.
“It’s kind of a balancing act in a way because you want people to get out and enjoy the wilderness and the outdoors but when you’re dealing with fire risk I think in this case I’ll probably go along with Island Timberlands,” Alemany said.
“It’s a shame that they’ve taken those kinds of steps but I can understand where they’re coming from this time of year.”