Several emergency service crews have responded to multiple overdoses out on the Kennedy Lake watershed logging roads in Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations (TFN) territory, according to Ucluelet’s community paramedic unit chief Rachelle Cole.
Cole raised the issue during the Aug. 26 Alberni Clayoquot-Regional District (ACRD) board meeting.
“We are going out there for overdose calls and it’s wall-to-wall people living in their cars,” said Cole.
“There’s no social distancing and there is a lot of drugs; total destruction of the environment. I had heard how bad it was, but until you see it and until you experience I think anybody on this call would be shocked that this is happening in our backyard,” she said. Cole later confirmed there have been no fatalities to date.
Sgt. Steve Mancini of the Ucluelet RCMP said the Kennedy Lake watershed area is patrolled by the Ucluelet detachment, for the most part.
“Police presence has already increased in this area with check-stops being conducted at highway 4 and [Kennedy service roads]. Further presence is planned for the coming days in conjunction with Conservation Officers,” said Mancini via email to the Westerly.
Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations (TFN) Tribal Park administrator Saya Masso said they are working on a collaborative solution with BC Parks and the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations & Rural Development (FLNRORD) to better manage the Haa’uukmin (Kennedy) Tribal Park.
“We are keenly aware what is going on out there. Our guardians are keeping a record of cars going in. The highest number they tracked was 70 cars through the network of roads,” said Masso, adding that TFN guardians recently hauled 20 garbage bags out over a two-week period.
“Good management is needed. Everyone needs to grasp this. We’ve investigated enough to know that we want to gate the road so there is one entrance and it is managed,” said Masso.
A pile a garbage left behind at the Kennedy watershed.(Submitted photo)
Ucluelet mayor Mayco Noel said in addition to the area being part of FLNRORD jurisdiction, a parcel of private land within the Haa’uukmin Tribal Park belongs to Mosaic Forest Management.
“It’s going to be hard to come up with some steadfast solutions for this season, but it will be interesting to see what all the parties involved come up collectively in the fall and spring,” said Noel.
“We are definitely having more serious conversations than we’ve had in the past. The subject has some legs and some of the ministries are paying attention,” he said.
Kel Roberts is the director for Area C (Long Beach) of the ACRD.
“These people are also camping on Traditional Land of our First Nations People, who are concerned about COVID-19 exposure. I have attempted Contact either FLNRORD’s Enforcement Branch, but haven’t received a reply,” said Roberts.
Masso said Tribal Parks is just not resourced to deal with this. He has asked the tourism industry to step-up with support. Noel said he hopes the province will intervene with resources to help TFN Tribal Parks manage the Kennedy watershed.
“We need to navigate down this in a timely fashion to come up with a strategy. A lot of the locals and our First Nations community have a low tolerance for people disrespecting our backcountry,” said Noel.
Ucluelet’s mayor thinks it’s unfortunate the area might end up being gated.
“As much Indigenous communities and us as residents want to be able to have access to that backcountry when we feel we’d like to, the actions of these out-of-towners are really putting that into jeopardy. That’s a level of concern for everybody,” he said.
A 25-year-old Squamish man recently spent a couple of weeks camping out on Kennedy service roads in his ‘98 VW Eurovan pop-top.
“It’s a bummer,” said the man, who declined to give his name. “It doesn’t have to be like this. I think for a lot of people who are transient, it’s easy for them to not to think about a place if you’re not going to come back to it.”
He said he tries to have a positive impact on the people and places that he interacts with.
“When I come here, I feel kind of like a ghost,” said the Quest University graduate. “I go and buy food, support some local shops, but I just go to my spot on the forest service road out of town, come to the beach for a day, and leave.”
To dispose of garbage, he said he uses the visitor centre cans at the Junction and the cans at Long Beach because they are bigger.
In the Sept. 9 edition of the Westerly we will discuss Canadians right to access to backcountry forest service roads and camping on “Crown Land”.