Anyone caught driving off-road vehicles and snowmobiles in habitats deemed sensitive by the government will face hefty increased fines.
The Province said the move will better protect environmentally sensitive habitats and species at risk.
“Effective immediately, anyone operating an off-road vehicle in sensitive habitats, including all BC Parks and southern mountain caribou habitats, will face a $575 fine,” a government news release stated Tuesday.
Violation tickets may be issued under the Wildlife Act or the Park Act by police, conservation officers, natural resource officers or park rangers.
The new fine amount in some cases more than doubles the previous fine amounts of either $230 or $345 depending on the violation.
That amount did not reflect the effect of non-compliance to sensitive habitats and species in British Columbia, the government said. The fine excludes locations where the use of off-road vehicles and snowmobiles is permitted by regulation.
The move is attracting the attention of the local snowmobiling community, including Williams Lake professional snow bike rider and two-time X Games medalist, Brock Hoyer.
“I agree people who are negligible and shouldn’t be places should be fined that makes the rest of the snowmobile community look bad. As a whole we want the community to do its part to be legal and do as we’re supposed to so we can keep the remaining areas we have open.
“Buying Yanks Peak trail passes, registering our sleds, carrying our proper paper work, insurance, carrying our driver’s license, are all ways we can set a good example with the new rules and to abide by them.”
Court convictions for snowmobiling in southern mountain caribou habitats also may result in a fine up to $200,000 and six months imprisonment.
Caribou are considered a species at risk, and protecting caribou habitat ranges is crucial to the survival of the species. Controlled and limited access to sensitive habitats by off-road vehicles, such as snowmobiles, is the most effective way to protect these areas and wildlife from harmful recreation activities, the government said.
The Province said it has committed to a new long-term, comprehensive, science-based approach to protect and preserve caribou populations: the Provincial Caribou Recovery Program. The Province has put aside $27 million over three years to establish this program.
Williams Lake Powder Kings Snowmobile Club president Mark Snowball said it’s now, more than ever, important to work in compliance with government.
“This is part of the reason why it’s important to be able to show club membership, and how many riders you have riding in your area,” Snowball said. “If you’re not with a club how does the government know that we exist? When I took over the Powder Kings in 2013 we had 13 members. Last year we had 180 members that signed up and bought a trail pass.”
Hoyer, meanwhile, added he hopes the two sides can, at the end of the day, work together and wants his children to have the chance to be able to experience backcountry riding in the Cariboo region just as he did.
“For us to preserve that we have to abide by the rules and make sure we don’t bite the hand that feeds us,” he said.
“I want my family and my kids to be able to go up and ride these areas. There’s got to be a way we can meet in the middle and still have our riding areas.”
He said for the most part backcountry riders do their part to comply with closures and regulations as best they can via GPS tracking apps.
The government, meanwhile, said an important component of the caribou recovery program aims to reduce the effect of winter backcountry recreation (e.g., recreational snowmobiling), which has the potential to damage caribou habitat, increase access by predators and displace mountain caribou from their preferred early and late winter habitat.
The current year-round Quesnel Highlands closures in the mountains east of Williams Lake include the following areas:
• Ketcham Creek
• Two Sisters Mountain
• Hardscrabble Mountain East
• Eureka Peak Special Management Area (SMA) Goat Closure
• Eaglenest Mountain
• Sliding Mountain
• Mt. Patchett
• Turks Nose Mtn.
• Cariboo Mountain – Keithley Creek Mountain
• Grain Creek
• Quesnel Lake Junction• Blue Lead Creek North
• Blue Lead Creek West
• Blue Lead Creek East
• Hobson Lake
• Quart Mountain
• Warting Lake
• Spanish Creek
• Deception Creek
• Eureka Creek SMA Riding Area (snowmobiles allowed Dec. 1 to April 30)
• Eureka Peak SMA Riding Area (snowmobiles allowed Dec. 1 to April 30)
• Bill Miner – Watchman Mountain – Eureka
• Ishpa Mountain
• Eureka – Boss Mountain – Deception