TimberWest widens off-road ban
People can no longer use dirt bikes, ATVs on popular logging roads and trails in Nanaimo Lake Road area
Much of the eastern Island, including most of the Nanaimo Lakes area, is now off-limits to dirt bikers and other off-road enthusiasts.
Forestry giant Timberwest banned unlicensed off-road vehicles last summer, but many riders are just now becoming aware of the rule.
Timberwest owns more than 322,000 hectares of land on Vancouver Island, including 33,000 hectares in the Nanaimo Lakes. The company banned off-road vehicles from operating on its campsites starting in 2001. Last year, it expanded it to include forested lands to address concerns about fires and liability from accidents. Exceptions can be made in some instances for groups with liability insurance.
But some riders are unhappy and blame the province for privatizing lands forest companies once held under forest licence tenures.
"I think it's completely unfair," said Shane Glover, 37. He found out about the ban at the Heather Campsite on Cowichan Lake on the Victoria Day weekend.
"It used to be provincial campsite there. Now that it's all privatized, they get to make their own rules."
In 2005, Rich Coleman, then provincial forest minister, transferred lands from tree farm licences to private forest companies, removing provincial control.
Glover sees this as an example of how that privatization further erodes public access to forests. He said a no-riding rule in campgrounds makes sense but extending that to logging roads and forests goes too far.
TimberWest says the policy protects them from loss and liability.
"We're private landowners and we want to keep track of who's on our lands," said Sue Hendell, TimberWest spokeswoman.
A manager at the Heather campsite told Canwest News Services that TimberWest got "scared" after a spate of fires last summer and the death of an impaired off-road operator at the campsite the year before.
Of 88 forest fires reported to the Parksville fire centre last summer, 50 in the Mount Benson-Nanaimo Lakes area were deliberately set. Forty were on TimberWest lands, and in some cases investigators found ATV tracks leading to the fires.
Motorized vehicles, including ATVs and dirt bikes, "can, under the right circumstances, start a fire," said Nanaimo fire chief Ron Lambert.
TimberWest says its new policy is fair.
"Where the group has appropriate liability insurance and meets some basic criteria, we're more than happy to entertain requests for access to some TimberWest lands," Hendell said.
Although Hendell said groups wanting to off-road on Timberwest land can apply to do so, a staff member at the Nanaimo office said no application process exists to access the lands.
Hendell clarified to say, "On a case-by-case basis we are open to entertaining requests for access."