Travelling on back roads can be hazardous for a number of reasons. It can also be hazardous if the traveler does not pay attention to any signage that he/she may come across along the way; especially stating that the area is closed to motorized access.
Those who miss seeing the signs, or willfully ignore them because they believe that no one is watching them have been getting a surprise. In either case, surveillance cameras placed in the protected area of Skull Mountain last fall show 17 offenders; 12 of whom were ticketed regardless if they intentionally broke the law or had simply overlooked the signs.
In an interview with this reporter, Kamloops Conservation Officer and Field Supervisor Steve Wasylik said, “This area is closed to vehicle traffic between September and December to protect sensitive mule-deer habitat. Deer gather there just before winter, and because the fires of 2003 have deforested much of the area, deer are more vulnerable to human pressure.”
When asked if actual hunting does not also disturb the animals he answered, “Hunters on foot do not upset them to the degree that vehicles do. Skull Mountain is a destination hunt, it attracts hunters who like to walk and are able to see deer easily as it is not densely forested. This is also the place where hunters come later in the season, because then they have a good chance to bag a four-point buck.”
Asked if the camera spy operation had been successful Wasylik noted, “Officers have not been effective at catching offenders; they are not able to be everywhere. Also, our vehicles are very visible. That is why the conservation service decided to go with this covert method – we seldom catch anyone twice.”
He says the cameras photographed 17 offending vehicles, among them two ATVs, but only 12 vehicles could be positively identified and the drivers ticketed.
Among those positively identified as being in the wrong place at the wrong time were a senior couple, long time residents in the area. They were at first mystified when a conservation officer visited them and explained that they had broken the law by driving on a road closed to motor vehicle traffic. After looking at the photo of their vehicle taken in the restricted area, they did remember that they had been there for a picnic five months earlier. The couple had misunderstood the meaning of the road closed signs; believing it meant the roads were not passable. They were unable to convince the officer that they had made a mistake due to their familiarity with the place, and were duly ticketed; having to pay a fine of $230. The couple, who do not wish to be identified, say this was the most expensive backwoods picnic they have ever had in the more than 50 years that they have enjoyed the backcountry; not for hunting, but to hike canoe and camp. Although they did ask that an exception be made due to their misinterpretation of the sign the officer told them, ”Sorry, no, we are all equal under the law.”
Due to the fact that the surveillance cameras seem to be working, it is likely they will continue to be used by the conservation service as they are an efficient and practical tool in prosecuting wildlife and related offences in the future.