British Columbia

Keremeos mayor wants province to stop campers who are leaving trash, human waste on riverbed

Mayor Manfred Bauer says seasonal farm workers and transients are camping on the dry riverbed of the Similkameen River, leaving behind “truckloads of garbage and human waste.”

Mayor of southern Interior community wants province to prohibit camping on active riverbeds throughout B.C.

Some of the trash left behind from people camping in the riverbed of the Similkameen River, which dries up during the summer months. (Village of Keremeos)

The mayor of the Village of Keremeos is calling on the province to ban camping on active riverbeds because seasonal farm workers and transients, camping on the dry riverbed of the nearby Similkameen River, are leaving behind "truckloads of garbage and human waste."

Mayor Manfred Bauer said many of the campers are transient workers who stay for a few days until they find work in one of the region's orchards.

He said sometimes there are up to 150 people camping on the riverbed at a time.

"There are no facilities they can use so … we literally take out truckloads of garbage and human waste at the end of September," Bauer said.

"What we don't get is being flushed down when the water rises in the spring."

Legality of camping on Crown land

In B.C., it is legal for people to camp on Crown land for up to 14 days.

Bauer said he wants the province to amend the Forest and Range Practices Act so that camping is prohibited on active riverbeds throughout B.C.

More of the trash left behind, by what the mayor of Keremeos calls "a mix of transients." He said there can sometimes be up to 150 people camping in the riverbed. (Village of Keremeos)

"This is not just a local problem, this happens throughout the Okanagan," he said.

Bauer said he has prepared a resolution for the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention this September to ask Steve Thomson, the minister of Natural Resource Operations,, to amend the legislation.

Risk to wildlife

The area around the Similkameen River is "extremely sensitive," Bauer said, adding that the river has about 17 different fish species, several of which are on the province's blue and red lists (meaning they are at risk or of special concern).

"[The river] has multiple side dams that are used for spawning and juvenile rearing for fish, so this is a very sensitive area and we want to make sure that this is protected," Bauer said.

Bauer said he has met with the province several times about the issue, and said that conservation officers do go into the area regularly.

"But of course the nature of the transient camp makes it very difficult to enforce the issue and follow up with fines, because a lot of the people who are camping there are from Quebec and from all over Canada, and some of them come actually from our friends to the south as well," he said.

Bauer said the orchards usually provide accommodation for seasonal workers, but there are also a number of provincial and private campgrounds in the region in which people could stay instead.

Greig Bethel, a spokesman with the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations said in a statement that the ministry's compliance and enforcement branch is aware of people camping on the riverbanks outside of Keremeos and Cawston. 

Bethel said that natural resource officers, or NROS, advise people they cannot occupy Crown land beyond 14 days, and officers have visited the site in Keremeos four times so far in 2016 to inspect for "open-fire use, unauthorized structures on Crown land and garbage that is considered an attractant to dangerous animals."

"According to staff, there is no logistically and manageable process to identify who has been on any particular site for 14 days. Any vehicles are parked well away from camping locations," the statement said.

"However, NROs are engaged in ongoing dialogue with Keremeos town council on this issue."

With files from CBC's Daybreak South

To hear the full interview listen to the audio labelled: Keremeos mayor wants province to stop campers leaving trash, human waste on active riverbed