As spring runoff continues, riparian areas around the Columbia River are slowly being covered by rising water but motorized vehicles like ATVs and dirt bikes may have already damaged some fish eggs and sensitive spawning habitat.
In the spring, large sand and gravel bars stretch out along many areas of the Columbia — such as near the mouth of Pass Creek and the Genelle Islands — making tempting places for riders to kick up a little dirt and have some fun.
But such areas, linking water to land, have a significant influence in directly and indirectly providing fish habitat. These areas are nurseries for fish eggs and motorized transportation doesn’t just destroy unhatched eggs, it also causes siltation and erosion.
“It’s a double whammy,” said Rod Zavaduk, president of the West Kootenay Fly Fishing Club and owner of Castlegar Sports Centre and Fly Shop. “It’s so sensitive — these areas contains eggs 12 months of the year because different fish spawn at different times.”
Despite educational outreach from naturalists, wildlife associations and conservation officers, the problem occurs every year and this year has been no different.
Signs, and even physical barriers at some access points along the river, are simply being ignored by some.
“I stopped two 14-year-old girls on a quad not too long ago,” said Ben Beetlestone, Conservation Officer for the Castlegar region. “In that instance, it was more about talking to them and educating them. They really didn’t know they were doing anything wrong.”
Beetlestone said fines have been issued in the area in the past and can be steep, but bringing to justice those who deliberately cause damage is difficult to prove and bring before the courts.
The economic impact of the Columbia River extends beyond the funds that come in from the Columbia River Treaty. Hotels, motels, restaurants, guides, sporting goods stores, rental agencies and more all benefit from having a world-class fishery.
Treading lightly near sensitive habitat is also the aim of many other local organizations because preventing damage is far less costly and time-consuming that trying to restore an area after the fact.
“As a trails society we are also experiencing significant damage to our trails from dirt bikes and would like to see it stop,” said Lawrence Redfern with Castlegar Friends of Parks and Trails, in an email. “We encourage dirt biking to take place in areas well suited to it, not our trails or spawning grounds, and not through sensitive habitat.”