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Reserve message getting through

Aug 11 2012
Songhees law enforcement officer Trevor Absolon sends boaters away from Chatham Islands. 

Songhees law enforcement officer Trevor Absolon sends boaters away from Chatham Islands.

Photograph by: Lyle Stafford , timescolonist.com (August 2012)

The message is slowly sinking in that the Chatham Islands and part of Discovery Island are off-limits and, once trespassing stops, Songhees First Nation is likely to give some boaters permission to land, says Trevor Absolon, Songhees bylaw enforcement officer.

"When we re-open the islands to visitors, after we have documented a clear decline in the number of violations occurring on the islands, we will most likely be moving to an accessbypermit system," Absolon said.

"We will probably begin with the kayakers first because they tend to be individuals who have the least impact on the ecosystem and, by nature, also tend to be excellent custodians of the environment, lands and waterways that they travel through."

But, for now, the islands off Oak Bay, which are part of Songhees Reserve, remain closed to the public while the First Nation drives home the lesson that they are private property.

Boaters can use the part of Discovery Island that is a provincial park, which has campsites, picnic tables and washrooms.

Other adjacent islands, such as Griffin and Alpha, are not part of the reserve, but are part of the Oak Bay Islands Ecological Reserve, meaning provincial permission is required to land.

The ban on landing on Chatham and the reserve portion of Discovery were brought in because some boaters were ignoring "no trespassing" signs, setting fires and leaving garbage.

The crackdown is being enforced by Absolon in the Songhees Zodiac, backed by the RCMP Marine Unit. Its aim is to educate, not to provoke controversy, Absolon said. "If you went on to someone's yard in Uplands or Department of National Defence property and decided to have a picnic, it wouldn't work out really well," he said.

Following recent publicity about the closure, the number of trespassers has dropped and most of the feedback has been positive, Absolon said.

Part of the problem was that people did not realize the islands were private and more signs are now being erected, he said.

"We don't want to ugly-up the islands with 100 signs, but, at least on the key beaches, we do need to get more signs," Absolon said. A local businessman has offered to donate extra signs.

A boater who landed on Chatham last week said he understands why he was told to leave, even though he and his friends have cleaned up the island for the past five years.

"We are all surfers and all like the ocean lifestyle," said Scott Stanton. "If we are walking around the islands, everyone cleans up garbage," he said.

Stanton said he is passionate about First Nations culture and will respect Songhees wishes, but hopes, in time, to be allowed back on Chatham. "Chatham is truly one of my favourite spots in the world," he said.

jlavoie@timescolonist.com

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