An abandoned RV, wet clothes, and leaking car batteries have been littering the edge of the Copper River, where a steady flow of illegal dumping has caused concern for local conservation officers — until one group of residents decided to do something about it.
Six volunteers, including those from the Skeena River Lodge, Skeena Wilderness Adventures, the Terrace conservation office and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) hosted their first inaugural clean-up on Nov. 16.
According to the conservation office, the garbage was dumped last summer in a fairly secluded area around six months ago, three kilometres off the Copper River Forest Service Road.
Skeena River Lodge owner and fishing guide Jeroen Wohe has seen the severity of illegal dumping near the Copper River increase over the last few years.
“When it’s salmon season on the Skeena, a lot of people make fishing camps with tarps and other garbage. When the fishing season ends, they just leave it and they don’t clean it up, and that is a really big eyesore,” Wohe says.
“Every year, when you have rising water conditions in the spring, that garbage is basically going to flood towards the ocean. People use the resource, but then they take it for granted.”
When he reported the dumping site to conservation officers, he was told they were aware of the site but lacked the manpower to clean the area up themselves. That’s when he decided to partner with conservation officers and organize the first of what’s expected to be an annual cleanup of illegal dumping sites.
What volunteers found when they first pulled up was daunting, he says. Needles, mattresses, household garbage and Christmas decorations were some of the items that covered the ground next to an abandoned RV. Acid from several car batteries was slowly leaking into the river.
“It makes you sad. We live in the most beautiful part of the world, and the trees, the rivers, we take it for granted,” Wohe says. “But listen, there are people who are taking the time to clean it up. There are people that care about these resources.”
For around two hours, the volunteers collected enough garbage to fill a third of a dumpster bin, which was donated by Geier Waste for the cleanup. While they were able to clear a significant portion of the area, there was enough garbage there to fill several pick-up trucks, Wohe says.
The group is now approaching companies to find a way to remove the abandoned RV from the site as well.
Conservation officer Michael Gueze says the office has already given out a few fines to polluters recently and is exploring initiatives to better tackle illegal dumping. Fines can range from $115 to $575 depending on the severity, with the possibility of court charges as a next step, Geuze says.
“[Illegal dumping] can have a negative impact, like at the Copper River site. It’s right beside a river with salmon and steelhead,” he says.
A fisherman himself, Geuze says it was frustrating to see the garbage piled up at the site, but he appreciates the effort made by the volunteers to clean it up.
“It’s definitely much appreciated for them to volunteer their time, that was awesome,” Geuze says. “It’s also an area that I used to fish, so seeing that when I’m out, even on personal time, bugs me too.”
The location of the sites can vary constantly but through recent tips and information from the public, Geuze says officers were able to identify a few new dumping sites.
“We’re getting more public reports of dumping, which lets us know about spots we may not have known about before, or spots that are more active. Then we’re able to act on it,” he says. “The reports that come to us definitely help us out.”
If you witness any of these activities, call the Report all Poachers and Polluters hotline at 1-877-952-7277 (RAPP).