The Cochrane Fish and Wildlife office has been assigned a second seasonal problem wildlife technician as the province continues to beef up its protection of public land.
Brendan Cox, public affairs officer for Alberta Justice and Solicitor General, says eight additional seasonal wildlife technicians officers are being placed in four regions of the province in addition to the 10 previously assigned. Cochrane already has one and a second will be joining the staff shortly.
"These addition officers are going to help officers focus more on public lands law enforcement because [the technicians] will be able to respond to some of the problem wildlife calls," he explains. "It's fair to say that it's an ongoing concern and we recognize it. That's why the government is trying to boost its efforts on public land."
Of major concern here is the Waiparous area which has already been subjected to serious public land abuses earlier this month. Fish and Wildlife issued a total of 21 tickets, largely off-highway vehicle (OHV) offenses, after the Johnson's Creek, a sensitive wetland area, was damaged. Several off-roaders had entered closed areas where signage was clearly visible, although officials found one sign had been removed and buried beneath rocks.
"The land has been rather seriously damaged in a few areas and that is a concern," says Cox.
Banff-Cochrane MLA Cam Westhead says most Albertans are law-biding but those breaking the rules on public land should face penalties
"When people are breaking the law and are putting our public lands at risk we want to make sure that they recognize that is something not supported by Albertans and we're.increasing enforcement action to make sure that message gets across."
Last year they introduced revamped fine system, similar to the issuing of speeding tickets, to simplify the process and try to free up time of enforcement officers.
"The previous system didn't seem all that effect because it was a prolong system that required court appearance. Those court appearances would tie up the time for the enforcement officers who would have to be in court justifying or tesitfying to those charges."
"They wanted to see a more effective mechanism put in place so that's what we did last year and I'm proud that it's having the effect we were hoping."
Between May and December 2016, provincial officers issued more than 6,800 charges and warnings for offences such as operating OHVs without insurance or registration, entering closed areas, fishing without a licence and cutting down trees. It's a collective effort that not only includes fish and wildlife officers, but conservation officers, park rangers and the police.
Westhead continues to stay in touch with Waiparous area residents to monitor the situation.
"It's early in the season, but there are a few people here and there are saying they don't want a repeat of last year or previous years when the enforcement wasn't as strong as it could have been."
Public lands abuses can be reported through the 24-hour Report A Poacher line at 1-800-642-3800.