Pemberton farmers are calling for more dialogue and education after a contentious meeting last week that pitted trail advocates against farmers over the use of dykes on Crown land.
For their part, farmers say that the increased population in Pemberton has led to more garbage and dogs along the dykes, which in turn pose a danger to their cattle. While only a small section of the dykes in the region fall on Crown land, they believe the use of the area for dyking and agriculture is well-established and takes precedence over public access.
They would prefer to see an alternate trail built in the riparian area along the Lillooet River with appropriate dog-fencing and signage.
Trail advocates believe that the public should be able to access the Crown land for commuting and recreational purposes, and have offered to create dog fencing along the dyke and put up signs to encourage people to pick up dog waste and garbage — something that farmers say will create problems for dyke maintenance, and for moving cattle between pastures.
Farmers have made an application to the Ministry of Agriculture to establish grazing rights along the dyke, and are also seeking to address the issue through the Pemberton Valley Dyking District.
According to farmer Brenda McLeod, one of two farmers who has Crown land dykes on her property, they never meant to start a local controversy and are dismayed by all the bad feelings that the issue has provoked. However, she says the current public access is proving to be bad for farmers.
“We have always had an understanding with people in the community that used the dykes to go from point A to point B, they always asked permission to pass through and waved at you, and we never objected,” she said.
“Unfortunately, because of the increased commercial recreation and number of people recreating in our area because of the increased population and urbanization, it’s become more of a concern. There’s more volume, and people don’t always respect the trails or the property.”
McLeod said that cows can become ill or give birth to calves with birth defects if they consume dog feces, and have been known to eat garbage that has blown onto pasturing areas. Unleashed dogs have also chased cows, and recently one rider on a dirt bike rode onto a hay field and spun around in circles.
“We’re coming into conflicts between the trails and the agriculture, which is very unfortunate,” said McLeod.
She says her family has used the dyke for grazing for more than 50 years as part of the regular rotation of pasturing fields. They also move their cattle over the dyke, which divides their family land. Because of the conflict with trail users, she would like to have an arrangement that would keep the public off the dykes and onto a new trail built along the river.
“I would love to see more people on bicycles and walking between Pemberton and Mount Currie,” she said. “We did have an agreement a year ago with the Pemberton Valley Trails Association for a trail with a dog-proof fence to buffer the trails from agriculture and vice versa.
“At one point I thought it would be okay during non-pasturing times for the public to use the dyke area, but when you look at the issues of dog feces and garbage it becomes a non-option.”
McLeod says that agriculture is not well-represented or recognized, by local governments and that farmers should have been consulted in the beginning regarding a regional trails strategy. She also feels that most trail users don’t understand a farmer’s needs or perspective.
“This has been completely blown out of proportion… and we’re quite upset that it has come to this point where we’re fighting each other instead of working together on a solution.”
The dyking district, where Brenda and her husband Geoff are sitting members, has sought a legal opinion on what public access is allowed on dykes that are Crown land — especially if the construction of fences would make it harder to maintain the dykes. If the legal opinion is in their favour, they may craft a bylaw that would require the approval of local governments.
The grazing application is also going forward, but will not prevent the public from using the dykes.
McLeod doubts that either initiative can prevent the public from using the dykes, but she hopes it will create a greater level of understanding of the purpose of dykes for flood control and separating land to use for agriculture.
Ultimately, she believes a solution will come through dialogue.
The Pemberton Valley Trails Association is also calling for more dialogue. With funds from the Village of Pemberton and the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District they have offered to fence off the sides of the dyke, install an infrastructure to handle dog waste, and post signs for the public.
“We’ve being working together with the (Pemberton) Farmers Institute and farmers in the valley to try and come up with a solution to this problem,” said PVTA chair Rod McLeod, no relation to Brenda and Geoffery McLeod. “We would like to come up with a compromise that lets farmers farm, but at the same time lets the public have access to public lands and a public trail system.”
He added that the use of fences has been successful in the Interior and Fraser Valley, and he doesn’t understand the objections of the farmers in the case of the Valley Loop, which is used by cyclists, horses, walkers, joggers, and cross-country skiers.
“We’re going to continue negotiations with the Farmers Institute, and with farmers and try to come up with a solution that will work for everybody,” said Rod McLeod. “A few years ago we had some issues with First Nations that were significant, and we came to a solution that everybody is happy with. We’re looking to do the same thing with this.”
Jordan Sturdy has a bird’s eye view of the issue as a farmer, member of the institute, member of the dyking district, Mayor of Pemberton, and member of the Pemberton Valley Trails Association.
He said the Agricultural Land Commission set the wrong tone last week when they met with the Agricultural Advisory Committee, which is part of the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District.
“They told the advisory committee that the dyking district has the right to deny the public access to those Crown dykes — as a long-time trustee of the dyking district I disagreed with that statement,” said Sturdy.
He also questioned why the dyking district would seek a legal opinion on the matter if they weren’t intending to deny the public access to the dykes.
Of the 40 km of dyking in the Pemberton area, Sturdy said just five fall on public land. He cautioned people to never assume dykes are public property.
Complicating the matter is the fact that the dyking district is working to obtain public rights of way on private dykes in order to get funding from the province to help with their maintenance and upkeep. Without those rights of way, which farmers are reluctant to give up, Sturdy says dyke maintenance will cost the taxpayers more money.
Sturdy would like to see the controversial Crown dykes kept open to the public with a fence that he believes would actually result in more pasturing land for farmers.
As for the option of building a trail along the rivers, he says the cost would be prohibitive at roughly $50 a metre and 7 km of trails would have to be replaced. He also doubts they would ever get approval to build the trail, given that it falls in a natural riparian area.