Shirley Lewis knows the roads and off-roads of the Squamish Valley like the back of her hand.
Lewis, a member of the S?wx?wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation), was born and raised on Xwakw'áyak'in, also known as the Cheakamus Indian Reserve No. 11. She is familiar with the people in the area, and many of them honk, wave, or flag her over for a chat.
She also knows where all the trash is illegally dumped on the reserve land in the valley. It is not a new problem, but it is an annoying one.
She and others who live there take it upon themselves to clean it up when possible, but the sheer amount is overwhelming.
"Picking up people's garbage, like couches, fridges, freezers, beds—it's ridiculous. And I'm going to be 60 this year, and I'm just getting tired of picking up people's garbage," Lewis said.
She took The Squamish Chief on a tour of a few of the many sites she has seen recently.
There was everything from beer cans and toilet paper to steel cable, bricks, tar, a mattress, and a broken-down, abandoned RV.
"This is a sanctuary for the wildlife," she said, noting bears, elk, eagles and more live in the area.
She pointed to discarded soap bottles and other containers that appeared to hold chemicals that wildlife could have eaten.
"We have got to live side by side—we've got to coexist with them. ... Some people don't understand. We have to work together with the animals, our four-legged brothers."
At another stop, Lewis points out that someone has burned one of the Nation's "Private Property" signs.
Asked what it was like on Xwakw'áyak'in when she was a girl, Lewis called it "pristine."
She spoke of teaching her grandson to pick up waste, like pop cans. S?wx?wú7mesh people are taught to respect the land and all that lives on it, she said.
Lewis notes that taking trash to the Squamish Landfill doesn't cost much, and it is located in Brackendale, not far from where many items are dumped.
Some piles of household waste would likely have cost the owners $5 to dispose of properly at the landfill.
Disposing of other construction-type waste should be the cost of doing business.
Hunting and poaching
Another issue Lewis highlighted is that during fall hunting season—she hunts and has a tag for an elk this year—people come and walk the trails on the reserve, without flagging that they are there.
She has had to warn a few dog walkers and hikers that they are endangering themselves and others by being within gunfire range of hunters.
There is plenty of signage warning visitors, but those are ignored, she said.
"We've caught so many people, even though there are signs there. They still go in there," Lewis said.
Further, she and other local residents have caught poachers in the region, giving the example of two poachers who had illegally shot an elk.
Sea to Sky Conservation Officer Sasha Zukewich said that poaching is a continuing problem in the corridor, including nighttime spotlighting, where hunters use a light to see the wildlife’s eyes and then shoot them, which is always illegal.
He said while the Conservation Officers Service is stretched pretty thin, it is vital to call and report illegal activity.
(Call 1-877-952-7277 (RAPP) or #7277 on the TELUS Mobility Network. If the situation is not an emergency, report the incident online.)
“Calling early and often,” he said, allows officers to follow up, and the data helps the service argue for more resources to combat the problem.
As for people recreating on the land during hunting season, he said this is an issue throughout the corridor. He said while on public land, it is essential to be highly visible to avoid being mistaken for wildlife.
And it is illegal to interfere with a lawful hunt, he noted.
“Make sure to show respect to people that you see out hunting and fishing because actually, under the Wildlife Act, if you're interfering with their hunts, you can be culpable for that. You could be charged for that,” he said. “So the best thing to do is just like you would another hiker or mountain biker, show them some respect; give them a little space and make sure to announce yourself.”
He said that while these issues aren’t new or necessarily increasing, they are more noticeable with the popularity of the region.
“We've seen the Squamish Valley explode in resource user popularity. Everybody wants to go camping up there. It's a huge fishing destination. It's a huge climbing destination, a hiking destination. So I think part of it too is that a lot of the problems are much more visible because there are more people out there,” Zukewich said. “But that said, I mean, I've never done a wildfire patrol out there and come back without giving tickets during the fire ban season. So, I think to some extent, it is true that more access does pose unique problems at times.”
In late August, the provincial government and the Nation, in co-operation with other local and regional authorities, put closures in place for the Upper Elaho and Upper Squamish when fear of wildfires was at its peak and yet some recreationalists visiting the area were ignoring fire bans. Nation Land Guardians were also patrolling the area.
"I caught people having fires when we were in a state of emergency,” Lewis said.
Ultimately, Lewis would like to see more monitoring of who is coming and going onto the land and potentially have a gate that can be closed.
"They need a gatekeeper up here," she said, noting there could be grant funding available to the Nation for it.
"It is our sacred land," Lewis said.
'It’s beyond discouraging'
Sxwíxwtn Wilson Williams?, spokesperson and Nation council member, said illegal activity is a "significant" issue that has been ongoing and frustrating for years.
"We have implemented numerous measures to try and prevent people from illegal dumping, hunting, poaching, etc., yet still people do it," he said in an emailed statement.
"Unfortunately, adding gates is impractical as there are so many access points to our land. Instead, we introduced bylaws. We created the Guardian Program, and our Guardians regularly patrol the territory. We recently hired a Land Guardian Specialist specifically to further strengthen our boots on the ground for these types of issues, including poaching," he said.
Regarding grants, Wilson said the Nation is currently actively applying for funding to build on the legacy of our seasonal guardians.
The Nation has also applied for and received grants for community initiatives such as community-led clean-ups and has held three such clean-ups so far, according to Wilson.
"However, despite our best efforts, the issue persists. It’s impossible to patrol the entire territory. People still regularly trespass. People regularly come to our territory to dump their garbage. Frankly, it’s beyond discouraging."
Wilson added that the nation wants to coexist peacefully with outdoor recreationists, "as long as they remain respectful of our lands, waters, and everything that lives within them."
If that is impossible, then the Nation has no choice but to act.
"As we continue to exercise our jurisdiction over our lands and waters, we will pursue whatever proactive and reactive measures are needed," he said.
"We as a nation will continue to do everything we can to protect our lands and water for future generations."