A not-for-profit dedicated to purchasing land for wildlife and conservation in BC's southern interior is suing a school principal and two unknown individuals for allegedly damaging protected property near Grand Forks.
The Southern Interior Land Trust filed a civil lawsuit in Penticton Courts on Wednesday, naming Shawn Lockhart, a school principal in Christina Lake, along with a "Jane Doe" and "John Doe."
The alleged incident revolves around a SILT-owned parcel, which encompasses a few hundred acres of land, inclusive of approximately 50 acres of wetland, forest woodland, and pond conservation property near Grand Forks, called the Edwards Pond Property.
According to the suit, Lockhart and others have access the Edwards Pond Property from a property they owned nearby for years.
The society alleges that on March 31, 2022, Lockhart along with John Doe, and/or Jane Doe attended at the Edwards Pond Property using an ATV with a trailer attached, as well as a Jeep with a trailer attached.
"While at the Edwards Pond Property, Lockhart, John Doe, and/or Jane Doe cut down a large fir tree, cut the tree into firewood, and removed the wood from the Edwards Pond Property," they alleged.
On that same day, SILT executive director reported the ATV Trespass to the Grand Forks detachment of the RCMP. SILT claimed they had not received any requests or granted permission for any motorized vehicle access on the property nor any removal for trees.
The concern for the society is not only that the operation of motor vehicles is prohibited in the conservation area, but also the timing of the incident coincided with the nesting period of bird species protected under the Wildlife Act and nearby to where they nest.
"The Great Blue Heron and Bald Eagle are both known to nest on the Edwards Pond Property, in proximity to the tree," the suit reads. "The operation of motor vehicles, a chainsaw, and the intense human activity of splitting wood near an occupied and active bird nesting area can disrupt and disturb these and other nesting birds, which is prohibited under the Wildlife Act and are activities not permitted on the Edwards Pond Property."
The Edwards Pond Property is privately-owned but kept open to the public for walk-in access for nature, much like many of SILT's other conservation sites.
Signs have been posted in the area regarding the property boundaries, which SILT alleges have been taken down or damaged over the years repetitively.
"The tree destroyed in the incident was a habitat for wildlife and may have held nests for birds. The tree was a significant wildlife habitat feature on the Edwards Pond Property. Woodpecker foraging holes were observable on the tree," the lawsuit adds.
"The loss suffered by the Edwards Pond Property due to the incident is greater than the monetary value of the wood derived from the tree; the loss suffered includes intangible losses of habitat for countless wildlife species for many decades more to come."
SILT alleged that this incident has "irreparably damaged the Edwards Pond Property."
The society is seek an order restraining Lockhart, John Doe, and/or Jane Doe from trespassing on the property in the future, along with damages for restoration of the property from the trespass, restoration of the property loss of amenities, environmental loss suffered and any further costs.
Lockhart was not immediately available for comment. No allegations in this lawsuit have yet been proven in court.