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Taming the 'wild, wild west' in Mission
Illegal gun activity, vandalism and garbage dumping have plagued the Stave Lake area for years, but the damage that occurred over the winter holidays have focused official attention again.
District of Mission and police are stepping up their education and enforcement campaigns to create a safer environment for all visitors to the west side of Stave.
Mission's director of forestry Bob O'Neal said reports describe a scene out of "the wild, wild west."
"People were literally hanging out of their car windows and shooting up the area around them," said O'Neal. "It was horrendous."
Many ATVs were being operated in an unsafe manner, and some drivers did not have a helmet or insurance.
The damage was still evident when O'Neal toured the area with Mission RCMP Sgt. Shaun Wright and Staff Sgt. Rob Dixon.
Every road sign and bridge delineator was shot at, and garbage was piled up in front of forestry gates.
Outhouses and picnic areas were damaged, vehicles were burned, and some trees near Sayres Lake were riddled with bullet holes. A couple of the trees appeared to have been cut down by gunfire.
B.C. recreation officer Mike Peters drove about 10 kilometres up Burma Road on Dec. 28 to investigate a report of a damaged gate near the Sayres Lake campground, and witnessed the unsafe use of firearms. "There were many vehicles in the area and more firearms than I've ever seen," he said. "With the fog, visibility was down to less than 100 yards but the sound of rifles and shotguns was everywhere."
There were a lot of people shooting in the gravel pit, but many were not, he added.
"I'm fearful something tragic will happen," said O'Neal."It's sad when you see how some people treat forest land – they treat it as a dump yard. We'll have to spend thousands of dollars cleaning it up."
Target shooting is illegal in Mission, but many people ignore the bylaw on Burma Road, said O'Neal, explaining the gravel road is District of Mission territory.
There aren't any signs near the gravel pit, around the corner from Sayres Lake, where thousands of shell casings litter the ground because every time one is put up, it is shot at and removed almost immediately, explained O'Neal.
"We need to take control and educate the public," he said. "If we want to attract investments and recreational development, we need to take back control."
The district is just starting to develop a recreation master plan for the area, said O'Neal, who expects the project to take six months to compete.
Police are usually reactive when it comes to dealing with problems near Burma Road, attending only when there is a call for service. But RCMP believe most of the problems are unreported as cell phone coverage is limited.
"We need to change the collective mindset," stated Wright, who described the west side of Stave Lake as a park within the district. "People don't do this in Stanley Park."
Dixon admits police haven't patrolled the area much, but plan on changing that in 2014.
"Our presence makes a difference," he said.
"Additional members will be brought in to perform dedicated patrols throughout the year, with an emphasis on the summer months and other periods of nice weather," added Wright.
Police will also be working with the province and district officials.
"To solve any problem, we have to take a multifaceted approach," explained Wright. "Enforcement is used when other methods, like education, don't have an effect."
Mission's Discharge of Firearms bylaw, which was adopted in 1996, restricts shooting within 150 metres of a highway and prohibits target shooting anywhere within district boundaries, outside of a legal shooting range, without a permit.
"Police urge the public, especially firearms enthusiasts, to educate themselves on local bylaws and regulations regarding legal areas of recreational activities in the Mission area," said Wright.
Mission council's proposal to ban all shooting throughout the community, except at the Mission and District Rod and Gun Club, was strongly criticized last year by hunters.
O'Neal agreed hunters as well as organized recreation user groups, are not the problem.
"We have a problem with illegal use of firearms."
A task force was created last fall to help create a new bylaw regulating the discharge of firearms. The group met in December and will meet again in April before bringing recommendations to council in May.