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Landowners take on illegal hunting

Some rural landowners in the South Peace believe oil and gas worker camps are driving an uptick in illegal hunting and trespassing on their properties.
Chet Jans surveys his property line. Jans is one of several South Peace ranchers who say they've seen oil and gas camp workers hunting illegally on their property.

Some rural landowners in the South Peace believe oil and gas worker camps are driving an uptick in illegal hunting and trespassing on their properties.

Several ranchers around Groundbirch and Sunset Prairie, west of Dawson Creek, say a resource development boom in the area has brought with it hunters who they say disregard property boundaries, litter beer cans and leave wounded and dead animals for wolves and coyotes.

In several cases, the hunters have been driving company vehicles, rancher Brian Wetherill claimed.

"Every year, we have people trespassing, driving all over the hay fields, leaving their empty beverage containers all over," he said. "It's always nuts this time of year, but it's even worse now."

Transient workers are part of the problem, Wetherill said, noting that several hundred live in work camps in the area. There are a number of major natural gas projects in the Groundbirch area, which lies halfway between Dawson Creek and Chetwynd. BC Hydro is also building a major transmission line to supply electricity to projects in the area.

Wetherill first noticed a truck he says carried the label of a construction firm on his property at the beginning of October. His added that his property is adjacent to Crown land, where hunting is permitted.

But since the men had now moved onto his private property, Wetherill said, he told them to leave. He also spoke to the company's head office in Prince George, which promised to investigate.

Several weeks later, Wetherill asked another group of men driving an unmarked truck to leave his property. When he noticed the truck was still there half an hour later, he said he towed it off the property with his tractor.

Wetherill said that although the truck was not marked, he believed the men were camp workers. He said his suspicions grew deeper after he reached out to several other nearby landowners.

"When Brian called me, it was a carbon copy of what we've been going through," said Chet Jans, also a rancher.

"Sometimes you're lucky enough to catch [hunters] on their way in. Sometimes it's too late. You end up finding rib cages and gut piles, and that's that.”

While no single agency can definitively say how many people live in industrial worker camps in the Northeast, local rancher Justin Sheets estimates there are around 500 near Groundbirch – a number that will likely increase.

"When it's locals out hunting, you sort of know who they are," said Sheets, who lives in Sunset Prairie but owns land in Groundbirch. "Now it's a lot of company trucks with company decals on them and unit numbers. You know they're in camps here."

However, Sgt. Shawn Brinsky of the B.C. Conservation Office said he knew of no increase in trespassing or illegal hunting incidents in the South Peace.

"I wouldn't say there's anything really abnormal about this year," he said, adding his office did see a minor uptick in the number of people self-reporting hunting violations. "But there's no trend to suggest an increase, by any means."

Jans claimed neither the RCMP nor the conservation office have the resources to police the area, so some of his time is spent acting as a "peace officer."

"When you have cattle all over the place, and you hear a gunshot at that twilight hour, it's a major concern," he said. "Instead of sitting down with your family or going on your own hunt or doing your evening chores, you're out bombing around. It's a major disruption."

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