By Adam Proskiw
"WE USUALLY FIND SOME GARBAGE BUT THIS SITE WAS PRETTY DISTURBING."
SUMMERLAND – A weekend party at Headwaters in Summerland caused thousands of dollars in damage and may result in poaching charges if the culprits are caught.
South Okanagan Conservation officer Sgt. Jim Beck says he received several complaints of gunfire and damage over the weekend and that the skinned carcass of a beaver was found on Monday.
“There was a group of around 40 people partying on the dam and there was a fair amount of damage done,” he says. “After everyone had left we went to check the site and found the gate was pulled out and there was lots of garbage left around. Sadly we found a shot and skinned beaver and a dead songbird, as well.”
Headwaters is made up of four lakes, each with some form of dam or water gate. There is a resort on Lake 1 and dozens of private cabins nearby. An owner of one of the cabins who wishes to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation says she and some other owners went down to clean up the site and assess the damage.
“We usually find some garbage but this site was pretty disturbing,” she says. “We’ve seen messes that were disappointing but I can’t say I’ve ever seen an animal slaughtered before.”
The beaver was found with a bullet hole through the midsection and its pelt and tail had been removed.
Beck says he initially suspected the beaver was taken legally by one of the trappers hired by the District of Summerland to keep the population in check, but after seeing the photo says it is clearly the work of an amateur. A mature beaver pelt is worth approximately $150 each on the fur market.
“That is a fresh kill of a beaver and it is not a professional trapper that attempted to skin it,” he says. “This is most definitely a violation of the Wildlife Act as well as a Litter Act violation based on the amount of waste left behind.”
Damage to the site, which is on Crown land but maintained by the District of Summerland, will likely run into the thousands of dollars, says Beck. “The May long weekend is always a little bit wild and woolly but this was worse than usual.”
District of Summerland Manager of Utilities Devon van der Muelen says a Chief Operator was sent to the site Tuesday to catalogue the damage.
“There was a substantial number of people there over the weekend and there was a gate damaged and some driving around on the dam face,” he says. “Some of the signage was also damaged.”
Although police say they have no significant leads, the owner of Headwaters Resort, Donna Jackson, was driving from the resort to Peachland Saturday morning at around 1 a.m. when she saw seven vehicles headed in the direction of the lake.
“I was coming down the mountain between kilometre marker 13 and 12 and there was seven trucks all in a row with guys hanging out the windows with rifles shooting up the bush and throwing beer cans out the window,” she says. “There was someone shooting a handgun from the second vehicle.”
Jackson called 911 when she regained cell service and reported what she saw.
“I didn’t get a licence plate because it was dark but the first truck was a midnight blue Ford pickup with a headache rack and two big fog lights on the front bumper,” she says. “They were definitely kids in their late teens, early 20’s.
“We get people that come and party up here but this weekend was dangerous,” she says. “I had a campground full of kids and I had to tell them not to go off the property. It’s dangerous and it’s bad for business.”
“It did not sound like teenagers or grad kids to me,” says the witness. “We all wondered that, but one of the neighbours wandered over there and quickly left. His impression was that it was people in their 30’s.”
Despite the discrepancies in the descriptions of the suspects, the residents in the area say something has to be done before someone gets hurt or even killed.
“These guys are firing off high-powered rifles and shotguns so who knows where some of the shots could have gone,” Jackson says. “It certainly doesn’t make anyone up there with their families feel very safe.”
RCMP are investigating and ask that anyone with any information call West Kelowna RCMP. Alternatively, if you witness poaching or other environmental infractions, you are asked to call the 24-hour RAPP line at 1-877-952-7277 or visit the Ministry of Environment website.
A conviction of poaching carries a minimum fine of $345.