Screenshot from video posted in early 2021 showing repeated crossings through side channels of the Fraser River near Chilliwack. (Facebook)

Salmon society calls for moratorium on vehicle access to gravel bars near Chilliwack

Gill Road and Jesperson Road gravel bars have seen increased use and environmental abuse

The Fraser Valley Salmon Society is calling for a moratorium on vehicle traffic on two gravel bars near Chilliwack that have seen a barrage of use and environmental abuse.

The matter blew up on social media when a free-wheeling truck video was shared on Facebook, and then taken down, showing a convoy trucks proudly splashing through side channels of the Fraser River at Gill bar.

In response, local Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) officials pledged to raise awareness with new educational signage about critical salmon habitat. Several of the signs were promptly ripped down, burned and strewn around.

Unfortunately, new signage won’t be enough.

“Signs are not enough, not even close,” said Dean Werk, president of the Fraser Valley Salmon Society. “There is no room for four-wheel driving on the gravel bars. It has to stop.”

Careening through world-class fish habitat and riparian areas cannot be considered responsible use of the resource.

“There are alternative areas to access fun and recreation,” Werk said. “We’re not against access in general, but we want responsible access. And from what we’ve seen lately there is nothing responsible going on there.”

This part of the river is the “epicentre” for Chinook salmon, he said, and a critical area for a population that is in trouble.

Of course Gill bar, and to some extent Jesperson bar, has been a popular place for recreation of all sorts, but the use and abuse has been increasing in recent years. It has seen more pallet fires, more camping, more garbage-dumping, and more squatting. More off-roading especially.

But gravel-bar off-roaders should consider seeking out other areas.

“The habitat cannot withstand the destruction. It’s not fair to the fish. The balance has tipped. Our fish are in trouble,” he pointed out.

It comes down to how to keep the increasingly popular Gill bar accessible, while clamping down on environmental degradation that comes with increased use.

Planning for the future of Gill bar, as a park, including installing a gate, has been ongoing quietly for a few years at a stakeholders’ table that included the Four Wheel Drive Association of BC (4WDABC), the Fraser Valley Illegal Dumping Alliance, as well as City of Chilliwack, provincial Conservation Officer Service (COS), the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development and Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) representatives.

For awareness-raising of young riders, the off-road group has a ‘Tread Lightly’ program for responsible four-wheeling aimed at youth. It’s part of the 4WDABC group’s educational, environmental and safety efforts.

But Werk said they can’t wait for the habitat-rich area to be turned into a park.

“We don’t have that kind of time. That could be two years down the road,” Werk said. “The moratorium needs to be placed on both gravel bars immediately.”

READ MORE: Truck video was in prime Fraser River salmon habitat

RELATED: Earlier habitat destruction was identified at Herrling Island bar

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Screenshot from a video in early 2021 showing repeated crossings of side channels on the Fraser River near Chilliwack, which can kill salmon fry and damage fish habitat. (Facebook)

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