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Department Of National Defense Cracking Down On Trail Access On Military Property (UPDATED)

Dear Members & Community,

As many know, the area behind Westwood Lake Park is home to an intricate patchwork of landowners: the Department of National Defense, Mosaic (formerly Island Timberlands) and the City of Nanaimo. Currently, the club has one authorized corridor on city property (K2 to Legalize It) and a new climbing trail leading to the Outer Bypass. All other trails in that area are on private land, most of which fall upon the Military Rifle Range property. The rifle range property has never been officially cleared for public access but is heavily used by mountain bikers, dog walkers, trail runners etc. CFB Esquimalt claims the range is active at all times of the day, and that trespassing is extremely dangerous due to training activities.

The blue trails on the map below are the authorized trails the NMBC currently manages in the Westwood area:

On May 2nd, 2019, Trailforks received a formal request from the CFB Esquimalt who manages the Nanaimo Rifle Range, to remove all listed trails from Trailforks that fall within the boundary of the rifle range. Failure to do so would result in legal action against Trailforks, so they were forced to comply.

On May 15th, the following email was sent to the NMBC:

Hi,

I work for CFB Esquimalt and I’m reaching out to potential users of the mountain bike trails that have been found within the boundaries of the Nanaimo Rifle Range. These trails pose a safety risk and must be removed, but we understand some of the infrastructure on the trails took significant time and resources to build and wanted to provide an opportunity for the structures to be repurposed in another location.

As a courtesy, we have cancelled all range training from May 16-20 to offer users the opportunity to remove and salvage any trail infrastructure they have built within range boundaries before it is demolished. After May 20 the range will be live and range boundaries will be enforced. Any infrastructure built within the boundaries after that time will be dismantled without warning.

I’m try to contact as many potential users as possible, so please feel free to spread the word to anyone you know who might use those trails.

We want to stress that there is no safe time to be on range property. The range is used for live fire training during the day, at night and throughout the weekends. Trespassers risk serious injury if they enter the training area while operations are underway, and could be fined or detained until the training is completed for the day.

If you have any questions, please contact me by email or phone at 250-363-7060.

Thanks,
Katelyn

UPDATE AS OF JUNE 20th, 2018:

Last week, members of the outdoor community (including two NMBC board members) were able to meet with officials from the CFB Esquimalt, who manage the Nanaimo Rifle Range, for a Listen and Learn session to report information back to trail users.

Here’s information that resulted from that meeting:

  • The 863 acres of Range Lands are owned by the Department of National Defence. This is not leased land.
  • Currently, there are close to 200 days of shooting scheduled for the range in 2019. This number is increasing daily according to the Range Safety Officer
  • The range schedule has increased due to the closure of the Volks Range in Chilliwack and will continue to be impacted by that closure for the foreseeable future (years)
  • The range is used by all branches of the Department of National Defence; Army, Navy, Air Force and Reserves, and by the RCMP, Border Services Agents, Conservation Officers, SWAT Teams and Rapid Response teams from local police forces in BC
  • The range is used for three calibre of ordnance, none of which are what would be referred to as heavy ordnance or big caliber weapons. I believe these were referred to as 6, 8 and 16 rifles, but I am not clear on this point.
  • There are two exclusions zones. The first being the Danger Zone and the second being the Safety Buffer Zone.
    • Both zones are closed to the public and will be patrolled.
  • A 2018 safety audit of the range resulted in CFB Esquimalt being given orders that they had 60 days to come up with a plan to bring the safety level of the range up to the level that is deemed appropriate for the type of weapons used on the range. The public trespassing on to the range was one of the key points of concern raised in the safety audit.
  • The Safety Plan was submitted to Ottawa and it is that plan that is now being actioned by the Base. There are Three Phases to the Plan.
    • Phase 1 – Public Awareness Campaign and opportunity for trail builders to access the range lands in order to remove structures.
    • Phase 2 – Current Phase – Trespassing warnings and removal of structures will take place. Fencing of access points will also start to take place.
    • Phase 3 – Increased patrols will start to take place. Fines of up to a $1,000 could take place as well as one year in jail. Trespassers can also be detained by Military Police should the need arise. There is a mandatory court appearance for all violators.
  • The Chief of Staff as well as the Range Safety Officer made it very clear that fining and or arresting people is not something that they ever want to have to do. They would prefer that the public respects the fact that this is private property and that it is an area of high danger and that people must stay off the lands in question.
  • In regards to the vandalism
    • The photos showing where the perimeter fencing had been cut and where the removal of signage had taken place were of access points along the hydro corridor where the fencing has not been in place for as long as I can remember. The DND staff did admit that they had should have replaced the fencing a long time ago.
    • There were photos showing where yellow Do Not Enter tape across a trail head had been torn down as well as where yellow Caution tape across trails indicating where a structure had been removed by DND staff had been torn down.

On the subject of a Limited Access Agreement: We were quickly told that such an agreement is not a possibility due to the heavy use of the range. We did cite three other limited access agreements that are in place on ranges in other provinces that we felt had set a precedent for such an agreement. It was quickly explained to use that two of these agreements had been initiated by DND due to safety reasons. In both of these cases it was to allow for controlled culls of an increased moose population on a New Brunswick range and an over abundant Elk population on a range located in the prairies. In the third situation is was to allow for environmental monitoring of a species at risk.

The takeaways from the meetings are:

  • Increased use of the range is the new reality and will be the reality for years to come.
  • Access to the Range will not be permitted.
  • An access agreement is not a possibility.
  • Fencing will be installed at access points
  • Increased patrols are starting now
  • Warnings and fines will take place if you are found to be trespassing.
  • The public need to use other areas around Nanaimo for their recreation.
  • There has not been a death on the range as was recently reported.
  • Mortars and large ordnance have not been fired on the range
  • There is no unexploded ordnance on the range.
  • There is a full environmental plan in place for the property.

The different user groups in attendance at the meeting, including the NMBC, will observe the closure and urge members of our community to do the same. In the meantime, we will partner with other outdoor organizations in our community to pressure Governments and the DND to find a more suitable range location in future that is not as close to the Community and recreational spaces. We need to hope that MP Paul Manly has some level of success on the political side of this issue.