A year after the Songhees First Nation started its campaign to protect their chunk of Chatham and Discovery islands, the work has paid off.
Though Chatham, and a large portion of Discovery, are protected Indian Reserve land, the private islands are some of the most frequently trespassed, with wandering explorers camping and often littering on the land. Last summer, through taxation, the Songhees funded a zodiac to patrol waters with help from a designated bylaw officer and the RCMP.
A year later, Songhees Chief Ron Sam says the efforts are making a difference.
“It’s been a pretty quiet year so far, one of the quietest ones we’ve ever had, I’d say,” said Sam.
The patrols were initially aimed at education to combat the amount of garbage left on the islands by trespassers which, last summer, included a wheelchair. By April, however, the nation had instituted surveillance technology and a mandate to “aggressively patrol” the islands with the RCMP South Island Marine Section by boat and on foot. People caught trespassing will now face up to a $1,000 fine, 30 days in jail, or both.
“The traffic has really died down this year. We aren’t seeing the kind of garbage we did before, and we do still have our volunteers going out and making sure things continue to be cleaned out,” said Sam.
While boaters can use the provincial park part of Discovery Island (which includes campsites, picnic tables and washrooms), campfires are not permitted on any part of the island. The area is accessible just north of the Oak Bay Marina, where paddlers can launch from Cattle Point. Thanks to the campaign, new signage also clarifies the lands as protected and private.
Still, the island has been a dumping ground for garbage, campfires, vandalism and even a rave in the past, which some years attracted up to 200 people, bands and copious amounts of drugs and alcohol to the small island. Sam says word in the media and the community has helped people understand the reality of the protected lands.
“It’s everything – the campaign, the surveillance, the bylaw officer – people are starting to listen, and understand that we are serious about this,” he said.
While the Songhees have not yet decided what to do with the lands, which were abandoned by Songhees families who moved away after the well went dry in 1957, Sam says restoration efforts will be up to the nation as a group. Portions of the islands have since deteriorated and some common species have disappeared, though Sam says there are a few proposals on the table.
“If there is still the traffic out there like we have seen, perhaps we look at creating a permit camping system were users would pay a registration fee,” said Sam. “This would fall into ecotourism, which wraps into the island nicely, but it will be something we need to decide as a group.”