By Laura Keil

When Ervin Dewey took a trip down the West Canoe FSR last year, an abandoned trailer wasn’t what he expected to find along one of Valemount’s most scenic drives.

“There’s one right there at the head of the lake,” he says. “It’s all smashed apart now.”

Metal sheathing peeling off like bark, windows smashed to their casings, heaps of torn plywood panelling — such is the fate of at least four travel trailers left for the birds in Valemount’s surrounding forests.

Initially, the trailer Dewey spotted was sturdy enough to have been towed out and still had a license plate, so he reported it to the RCMP, but they referred him to the regional Conservation Office in Clearwater.

“The cop said ‘It’s not my job,’ and I said, ‘Well, it’s 7,000 pounds of litter.’”

Dewey also spoke to a Conservation Officer who was in town on another matter last fall. But the camper is still there, and is now unable to be towed.

“(Someone) took all the wheels and axles and stuff out from underneath. And then from there, it’s just been smashed into pieces. Somebody’s been trying to drag it around with a vehicle. Like it’s spread over the whole lot there.”

This camper on the West side of Kinbasket Lake has been gutted on the inside. /LAURA KEIL

Dewey used to operate a tow truck in town and recalls the RCMP would call tow companies to remove derelict vehicles along the highway. 

But outside the highway right-of-way is a different matter.

RCMP spokesperson Madonna Saunderson says Natural Resource Officers and Conservation Officers deal with abandoned vehicles in forested areas.

She says the Valemount RCMP is aware of three abandoned trailers, the first one left behind by a TMX worker who was let go from the company. The trailer was not reported stolen, so it was referred to the Natural Resource Office and the Conservation Office.

RCMP say the second trailer was owned by a Valemount resident who left it out at a local camping spot on the Canoe East FSR. That trailer was damaged and then burnt. Police say they investigated but discovered no witnesses or evidence and the case has concluded. The Conservation Officer was also involved in the investigation. 

Another trailer is located at the end of McLennan Road by the CN highway overpass. 

“The RCMP has checked it and it is in very poor shape and of no value,” Saunderson says. “(Valemount RCMP) are unable to determine ownership as the VIN plate has been removed. BC Conservation Services were also advised but it is still there.”

RCMP say the vin plate has been removed from this camper. They have reported it to Conservation but so far, it is still in the same spot near the CN overpass along Hwy 5. /LAURA KEIL

Clean-up hot potato

Dr. Annie Booth is a Professor in UNBC’s Environmental and Sustainability Studies department. She says the clean-up of these abandoned vehicles is a tough nut to crack.

“It should be somebody’s responsibility. But nobody really has the resources to actually deal with it.”

The Goat sent inquiries to the RCMP, the Province, the Regional District and the Conservation Office. The Conservation Office and Regional District did not reply. The Ministry of Forests sent back a statement saying Natural Resource Officers and Conservation Officers assess illegal dumping on a case-by-case basis to determine if it is creating a significant environmental or safety issue, and then prioritize these incidents. The Province says illegal dumping also falls under the jurisdiction of the regional district.

“The Conservation Officer Service and Natural Resource Officers are aware of illegal dumping in this area,” says a statement from the Ministry of Forests. “The Conservation Officer Service and Natural Resource Officers proactively patrol the region as resources allow to help deter illegal activity such as illegal dumping.”

To report illegal dumping, members of the public are encouraged to contact the 24-hour Report All Poacher or Polluter (RAPP) hotline at 1-877-952-7277 (RAPP).

Underlying causes

Booth says it’s actually not a mystery why people are abandoning vehicles or other possessions in the woods. She says if the camper is badly gone, it’s unlikely the owner can trade it in, and more and more likely they’ll have to pay out of pocket to dispose of it at the dump or auto wrecker’s.

“I drive it out there. I leave it. I walk away. I forget about it,” she says. “They’re just thinking about themselves; they’re not thinking about 10,000 people doing it. Most people don’t look at a car as a toxic waste dump, which is essentially what a car is.”

She says a derelict vehicle can contaminate both land and water.

“The plastics, the vinyl, the fluid, the tires aren’t things you want back in the environment, because they are going to cause quite a lot of toxic harm. They’ll contaminate the soil. If you’ve put it near running water, you’re going to contaminate waterways with it. You have left a very small time bomb there that’s going to contaminate an area that is going to take decades, even centuries, to recover.”

She would like to see the Province manage hazardous waste using a “cradle to grave” approach. She suggests using a similar deposit system that’s currently used for bottles, and has been successfully used for older vehicle trade-ins in the U.S. since the 1980s. Studies in environmental psychology show the incentive doesn’t have to be a big one.

“If you charge anything (to dump), you have a net discouragement. If, however, you offer some money if you bring your car in, you know, we will give you 200 bucks for it, a lot more people are going to be motivated to haul it in for 200 bucks.”

“If we build it to be used, we need to build it so that we can repurpose it at the end of its life. Throwaway culture is becoming very problematic.”

Such a program would require recycling facilities to be built that could then create jobs.