Pemberton farmers are calling for more dialogue and education after a contentious meeting last week that pitted trail advocates against farmers over the use of dykes on Crown land.
For their part, farmers say that the increased population in Pemberton has led to more garbage and dogs along the dykes, which in turn pose a danger to their cattle. While only a small section of the dykes in the region fall on Crown land, they believe the use of the area for dyking and agriculture is well-established and takes precedence over public access.
They would prefer to see an alternate trail built in the riparian area along the Lillooet River with appropriate dog-fencing and signage.
Trail advocates believe that the public should be able to access the Crown land for commuting and recreational purposes, and have offered to create dog fencing along the dyke and put up signs to encourage people to pick up dog waste and garbage — something that farmers say will create problems for dyke maintenance, and for moving cattle between pastures.
Farmers have made an application to the Ministry of Agriculture to establish grazing rights along the dyke, and are also seeking to address the issue through the Pemberton Valley Dyking District.
According to farmer Brenda McLeod, one of two farmers who has Crown land dykes on her property, they never meant to start a local controversy and are dismayed by all the bad feelings that the issue has provoked. However, she says the current public access is proving to be bad for farmers.
“We have always had an understanding with people in the community that used the dykes to go from point A to point B, they always asked permission to pass through and waved at you, and we never objected,” she said.
“Unfortunately, because of the increased commercial recreation and number of people recreating in our area because of the increased population and urbanization, it’s become more of a concern. There’s more volume, and people don’t always respect the trails or the property.”
McLeod said that cows can become ill or give birth to calves with birth defects if they consume dog feces, and have been known to eat garbage that has blown onto pasturing areas. Unleashed dogs have also chased cows, and recently one rider on a dirt bike rode onto a hay field and spun around in circles.
“We’re coming into conflicts between the trails and the agriculture, which is very unfortunate,” said McLeod.
She says her family has used the dyke for grazing for more than 50 years as part of the regular rotation of pasturing fields. They also move their cattle over the dyke, which divides their family land. Because of the conflict with trail users, she would like to have an arrangement that would keep the public off the dykes and onto a new trail built along the river.