Illegal deep-woods tire dump near Vernon creates cleanup headache for local conservationists

·2 min read

Retired forester Rudi van Zwaaij has seen his share of backwoods dumping during a 38-year career. But hiking south of Vernon, B.C., in the spring of 2019, the sight of one gully left him speechless.

"Not in this scale," van Zwaaij told CBC news. "You can look upstream and downstream and as far as you can see it's full of tires."

"How many tires would be there? As far as I can tell, well over one hundred, maybe quite a few more."

Photos show piles of rotting rubber, washed through the stream bed.

As president of the Vernon Outdoors Club, the 66-year-old alerted provincial authorities about the dump near the north Okanagan city.

"At the time I contacted all the government agencies, one after the other. And all got the run around, you know? And I was quite frustrated."

Kane Blake
Kane Blake

So in January 2021, he emailed photos of the site to Kane Blake, president of the Okanagan Forest Task Force. The network of Okanagan citizens has emerged in recent years as a local force in wildness cleanup.

Blake says the environmental risk is evident.

"Tires have natural oils in them. We don't know how many have rims on them and [there's] rust and corrosion from that," he says.

"That's drinking water for wildlife and potentially people."

Both Blake and van Zwaaij believe the dump has polluted the site for decades, forgotten and undisturbed except for water flow and natural seasonal change.

How, and when, the tires were dumped is a mystery. The site is a fifteen-minute hike from the nearest access road.

They're not releasing the exact location publicly until a proper assessment is made. They fear well-meaning nature lovers could attempt a cleanup. If dislodged, contaminated material and sediment could affect water quality and downstream users.

Blake says it will be difficult to make a full assessment until the snow melts this spring.

The Okanagan Forest Task Force is now working on a summer cleanup plan, and lobbying the government for support.

"The way we're looking at possibly cleaning it up is to airlift [tires] out in bundles to where a truck could haul it away," said Blake.

Volunteers with both groups are already stepping up to help.

"We do know that our group, and like minded people, can make a difference by getting it out of there," Blake said.