Mara Love sent this photo and several others to Tofino’s municipal council urging them to find a way to stop beachgoers from burning driftwood at Chesterman Beach. (Photo -Mara Love)

Burnt driftwood sparks push to ban beach fires in Tofino

“There’s a definite lack of respect for the beach going on here.”

A proliferation of burnt driftwood has irked Tofino beachgoers and prompted the town’s council to consider banning fires on Chesterman Beach.

During their Aug. 14 regular meeting, council reviewed a letter from Tofino resident Mara Love who expressed dismay over what she called “the beach fire abuse” at Chesterman.

“There are more and more large beautiful driftwood logs being burned, leaving our beach looking like a war zone,” Love wrote. “Is there a way that Tofino can police the burning of driftwood, which occurs during the summer months, or is banning campfires on Chesterman Beach the only solution?”

Coun. Duncan McMaster said burnt driftwood has completely changed the landscape of Chesterman Beach and suggested he would support a beach fire ban.

“I’ve seen the degradation of Chesterman Beach for all the years I’ve lived here,” he said. “I know a lot of people here think beach fires are part of the Tofino beach experience but, I’m afraid, I’m getting to the stage where I would be supportive of banning beach fires, if that’s the only way to stop this degradation.”

Coun. Cathy Thicke agreed and said that beach fire bans at Tonquin and Cox Bay have increased the amount of fires happening at Chesterman Beach.

“Although I hesitate to say ‘let’s put a ban on these beaches,’ I feel like it has come to that,” she said. “I don’t know that there’s a middle ground that we can see our way to go.”

Coun. Greg Blanchette said, “There’s a definite lack of respect for the beach going on here,” and suggested Tofino’s Destination Marketing Organization, Tourism Tofino, should include fire information in their tourism marketing.

He added nearby resorts should be asked to install fire pits along the beach because, “Fires on the sand, especially up against driftwood logs, are not working for me anymore.”

Coun. Al Anderson said the number of beach fires at Chesterman is “much, much, more intense than it was in the past,” and that he supported a ban during the summer months.

Tofino’s Chief Administrative Officer Bob MacPherson said a ban would be difficult for the district’s bylaw officers to enforce and that district staff would need some time to put a feasible strategy together.

“Banning beach fires is challenging to enforce at night,” he said. “We have to make sure that we’re putting in place the right mechanisms so that we can actually enforce it.”

Coun. Dorothy Baert spoke against a beach fire ban.

She said more rigorous education programs alerting beachgoers to the fact that driftwood is not to be used for fires would be a better route to take, but added that it would not be fair for local taxpayers to cover the associated costs and that funding should come from Tourism Tofino’s budget.

“Just going, ‘Well, we have a problem. So, we’re just going to ban it,’ is not a solution because the problem is just going to come somewhere else,” she said. “I think we need to try to find a solution and get our partner in the tourism economy that we have to try to pony up with some solutions as well.”

Mayor Josie Osborne said burnt logs are scattered throughout the beach, which could be giving visitors the impression that it is okay to burn them and asked whether the district could remove burnt logs.

Thorogood did not support banning camp fires, but agreed with Osborne that the district should remove burnt logs at least once a year.

Council agreed to direct staff to investigate options for beach fire regulations, education and enforcement and present a report no later than February of 2019 so that a strategy could be in place before next year’s summer season.

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