Outfitters support the government’s decision to shut down backcountry trails in provincial parks, due to the combination of tinder-dry conditions and increased usage by people trying to escape pandemic boredom.
Todd Wohlgemuth, owner of Baldy Mountain Outfitters in Duck Mountain Provincial Park, said he is glad the province is restricting people from going into the backcountry whether it is on foot, horse, mountain bike or motorized vehicle.
"This keeps people out of the backcountry, which is good because the (fire) risk is so high," said Wohlgemuth, one day after the ban was imposed. Currently, outfitters are still able to apply for a permit to take guests into the backcountry.
"I wish they would crank it up even higher to keep people out. If a forest fire goes through, I lose my business," Wohlgemuth said.
On Thursday, the risk of forest fires was so high that the province announced an immediate travel ban on backcountry trails and water routes in all provincial parks south of the 53rd parallel. The province also banned campfires in parks. As well, numerous municipalities have enacted burning restrictions.
There have been 51 forest fires this season, and provincial and municipal fire crews are still battling blazes at the east end of Falcon Lake in Whiteshell Provincial Park, as well as others in the RM of Piney and RM of Grahamdale, in southeast Manitoba.
DJ Seales, president of the Manitoba Lodges and Outfitters Association, said the provincial restrictions may have inconvenienced some guests at some lodges, but for the most part "COVID is what is hurting them more.
"Most thought this would last four to six months, but now as we have passed the one-year mark, many are dealing with COVID fatigue. It is especially hard for the lodge and outfitting industry that have 90 to 100 per cent American guests. The outfitting industry has dealt with at least one season/year of no income, with many now having a second year cancelled since spring season wasn’t possible."
Seales said his members are thankful for the province’s bridge grant and the hospitality relief program, both of which have helped keep some of them operating.
Seales said they are waiting for the federal government to look at the closed border.
"We are now looking to the federal government to step up to making it possible for lodges and outfitters to welcome international guests," he said.
"Until the border opens, this is not possible. A reopening plan that incorporates federal and provincial requirements is imperative to create a safe and effective reopening."
As for the fire situation and backcountry lockdown, Seales said the association supports it.
"(The association) thanks the province for its actions to ensure that our precious forests and wildlife are protected. Without these resources there would not be an industry for lodges and outfitters. We would also like to thank the wildfire crews that are risking their safety to protect our province and its resources."
Wohlgemuth said he owns an outfitter business that caters to hunters, which has been forced to close.
"All of my clientele is in the United States," he said.
"If it wasn’t for the pandemic, we would be able to go out with hunters, but we would just have to be more careful. I’m really happy the province is doing this because, with COVID, we’ve seen a bit more people coming out to do backcountry.
"I’m glad they are trying to tell the public what is going on."
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.