Snowmobilers have been shut out of swaths of the back country around Nakusp and Trout Lake for years. B.C. Government map.

Snowmobilers have been shut out of swaths of the back country around Nakusp and Trout Lake for years. B.C. Government map.

New system to keep Nakusp-area snowmobilers, caribou from meeting

GPS tracking keeps caribou safe while opening up the backcountry for sledding

A new monitoring system will allow caribou and snowmobilers to better co-exist in the Selkirk Mountain range this winter.

The provincial government has announced a new GPS tracking system it says will minimize interactions between the local caribou herd and snowmobilers in the Arrow Lakes-Trout Lake area.

“We’re very excited about the project, and government’s commitment to use this new technology to create this opportunity,” says Donegal Wilson, the executive director of the BC Snowmobile Federation.

The new system tracks the small herd’s location using data transmitted by GPS collars worn by some of the caribou. So instead of a blanket ban on snowmobiling in the area, locals will find only a few areas closed to snowmobiling, while other parts that contain no caribou remain open.

Local snowmobilers simply have to check a website to find out where they can or cannot travel.

SEE: Central Selkirk Snowmobile Management Area

“In 2007 when the snowmobile closures were made in parts of the province, large circles were made to protect all the habitat the caribou may use in the next 10 years,” says Wilson. “This project is exciting because it puts us on the same platform as the heli-ski sector and other sectors that can visually see the caribou and adjust their plans for the day.”

The new approach is a result of a stewardship management agreement between the B.C. government and two outdoor recreational clubs, the Trout Lake Recreational Club and the Arrow Lakes Ridge Riders.

“This is a great example of how we can use existing technology in a new way to help protect caribou, while still allowing British Columbians to access the backcountry in this region,” said Doug Donaldson, Minster of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, in a statement.

“The members of these clubs will continue to enjoy their sport and the caribou in this herd will remain undisturbed.”

Under the Wildlife Act, all caribou habitat within the Central Selkirk Snowmobile Management Area is closed to snowmobiling year-round. Through this agreement, however, limited access is being granted to new and existing members of the two local recreational clubs through an exemption permit.

Snowmobilers have to be members of the local clubs to be eligible to use the area.

“The B.C. Snowmobile Federation is pleased that the provincial government is seeking new adaptive management techniques for the recovery of mountain caribou,” added Wilson.

“The B.C. Snowmobile Federation has been advocating for years to utilize a rotating closure system that allows snowmobiling to occur in areas when caribou are not present. This new, innovative technology provides us with the opportunity for continued snowmobile access, while minimizing disturbance to caribou herds.”

Enforcement planned

Conservation officers patrol the management area regularly and have the authority to stop snowmobilers to check for compliance. Any snowmobiler found in the area who cannot produce a valid club membership and photo identification could face a $575 penalty, while snowmobilers found within an area that is closed to snowmobiling (regardless of the documents they carry) could also face a $575 fine.

The site is updated daily to allow for checks on the caribou’s location.

As a result, limited access to the Central Selkirk Snowmobile Management Area may be granted through exemption permits to members of two local recreational clubs (the Trout Lake Recreational Club and the Arrow Lakes Ridge Riders). The portions of the Central Selkirk Snowmobile Management Area that remain closed to snowmobilers are determined in part by the herd’s last reported position.

A snowmobile operator who wants to ride in the Central Selkirk Snowmobile Management Area but is not a member of the Trout Lake Recreational Club or the Arrow Lakes Ridge Riders can apply to join one of these clubs on the website for an annual fee: https://snowmobileselkirks.ca

Under the clubs’ exemption permit, members can enter currently open areas of the Central Selkirk Snowmobile Management Area. A condition of the exemption permit is that club members must log onto the website before entering the Central Selkirk Snowmobile Management Area and confirm that they have viewed a map showing which portion(s) of the management area are closed to snowmobiling. This map, available to club members, is updated daily at 3:30 a.m. PT.

Wilson says she expects snowmobilers in the region will whole-heartedly adopt the new system.

“They are 100-per-cent onboard,” says Wilson. “We’ve had a lot of excitement about the program even before it was released. It was very hard to keep a lid on it while we were getting the details worked out. We are expecting very high compliance from our riders.”

Wilson says the new system offers protection to the province’s $299 million snowmobile industry.

“This is an opportunity for that economic benefit to continue in a responsible way,” she says.

SEE: Nakusp sledders move poker derby to protect caribou

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