RDEK opposes proposed Retallack recreation tenure

Board concerned with impacts on wildlife from helicopter flights, increased backcountry traffic.

Regional government voted to oppose a proposed 70,000 hectare adventure tourism recreation tenure west of Kimberley, as board directors cited concerns over increased helicopter traffic and the impacts to wildlife and the environment from increased backcountry tourism use.

The Regional District of East Kootenay is not supporting the joint proposal from Retallack and Yaqan Nukiy (Lower Kootenay Band), however, the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development has the ultimate authority to approve or reject the proposal.

The Retallack application proposes guided hiking, horseback riding, climbing and mountain biking in the summer, with guided ski touring, heli skiing, mountaineering, snowshoeing and dogsledding in the winter.

The plan also includes construction of mountain bike trails and a lodge and spa to be built on Kootenay Lake.

READ: Lower Kootenay Band and Retallack partner to propose adventure tourism tenure

RDEK board chair Rob Gay says the board heard concerns from rural residents in the St. Mary’s valley who were opposed to the increased helicopter traffic and impacts on wildlife.

“The issue is they get in with helicopters and for many of the wildlife up the St. Mary [valley], there’s just a conflict there,” said Gay, “and we’ve also done a plan — for years and years we had this management plan for the area and clearly the management plan spoke about not using helicopters, so it didn’t take long to convince this board that they [opponents] did not want this operation in our area at all.”

Gay referenced the Cranbrook West Recreation Strategy, a plan that was developed with input from a number of different environmental stakeholders and released in 2005.

The plan, according to the document’s mission statement, was to ‘implement and maintain a recreation management strategy at the landscape level in collaboration with other land users that provides for different recreation opportunities, respects all land users and promotes environmental stewardship.’

While it was presented to the now defunct Ministry of Sustainable Resource Management, it remains unclear if the plan was meant to be a binding policy document. Opponents to the Retallack recreation tenure note that proposal runs afoul of the Cranbrook West plan.

“Our premise is that this will be a major disruption to wildlife and wild habitat and it also goes against the Cranbrook West Recreation Management Strategy that was implemented in 2005 with extensive consultations; it took two and a half years to create,” said Al Duffy, who presented to the RDEK board on behalf of the B.C. Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.

“Out of that strategy, the recommendation was that there be no arial based recreation in the area that we’re talking about here. This is a high value alpine area that the wildlife need and it’s quiet and wild at this point, so that’s what we’re nervous about, is seeing that destroyed.”

Julie-Anne Davies, who spoke to the board on behalf of the St. Mary’s Rural Residents Association, said she has lived in places such as Golden, Revelstoke and Canmore where helicopter flights to backcountry areas were constant and consistent.

“In this day and age of rapidly disappearing wilderness, this is a distinction that makes the Southern Purcells a rare and valuable gem,” said Davies. “If the door is opened in the Southern Purcells to year round helicopter commercial operations, the loss of this wilderness will be sudden, permanent and devastating. Commercial helicopter recreation is incompatible with the concept of true wilderness. “The spatial extent of the noise pollution and disturbance of helicopter recreation carries an enormous ecological footprint. Very careful consideration needs to be given when determining the fate of this landscape.”

The consultation period for feedback to the provincial government remains open until July 15.

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