Update: B.C. gov’t announces mountain caribou snowmobile closures in effect
Editor's note: The following story is an update on the announcement of new snowmobiling closures near Revelstoke made last week. The story now includes reaction from local stakeholders, as well as additional info on ongoing mountain caribou recovery efforts in the area, including wolf control programs and caribou trans-location plans.
New closures at three local snowmobile areas are a done deal. Provincial Mountain Caribou Recovery Coordinator Darcy Peel broke the news in a presentation to Revelstoke city councillors on May 17. “I am the messenger of the decision the minister [Thomson] made,” said Peel,
The changes take away about 25 per cent of local snowmobile riding areas in an effort to help the recovery of mountain caribou. They include a further closure of Caribou Basin, which includes a provision that would allow local clubs to apply for a license to sled under permit.
A portion of the Keystone/Standard riding area will be closed.
On Frisby Ridge, a currently-closed area would be relaxed to recognize part of the closure was currently unenforceable.
Peel said the changes were effective about two weeks ago, and that implementation is underway.
Although the changes had been the subject of meetings and discussions amongst stakeholder groups for months, the announcement was news to local snowmobiling organizations.
Snowmobile Revelstoke Society executive director Angela Threatful said the decision was news to her, adding she was expecting ongoing communication with provincial government officials, and that the discussions would resume in the fall.
The Snowmobile Revelstoke Society has for months been lobbying to influence the proposed changes, including a visit to Victoria in February where they met with four cabinet ministers representing the forests, environment, transportation and natural resources portfolios.
Revelstoke Snowmobile Club director Tom Dickson said the closures would deeply impact snowmobiling locally. “We’re looking at the straw that’ll break the camel’s back,” he told the committee.
In an interview after the meeting, Threatful expressed extreme disappointment with the decision. Past mountain caribou closures had already taken away 75 per cent of local riding areas. One more closure impacts local riders and effects the local economy. “Loss of opportunity is loss of opportunity,” Threatful said. “We have lost more areas. It’s going to have more impact.”
Threatful stressed the involvement of local snowmobile organizations with mountain caribou recovery efforts over the decades.
“We’ve worked so hard on this. We’ve invested over $145,000 in environmental stewardship. That’s on-the-ground enforcement, that’s our snowmobile patrol program, that’s our signs that we paid for for government,” Threatful said. “I mean, we’ve more than put our heart and soul in this program for it to be handed to us in our lap. It’s made it look like it hasn’t been valued and that it wasn’t worth anything. The last 20 years of working on this project has meant nothing. It was closed with a single swipe of a pen.”
Communication with government had usually been good, but something went south here, Threatful said. “We have not had any contact since the minister told us they were still reviewing it and they would get back to us,” she said. “It was a blow to hear about it like that, for sure.”
Threatful said one of the snowmobile society’s main disagreements with government boiled down to resources. The B.C. government’s main tool is public recreation and tenure restrictions, but she felt the government had come up short on funding other tools, such as enforcement or predator control.
At this point, Threatful said, the announcement had shaken the society’s faith in the process, and they would be meeting to discuss their next steps. “I think it’s fair to say that the snowmobiling community cannot support additional closures. What that means for us at this point has yet to be determined.”
In an interview following the city meeting, Darcy Peel told the Times Review the closures represented the last public recreation closures that were recommended under the Mountain Caribou Recovery Implementation Plan that was announced in October, 2007. Peel said he didn’t expect more closures.
Locally, caribou numbers continue to decline, he said. Peel said the government was taking many steps other than closing public recreation areas or tenure restrictions.
For example, he said transfers of 20 caribou from herds further north in B.C. to the Purcell South herd would be made soon, and another transfer of 20 was expected next year.
Currently, wolves in the Revelstoke area were being studied, including a collaring program. Extra moose hunting tickets were being distributed. The idea being that removing the food source for wolves would decrease their population, resulting in fewer caribou killed by wolves. This program had seen an “immediate” drop in the wolf population around Revelstoke. However, a similar program near Quesnel hadn’t worked the same way.
Is the government planning on shooting, sterilizing or otherwise directly disposing of wolves? “Not right now, but predator management remains in our toolbox,” Peel said, “At this point, the discussion around shooting wolves from helicopters is out there, but there has been no direction from government to do that. If you really wanted to reduce wolf populations, experts in that field are telling us this is how you would do it.” Peel added that caribou relocation programs are costly, and the concern was wolves could negate the project by taking out new transplants.
Back at the city committee meeting, Coun. Phil Welock asked Peel about the local conservation officer shortage, noting the sole local officer also had supervisory duties in the East Kootenay. Would closures work if there was no enforcement, he asked Peel. Welock noted the area hosts many visiting riders, some of whom “don’t give a damn about our laws.”
Threatful also asked about enforcement, noting new avalanche safety procedures had kept enforcement officials out of the field.
“We didn’t have a lot of non-compliance,” Peel said. “It was actually pretty good.”
“We recognize enforcement is an issue,” Peel told the Times Review in our subsequent interview. He said other government staff were being enlisted on the issue, including RCMP, Parks staff and former forests ministry staff, and that avalanche safety training was ongoing.