Some East Shore residents are mobilizing against an application for a recreational tenure in the South Purcells that would see heli-skiing, ski touring, mountain biking, heli-biking, hiking, heli-hiking, climbing, mountaineering, snowshowing, dogsledding, filming, and horseback tours over an area of 700 square kilometres south of the Purcell Wilderness Conservancy and east of Kootenay Lake (see map below).
East Shore resident Luanne Armstrong says there have been several community meetings about this in the past few weeks.
“So much is unknown in this proposal, so people are asking questions, people are upset,” she told the Star. “The tone (at the meetings) was not one of anger but definitely one of determination, that this was not a good proposal for the East Shore, and would not work in this community. People were very clear about that.”
Meanwhile, the proponent partners, locally owned Retallack (which currently runs a back-country lodge in the Selkirk Mountains south of Nakusp) and yaqan nuʔkiy (the Lower Kootenay Band, one of six bands that make up the Ktunaxa Nation), describe the project as “innovative, diverse and sustainable.” They point to some of their goals: carbon neutrality, a stewardship economy, long-term employment, healthy ecosystems, and meaningful relationships with neighbours.
The project is proposed for a 45-year term. It would stage its helicopter activities out of Ainsworth, Kaslo, Kimberley, and Crawford Bay. Future plans include a luxury lodge and spa overlooking Kootenay Lake in the Gray Creek area.
To view the management plan and comment on it before the July 15 deadline, click here.
Long term impact
In the meantime, the Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) board has voted to oppose the proposed tenure 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 Central Kootenay (RDCK) representative for the tenure area, Garry Jackman, has some reservations about the project. He’s written a letter to the province with a number of questions about impacts and monitoring. He says no one, including the provincial government, knows the impacts of current activity in the proposed tenure area.
“How can the incremental impact of new disturbances or activity be understood,” his letter asks, “without understanding the impacts of current activity?”
Armstrong says people are mostly concerned about helicopter noise and ecological disruption.
“One big concern is the size of it and the length of the tenure,” she said. “Because of the size people are worried about the impact on the community — the noise and the disruption — and the impact on ecosystems, birds and large animals, grizzles and goats in particular. The 150 kilometres of bike trails, for example, is disturbing because they will impact animal habitat.”
Jackman is also concerned about the long term of the tenure and the possibility that the business could change hands.
“The longer the tenure the greater likelihood these tenures will become marketable commodities,” his letter states. “Over the next 30 to 45 years it is highly unlikely that the same individuals (Retallack and the Lower Kootenay Band) who have expressed their personal commitment to the environment and local social and economic concerns will still be part of the corporate team.”
Jackman is also concerned about increased helicopter activity, and asks the province for details on how this will be monitored and mitigated. He also wants the provincial government to show how it will monitor the relative impacts of between 3600 and 7200 guest days per year in the area.
Armstrong points out that the project would violate the Cranbrook West Recreation Management Strategy, a provincial government policy document that prohibits helicopters in some of the proposed tenure area.
Retallack’s Chris MacNamara told the Star in an email that the business will use smaller helicopters, use shuttle vans to transport guests to staging areas far from local communities, position staging areas within the Crawford Creek drainage to eliminate flights to Crawford Bay, position other staging areas away from other communities thereby eliminating flights to them, and position fuel caches away from communities and watersheds.
“We are open to public suggestions for improvements that would further reduce helicopter noise,” he wrote.
As for the construction of a lodge, MacNamara wrote that the timeline for this has not been decided.
“The establishment of a lodge would offer greater socioeconomic opportunity for the yaqan nuʔkiy and the local community,” he said. “It would provide direct permanent or seasonal employment, support local businesses, suppliers, and tradespeople, and create economic activity within the surrounding communities. The lodge would also enhance local backcountry emergency response and rescue services.”
As for wildlife habitat, MacNamara wrote, “A core value of our proposal is to maintain, protect, manage and restore healthy and diverse ecosystems within the proposed tenure area. We know and value that sensitive species, such as grizzly bears, will roam around and may be present in the tenure at any time. That’s why we are proposing an industry-first adaptive management strategy that incorporates embedding professional wildlife technicians and First Nations citizens within our daily operations in order to better monitor and manage wildlife values.”
MacNamara said that after the end of the comment period, “we will identify and propose future project amendments that address community concerns and improve our proposal.”
Training First Nations youth
No one from yaqan nuʔkiy responded to the Star’s request for an interview, but a fact sheet provided by the band and Retallack states that the goals of the project include the hiring and training of First Nations youth, protecting First Nations cultural values, and respecting “a First Nations right to determine use and management of its traditional territory.”
Armstrong said residents of the East Shore feel very protective of the area.
“It is their back yard, and people move here for the quiet and the beauty and they are very caring about it. A large percentage of them are retired people.
“The East Shore is an island mindset, a long very narrow road with a town at one end and a ferry at the other, and people don’t connect to Creston or Nelson in particular. They connect to their part of the East Shore. So it is a community minded mentality, around community halls, around dinners, we make their own activities and recreation, create them within the community.”