A female caribou and her calf inside the maternity pen north of Revelstoke. The recovery plan includes new maternity pens to support newborns~ Photo by Revelstoke Caribou Rearing in the Wild

Heli-skiing operation “very concerned” by new caribou protection regs

Habitat protection is important, but ‘at what cost?’, asks Nakusp tourism operator.

A tourism business operating out of Nakusp is raising a warning flag about the impact protecting southern mountain caribou might have on its business.

CMH Heli-skiing and Summer Adventures is asking Nakusp’s village council to get involved in the debate to make sure new rules protecting the caribou don’t hurt job creation or the local economy.

Dave Butler, the Director of Sustainability for CMH, wrote to the village last week asking it to “add its voice” to the development of caribou protection policies in the area.

“I’m very concerned for tourism businesses like ours, I’m very concerned for other natural resource-based businesses (forestry, mining, etc), for public recreation and communities like Nakusp,” Butler wrote to council.

Of main concern is the way habitat will be protected under the federal-provincial agreement. Butler says CMH’s concern is that this agreement, which actually applies for the central mountain caribou herds, will be used as a template and applied to southern herds.

“[T]he approaches proposed have significant potential to shut down or reduce economic activities in areas designated by the federal government as “critical caribou habitat”,” Butler writes. “…[T]he draft agreement specifically talks about tenure deferrals and segregation, reducing tourism and recreation, and ensuring “90% undisturbed habitat.”

“There are more questions than answers,” he adds.

CMH runs the Lodge at Arrow Lakes in Nakusp, a 47-room hotel that acts as a base for the company’s heli-skiing operations in the area. Butler told Arrow Lakes News he just wanted the village council to know these environmental discussions were taking place.

“I’d like them to be aware of this initiative and think about it from their own perspective,” he said. “So I’m not asking them to do anything specific, other than look at it, think about it and react in the best interests of Nakusp and I think council will do that.”

Butler questions whether provincial tourism or job creation agencies have had any input into the development of the agreement, which he says could impact tourism marketing and business development efforts. While caribou recovery is important, government has to ask if the cost is worth it.

“That’s a societal question I certainly can’t answer,” Butler says. “But I think it’s something that, when we begin to make these kinds of public policy decisions, in my opinion there has to be an understanding what the potential cost will be to business and communities as well as the benefits that might flow to the caribou.

“I think we have to have a full understanding before we go down pathways and I think in this particular case I’m not sure we’re clear on all that yet.”

Butler attached CMH’s response to the caribou plan to its letter to the mayor. In it, they highlight concerns about “significant ambiguity” in the document, including questions about areas to be protected, targets for population levels, and the kind of activities that would be allowed, or not, within the affected areas. CMH also asks for the scientific justification for possibly reducing tourism activity in caribou habitat.

“We don’t know, that’s the question,” he told the News. “That’s why my submission to the province was more asking questions than suggesting there were going to be x or y impacts.

“It’s too early to tell yet.”

Environmental groups have reacted cautiously to the provincial and federal governments plan to protect caribou populations, announced in November. They say much stronger protections are needed to save the herds, and spokespersons have told the News they’d like to see a complete ban on human activity in areas frequented by the animals.

Caribou plan avoids central issue, environmentalists say

As a stakeholder in the area, Butler points out CMH has been supportive of caribou protection efforts in the past. Those changes were made at significant cost to the company’s day-to-day operations, he notes.

“It is likely there is more we can all do, but only if government works with businesses and communities in a cooperative and collaborative manner,” he concludes.

Councillors expressed concern at Monday night’s council meeting, saying the caribou protection could hurt both tourism and the village’s community forest operations.

“We could lose a lot of our back country tourism, which could affect Nakusp hugely,” said Mayor Karen Hamling. “We should send comments in writing asking that the Tourism and Economic Development departments are talked to, and get information on its impacts.”

Besides writing an intervention, council also voted to lobby the local MLA and Member of Parliament about the issue.

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Mayor Karen Hamling said she was concerned about the impact the protection plan could have on Nakusp’s economy.

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