Sunday, December 17, 2006

Flathead Park

Harvey Locke and his ilk continue to visit the East Kootenay secretly and use their intimidation and money to persuade decision makers, corporate and government, that a park in the Flathead is necessary to preserve the high quality wildlife habitat in the Flathead. Locke was in Cranbrook the week of December 15th. Word on the street is that Tembec has had almost enough of Mr. Locke and that Mr. Locke will soon be asked to stop talking about the failed deal of a few years ago where Tembec was promised $15 million US if they would support a Flathead park.

The biggest threat to the Flathead is from those who believe there should be no hunting, no fishing, no camping, no motorized recreation - and no locals! The hunters of the Elk Valley should be very wary of outsiders who bear "gifts" and ideas for more secret deals to "save" the Flathead. If these people get their way, hunting in the Flathead will disappear.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Bennett responds to Wildsight spokesman's criticisms

The Daily Bulletin (Kimberley)
Friday, September 8, 2006
Byline: Matt Coxford

East Kootenay MLA Bill Bennett says personal criticisms leveled at him by a Wildsight spokesman on the Jumbo debate are a smoke screen.

Bennett was responding to statements John Bergenske made in Tuesday's Townsman. The latter accused the MLA of undermining the regional government, and attempting an end run in getting the proposed year-round ski resort the go-ahead.

"Bergenske's comments are a smoke screen for what his real agenda is," says Bennett, who had plenty of challenges for Wildsight's executive director.

"The environmental lobby doesn't want any sort of development to take place, whether it's mining development, oil and gas, tourism, real estate, golf courses, forestry -- they just don't want anything to happen.

"They will argue that they would support a project that has gone through the appropriate process, and is shown to be environmentally responsible and so forth. I challenge anyone to point out one major economic project that the East Kootenay Environmental Society (Wildsight's previous name) and John Bergenske have ever supported."

In Tuesday's article, Bergenske also questioned the B.C. Environmental Assessment process -- which granted an environmental certificate to Jumbo's proponents -- saying that it has never rejected a project.

The MLA defends the process, saying it is one of the most respected and rigorous assessments of its kind in the world. He says it has attracted interest from observers and bureaucrats around the globe.

"The Environmental Assessment office will deal with dozens and dozens of projects in the course of a year. Probably more than half of those projects don't stay in the process long enough to be turned down because they realize, going through the process, that their project won't be accepted."

Others pull out because they can't meet the demand for information for baseline environmental studies, public consultations and other aspects of the process.

"I challenge (Bergenske) and anybody else to give me an example of any other project in the history of this province that has been subjected to the same level of scrutiny as the Jumbo project," he says, noting Jumbo's environmental certificate had more than 200 conditions.
Bennett says Bergenske should look in the mirror before he speaks of issues of democracy. Wildsight, he says, is "a small, un-elected group of elite environmentalists."

"After all the years of intimidation and anti-democratic activity that (Bergenske) has organized in the East Kootenay, and all the development and job creation that he has tried to stop, it is the pot calling the kettle black. I am duly elected. If he thinks his vision for the East Kootenay is superior to that of mine or the B.C. Liberal government, I invite him to run against me in the next election."

In March, the Regional District of East Kootenay Board of Directors voted overwhelmingly against allowing Victoria to decide whether a special municipality would be set up for the proposed ski hill. Many felt that if that motion had been successful, it would have amounted to a green light for the project.

Bennett says prior to the vote, a half dozen directors told him personally they wanted the province to take over the Jumbo matter, and intended to vote in favour of the motion.
"These people were being harassed in their homes late at night over the phone, harassed on the street, they were threatened," says Bennett.

"This was an organized lobby effort by groups like Wildsight -- it wasn't just Wildsight. It's fair to lobby your elected politicians. It's not part of the democratic process to intimidate."
The MLA also says that Bergenske's comments that Bennett is beholden to "political masters in Victoria" are unfounded.

"Anybody who knows me and has watched me over the past five years, since I've been the MLA, knows that I am one of the most independent thinking politicians around," he says.
"They know that I'm not somebody who will be told to do anything that I don't personally believe in. Frankly, my colleagues in Victoria would probably not deal with this project as readily as I would."

Bennett worries about the precedent that would be set by not approving the Jumbo Glacier resort, after what he calls "an exhaustive 16-year process."

"I think for us to not have the courage to proceed with the project now shows every investor in the world who's thinking of investing in British Columbia, that they can't trust our process, that we will allow our process to be subverted to the antidemocratic demagogues like John Bergenske."

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Nature Conservancy Clamps Down

FERNIE - The TransRockies will have a route change next year and some of the event's organizers are concerned it will effect the quality of the event.

Part of the Coal Discovery Trail, along the first stage of the TransRockies between Fernie and Sparwood, is owned by the Nature Conservancy of Canada. The conservancy has given a permit for the TransRockies to use their part of the trail this year, but say they will not give a permit next year.

The trail was built three years ago and was part of the TransRockies for the first time last year.

The Coal Discovery Trail made the Fernie-Sparwood stage one of the racers' favourites last year, said Dan Savage, a local TransRockies co-ordinator.
The land the Nature Conservancy purchased is a long, narrow, 580-hectare strip along both sides of highway near Hosmer and is often referred to as the ‘Hosmer property.’

The property was previously owned by Tembec and was sold a year-and-a-half-ago "with the understanding that the land would remain active for community usage," said Savage.

By not allowing the TransRockies to pass through, the conservancy is "not really co-operating with the community," said Savage.

In fact, Savage said no marathon bike races will be able to use the Coal Discovery Trail.

"It's severely restricting the ability of Fernie and Sparwood to host events,"
he said. "We could lose the TransRockies.”

"(The Nature Conservancy is) setting back an important event for the community), he said.

The TransRockies brings 150 hours of international television coverage to the Elk Valley.

Cycling is the big economic growth area for Fernie, since skiing and golfing are already at or near their maximum growth potential, said Savage, citing Chris Dodson, manager of Kootenay Rockies Tourism.

"Here are these out-of-towners saying that, for environmental reasons, for one day, 500 bikes going through is a threat," said Savage.

Savage noted Highway 3 runs through the land as do 10 or 20 trains a day on the Canadian Pacific Railway. He questioned how much of an issue the bikes are.

"Are they suggesting that cycling has more of an impact than the trains?" he asked.

Savage also questioned why the TransRockies should take an alternate route when "that's what (the Coal Discovery Trail) was built for."

"Wherever we go in this valley, there is wildlife," he said, alternate routes would also disturb wildlife.

"Frankly I think it's some fanatic extremist environmentalists making this call. There's a place for extremism, but not when it's affecting a community," said Savage.

"This kind of closure makes it difficult to operate in the area," said Aaron McConnell, the TransRockies event director, but Fernie won't lose the event.
"It certainly won't cause us to cancel the event. It may significantly affect the quality of the route," said McConnell.

The TransRockies has started in Fernie every year and would like to continue doing so, despite not getting to use the full Coal Discovery Trail, he said.
The Nature Conservancy's plan calls for light recreational use, he said and the TransRockies doesn't fall in that category.

The TransRockies hasn't looked in detail at alternative routes yet, he said.
The Nature Conservancy bought the land because it is in one of three prime connectivity corridors for large mountain carnivores in the Elk Valley, said Dave Hillary, the Nature Conservancy's program manager for the Canadian Rocky Mountains.

The Nature Conservancy manages a couple properties in the Elk Valley that are strung out like beads between Elko and the Pass, mostly in riparian zones, said Bob Forbes, a wildlife biologist and the Nature Conservancy's Elk Valley project manager.

Connectivity corridors are important to help large carnivores get across fracture zones (which are either physical or human barriers) from the south to north side of the valley, said Forbes. The Nature Conservancy's goal is to make sure the connectivity on its properties (including the Hosmer property) is maintained.

The Hosmer property is managed in a conservation covenant with Tembec, meaning that Tembec retains the timber rights and the Nature Conservancy can restrict other uses, said Hillary. The group is currently making a draft management plan for the property, which involves reviewing existing and proposed land uses, he said.

One of those uses, the TransRockies, "was not a long term compatible use in that area," he said.

The constituents are important, said Hillary, but land uses need to be looked at in combination. There are already permits for gravel pits, agriculture, logging and light recreational use on the property, he said. There is a need to limit the cumulative human impact and the bikes add undue stress on top of the uses already there.

"Without other land-use permits (the TransRockies) might be an acceptable use. But it all relates together," said Hillary, adding land-use permits are granted or denied based on-going scientific studies and inventories.

"We don't mind the local activities that are there right now," said Forbes. The gravel pit operators are clean and cognizant, have small footprints and disturb very little, he said. Tembec's logging is similarly localized, said Forbes, and the forestry workers know how to deal with wildlife.

"Where we have trouble is with people (such as tourists or cyclists from out of town) who are not cognizant of Grizzly bear behaviour," he said. Out of sheer naiveté, they create situations where they, or the bears, could be hurt, he said. And those kind of people might come if the property is advertised internationally as a place to bike, which is what the TransRockies does, said Forbes.

The Nature Conservancy, during their review of land-use permits. determined the Coal Discovery Trail was not built with the intent of being part of the TransRockies route, said Hillary.

Hillary agreed with Savage that the trains and highway are a greater impact than the bicycles, but pointed out the Nature Conservancy has no say on whether the highway and the CPR come through the property. "I don't think we really have control of trains using the tracks or cars on the highways, but we do have control over land-use permits," he said.

August is a critical time for core habitat feeding for bears in that area, said Hillary. Even though the bikes aren't there very long, there are far too many to avoid not having an impact.

Hillary and Forbes did not feel qualified to comment on the economic impact of a route change in the TransRockies.

Forbes said he has no problem with the bike race, and in fact applauds it, but he doesn't want it to go through the Hosmer property. Then it becomes a "commercial activity exploiting the property," he said.

Forbes compared the TransRockies going through the Hosmer property to guides profiting by bringing tourists through your backyard and then asking why they should stop when you tell them to. The answer to both situations is the same in Forbes' eyes - they should stop "because it is impacting on the goals of the people that bought the land."

Hillary and Forbes reject the idea of the Nature Conservancy being outsiders or extremists.

"In the Elk Valley, I'll stand behind the example of Mt. Broadwood...if that's extremism, I'd be surprised," he said.

The Nature Conservancy has a good track record of getting input from, and working with, local Elk Valley residents instead of imposing plans from far away, said Hillary. He cited the permits for gravel pits and the allowance of hunting and fishing on the Hosmer property as an example.

The Nature Conservancy has been supported by people from all over Canada, including the Elk Valley, since 1962, said Forbes. They have also been intimately associated with a number or organizations in the valley, from Wildsight to the Fernie Rod and Gun club, he added.

Although the Nature Conservancy hadn't had a permanent presence in the Elk Valley, it took steps in that direction by hiring Forbes, said Hillary.
Forbes pointed out he is hardly an outsider, having lived in the valley for 10 years.

The Nature Conservancy is trying to balance the needs of the local community with the long term ecological needs of the Elk Valley, said Hillary, which is not an easy point to reach.

"We do have to weigh the impacts in light of our avowed vision," said Forbes, "at some point you have to say this is (enough)."

The Nature Conservancy has co-operated as much as possible with the TransRockies, said Hillary, "we showed some really good faith issuing the permit to the TransRockies this summer and allowing them the time to reconsider their route in the future."

The TransRockies has been treated fairly and responsibly and given a lot of notice, said Forbes. "They have to cooperate with us too," he said.