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.

1 comment:

Peter said...

While NCC may not deserve the label of "extreme", I would certainly grant the title of the world's most wealthy ENGO land-owner, lawyers in sheep's clothing. Consider the implications of NCC covenants or ownership of 100,000 acres south of Hwy3.