City of Revelstoke report warns potential new mountain caribou closures could threaten forestry, backcountry industries

Caribou rut. Photo: David Moskowitz.

An alarming new report from the City of Revelstoke’s economic development department warns potential changes to the provincial mountain caribou conservation program could significantly impact two of Revelstoke’s main economic drivers, specifically forestry and tourism. The potential resulting negative economic impacts would cause cascading socio-economic effects through the local economy.

The city report dated June 12 highlights several alarming potential outcomes of changes to the mountain caribou conservation strategy, and a recent request from environmental groups for a federal emergency order to further protect mountain caribou critical habitat in the Revelstoke area. These outcomes include:

-the removal of “between 65% and 100% of local [forestry] companies’ remaining Timber Harvesting Landbase”

-the removal of between 40%-80% of local heli-skiing tenure areas that could cut heli-skier volume in half

-“increased restrictions on snowmobiling in the matrix habitat would significantly damage the community’s ability to both attract snowmobilers to our community and generate the associated tourism revenues from snowmobiling activities”

The B.C. government is currently ramping up its efforts to protect threatened southern mountain caribou populations. This comes after Catherine McKenna, the federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change, issued an order in early May that places pressure on the B.C. government to take immediate action to improve southern mountain caribou conservation efforts. If the B.C. government doesn’t take adequate steps, the federal government could step in on the southern mountain caribou file and impose further, more restrictive conservation measures.

The Revelstoke Mountaineer covered the potential cascading effects of Minister McKenna’s May 4 “imminent threat” declaration in a feature in the June 2018 issue of Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine. For background on this developing issue, read that story here.

File photo: Caribou are released into a maternal pen as part of the Revelstoke Caribou Rearing in the Wild penning project, which is located on the west shore of Lake Revelstoke. Photo: Revelstoke Caribou Rearing in the Wild/file photo

Currently, the B.C. government is seeking input on its Draft Caribou Recovery Program via an online feedback system. The deadline for feedback is June 15.

In a report to city council, Director of Community Economic Development Nicole Fricot said staff believe it’s imperative the city take a proactive approach in engaging the provincial government on caribou recovery. City staff have prepared a draft submission to the Ministry of Forest’s Provincial Caribou Recovery Program. An accompanying report outlines potential socio-economic impacts to the community.

The report warns that harvesting restrictions could threaten the viability of the forestry industry in the region. The report notes forestry remains a huge economic driver for Revelstoke with more than $29 million in direct employment income. Potential impacts on timber supply could take local forestry companies below operating efficiency thresholds.

In her report, Fricot warns: “If harvest restrictions were to be placed on the Matrix habitat, it is anticipated that it would remove between 65% and 100% of our local companies remaining Timber Harvesting Landbase.”

The report warns of significant impacts on tourism, a major economic driver for Revelstoke. The potential increased restriction on recreational and commercial activities would directly impact  tourism activities including heliskiing, snowmobiling, mountain biking and backcountry activities, threatening their viability. “Much of the terrain that would be lost is key skiing terrain for bad weather and periods of high avalanche hazard,” Fricot writes. “Several of our local operators have estimated that restricting access to this area would cut their skier volume in one half.”

The economic impact would have trickle-down effects on industries benefiting from tourism including accommodations, retail, arts and entertainment organizations. Many of these businesses and organizations have become heavily dependent on tourism revenues.

The report also notes major impacts to avalanche forecasting in the Revelstoke area, which is home to Avalanche Canada, the national avalanche forecasting centre. Further restrictions would decrease the quality and amount of avalanche forecasting data available through their public avalanche warning system. The report notes that many of the data points used to determine avalanche danger are currently provided by helicopter and snowcat skiing operators. Restricting these operations could increase potential risk to recreational backcountry users.

The report points out social trickle-down effects on the community, such as reduced support for social organizations and groups. The potential reduction in viability for the tourism and forestry sectors could result in reduced financial support for many social organizations and programs and impact the services they are able to offer.

The city report recommends that the City of Revelstoke’s response to the Draft Caribou Recovery Program focuses on cooperative and collaborative solutions including:

-Using a science-based collaborative approach. The report says research and monitoring has shown effective caribou recovery in the Revelstoke-Shuswap Planning Unit requires multiple management actions or levers.

-The report recommends building on previous mountain caribou conservation efforts, and requesting that provincial authorities review mountain caribou recovery activities to date and assess key knowledge and learnings as part of planning future activities.

-Public sharing and exchange of data. Publicly sharing data on current counts, herd locations, herd movements and mortalities could enhance stakeholders’ ability to more fully participate in recovery efforts.

Revelstoke City Council will discuss the draft feedback submission at the regular council meeting on Tuesday, June 12. City staff are recommending the City of Revelstoke’s response be submitted to the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations & Rural Development’s Draft Provincial Caribou Recovery Program as part of the ongoing public engagement process.