Y2Y research project explores Revelstoke-area economy, environment

Revelstoke municipal government, province partner with Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative for small research project on Columbia Headwaters economy and environment

Volunteer Wildlife Ecologist Alex Taylor (Golder Associates) unloads a mother caribou in this file photo. Photo: Rob Buchanan/Revelstoke Caribou Rearing in the Wild

Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y), a U.S.-Canadian conservation group with the goal of connecting and conserving a swathe of land between the two locations in its name, has commissioned a study exploring the intersection between the economy and environment in the Revelstoke area.

Nadine Reynolds, who manages the Columbia Headwaters program for Y2Y from her office in New Denver, said the conservation group commissioned the study to explore the relationship between the economy and the environment in the area, which includes Revelstoke, Nakusp, Golden, Invermere and surrounding areas.

Y2Y has commissioned Jeremy Williams, from Ontario-based forestry consulting company Aves Arborvitae, and Gary Bull, a professor in the Department of Forest Resources Management in the Faculty of Forestry at UBC, to complete the $30,000 study, Reynolds said.

This image shows Y2Y’s Columbia Headwaters region. Image: Y2Y/https://y2y.net/work/what-hot-projects/columbia-headwaters

She said the focus of the study, the economic future of the region, is a new area of exploration for Y2Y.

“We’re going to need to change. If we don’t have healthy forests, we’re not going to have clean water. Our interest is to start a dialogue,” Reynolds said, explaining Y2Y commissioned the study to get expert perspective. “We are not experts in socioeconomic analysis, we’re not experts on the economy.”

She said that public debate over environmental issues often intersects with economic issues. “[It’s] jobs versus the environment; we wanted to test that. We believe we can have both, so we asked the researchers, ‘Can we?'”

A lack of data creates a problem when trying to study the issue, Reynolds said, so the study will in part seek to gather data.

“There are actually a lot of knowledgeable people in the region,” Reynolds said. “The research is a review of literature and doing a series of interviews with key informants in the region.”

Others involved

Although the study is small, of note are the other partners involved in the project via a research advisory committee. Reynolds said that includes the provincial government, Environment and Climate Change Canada, the City of Revelstoke, the Golden and Nakusp municipal governments, Heli-Cat Canada, Selkirk College and the Okanagan and Splatsin First Nations. Reynolds said that the committee includes a local forestry consultant and a retired sawmill manager.


File photo: Parks Canada staff apply a satellite linked radio collar to track movements after their release from the caribou maternity pen located on the west shore of Lake Revelstoke. Photo: Revelstoke Caribou Rearing in the Wild

Y2Y has been in the news locally as it relates to the mountain caribou issue. In April of 2018, Y2Y and the North Columbia Environmental Society (and other individual signatories) sent a request to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Hon. Catherine McKenna, requesting an emergency order to stop logging in federal critical habitat in the Revelstoke–Shuswap area.

In the weeks following their submission, minister McKenna declared the species was facing an “imminent threat,” under federal species at risk legislation, setting off the  negotiations between the federal government, the province and First Nations. It’s not clear if the timing of the request and the minister’s actions are more than coincidence.

Y2Y is a frequent target of attacks in the alt-right social media sphere in B.C. and Alberta. The organization is criticized as a primarily U.S.-funded organization that seeks to shut down resource industries in the region, earning ire from the oil and gas industry further north and in Alberta. The conservation group also came under attack online during the ongoing mountain caribou process as being primarily interested in turning the region into “a park” — the perennial meme dispatched to criticize Y2Y. In our interview, Reynolds acknowledged the public relations challenges the conservation organization faces, emphasizing that Y2Y is a conservation group.

Also relevant is the traction the conservation group is receiving with the federal and provincial governments. Locally, municipal and regional governments have joined many stakeholder groups in requesting that the provincial government coordinate land use planning in the Revelstoke region in order to better manage backcountry conflicts arising from Revelstoke’s growing outdoor recreation industry. Their calls for help have yet to bear much fruit. That an Alberta-based conservation group can get provincial and federal government officials to the table on local environment and economy issues is noteworthy, at least, and calls to mind the next step in mountain caribou conservation planning: the individual herd plans.

The herd-level planning as promised under the federal and provincial government’s plans to manage mountain caribou. During the first phase of developing mountain caribou conservation agreements, the provincial government signaled that the substantial, on-the-ground planning would come after provincial and federal governments first came to a higher level agreement.

The federal Liberals are still in the driver’s seat in Ottawa, meaning the status quo remains: the federal government pushing the provincial government to come up with solutions, under threat that the federal government will step in and take over the file.

Locally, stakeholders in forestry and outdoor recreation are keen to find out more about the upcoming herd unit planning processes.

Reynolds said the study was to “begin a process to prepare for land use planning.”

What, if any, conclusions to draw remain unclear, but in a town that can pack a gymnasium with over 700 people for a mountain caribou meeting (and fewer than a few dozen for a federal all-candidates’ debate), there certainly is interest in what’s happening in the woods, making provincial and federal participation in the study noteworthy, at least.

City economic development director: report is another tool

Ingrid Bron, the Revelstoke area Director of Community Economic Development, a joint role between the Columbia Shuswap Regional District and the City of Revelstoke*, sits on the Y2Y research advisory committee. Bron said involvement in the process helped the city keep an eye on what is happening, and also guide the process. She said was interested in the project as it relates to emerging economic activities.

“It’s not that in depth, actually.” Bron said, “The outcome of the report is a call for recreational land use planning,” adding the report would be another tool the city can draw on, particularly during upcoming mountain caribou discussions. She expects the final report will be out soon.

“We just want to be prepared as much as possible when the [mountain caribou] herd planning process starts,” Bron said. “It’s just a starting point and it’s not going to become the jumping off point.”

More to come

After an initial interview to learn more about the project, the Mountaineer requested an audio interview, but Reynolds declined, saying she was going to be speaking with the advisory committee about communications. This prevented us from asking more questions about the project that would have provided a more fulsome report, including details such as the exact composition of the advisory committee.

Reynolds did say the plan is to share the results of the study with the public, and that the group would be issuing public communications at some point soon.

*Clarification: Director Ingrid Bron’s title description was edited to include the CSRD’s participation in the role. 

What are your thoughts on land use planning in the Revelstoke area? Are you involved in this process and have more to add? What are your thoughts on the upcoming caribou herd planning process? We encourage readers to add comments to this story on our website below.