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Further irregularities with Whistler Heli-skiing Ltd. park use permit

November 14, 2016

We wrote to the Minister of Environment after uncovering further irregularities with Whistler Heli-skiing Ltd.'s park use permit for heli-skiing in the Spearhead Range of Garibaldi Provincial Park.

Dear Minister,

On September 17th, 2016 we wrote you regarding significant irregularities with Whistler Heli-skiing Ltd.'s park use permit for the Spearhead Range in Garibaldi Park. We have not received a reply but to recap, we pointed out that five helicopter landing zones lie anywhere from 400 to 1,500 meters inside the Wilderness Conservation Zone. For the boundary line of the zone, we refer you to the detailed park map on display at the Diamond Head trail kiosk. The scale map shows the western boundary of the zone as lying along a straight line west of Peggy, Berna and Nanny Goat lakes.

We also brought to your attention the presence of helicopter landing zones at the height of land on the north side of Fitzsimmons Creek. Ministry guidelines stipulate a minimum two KM buffer zone is required for commercial operations near a Mountain Goat Winter Ungulate Range. Heli-skiing in the tenure is so pervasive as to cover virtually the entire Fitzsimmons goat winter range in harmful helicopter noise.

Prior to that, on September 2nd, 2016 my colleague in the organization Garibaldi Park 2020 received an email message from Mr. Jim Standen, Assistant Deputy Minister with reference number 303517 regarding the same subject. Mr. Standen stated that "the intent of the 1990 Garibaldi Park master plan is that the Wilderness Conservation Zone excludes all park developments and tenures, including the heli-ski tenure." In that letter, he incorrectly stated the western boundary of the Wilderness Conservation Zone runs through Mount James Turner. However, according to the park map Mount James Turner is almost three kilometers inside the zone.

On October 27th, representatives of Garibaldi Park 2020 met with Ms. Jennie Aikman, South Coast Regional Director and Ms. Vicki Haberl, Park Planner in the North Vancouver office of BC Parks. The purpose of the meeting was for park staff to show us a map overlaying the Whistler Heli-skiing Ltd. park use permit area on the Garibaldi Park Wilderness Conservation Zone. Sadly, park staff did not present such a map nor does it appear that one was ever created even for internal use. We at the organization Garibaldi Park 2020 strongly believe that it would be impossible to perform due diligence for park impact assessment without such a map. Otherwise, how would BC Parks not know the heli-ski tenure violates the intent of the zoning in the 1990 master plan?

The argument advanced by Ms. Aikman, as we understand it, is that such a map was and continues to be not necessary because the "intent" by park staff in 1990 was to approve the original and all subsequent park use permits despite the obvious geographic conflict between the permit area, the Wilderness Conservation Zone and the Spearhead Winter Mountain Goat Ungulate Range.  Ms. Aikman and Ms. Haberl at the October 27th meeting also failed to establish any errors on the part of mapping work by Garibaldi Park 2020. Our mapping clearly shows the heli-skiing tenure significantly overlaps the Wilderness Conservation Zone and impacts the mountain goat winter range as we have described.

Even more disturbing to us was the notion of "intent" advanced by Ms. Aikman, one that is contradictory to that of Mr. Standen. Disputably, Ms. Aikman's intent is to allow heli-skiing in both the Wilderness Conservation and Natural Environment Zones. A reading of the 1990 master plan for Garibaldi Park shows that heli-skiing is not permitted in either zone. See page 8 of the master plan.

Ms. Aikman stated that the Whistler Heli-skiing permit was "grandfathered", meaning it existed prior to 1990 when the park master plan came into effect. If due diligence had been done at that time and the PUP area overlain on the park zones, the Wilderness Conservation Zone could have been adjusted to exclude the overlap. This issue would not have become the serious matter it now is. Though mapping by our organization is unarguably correct, BC Parks continues to maintain that our mapping is inaccurate because it doesn’t reflect BC Park’s “intent” to violate its own policies.

In addition, new information has come to my attention regarding the apparent lack of a park impact assessment for the permit. On November 7th, 2016, we wrote to Ms. Aikman requesting the Preliminary Screen Report and Decision Statement for Whistler Heli-skiing Ltd.'s park use permit. According to BC Parks Impact Assessment Process, Part 1, Policy document of April 1999, page 10, a park impact assessment is required as a heli-skiing permit is not one of the non-reviewable actions. As a consequence of that policy, we expect to see an impact assessment for the expired permit and the permit under renewal.

There is a disturbing pattern of irregularities with Whistler Heli-skiing Ltd. park use permit.

  • Wilful lack of due diligence by park staff in mapping conflicting park uses.
  • Intrusion of heli-skiing deeply into the Wilderness Conservation Zone, clearly contrary to the intent of the zoning.
  • Gross violation of ministry guidelines pertaining to commercial heli-skiing near Mountain Goat Ungulate Winter Range.
  • Apparent failure to follow BC Parks' impact assessment process both for the expired PUP and the permit under renewal.

It leads us to a conclusion that there is a double standard for management planning in Garibaldi Park. There is one set of rules for commercial interests such as Whistler Heli-skiing Ltd. and another for recreational users such as hikers and backcountry skiers.

Our organization, Garibaldi Park 2020, is demanding that the Whistler Heli-skiing Ltd. park use permit not be approved. We are not against heli-skiing but the permit area must be reduced to eliminate overlap with the Wilderness Conservation Zone. Either that or the zone boundary must be adjusted to exclude it. Second, helicopter landing zones near the height of land along Fitzsimmons Creek must be eliminated completely. There is insufficient data on the Fitzsimmons Creek mountain goat population and such sparse research and monitoring that drawing conclusions about mitigation strategies and management practices as is done in the 2014 Spearhead Amendment is unjustified. Third, we demand a park impact assessment be undertaken and public hearings be held before the Whistler Heli-skiing Ltd. park use permit is renewed. Based on the policy document I have referenced, the impact assessment process must proceed to at least Level 2 as the tenure does not conform to existing regulatory and policy requirements.

[Signatory withheld]

As always, we welcome your comments.

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