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

September 17, 2016

2020 wrote to Honourable Mary Polak, Minister of Environment demanding that the Whistler Heli-skiing park use permit for the Spearhead Range not be renewed in October 2016 when the current permit expires. We have uncovered significant irregularities with the current permit that cause us great concern.

Earlier this year, our organization filed a Freedom of Information request for park use permit number 102529 - Park Use Permit, Commercial Recreation between Her Majesty the Queen in Right of the Province of British Columbia and Whistler Heli Skiing Ltd. of 4545 Blackcomb Way, Whistler, B.C. The permit was issued for the purpose of conducting mechanized heli-skiing guiding operations in the Spearhead zone of Garibaldi Park. In Schedule "A" of the permit there is a scale map outlining the permit area boundary, helicopter landing zones and heli-ski runs.

In the 1990 Garibaldi Park Master Plan and in the Diamond Head trail head information kiosk there are maps prepared by BC Parks that document the zoning of Garibaldi Park. We were able to determine with great precision the boundary line of the wilderness conservation zone and overlay it on the Spearhead PUP boundary. What we found is that the PUP boundary overlaps by up to two kilometers into the wilderness conservation zone. Up to seven landing zones and multiple ski runs enter into the wilderness zone in the Shatter, Quiver, Ripsaw and Naden Glacier ski runs authorized under the permit.

According to the 1990 master plan for Garibaldi Park, the wilderness conservation zone is "characterized by very low use, no facilities or hunting, non-mechanized access and large natural areas free of the evidence of modern man. Management is oriented to protecting a pristine environment."

It is our opinion that heli-skiing is not characterized as low use and of course, it is mechanized. Heli-skiing is an incompatible use in the wilderness conservation zone, a fact that is not disputed by BC Parks.

We subsequently emailed Mr. Jim Standen, Assistant Deputy Minister on August 18th, 2016 with our concerns over this particular irregularity and others. He replied on September 2nd, 2016, that on advice of staff, the wilderness conservation zone boundary line in question was much further east actually passing through Mount James Turner so as to exclude the entire permit area from the wilderness zone. He referred us to Jennie Aikman, Regional Director, South Coast Region for further questions. We immediately requested Ms. Aikman to provide us with "high accuracy/high resolution mapping of Garibaldi Park with the Wilderness Conservation Zone." To date, we have not received the information requested from Ms. Aikman.

We are greatly concerned that park staff are providing the assistant deputy minister with misleading or incorrect description as to the boundary of the wilderness conservation zone as it applies to the Spearhead PUP. The information kiosk map at Diamond Head clearly shows Mount James Turner as deep inside the wilderness conservation zone. We ask of you the following question. How do you characterize the errors and inconsistencies?

We find it extremely difficult to believe that an error of this magnitude has not gone unnoticed by park management considering that the Spearhead PUP was the subject of intense scrutiny and discussion leading up to the 2014 Spearhead amendment to the park master plan. When our organization received the PUP and examined it we discovered this glaring oversight. That fact that even now, when presented with compelling evidence of irregularities, park managers and senior leadership have failed to acknowledge the impropriety and to provide us with at least some indication that a complete and far-reaching investigation is underway.

As the renewal of Spearhead PUP approaches in October 2016, we are seeking answers as to why there is a perceived double standard, in that wilderness conservation zoning does not seem to apply to Whistler Heli-skiing Ltd. in Garibaldi Park. Where it does seem to apply is to recreational trails, for example, at Darling Lake.

The entire question of the PUP boundary is not our only concern. The presence of helicopter landing zones at the height of land on the north side of Fitzsimmons Creek is also deeply disturbing. In our email letter to Mr. Standen on August 18th, 2016 we said,

Ministry guidelines stipulate a minimum 2 KM buffer zone is required for commercial operations near a Mountain Goat Winter Ungulate Range, yet your government renewed a tenure with only a 100 meter buffer zone, running for several kilometers. According to BC Parks's own research, the most disturbing human activity to Mountain Goats is helicopter/industrial operations in the vicinity of wintering habitat."

Mr. Standen's response of September 2nd was not reassuring. He cited the Spearhead Amendment of 2014, Appendix 1 as justifying the continued operation of heli-skiing above and next to mountain goat winter range. Helicopters landing at the height of land would cover virtually the entire Fitzsimmons goat winter range in harmful helicopter noise. Our mapping shows that one landing zone at Decker is at the height of land, two landing zones on Trorey are less than 100 meters from the height of land, Tremor LZ is 130 meters away, Shudder LZ is 80 meters, Ripsaw LZ at 130 meters, Naden at 90 meters and Iago at 160 meters. Yet the research cited in the appendix of the amendment is sparse and consists of an overflight to count goats every two to five years. There is heavy use of unscientific and vague qualifying language such as "we don't know", "very little is known", "existing data do not allow assessment of ... impacts on Mountain Goats" and "additional information ... would help." It is leaping to conclusions to believe as Mr. Standen states that there are "strategies in the management plan amendment to mitigate impacts on Mountain Goats." 

Our purpose in writing the minister is to demand the Spearhead PUP for Whistler Heli-skiing be denied when it comes up for renewal in October 2016 for a ten year period.

A copy of our letter was sent to Mr. George Heyman, MLA and environment critic. Our hope is to have the significant irregularities of the Whistler Heli-skiing park use permit discussed on the floor of the legislature.

We welcome your comments on this issue even if it only to show your support. Click on the Write Comment link below and Tweet your friends. Write the minister. Write the environment critic.

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