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Creature of the Black Tusk

Greed, Avarice, Venality. Lesser traits of the human condition. The founder outdoor clubs who fought to create Garibaldi Provincial Park had higher motives. But, under provincial administration the founders' lofty vision has been demeaned and debased. The park today is under threat. BC Liberals and BC Parks roll out the welcome mat to commercial development while curtailing hiking and climbing access and threatening the founder outdoor club guardians with jail and heavy fines.

Heli-skiing permit renewed, mountain goat herd at risk of extirpation

December 21, 2016

In a letter dated December 19, 2016 from Mr. Jim Standen, Assistant Deputy Minister at BC Parks to our organization Garibaldi Park 2020, Mr. Standen has confirmed that the significant irregularities with Whistler Heli-skiing Ltd.'s park use permit (PUP) cited by 2020 do exist. Despite the irregularities the permit was renewed for a further ten years.

Highlights from the letter:

  • BC Parks admits the heli-skiing PUP trespasses into the Wilderness Conservation Zone (WCZ)
  • Implicitly accepts our accusation there are up to seven helicopter landing zones lie anywhere from 400 to 1,500 meters inside the Wilderness Conservation Zone
  • Commits to redrawing the WCZ to exclude the permit area in a future park management plan
  • Authorizes helicopter landing zones along the boundary of the Fitzsimmons Mountain Goat Winter Range, in violation of the government's own mountain goat management guidelines pertaining to harmful effects of helicopter noise on mountain goats
  • Admits that research is lacking on whether heli-skiing is having an effect on Mountain Goat and other park values
  • Admits that after 30 years there is still no plan to monitor goats in the Spearhead Range

The extension of the PUP for a further ten years is tantamount to playing Russian Roulette with the Fitzsimmons mountain goat herd. There is inadequate research on the herd yet another ten years of harmful helicopter noise is permitted. We don't have sufficient information about the herd so how is it possible to determine the long term effect of the helicopter noise?

The full text of the chain of letters is appended below.

Letter from Mr. Jim Standen, Assistant Deputy Minister at BC Parks to Garibaldi Park 2020

December 19, 2016

Dear [Sir]:


Thank you for your emails of September 17 and November 14, 2016, addressed to the Honourable Mary Polak, Minister of Environment, regarding the heli-skiing permit in Garibaldi Park. Minister Polak has asked that I respond on her behalf and I apologize for the delay in doing so.


I understand your desire to keep Minister Polak apprised of this issue; however, as Ms. Jennie Aikman, Regional Director – South Coast Region, is the principal contact for the heli-skiing permit in Garibaldi Park, I would ask that you continue to work directly with Ms. Aikman in the future. I understand that you and [name withheld] met with Ms. Aikman and Regional Planner, Ms. Vicki Haberl, to discuss your concerns on October 26, 2016.

As discussed, the boundary for the Wilderness Conservation Zone was determined in the 1990 Garibaldi Park Master Plan, with a clear intention of excluding areas of the park along the western boundary where park facilities and the majority of human activity occurs. The areas of the park that were intended to accommodate the development of facilities and activities for public recreation were zoned under the less restrictive Natural Environment Zone; this includes the heli-skiing tenure which was “grandfathered” into the park based on the area under permit in 1981, before the 1990 management plan and associated zoning work was completed.

I appreciate your concerns that the mapping of the Wilderness Conservation Zone does not clearly show the exclusion of the heli-ski tenure area. This is something we will update in the future when we undertake a management plan amendment for the park. At this time, we are satisfied with the intent of the 1990 plan and do not feel modifications to the heli-skiing permit area or zone boundaries are necessary.

Regarding Whistler Heli-Skiing’s permit for heli-skiing in Garibaldi Park, this permit was renewed in October 2016 for a ten-year term. This permit renewal is consistent with the Management Plan Amendment for the Spearhead Area (2014), which states that “heli-skiing opportunities will continue to be a recreation service offered in the park…”. Also consistent with the management plan direction, BC Parks has worked with the heli-skiing operator to ensure their permit management plan includes protocols and restrictions to minimise user conflicts and impacts to Mountain Goat. This includes flight paths that avoid flying over known Mountain Goat winter habitat. In addition to this, the heli-skiing operator is providing annual funding to BC Parks to enable the monitoring and assessment of the effects of heli-skiing on Mountain Goat and other wildlife. This will assist BC Parks in understanding whether heli-skiing is having an effect on Mountain Goat and other park values. It will also inform a decision on the continuation of heli-skiing by 2026, consistent with the management direction to “…no later than 2026…develop a recommendation on the future of heli-skiing that meets the vision of the park and addresses impacts on key park values…”. If through monitoring it is determined that heli-skiing is having a negative effect on Mountain Goat populations in the area, this will be taken into consideration by the decision maker when the permit comes up for renewal in 2026.

With respect to impact assessment, under BC Parks policy reviewable actions are subject to an impact assessment when they are new activities or activities where there are substantial changes to continued actions, such as considerable changes in operations or areas of use. In the case of the heli-skiing permit, Whistler Heli-Skiing was applying for a renewal of an existing activity, with no changes that are considered substantial.

Even though policy supports that a formal impact assessment is not required in this case, the renewal process did include consideration of environmental impacts and appropriate mitigation. As part of their renewal application, Whistler Heli-skiing submitted an updated permit management plan. BC Parks staff reviewed the permit management plan and provided comment, including recommendations on specific measures to address potential impacts to wildlife. In response, Whistler Heli-skiing updated their permit management plan to incorporate recommendations made by staff. Although this process did not include formal completion of documents referenced in the impact assessment policy and user’s guide (for example, Preliminary Screen Report and Decision Statement), the level of review was consistent with at least a Level 1 preliminary screen.

In addition to this screening of the proposed permit management plan, BC Parks also completed assessment of the potential impacts and risks of existing (and proposed) activities to park values, including heli-skiing, as part of the 2014 park management plan amendment. These assessments included an assessment of impacts on Mountain Goat, as documented in the appendix to the 2014 amendment. The recommendations in the appendix include further study to assess the effects of recreation use, including heli-skiing, on Mountain Goat populations. BC Parks will be working with wildlife biologists to develop a plan to monitor goats in the Spearhead area of Garibaldi Park so that we can more adequately assess whether recreational use is having an effect on the populations and make management decisions to mitigate impacts.

Thank you again for taking the time to write.

Sincerely,
Jim Standen
Assistant Deputy Minister
BC Parks and Conservation Officer Service Division


Letter from Garibaldi Park 2020 to Honourable Mary Polak, Minister of Environment

November 14, 2016
The Honourable Mary Polak
Minister of Environment
Room 112, Parliament Buildings
Victoria, BC
V8V 1X4

By Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Dear Minister,

Re: Significant irregularities with Whistler Heli-skiing Ltd. park use permit for Spearhead Range, Garibaldi Park

On September 17th, 2016 I wrote you regarding significant irregularities with Whistler Heli-skiing Ltd.'s park use permit for the Spearhead Range in Garibaldi Park. I have not received a reply but to recap, I 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.

I 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, [name withheld], 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, [name withheld] and I 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 I 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 I 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 my 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, my colleague [name withheld] 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 me 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.

My 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.

Yours sincerely,
[name withheld], co-founder Garibaldi Park 2020
cc: Mr. George Heyman, MLA


Letter from Garibaldi Park 2020 to Honourable Mary Polak, Minister of Environment

September 17, 2016

The Honourable Mary Polak
Minister of Environment
Room 112, Parliament Buildings
Victoria, BC
V8V 1X4

By Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Dear Minister,

We, at the organization Garibaldi Park 2020, are 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? Is it deliberate deception or simply a case of an individual being mistaken and the entire Garibaldi Park management team being unaware of something as fundamental as the zoning boundary overlapping the PUP? Or is it something even deeper?

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 found this glaring oversight or demonstration of astounding incompetence. That fact that even now, when presented with compelling evidence of the infraction, park managers and senior leadership have failed to acknowledge this 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 an evident double standard, in that wilderness conservation zoning does not 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. Heli-skiing is so pervasive as to cover virtually the entire Fitzsimmons goat winter range in harmful helicopter noise. 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." Scientific knowledge cannot be based on unsupported assumptions. It is bunkum to state that the height of land "... can be assumed to mitigate to some extent the impacts of heli-skiing on Mountain Goats in the Fitzsimmons winter range." 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."

I reiterate. Our purpose in writing is to demand the Spearhead PUP for Whistler Heli-skiing be denied when it comes up for renewal in October 2016.

Yours sincerely,

[name withheld], co-founder Garibaldi Park 2020

cc: Mr. George Heyman, MLA

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