Wandering Wheels has applied for tenure for Mt. Cartier Trail and Joss Mountain Trail. (Wandering Wheels)

Controversy heats up over heli-biking

Residents raise concerns about the ecological impact of proposed heli-bike operations

A Revelstoke mountain bike guiding company that the Revelstoke Cycling Association (RCA) says has “raised the bar” in terms of local trail stewardship has applied for two additional trails to be added to its tenure, but a local resident, an ecologist, and the North Columbia Environmental Society (NCES) are expressing concern about increased ecological impact in the area.

According to a report submitted by Director of Economic Development Nicole Fricot to City Council on March 19, on March 1 the City of Revelstoke received a referral for review and comment for an amended tenure application from Wandering Wheels (WW) to the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development. (MFLNRO)

The tenure amendment application was submitted to the Ministry by WW on Feb. 13.

If approved, the WW tenure amendment application would add the Mt. Cartier Trail, south of Mt. MacKenzie, and the Joss Mountain Trail, located south of Three Valley Gap, to the company’s guidable terrain.

According to their application to the Ministry, WW projects that they would be bringing a total of 46 people up Mt. Cartier this season. They project that number to grow to 110 people in 2022. The Joss Mountain Trail follows a similar pattern, with 22 people projected to be guided on the trail in 2018, which WW has forecasted to increase to 75 in 2022.

WW is proposing to access the trails partly via helicopter, and say they will work — if their application is approved — with Glacier Helicopters (located 5 km west of Revelstoke) to provide this service.

In their application to the Ministry, WW said the project will have “little to no” negative environmental impact.

However WW noted that the Mt. Cartier heli-access is located near known mountain goat habitat, and that the Joss Mt. Trail could run through grizzly bear habitat.

In a letter to Council the NCES expressed concerns over an increased number of cyclists in the area, the lack of consultation with stakeholders about trail expansion, and issues pertaining to increased helicopter use and greenhouse gas emissions.

The environmental organization called the trail “primarily a hiking trail,” and said it “should be protected as such,” calling for local stakeholders to be included in a public consultation process.

“It is 2018, we should be protecting existing non-motorized recreational areas, not approving increasingly fossil fuel dependent ones,” wrote NCES president Jody Lownds in her letter to City Council.

Ecologist Dr. Brian Horejsi also wrote to Council that there is an extensive amount of scientific literature that mountain biking has a significant impact on wildlife.

“There is an extensive body of scientific and management literature that demonstrates that mountain biking, and or, extensive, and or intensive use by vehicles of any public land has a significant and prolonged impact on all wildlife species,” wrote Horejsi in his letter to City Council dated March 26.

As part of the tenure application, the project received support from the BC Enduro series, Shred Sisters, Eagle Pass Heli-Skiing, RCA, and Columbia Shuswap Recreation Officer Marcia Bennett.

In response to letters from WW soliciting support for the tenure amendment application, Revelstoke Mountain Resort and Selkirk Tangiers Heli-Skiing (STHS) both declined to offer support.

Currently, STHS has a commercial tenure on Mt. Cartier for guided mountain biking, which was approved by the Ministry in 2015.

STHS called the Mt. Cartier trail, “a bit of a tricky subject for us,” in response to a letter from WW soliciting support for the project, and said it is not interested in entering into a joint-use agreement.

“We have not, and do not, support overlapping tenures, shared use areas, or competition on the same land,” wrote STHS in their letter to WW, submitted to the ministry as part of its tenure amendment application.

In a letter in response to one submitted to Council in opposition of the tenure application, (that WW owner Matt Yaki shared with the Review) WW said it has gone, and will go, “above and beyond” to be active stewards of the Mt. Cartier and Joss Mt. trails.

He said the added traffic from his operation would be minimal, and that the number of cyclists currently using the trails far outnumber hikers.

Yaki also said WW has organized work parties and maintenance projects on the Mt. Cartier trail in the past, and will continue to do so in the future.

He said that they address drainage and erosion issues and remove downfall and brush the trail to improve sight lines.

In his letter, Yaki directly addressed helicopter traffic and ecological impact.

“As for the added heli traffic, as stated above, our numbers are very minimal, and if people aren’t flying up with us, then they will charter a heli and fly up on their own to ride the trail unguided. And who knows, maybe that will lead to more RevSar calls going out and even more flights happening … We have chosen our flight path to minimize the impact to local land owners as well as know wildlife habitats, as outlined in our management plan,” wrote Yaki.

City Council carried a motion on March 27 to send on the application to the City’s Environmental Committee and Economic Development Commission for review and comment.

@Jnsherman
jake.sherman@revelstokereview.com

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