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Cat-skiing company has plans for Duffey Lake



Land-use battle centres on ski resorts, commercial development and industrial tourism versus sacred native sites, wildlife habitat and wild mountains

A proposed snowcat skiing operation in the Duffey Lake area is causing concern among First Nations, environmentalists and recreational groups.

Vancouver-based Lillooet Snowcat Skiing Ltd. has applied to use 7,800 hecatres of Crown land on the south and east side of Duffey Lake. B.C. Assets and Lands Corp. is currently assessing the proposal at its Kamloops office.

The application stretches from Van Horlick to Blowdown creek and then wraps around the lake and snuggles up against Duffey Lake provincial park and the Melvin Creek drainage.

Melvin Creek is the site of a controversial $500-million ski resort development that, despite receiving government approval more than a year ago, is currently on hold.

The 11-band St’at’imc First Nation opposes any development in that area, which they call Sutikalh, home of the winter spirit.

Creekside Resources Inc., owned and operated by the Mount Currie Indian Band, issued a report on behalf of the St’at’imc in March 2000 that stated a ski resort at Melvin Creek could have a larger impact by acting as an impetus for other adventure tourism operations, including heli- and cat-skiing. The report also said further recreational development would dramatically increase traffic on Highway 99 by 10 times, from 1,000 to 10,000 vehicles per day.

The St’at’imc also believe Duffey Lake is an important spiritual site, home to mythical people who inhabit a world below the lake’s surface.

Al Raine, the ski resort’s proponent, has also expressed concern about secondary development in the Duffey Lake corridor.

The region is also home to grizzly bears and mountain goats that could be displaced by commercial operations, say environmentalists.

"That area is an important wildlife corridor between the Cayoosh Range and Stein Valley," said Joy Foy, director of the Vancouver-based Western Canada Wilderness Committee.

According to Foy, WCWC does, however, support commercial recreation as an alternative to traditional resource industries such as logging and mining.

"If they can take First Nations and wildlife into consideration," he said, "then that’s the direction we want to go in."

Meanwhile, recreational groups such as the Federation of Mountain Clubs of B.C., B.C. Mountaineering Club, Alpine Club of Canada and Outdoor Recreation Council of B.C. disagree with any type of motorized recreation in the Duffey Lake area. The groups use the region for ski touring in the winter, and hiking and mountaineering in the summer.

"We’re fundamentally opposed to BCAL tenures, especially motorized ones, because they conflict with access to wilderness areas," said the FMCBC’s Pat Harrison. "We want guaranteed areas for non-motorized recreation."

Harrison said recreational zoning in the backcountry would be the way to solve any potential conflicts between user groups.

"We go into the mountains to have a wilderness experience," he told Pique Newsmagazine , "and helicopters and (snow) cats ruin the purpose of being out there."

The Duffey Lake-Cayoosh Range region also contains a small provincial park and a newly designated protected area.

But according to BCAL’s Rick Stout, the Duffey Lake region is described as a resource area by the Lillooet Land and Resource Management Plan. The contentious land-use plan is currently undergoing a socio-economic review.

Stout said another commercial recreation application – Pemberton-based Cayoosh Helisports Ltd., which runs a heli-skiing operation – has already been approved for the area.

Part of BCAL’s mandate is to minimize conflicts among resource users, ensure consistency in land-use planning and support a diverse and sustainable economy.

It is also part of their mandate to protect sensitive wilderness and wildlife areas, maintain public access, and promote responsible stewardship of the natural environment.

Stout said the cat-skiing proposal is at the beginning of a rigorous approval process that will include public consultations and wildlife studies and is at least a couple of years away from hauling its first visitors into the mountains.

"It fits within our guidelines," he said in a telephone interview from Kamloops. "But we’re expecting a lot more feedback."

Despite the cautious approach, Harrison said BCAL is still trying to do too much with too little.

"We don’t want to see a mish-mash of uses up there," he said. "This really is getting out of control."