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Feds to fund Canadian Avalanche Centre


Anderson announces $525,000 contribution over three years

After almost being forced to close shop a little over a year ago, the Canadian Avalanche Association is now on firm financial footing with enough money to expand its public services.

The federal government is the most recent contributor, committing $525,000 over the next three years to improving backcountry avalanche safety and awareness in national parks through the creation of a National Avalanche Centre.

Environment Minister David Anderson made the announcement on Feb. 19, recognizing the role that the CAA, and its fundraising arm, the Canadian Avalanche Foundation, already play in B.C. and Alberta.

"Through co-operative efforts and new initiatives, Parks Canada, the Canadian Avalanche Association and the Canadian Avalanche Foundation are making significant advances in avalanche awareness and safety," said Anderson. "We share a common desire that we can – and we must – do everything humanly possible to minimize the number of future avalanche fatalities.

"The establishment of a National Avalanche Centre will provide enhanced public safety through improved linkages between governments, the private sector and backcountry user groups."

The call to create the NAC came from a B.C. Public Avalanche Safety Program review following the 2002-2003 winter which saw a record 29 avalanche deaths in B.C. and Alberta, with 25 of those deaths taking place in B.C.

The centre will co-ordinate public and private agencies involved in avalanche safety programs, including avalanche bulletins, education programs and other awareness initiatives. The funding will be provided by Parks Canada and Environment Canada.

Parks is also set to take a bigger role in the future. As early as next year Parks Canada will implement a colour-coded Public Avalanche Warning System that represents the avalanche risk in the forecasted regions. The information will be provided on maps, as well as through print and electronic media in a way that is easier for more inexperienced backcountry users to understand.

Another initiative is the creation of an enhanced, multi-tiered Parks Canada backcountry safety and awareness program to address the needs of different user groups – custodial groups (tenure holders), inexperienced users, experienced users and professional users (such as guides).

"While we may never completely eliminate the risk, we are working to reduce the alarming increase in the number of fatalities which happen every year. I want that as a parent and I want that as a Canadian," said Anderson.

The latest avalanche funding comes just three months after the B.C. government budgeted $125,000 annually to the Canadian Avalanche Association, one year after the province cut its annual contribution to the centre from $37,500 to $2,500. The cuts were part of an overall budget review, placing the responsibility of funding the CAA and the avalanche bulletin on backcountry users rather than taxpayers.

Clair Israelson, the executive director of the CAA, praised the new funding.

"Today’s announcement means Ottawa has now joined a partnership that has been growing for years," said Israelson.

"Our industry recognized long ago the need to provide avalanche safety information for the public. Now, with the federal government joining British Columbia in support of a National Avalanche Centre we can start building avalanche safety programs that will save lives in all areas of Canada where avalanches threaten human lives."

The Alberta government has yet to pledge funding for a National Avalanche Centre.

The Revelstoke CAA will become the NAC over the next few months, and all of the organization’s current services will be maintained under the new organization. A NAC office will also be opened in Quebec to service the eastern provinces.

"We’ll also be scanning the world for best practices developed by others, borrowing shamelessly, and adapting these best practices to prevent avalanche accidents and save lives in Canada," said Israelson.

The six objectives for the NAC are co-ordinating a public avalanche safety program, providing a public avalanche warning system, delivering awareness programs, providing avalanche training for amateur recreationists, encouraging avalanche research and serving as the hub for public, private and government avalanche information.