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Alberta's burning and only nature can stop it. But it could just as easily be Whistler burning except for one significant difference: if Whistler were engulfed in an out-of-control wildfire, it would likely be all over within hours.
In the aftermath of the devastating Kelowna wildfire of 2003 that destroyed 238 homes, 25,900 hectares, and forced the evacuation of more than 33,000 people, a wildfire seminar held in Whistler identified the resort as being at high risk. With world-class hotels and multi-million dollar homes, the potential property damage would run in the billions. Given the right (or wrong) conditions; extreme dry weather, high winds and a water shortage, the entire resort could be wiped out in mere hours.
But aside from a few token efforts, the silence in the lack of a serious response has so far been deafening. Instead, the priority seems to be on maintaining a romantic ambience of multi-million dollar "cabins" nestled in the woods. Whistler even required tree covenants in some developments that ensure that homes are intimately connected with the forest interface in a move that brings new meaning to the concept of insanity.
Last year, I sent an email to (the Resort Municipality of Whistler) expressing valid concerns about the very high fuel load in the wetland park between Upper Rise, where I live, and The Terrace in Cheakamus Crossing. That I didn't even receive an acknowledgement of my email speaks volumes about Whistler's priorities.
When I returned to Whistler in 2012, after spending seven years living on the Sunshine Coast, the first thing that struck me was how much worse the wildfire potential was than when I left in 2005. It has grown especially worse in terms of the accumulation of fuel load, the old highway works yard being a prime example.
The time for action is long overdue. I am not advocating that every tree in Whistler be removed and the resort reduced to a lunar landscape. What I am advocating is that a prudent course of action be formulated and the citizens of our community pitch in and do their part to reduce the risk factors.
The fire department could start the process by conducting property inspections and writing FireSmart assessment risks. (EDITOR'S NOTE: Residents can volunteer for a free FireSmart site and hazard assessment at email@example.com.) Whistler could provide chippers and help coordinate activities. Waiting is not an option.
Protecting our waters
We took our children on the River of Golden Dreams last weekend, an extraordinary tour on what is actually Alta Creek winding through beautiful and fragile wetlands of flora and fauna, right in the heart of beaver country.
Unfortunately though most of the delicate scenery on our short canoe paddle was disrupted by dozens of orange inflatable boats, the $20 "Explorer" kind, filled with passengers who felt it was more important to be blasting their music and drinking beer than listening to the sounds of waterfowl or gazing at the tall reeds below.
We passed dozens of these drifters, the majority without PFDs and some of who were so intoxicated that at times it was challenging to pass them with our canoe.
For a moment, it felt like we were in a gigantic network of waterparks and not on the glacial waters of the place that we call home. I wasn't just saddened by what we witnessed, I was angry. Many of the drifters had left their debris along the river shores, cans of beer bottles and punctured inflatable boats.
Do they know that beavers and so many species of waterfowl and small fish live in these waters? Had they thought that maybe some of us simply want to experience the River of Golden Dreams in the serenity and peace of the mountains that it provides?
Let's deeply care for our mountain waterways and lakes by calling on council to put more resources into ensuring that places like these are protected. If it were up to me, I'd ban these inflatable boats in their entirety because in the end, just like plastic bags, these cheaply-made boats end up in our landfills; their brazen orange colour reminding us that the environment is worth caring for. Yes it is.
Mental health help a community concern
It was encouraging to see some public concerns raised in last week's Pique around mental-health issues (May 5).
In regards to current statistics from Canada — see "Report from the Canadian Chronic Disease Surveillance System: Mental Illness in Canada, 2015" — we see that the largest relative increase during the 14-year surveillance period occurred among young adolescents (aged 10 to 14, 43.8 per cent) and children (aged five to nine, 34.5 per cent).
Incidentally this is the first national report to include children and adolescents under the age of 15 years. Perhaps even more concerning is that from 2007 to 2014, a 45-per-cent increase in child and youth emergency-room visits occurred — currently approximately 50 per cent of overnight stays for children and youth are related to mental disorders.
This supports the observations of (Pique's) editorial comment and the need to continue to expand the work of the Sea to Sky Partnership (see last week's Pique article "Whistler marks Mental Health Week"). It is also important to advocate for the introduction of initiatives within the SD48 schools to encourage our children to take care of their minds and not be afraid to discuss mental-health issues, which is a challenge given the manner in which we often deal with this as adults.
Interesting that a recent report from the Select Standing Committee on Children and Youth titled "Concrete Actions for Systemic Change" includes the recommendation to establish integrated, collaborative multi-disciplinary school- and community-based hub programs for delivery of mental-wellness programs and clinical and social services to children and youth.
This is not easy against a backdrop of current school-funding challenges that have been debated, discussed and temporarily resolved. Nevertheless the challenge should not be put aside for integration of these mental health supports — developing well balanced, articulate, healthy adults (as students exit school) is a basis for a sound and stable community, and both a parental and community responsibility.
Renaissance plan brings change
I have been a resident in Whistler since 1975 and skied the 70/71 season.
Whistler has been a great getaway from the hustle and bustle of the problems of the Lower Mainland.
However, we now have many traffic problems and parking is getting harder to find. I like the idea of a large parking lot in Function Junction with bus connections, and would like to see the same in Alpine Meadows.
Since we are already on water restrictions in the summer months I wonder about the effect of the Whistler Blackcomb Renaissance Plan, (which) will draw more people to come to Whistler and maybe want to invest in property, which is good for the merchants in the village and Creekside, but especially the real-estate sales people.
Eventually more forests will be cut down and our lifestyle will change as we keep expanding. We might ruin our fresh mountain air with exhaust fumes and dry up our water resources.
Summertime was a lot less stressful with less traffic, and we could enjoy the parks and lakes and trails, but this could change with Renaissance.
Coho salmon and staffing concerns
Members of the Pemberton Wildlife Association (PWA) are concerned about the absence of coho salmon returns to the Upper Lillooet River (a tributary to the Harrison and Fraser Rivers) in the fall of 2015.
Streams which normally have hundreds of spawning coho salmon each fall were empty last year, with virtually no returns. Our immediate concern is for the coho salmon themselves — beyond that we worry about the implications to the many species, which rely on the salmon for food, including wolves and bears.
We understand that Pacific Region Fisheries and Oceans staff is aware of this disastrous decline, not only in our region but also throughout the Fraser River Watershed. However, further details on potential causes have been hard to come by.
Could (fisheries) staff please explain what you believe caused the failure in coho returns to our area in 2015? How widespread would you consider this collapse? Is it possible to implement programs or actions to ensure that this does not happen again? If so, have these actions been started?
We were also very disappointed to learn that the Senior Biologist Technician position in the Lower Fraser Area of the Pacific Region will no longer exist, following the retirement of long-time employee Sam Gidora.
Our club has been involved in several successful salmon-enhancement projects over the years and found the assistance provided by the senior biologist technician to be invaluable. We firmly believe that "boots on the ground" are vital to the protection and enhancement of our Pacific salmon stocks. To lose a key staff position, while facing the current coho salmon crises, is very troubling.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: This letter was addressed to Fisheries Minister Hunter Tootoo.)
Paying the premier
Those who argue that Premier Christy Clark's $195,000 salary is inadequate make a reasonable point.
For services rendered, she should receive at least as much as any top-level CEO employed in British Columbia's energy industry, and all her wages and benefits should be provided directly by the private sector.
The provincial taxpayer would thereby be relieved of any financial burden, and having a new paymaster would make quite clear who this premier actually works for.
Trains are user friendly
The Minister of Transportation is better looking than Premier Christy Clark, but he doesn't have a clue about transportation.
The only trains he likely knows are the old-fashioned ones, like the West Coast Express and the Amtrak to Seattle.
For many years the "new" trains do not have a locomotive, just a driver cabin. Motors are small and located under/above several coaches. They are powered either by electricity only, diesel only, or both.
Depending on the average passengers load at any given time the trains may only have a couple of coaches, or many. They are fast, comfortable, have Wi-Fi etc.
Alstom, Bombardier, Siemens are some of the main providers of these versatile trains.
Community support in abundance
The Whistler Nordics recently held a fundraiser at Creekbread. This is an annual event for us, and this year the purpose was to help fund the cost of NCCP certified coaches for the youth programs and race team.
This investment ensures youth learn great technique; a skill set that will help them stay active for life. Reflecting on this fundraiser and its success I'm grateful for the abundant support within our community:
• Creekbread. From opening night onwards Creekbread has been a huge community supporter. It provides a weekly opportunity for community groups to host fundraisers and they donate a percentage of pizza sales on the night.
• Volunteers. A fundraiser takes people power to organize, solicit silent auction donations, prepare gift baskets and bid sheets, and spread the word, etc. The club has some dedicated volunteers and this year Valerie Sicotte and Andrea Peiffer put together a very successful fundraiser.
• Local businesses. Their generous support through the donation of silent-auction items is so appreciated by the community. Thank you Quantum Vitamins, Scandinave Spa, Source for Sports, Diamond Head Sports, Ryders Eyewear, Delta Whistler Village Suites, Whistler Chocolate, Hilton Resort & Spa, Slopeside Supply, Nicklaus North Golf Course, Fairmont Vida Spa and The Adventure Group.
• Scotiabank. The staff at Scotiabank and its Bright Futures program made a valuable contribution to our fundraiser's success by matching the funds we raised on the night. Thank you for making our fundraising efforts go twice as far!
Finally, I'd like to thank our members, volunteers, coaches, sponsors and partners at the local facilities for an awesome season. We had plenty of snow (at last!) which meant our programs, races and events were well attended and fun. Time spent training on snow translated into success for several club athletes, congratulations to Benita Peiffer and Michael Murdoch who were recently selected for the BC Ski Team and Joe Davies and Mila Wittenberg who were selected for the BC Development Squad.
Thank you all for a great season!