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Pemberton Wilderness Association raises concern over adventure race

Route will take competitors past important grizzly bear feeding area, says conservation organization

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T he Pemberton Wilderness Association (PWA) is raising concerns about a multi-day adventure race that will take racers through important grizzly bear habitat.

Primal Quest will see 40 competitors travel 500 kilometres by foot, bike and canoe, from Lillooet to Squamish.

As part of the race, on Sept. 6, competitors will travel through the Tenquille area to the Owl Lakes Recreation Area (TOLRA), a large wilderness area that the PWA manages under the guidance of a provincial recreation officer.

The PWA is raising concerns, because the race route takes competitors through the Tenquille Creek Huckleberry patch, an area that has been identified as an important feeding ground for the Squamish-Lillooet Grizzly Bear Population unit, which is considerd a "threatened" population by the province.

Competitors will travel through on an old forest service road.

"Human presence—as scientists will tell you—displaces bears from their food source," said Allen McEwan, president of the PWA.

McEwan said he wasn't notified that the racers would be travelling through the area until Aug. 20—after the province gave race organizers the go-ahead.

"This is again an example of how overworked and disorganized this government is, that they can't even discuss this with their partners," said McEwan. "You would think the first thing they would say is, 'Hey what do you guys think about this? Let's work together on this.'

"The government welcomes us in as a partner, but then continues to bombard us with commercial enterprises—be they bikes, horses, or whatever."

The province is currently considering a land-use tenure proposal from Blackcomb Helicopters that would allow it to build three new heli-biking trails in the TOLRA.

The PWA and the Village of Pemberton have come out against the proposal.

McEwan said the lack of consultation represents a threat to the longstanding relationship between the province and the PWA.

"If you continue to break the core principle within the agreement, eventually the result will be we can't stay within the agreement anymore," he said. "(PWA members) are really upset that the government continues to allow this commercialization of the backcountry."

According to race director and Primal Quest CEO Maria Burton, the organization has been planning the race in coordination with the province for around two years.

She said that competitors are conservationists with backcountry experience and will take precautions when travelling through the area.

"All of our athletes are outdoor aware," she said. "They are ambassadors for the outdoors and wildlife. They're very much in tuned with what's going on."

Race organizers will reroute the racers if grizzly bears are feeding in the huckleberry patch, she said.

"We're not going to subject them into a den of grizzlies. No, of course not," she said. "We come with honour. And we're just grateful to kind of bring this event to the area."

This is the eighth edition of Primal Quest, which has been held in Colorado, California, South Dakota, and Montana in the past.

The province was unable to provide a statement in time for deadline.

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