Tyax Heli-Skiing admits tree cutting Safety issues given as reasons at Forest Service hearing By Chris Woodall Whistler's Tyax Heli-Skiing has admitted to cutting trees to create a ski run on a backcountry section of Mount Fee it had leased, the B.C. Forest Service Squamish district manager heard at a special hearing, Feb. 3. "I was responsible for cutting trees on Mount Fee," Tyax Heli-Skiing owner Mike Jakobsson told Pique Newsmagazine a few hours after the hearing concluded. "I made a mistake in not trying harder to get a cutting permit," Jakobsson said. He added it is common for heli-skiing operations in B.C.'s Interior to get cutting licenses as part of their tenure leases. Forest Service staff were at the site before snow fell last November to determine that trees had been cut illegally. Tyax Heli-Skiing had tried to get a cutting permit attached to its lease on Mount Fee, but "when I've asked in the past, it seemed I was getting a lot of hurdles," Jakobsson said. "If they had got the lease and applied to be able to cut trees, they would have got permission as a matter of course if the public process said okay to cutting the trees," Forest Service zone supervisor Steve DeMelt told Pique Newsmagazine last week. The district manager will take up to three weeks to write a determination of guilt that will also set any fines or other penalties. The maximum fine could be up to $130,000 for the 1.3 hectares involved, plus a requirement — called a remediation order — that the offending company pay for reforestation, or other costs to fix the damage done. This is a first offence for the 10-year-old heli-skiing operation. Because the trees cut was along an avalanche chute where trees are likely to be wiped out every 10 years or so; because 95 per cent of the trees "weren't merchantable"; and because Jakobsson says he won't be appealing the decision, any fines are likely to be light. "I'm willing to pay my dues and get on with it," Jakobsson told Pique newsmagazine. "It's a nice long run and it can be skied in safety." Safety was the prime consideration in cutting the trees, Jakobsson said. "The route we took last year to get into the sub-alpine had to go down a gully. If someone strayed off to the side, the gully's bank of snow could slough in on them." By cutting the trees, Tyax Heli-Skiing hoped to create a safe pick-up point lower down the mountain, Jakobsson said. Mountains in the province's Interior offer better conditions for helicopter skiing, Jakobsson explained, because the vegetation difference from wide-open alpine to heavy forest is more gradual. "Here, you're out of the alpine and hitting a thick band of hemlock. If we want to compete with the big heli-skiing operations of the Interior we need to thin out trees." The Forest Service has other cases in the works involving Rainbow and Rutherford mountains. The Mount Fee cut will have implications for the next cases of allegedly illegal tree cuts the Forest Service looks at, DeMelt says. "What happens with one should happen to them all," DeMelt says. There appears to be trees cut down for a ski run on Rainbow and on Rutherford mountains, DeMelt says. But this could not be verified by on-ground inspection because too much snow had fallen. "Rutherford is strange because that's not a heli-skiing area, but there's a cut that goes from top to bottom," DeMelt explains. "Theoretically there shouldn't be any cutting by a heli-skiing operation because there's no lease there."