What are we to make of this snowmobiler versus heli-skier controversy? What does it all mean for the mountain caribou?
During the past few weeks the Times has carried a series of articles with claims and counter-claims from representatives of the snowmobiling and heli-skiing industries. Comments have flown fast and furious on www.clearwatertimes.com and other websites about the articles. Which side is telling the truth?
Unfortunately for those who seek simple solutions, both sides seem to have legitimate arguments to back up their statements.
What appears to be happening is there is a small minority of snowmobilers who are either ignorant of the rules and generally accepted standards of behavior, or who choose to ignore those rules and standards.
The other snowmobilers ask that they not be tarred with the same brush. The small minority is just that, a small minority, they say. Snowmobiling has brought big economic benefits to the North Thompson Valley and could bring even more, if properly promoted.
For the heli-skiers, on the other hand, pretty well all they see is that small minority. They are the ones who go into places they shouldn’t, scare the wildlife, put themselves and others in danger, and track up the ski runs.
What are the solutions?
The first step has to be education. The local and provincial snowmobiling associations say they are doing quite a bit of this but there is always room for improvement. How to educate those from outside the province is a concern.
It is now necessary to pass a simple course in order to operate even a small motorboat in Canada. Perhaps a similar educational requirement could be brought in for those wishing to operate a snowmobile.
The next step needs to be enforcement. People going into an area where they shouldn’t need to believe that there is a good chance they will be caught and punished – even if that area is in the back of the beyond.
The present system, in which much of the responsibility falls on the local snowmobile clubs, is not adequate. The club members are all volunteers and they have no powers to enforce the rules. Add to that the fact that many of them are involved in the snowmobiling industry and the difficulties become obvious.
Enforcement on Crown land is primarily a provincial responsibility. More resources need to be devoted to the task, and there should be resources on the ground, not flying overhead.
The mountain caribou are a beautiful but increasingly rare species. It is worth our while to do what we can to prevent their extinction.