An independent, third party review of the proposed Cayoosh Resort’s impact on mountain goats appears to clear the way for approval of the ski resort.
Disagreement between resort proponent Al Raine and Ministry of Environment staff over the project’s negative impacts on goats and the mitigation measures necessary to reduce those impacts prompted the Environmental Assessment Office, which is reviewing the project, to hire two independent goat experts.
Kim Poole and Daryll Hebert reviewed the existing information and analyses on mountain goats in the Cayoosh Range. In a 16-page report presented Feb. 29 Poole and Hebert conclude: "There is little question that development and operation of the Cayoosh Resort will have some negative impact on some goats in the Melvin Creek area and possibly the Cayoosh Range. However, we find little evidence to suggest that the impacts will be significant to either the local or range populations. Many of the disagreements between Ministry of Environment Lands and Parks and NGR Resort Consultants Inc. regarding specific mitigation options are likely at a level below the level of biological significance to the population, and are certainly below a level of difference we can detect. The available empirical data, our knowledge of the literature, our understanding of mountain goat ecology and our limited knowledge of the affects of winter resorts on mountain goats suggest that the negative impact on goats from the resort will be on the minimal end of the scale. The development is not likely to be population threatening. The resort will likely displace or alter the movement patterns of some animals, either for a short period, or permanently if habituation does not occur. However, the available data suggest that the potential impacts to seasonal movements, especially along the contentious West Ridge complex, extend to a small portion of the population and are likely not life threatening to these animals. Mitigation measures that spatially and temporally minimize potential disturbances to the goats, such as those suggested here, should decrease impacts to the population from the resort development. The sequence of construction of the development in phases will allow an adaptive management approach, such that some of the more contentious lifts (i.e., 5 and 13) can be placed with the benefit of additional years of information."
The mitigation measures suggested include keeping the top terminals of several lifts below the top of the ridge line, so the lifts remain entirely within the Melvin Creek drainage and access to neighbouring drainages is limited. One of the contentious issues was the resort’s impact on goat movement along the ridges.
The report also concludes that provided resort operations conclude by April 30 each year, there should be little impact on goat birth and rearing.
MELP also expressed concerns about the Melvin Creek drainage being used as winter range by at least part of the goat population in the Cayoosh Range. Poole and Hebert conclude: "We do not disregard the occurrence of goats within the Melvin Creek drainage during winter; however, we feel that the potential impact of the facilities and development on this winter use is not a significant risk to the local or regional population. We believe that the potential impacts from the proposed Cayoosh Resort on possible mountain goat winter range within the Melvin Creek drainage per se will be minimal. Three winters of monitoring of collared goats suggest that there is essentially no true winter range within the drainage that will be directly affected by the facilities and developments proposed."
The final issue raised by MELP was the apparent existence of a mineral lick in the area. Poole and Hebert conclude that the site does not fit the general description of a mineral lick, use of the "lick" by goats is relatively low and timing of use is generally compatible with lift use. They also suggest that it should be possible to develop summer hiking trails in the vicinity of the "lick" in a way that goats are not disturbed.
In addition to an April 30 closure and keeping lifts below the ridge line, mitigation measures suggested include prohibiting recreational snowmobile activity, minimizing helicopter disturbance to the Cayoosh Range during construction of the resort and prohibiting all helicopter travel (except for emergencies and occasional summer servicing of the communications tower) once the resort is built.
A monitoring program is also proposed if the project is approved.
The goat issue was believed to be the last significant issue preventing the Environmental Assessment Office from issuing a project certificate for the Cayoosh Resort. Environmental Assessment Office and MELP concerns about the resort’s impact on grizzly bears are believed to have been met.
However, the Society Promoting Environmental Conservation and the Western Canada Wilderness Committee are not satisfied concerns about grizzlies have been answered. The two groups held a press conference in Vancouver last week to outline their position.
They also suggested former cabinet ministers Glen Clark and Moe Sihota interfered with the approval process in 1995, over-ruling MELP officials who said the project shouldn’t be built because of the impact it could have on grizzlies and mountain goats.
At the time the Melvin Creek area was being considered for inclusion in the Protected Areas Strategy. Raine said he wouldn’t do any further studies if the area was included in the PAS study. Cabinet decided to delete the Melvin Creek drainage from the PAS study area and the Cayoosh Resort proposal then entered the Environmental Assessment process.