Reverence for nature

There was an interesting bit of synchronicity or synergy or sylogizing – or maybe it was just a synaptic connection finally made – this week when the provincial government announced a stable (three years) funding commitment to the Canadian Avalanche Association so that it could publish its avalanche bulletin three times a week, plus extra updates when conditions warranted.

The $125,000 annual commitment for each of the next three years comes six months after the most tragic winter for avalanches in Canadian history, and almost two years after the province scrapped its previous financial commitment to the organization, $37,500. Twenty-nine people died in avalanches in Canada last winter, 24 of those fatalities took place in B.C.

There is no guarantee that publishing avalanche bulletins three times a week will prevent any further deaths, but it will provide more information for people making decisions about venturing into the backcountry this winter. If the federal and Alberta governments joined several long-supporting private sector businesses and the newly-interested B.C. government in funding, the bulletin could be published five times a week, and perhaps the information would save even more lives.

The interesting thing about the avalanche bulletin announcement was that it happened during another weather-related disaster, the record-breaking rains that hit the Sea to Sky region and the Fraser Valley last weekend with tragic consequences.

It has been suggested the abnormally high number of deaths in avalanches last year was due to unusual weather or climatic conditions that created instability in the snowpacks. That’s difficult to prove, but the list of climate-related disasters, and their severity, continues to grow. Before the rains and flooding in our area the Interior was being scorched by forest fires this summer. A few weeks ago a hurricane devastated Halifax. In recent years ice storms have hit Quebec and Ontario and the Red River has flooded much of southern Manitoba.

What influence man has had on climate change and the seemingly growing phenomena of extreme weather conditions is a question far too big to be explored in this space. But what these weather disasters remind us is that we don’t control nature. And in some cases we don’t give nature enough respect.

Census information tells us that there are more people living in cities than in rural areas than ever before. But there is also evidence that more people live and play closer to nature than did so 20 or 50 years ago. In this province a large part of the tourism industry is based on experiencing nature. And some of the most desirable real estate, including so-called recreational real estate, is property that is close to nature. Urban/rural interface is a term we learned during the forest fires.

Our expectations are that we should be able to experience the best of nature. Pictures in tourism brochures invariably show sunny weather. Technology – from high-speed chairlifts to golf carts with global positioning systems to cruise ships – is there to help us overcome whatever obstacles might prevent us from experiencing nature.

But it’s only a certain type of nature experience most of us want. We are disappointed when the weather is not what we anticipated or the technology fails to help us with our nature experience. Our expectations about nature and weather aren’t always reasonable, but neither is nature.

At times like last weekend’s tragic rainstorm, last summer’s fires or last winter’s deadly avalanches, we are shocked and awed by nature. That sort of reverence should be practised more often.

Having information, such as up to date avalanche bulletins, can help us understand and appreciate nature, and make better decisions when venturing out to experience it.


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