Funding problems continue for avalanche association 

Bulletin service may be cut down without funding

The Canadian Avalanche Association is still waiting to hear whether they will receive any funding this season to help cover the costs of issuing regular avalanche bulletins across B.C. and Alberta.

According to Evan Manners, the operations manager for the CAA, representatives are talking to the federal government in Ottawa and the provincial government in Victoria.

"Whether we are going to see any funding is still not clear to us," said Manners. "We were hoping to be able to have a five day a week bulletin, but that depends on the level of funding and participation from various governments, which is something we’re working on right at this minute.

"We’re really hoping to see some increase in the level of services we offer."

While no direct promises were made, representatives from the B.C. and federal governments pledged support after last season’s record avalanche fatalities.

Between December of 2002 and May of 2003, 30 people were killed in avalanches in British Columbia. One person died in an avalanche in Alberta. Those totals surpassed the previous record of 25 avalanche deaths for both provinces. The annual average is 12 deaths for both provinces.

Two of the avalanches claimed seven lives each, including a school group from Alberta.

As a result of the deaths, representatives from the federal and provincial governments expressed an interest in avalanche safety, and suggested funding for different programs. With just over a month to go before the season begins, none of that funding has materialized.

Meanwhile, the CAA has struggled to be able to post avalanche bulletins, after the provincial government cut $27,500 in funding from the group in 2001. Last year a list of sponsors came to the rescue, enabling the CAA to publish three bulletins a week.

After the incident with the school group, the province did make discretionary funding available to the CAA, enabling them to put out additional bulletins in between regular bulletins if there was a sudden change in avalanche conditions.

Even with private sponsorship, Manners says it will be impossible to continue to publish three bulletins a week.

"Right now, without the government, we’ll have to cut down three days a week so we don’t have to pull funds out of our membership equity," he said.

Without changes, the bulletin will likely be able to manage just two bulletins a week, plus special bulletins when the conditions demand it.

"I would certainly hope this is a priority. I can’t speak for any level of government, but one thing that is apparent is that the public is interested in seeing some improvements in the level of protection, and we have a government that responds to the people," said Manners.

Two separate reports were made this year regarding last season’s avalanches. The first was made by Parks Canada, and advocated clearer signage at trailheads and better education for backcountry users stepping out of the park areas.

"The only crossover with the report and the CAA was the idea that a national avalanche centre of some sort was a good idea. That’s part of the solution. They recommended doing more research (on avalanches), and to look at people’s understanding of language in bulletins," said Manners.

The other report was a review of the incident involving the Alberta school, and looked at ways to prevent similar incidents in the future by assessing the risks up front before going on field trips.

Manners believes that governments are starting to view the avalanche bulletins as an investment in tourism and recreation in the province.

"The costs are low, when you look at the losses of life, the loss of tourism, and the social costs that go along with that," he said. "It’s definitely of interest to governments."

The CAA’s current list of sponsors includes Columbia Brewery, Mountain Equipment Co-op, the Canadian Avalanche Foundation, Marmot, Survival On Snow, Cloudveil, Sandman Hotels and Inns, the B.C. Search and Rescue Association, Arc’Teryx, the province of British Columbia, Jando contractors and Vertec Contractors.

With snow in the Revelstoke area already to the tree line, the CAA will likely start to post avalanche bulletins in mid-November, said Manners.

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