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Harnessing the snowmobile hordes, rubbish around sewage, and thoughtful thanks

Time to look at snowmobiles The residents of Whistler have openly said that they wanted to place some controls on growth.

Time to look at snowmobiles

The residents of Whistler have openly said that they wanted to place some controls on growth. A cap was established, we became the first community to sign onto The Natural Step, we became a leader in discussing sustainability and we are proud of our 2020 plan that ensued from those discussions.

Through these years however, we were complacent about the growth of snowmobiling. In the days when there were maybe a dozen users in the Callaghan on a good day, few would have believed that this recreational activity would grow to the extent that it is in the Sea to Sky corridor. Look around now. Count the number of trucks with snowmobiles that drive through the village. Count the number at the entrance to the Callaghan. A good day now brings over 100 users to the Callaghan, some more onto the icecap and to almost any high alpine with logging road access. No day is free from the high rev whine of engines on the alpine ridges. Was this the kind of growth we were expecting? Are we not far past the carrying capacity of the area for this kind of use?

A Google search under “Snowmobiles and Environment” brings up an impressive 350,000 articles. The debate reflected there is one of environmental research versus defensive subjective opinion.

Many of the articles that address negative impacts site the known facts about 2 stroke engines (still some 3/4 of the machines in use in this corridor) At 40 litres per day of gas and oil, a 25 per cent raw fuel emission would mean nearly one ton of fuel dumped in the Callaghan and surroundings per day. If this was the CNR dumping a ton of fuel into our alpine we would be up in arms. The balance of the fuel is turned into greenhouse gases, and Whistler wants to do, and needs to be seen as doing, something about global warming.

An additional skier to our area must, one imagines, increase our impact. But this is a marginal impact, and one would expect that the impact per skier goes down with additional skiers. The addition of another snowmobile is, on the other hand, cumulative. And the impact per snowmobile goes up with each additional snowmobile. Any activity where this is so has a carrying capacity problem. A handful was not a problem, a hundred a day is, and how many does it take for everyone to realize that it was wrong?

This is not about litter. Litter by any group is a solvable problem. What seems less open to solution is our capacity to share the planet and particularly our wild-lands with other creatures. The concern about sharing the wilderness centres around moving noise. Deer, sheep, elk and moose all of which are already stressed by just coping with winter foraging, are panic-ed by loud noise that they cannot locate because it is moving. (This is not to be mistaken for chasing animals — a problem, if it exists at all, which is as unpalatable to one side as the other.) Obviously faster snowmobiles and steep hill-climbs are more troublesome than the slow moving noise that we might expect from a guided group of beginners. But research shows declining populations as animals quit foraging, abandon territory, the rut, and sometimes their young. A recent report to our own provincial government says that both Grizzly Bears and wolverines are also negatively impacted. The same is even true for marmots, ground squirrels and small rodents. So we need to “urbanize” the wild-lands. When we take beginners out on snowmobiles (or ATVs) do we point out these negative aspects to them?

A Whistler business has recently announced that they are happily teaching young kids to snowmobile. Their venue is right beside the cross-country trails of Lost Lake. So what is really taught here? One thing that I have seen is that young 20-something guys help much younger kids to ignore the frustrations of those who ski by and complain about the exhaust beside their trails. Not anger management, just desensitization. I’m sure this was not in the plan, but nor is it part of the larger Whistler plan. Why promote this kind of activity? Are we completely bereft of ideas for teaching environmental stewardship to visiting youth?

It has been noted that this is a large industry — worth even billions if you make the boundaries large enough. Well, so are the industries that produce Hummers and other large SUVs, or boats that consume tens to a hundred gallons per hour. These and other gadgets are now part of making North Americans unpopular, as other energy users try with decreasing success to compete for energy, perhaps to grow crops or transport goods, just as we compete for pleasure use. Polluting for pleasure makes us unpopular. If we accept in-your-face wonton needless consumption, then we must accept the consequences of that. The size of these issues does not mean we should not debate them. Even at the local level, Whistler has spent money, time and energy developing a Whistler cache. Is a prosperous and active snowmobile industry, and visitors coming to use nature in this way, part of that cache?

We have a choice. Either we continue in the direction we are traveling, or we ask others to curtail some or even much of their activity. But if we choose not to curtail snowmobiling in some way, then we must realize that we are in fact degrading our environment, we are displacing much of our wildlife, with fewer places to go, we are saying that we are open to polluting for pleasure, we are certainly saying that our signature to the Natural Step was not representative or was farcical, and we are saying to the rest of the world that the greenhouse gases emitted by snowmobiles and the trucks that haul them are not part of the climate change problem, and thus we are not very interested in Kyoto either.

Please don’t shoot the messenger. Human-caused global climate change is here, and will be reversed only by change in our habits. All Canadians, certainly myself included, are complicit in overuse of energy. All of us have an ecological footprint, and a carbon footprint that is larger than necessary. And all of us need to make changes in our lifestyles and our recreations if we are to avoid the more disastrous aspect of climate change, and species degradation.

Al Whitney




Our responsibilities

After reading Lincoln Ferguson’s letter that appeared in last week’s Question I felt compelled to reply. I do not think that an industry’s monetary contribution to society is the most important indicator of its benefit to society. If this were true we would all be publicly applauding and supporting the illegal drug industry for providing such a great economic engine to the province. (Although clearly by the size of the drug industry many members of society do support it.)

While snowmobiling may be a multi-million dollar industry the only realistic way to evaluate the economic benefits would be to fully factor in all the related costs of snowmobiling. That would include the extra costs of: slugging around the country in a pickup with a sled in the back on trips to work, trips to the store, trips to dinner, etc; the environmental costs of driving the pickup instead of a more fuel efficient vehicle the rest of the year; the costs to society as a whole from the air pollution that is pumped out the back of the sled when in use; and the costs to wildlife and the environment from the noise, air pollution, and partially burnt gas when the sled is running.

Air pollution is a vital issue for two reasons. First, global warming is obviously an issue for everyone, especially if you enjoy snow. Second, statistics show that more people in Canada die from the effects of air pollution than from homicides every year. If the real cost of snowmobiling was calculated it may not look like such a financially viable industry.

During the 35 years I have spent hiking, mountain biking, climbing, and ski touring in the backcountry surrounding Whistler I have seen garbage on nearly every trip. Some of what I have seen may have accidentally fallen out of a pocket, but it is still garbage. Some items more likely were deliberately left behind, as I am sure that used toilet paper, a dozen empty beer bottles, used condoms, juice containers, a used tampax, or two snowmobile windshields do not accidentally fall out of your pocket. I agree wholeheartedly that whoever leaves garbage behind is being irresponsible.

Whistler’s success and popularity as a resort has brought more visitors of all sorts, be they hikers, skiers, snowmobilers, ATVers, dirt bikers, mountain bikers, dog sledders, kayakers, or backcountry skiers. Unfortunately a percentage of all these user groups are not acting responsibly while undertaking their activities. This is clear by the ATV and dirt bike tracks seen in alpine meadows, mountain bike tracks in the Black Tusk Nature Conservancy, snowmobile tracks running over and through vegetation in the alpine, and the perpetual garbage that is left by everyone. The result is that the very “unspoiled wilderness” that people come to Whistler to experience is being degraded.

While there is a push on by some segments of the Whistler business community to bring more visitors to Whistler, I believe that now may be the time to focus on what type of guest (and residents) we want to attract to Whistler. If we are to provide a positive experience for our guests and residents we must ensure that they are actually able to enjoy our natural splendor in an uncompromised way. This is becoming increasingly difficult as certain users are drastically impairing the very natural wilderness that we all came to enjoy.

Unlike Lincoln Ferguson I frequently see animals when I am in the backcountry, even on or near roads. As I am not a wildlife biologist I do not have any scientific explanation as to why we have different experiences seeing wildlife. However, I suspect the animals are like most of us that enjoy the backcountry by non motorized methods, they have an affinity for fresh air, peace and quiet and a strong aversion to the smell of partially burnt fossil fuels, loud noise, and a heavy machine coming towards you driven by some one who statistically has a high probability of being impaired.

Common sense would also predicate that if animals have a choice between a quiet undisturbed natural setting or one where they are constantly disturbed by noisy intrusions into their habitat they would chose the undisturbed area. There are volumes of scientific data that support this. With the current numbers of snowmobiles in the backcountry and their increased ability to cover huge amounts of terrain in a very short period of time there is very little unaffected habitat left for the animal population to survive in.

Unfortunately the humans on the planet appear to have adopted the attitude that our needs have priority over that of all the other species. It is time to reconsider how we access the backcountry and to determine sustainable carrying capacities for all activities in the backcountry. We need to make a conscious choice to coexist with other species.

Anytime any of us access the backcountry, whether on foot, skis, snowmobiles, bikes, ATVs, or dirt bikes, it is imperative that we minimize our impact. We all have a responsibility to ensure that we leave future generations the opportunity to enjoy our natural heritage and not just to read about it in books.

Bryce Leigh




Ceding control

Re: Privatization of sewage treatment plant

Thank you to councillors Wilhelm-Morden and Zeidler for your vote on the sewage treatment issue. To the mayor and the rest of the council: Shame on you! Your motto must be, "We've made up our minds, don't confuse us with facts!"

To schedule an open house four days before voting on it is a waste of money and does not qualify as public involvement. Blindsiding us is more the word. We are now paying a fortune to multinationals to prepare their proposals, money which could already have gone to construction costs. Out of one corner of your mouths you are constantly frothing about sustainability, out of the other, you are selling us out! I can only conclude it is the multinationals you are trying to sustain.

You want to privatize? Fine. Let's have a proper public debate before we do, then do it locally, and on our terms. Who knows, our plant employees might even want to form a company to bid on the operating contract.

Treatment plants are not rocket science. There is one in just about every town in the country. What is the sudden, frantic rush about? Escalating construction costs? Rubbish. They have been escalating since Roman times. This issue sat on your shelf for one year. Why was it not done a year ago? Because the past council caved in to pressure from Victoria. The mayor claims there was no arm twisting. Yeah, sure. I'm Santa Claus and babies are brought by the stork.

If you folks truly want to represent all the people of this town, then you will have to play hardball once in a while, there where it counts. Our town is a major cash cow for the provincial government. This suggests we should be dealing with them from a position of strength, not weakness. If the council which so eagerly endorsed the Olympic bid had hung tight for a while longer we would have our boundary expansion and financial tools by now. So far, all you have to show are empty promises. This treatment plant issue is more of the same. The provincial government would just love to use Whistler as the poster child for privatization, to convince the rest of the sheep.

Let's get real here for a minute. To make their bookkeeping smell sweet, the Feds have been offloading onto the provinces for years; the provinces onto the municipalities. To keep this house of cards from collapsing, we, the end of the line, are now being told to offload onto private enterprise. As if that makes all the bills magically go away.

It does only one thing: open the doors for private companies to finally gain control of the one resource no one can do without. Water. The one resource which belongs to no one, but all are allowed to use, plants and animals alike.

In the endless watercycle of this planet, humanity uses what it wants, and more, then makes a half-assed effort to clean it up a bit. Nature, by her grace, finishes off the process with her marshes and wetlands, provided we leave her some, and we can muddy the waters once again. Sewage and water are not separate entities; they are one and the same. The only difference is cleanliness. Whoever controls the one, controls the other. To invite a multinational to control one of our taps means they will have us over their barrel. They will simply force us to renegotiate their contracts a couple years down the road, and we will have no choice. Twenty years is a long time. Do you ever think of your grandchildren?

Now I have to ask you what and where are these magical savings coming from? The only flexible point is labour. The number of employees, however, is minimal, and the basic costs of a plant are more or less the same for every construction company. The truth is, you don't even know what the savings are going to be, if any.

Your whole process once again is designed to keep the people who are going to have to pay the bills out of the loop. Once again, just like the Olympics, we have no say in the matter other than coughing up the dough. Your whole process is totally backwards, and by design I might add. First you shovel the money out the window for estimates, then you decide who gets the rest of it, and in the very end, once all is said and done, you will need to come to the public so we can rubberstamp your decision. Some democratic process!

It is obvious the jockeying for control of the world's remaining resources has started in earnest, and the endgame is on.

In the long run, ultimately we will be forced to share our water with the rest of the world. But that does not mean we need to roll over and play dead just yet, something you are doing without our consent!

Hans Kögler




A big thank you

I would like to express my deepest appreciation to all the people who have helped me and all our family on the sudden passing of my dear husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather.

There are so many to thank: Doug MacFarlane, Whistler-Blackcomb Mountain Manager; Dave Reid, safety supervisor; Whistler Ski Patrol and paramedics; Dr. Andrew Hamson; Bobbie and Mary at the medical clinic; Coroner Jan MacFayden.

Everyone was so kind.

Thanks also to the Pique Newsmagazine for your generous article by Alison Taylor and for the nice words from Europe in Britt Janyk’s column.

Also, thanks to the Weasel Workers and friends in showing us such support.

Dick would smile and say, “What’s all the fuss about?”

Thank you.

The Hume Family




The whole story

In an article in the Whistler Question last week, ("NAFTA no threat to drinking water: professor" March 2, 2006), reporter Alan Forsythe devotes the majority of the piece to the views of U.S. professor and author Dr. Terry Anderson. Anderson is quoted as saying that "NAFTA specifically excludes the bulk transfer of water because it cannot happen in an open market."

Despite his several books and academic papers on the implications of water markets under NAFTA, professor Anderson seemed unaware of a recent case filed under NAFTA's chapter 11 investment provisions. In this case, Sun Belt Water Inc. of California sought to suck up tankers of bulk water from lakes in B.C. and export it to California. In response to public pressure, Canadian government officials denied the request and proceeded to pass a law prohibiting such bulk water exports in the future. The company's challenge to this decision was unsuccessful in B.C. courts. However, as a foreign investor to which NAFTA grants new rights and privileges, Sun Belt took its case to NAFTA for arbitration, seeking $10.5 billion in damages. The case is currently behind closed-door proceedings in the NAFTA tribunal. (Multinational Monitor, April 2001, Volume 22 & Citizens Report Newsletter.)

Perhaps more pertinent to Whistler than bulk water exports, is the possible future privatization of water delivery services. In 2001 North Vancouver citizens forced the GVRD to cancel plans to privatize the water filtration system through its concern of the powerful "investor-state" provisions under NAFTA. These concerns led Vancouver's city council to decide against pursuing the P3 option for its Seymour Water Filtration Plant in 2001.

Presenting the views of only one side of the debate, as Mr. Forsythe has done, might help to keep the story simple. Unfortunately, that simplicity comes at the expense of one of the key tenets of good journalism: an exploration of the truth.

Stephen Vogler




Parents’ choice

Last week, Whistler Secondary School (WSS) held its monthly PAC meeting. One of the agenda items was whether we support random drug searches in the school.

The upside of the meeting was to see such a great turnout, a group of passionate parents getting together to discuss such an important subject, with our kids' best interests at heart. This month's meeting drew a crowd of over 25 parents.

The downside of the night was that it took such a controversial subject to get parents to attend a meeting that happens every month. In a school of 336 students, the average attendance at these meetings, since September 2005, has been about five parents (this does not include the board and guest speakers). If you take out the Directors at Large, the average attendance is more like two or three. A very small group of dedicated parents make the time, each month, to gather and discuss issues amongst themselves and with WSS administration. Where is everyone else?

An excellent suggestion was put forward at the meeting; that "the PAC" come up with more positive approaches of prevention and education. May I remind everyone who has a child attend WSS, you are "the PAC". Will this be left to the small group who somehow manage to rearrange their evenings, find alternate chauffeurs for their active kids, put work and family time on the back burner, to come up with ideas or will every parent step up to the plate and contribute? Remember, all of our kids benefit. You have two choices. You can start making a list of all the reasons why you cannot attend or you can mark March 28 on your calendar as the next PAC meeting you will attend. It's your choice.

Brenda Baker




Best use for Lots 1/9 an arena?

I spent this past Saturday afternoon with approximately 200 other Whistlerites in the windowless conference centre. Leading the group was a team of consultants which included Eldon Beck, the Designing Father of our town. It’s seems that every time we get ourselves in a pickle we call on Father Beck for Absolution. Looking around the room the irony was not lost on me that the conference centre was originally designed as Whistler’s first village ice arena. After millions in renovations this white elephant sits mostly vacant as clear testament to the follies of retrofitting (think 2010 athletes village-employee housing) and to the need for the community to do something special on lots 1/9.

I came hoping that I would be asked, that we would ask: what is the highest and best use for the last remaining vacant piece of land in the village? I expected to be presented a variety of concepts, including concepts without sheets of ice. I wanted to see concepts grounded by purpose-built, multiple-use indoor recreation, education, experiential shopping, arts, culture and a vision which clearly defines a direction Whistler needs to be heading in. Instead I was treated to a very well presented dog and pony show and asked to pick the best dog out of a lineup of four ice sheet-based concepts: The Solar Rink, The Sunny Island, The Mountain Tent, and The Frozen River — fancy names for white elephants but really all just the same dog with slightly different flees.

Our staff studies showed that the village arena was a financial non-starter, major white elephant material, and staff strongly recommended that we go for a second rink at Meadow Park. Why are we not being asked about taking the $8 million from VANOC to twin the arenas now? In our original guiding principles the 2010 Olympic Legacies are debt free; why are we talking about borrowing $15 to $35 million for a two week event? Would the village business lobby support another dynamic concept for lots 1/9 and would council be less susceptible to pressure in a non election charged environment?

For years I had heard and read about Eldon Beck’s contributions to Whistler and was pleased that I finally got to see him in the flesh. With all my questions, I decided that I too needed Absolution, so I asked Father Beck if we didn’t build an ice sheet what did he think the highest and best use of lots 1/9 would be. He looked at me and said kindly, gently, and with a twinkle in his light blue eyes. “I’d leave it as a forest.”

What do you think? Should we be asking the threshold question; what is the highest and best use for lots 1/9?

Stuart Munro