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Grizzly bear expert to study trail impacts

Findings could affect Olympic legacy trails

By Alison Taylor

Olympic organizers have hired a wildlife consultant to review the impacts recreation legacy trails could have on the grizzly bears in the Callaghan Valley.

In late November the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Games hired Enkon Environmental and wildlife ecologist Clayton Apps to study the impacts of the 20 to 25 kilometres of trails proposed in the Madeley Valley. A report is expected in February.

“They’re going to be looking at the trail plans and the impacts on wildlife habitat, particularly grizzly and black bears,” said George McKay, VANOC’s director of environmental approvals.

“It’s an important issue for us…”

It’s also an important issue for local environmental group, The Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment. After a government study conclusively proved grizzlies in the area last year, AWARE asked VANOC to delay construction of its legacy trails by one year, calling for more study. The two groups met in Whistler last week.

“It’s clearly a step in the right direction (hiring the wildlife ecologist) now that we know there’s a documented population of grizzly bears in the area,” said AWARE president Brad Kasselman.

“Ultimately we’d still like to see more time be put into researching the grizzly bear issue… but we also were informed there’s a timeline that doesn’t appear to have a lot of flexibility on it.”

VANOC is determined to move ahead with construction pending approvals from government agencies. They hope to begin this summer and plan for some limited use the following winter season.

“We’re anxious to do that because we’ll be active in there and that will allow us to work with the current contractors and their crews who are on site now,” said McKay.

“It’s cost effective, it’s beneficial to the contractors and we think it’s a better way to develop the facility.”

Pique Newsmagazine got the first glimpse of those proposed legacy trails on the province’s Integrated Land Management Bureau’s website this week. VANOC has applied for tenure of 795 hectares (almost 2,000 acres) of land in the Madeley Valley, adjacent and north of the Whistler Nordic Centre. A map detailing that land has been posted online ( )

The map, entitled “Callaghan Nordic Centre – Recreational Trails Layout”, sent ripples of concern through the environmental community this week as its legend clearly identified ATV trails in the area.

McKay explained those are existing trails and VANOC’s plans do not include any motorized activity.

“We’re not anticipating any motorized activity on our trail system once we get through the approval process and have the license to be in there,” he reiterated.

“The only motorized activity that we anticipate would be groomers and snowmobiles and maybe summer ATV use in terms of working and providing services and emergency needs if anything like that arose. We don’t see catering to any recreation demand on a motorized basis.”

The map also shows a dozen warming huts/viewpoints dotted throughout the trail system. McKay said those would be appropriate to a cross-country ski destination. They anticipate seeing 30,000 skiers in the valley every year. The numbers for summer guests are not yet clear.

The tenure application with ILMB is one part of the process to develop the legacy trails. VANOC is also submitting an application to the provincial Environmental Assessment Office.

Project assessment director Archie Riddell confirmed VANOC has requested an amendment to their original environmental certificate for the Nordic Centre. He expects the application to come in the spring and the review will not be as lengthy as the first assessment because it’s just an amendment to the first assessment.

“It need not be as stringent as a full blown assessment,” he said.

There will be a public consultation period during that review.