Letters to the Editor 

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. 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?

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