Mountain News: 

Can recreation and conservation coexist?

Compiled by Allen Best

RADIUM HOT SPRINGS, B.C. — Some 200 people from 27 nations gathered in the Columbia River Valley for the Living Lakes Conference. Among other things, they talked about whether the booming recreation industry can co-exist with conservation of wilderness.

Peter Robinson, the CEO of Mountain Equipment Co-Op, identified two major trends. First is the surge of day-oriented trips in everything from whitewater rafting to snowboarding, climbing, rail biking, and mountain biking.

"Day-oriented trips are front country, lightly equipped, back in your own bed by evening, breakfast at your own home. The consequence of this change is that urban front country and surrounding wild lands are seeing increased use," said Robinson.

The second major trend is toward increased accessibility. "Due to logging roads, seismic lines, Sea-doos, ATVs and helicopters, no place is now inaccessible," he said.

"Thirty years ago we didn’t see Sea-doos, heli-skiing, Zodiac whale watching, four-wheel-drive ATVs, golf courses in ski areas, or adventure racing – that’s how fast this is happening," he said. "Entire communities are now retooling their entire economic system from a resource to a tourism business," he said. But while whale watching has exploded, for example, the population of killer whales has dropped 20 per cent in only seven years.

Conservation and recreation industries can co-exist, said Robinson, but the real question is under what conditions? He calls for an ethic among recreation businesses to put back into the environment what they take out, a notion advanced by others, including Yvon Chouinard at Patagonia.

Robinson also called for more emphasis on self-propelled or human-powered recreation. "And with all due respect to ATVs, helicopters, gondolas, Sea-doos, and cars, mechanized action is tourism, not recreation," he said.

The government needs to resist the urge to treat recreational lands like they are commodities, and instead adopt the concept of minimizing the impact of human activity on backcountry and sensitive marine areas.

"If current patterns don’t change, we won’t achieve the goal of leaving the next generation with an environment as healthy, diverse, and productive as we enjoy." he concluded.

Snow hosts given the boot

GOLDEN, B.C. — Some 20 volunteer snow hosts at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort have lost their non-paying jobs. The resort has opted to give the jobs to ski school members.

The main reason for the shift is that if the volunteer host gets hurt while leading a tour, he or she could sue the resort, because hosts are not covered by workers’ compensation or insurance.

This, reports the Golden Star, has not gone over well with the volunteers, who think Kicking Horse is using the issue as an excuse. After all they point out, Fernie and Lake Louise continue to have volunteers as tour guides. The newspaper says that resort administrators plan a basic proficiency course for snow hosts, but does not explain what exactly this means.

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