VANOC mum on Callaghan grizzlies 

First Nations knew grizzlies in area 20 years ago

By Alison Taylor

Olympic organizers are tight-lipped about the DNA evidence of grizzly bears living close to their proposed legacy trails in the Callaghan Valley.

In response to several questions and requests for interviews, the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic Games released an e-mailed statement last week from Linda Coady, vice president of sustainability.

"VANOC and a comprehensive group of stakeholders are entering into an environmental assessment process for which the end result may be the creation of legacy recreation trails,” she said.

“Legacy trails will only be developed if through this process, and in light of all available findings, responsible government authorities are confident that design plans and mitigation measures meet and exceed environmental assessment requirements and VANOC's sustainability goals."

VANOC was given the green light to build its $116 million venue in the spring of 2005. But it was limited to building only the competition trails and facilities. The development of the Callaghan legacies was to come at a later date following a separate environmental assessment report.

There were concerns at the time about the impacts of the legacy trails, including the environmental repercussions in the Callaghan Valley.

Chief Bill Williams of Squamish Nation said First Nations have known for 20 years about the grizzlies living in the Callaghan.

“We’re well aware of it,” he said.

They are not concerned about legacy development if there is no impact on the grizzlies but they are opposed to encroaching any further in their territory.

“If the trails do not directly impact the patterns of the grizzly bears then we have no real issue,” said Williams.

The environmental assessment for the Olympic legacy trails is expected to get underway this fall and involves, among other things, roughly 25 kilometres of recreation trails in the upper reaches of the valley — that’s reduced significantly from the 50-75 kms originally anticipated.

A recent government study has identified four resident grizzly bears in the upper Callaghan Valley through DNA testing. Cubs have also been sighted in the area with their mothers.

The proof of grizzlies in the area calls into question the future of the Whistler Nordic Centre.

A draft document of the government’s Sea to Sky Land and Resource Management Plan also details management of grizzly bear populations in the area. Stakeholders who drew up that plan called for a Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan for the area. It is not clear at this time if there was consensus for that recommendation among the group.

In that document, which was produced in April 2006, the stakeholders recommended a recovery plan for four Grizzly Bear Population Units in the LRMP area by 2008. That includes the bears in the Callaghan, which are considered “threatened.”

Stakeholders recommended that the grizzlies achieve “viable” status, which could take upwards of 50 years.

The draft report states: “Consideration should be given to assigning a higher priority to completing work in areas that are being developed for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games and adjacent areas.”

The provincial government has not yet approved the plan.

– with files from Clare Ogilvie

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