By Joanne McQuarrie

[email protected]

Private landowners and ranchers in the Steamboat Landscape Unit say the environment is on the losing end of a report done by the Columbia Valley Recreation Planning Initiative (CVRPI). A goal to balance protection of a wildlife corridor with recreational use has been aimed for and that balance has yet to happen.

Clara Reinhardt, who co-chairs the CVRPI with Adrian Pery, said in an email, “The group has been formalized since 2019 when Rec Sites and Trails BC started providing some seed funding to kick start the planning process by inventorying trails and uses in the Columbia River Basin and creating a list of stakeholders. Since then we have been funded through both the Columbia Basin Trust and the RDEK in order to hire a consultant to do mapping and community engagement.  Ministerial staff support has been instrumental in moving the project forward and in scope.

 Reinhardt said “the Steamboat Landscape Unit was selected as the first project as it was contentious and heavily used”.

Over the last three-plus years, the recreation planning committee met with the advisory committee many times and conducted several field trips.

“Everyone agreed that there should be room for all recreationalists,” Reinhardt continued. “The status quo is not sustainable, and we need to begin to recommend management strategies.”

She noted, “The planning committee listened carefully to all the stakeholders, but we need to recognize that the status quo is not sustainable, and we have had to reconcile wildly divergent inputs on the land use,  which is Crown land and everyone has a right to be there.

 Reinhardt pointed out, “The committee has no authority or jurisdiction- the committee recommendations are provided to the government as a balanced community view to be considered when applications for Section 57’s are made, as are appropriate environmental and agricultural land use viewpoints.

She maintains, “The committee has worked hard to find a way forward with all interested parties- everyone agrees that the status quo (wild west) is not sustainable.”

 Suzanne Bayley, president of Columbia Wetlands Stewardship Partners (CWSP) and emeritus professor of ecology, University of  Alberta (U of A) noted in an email (CWSP) has been working for the last four years to identify high quality wildlife habitat and wildlife corridors. The south Steamboat area, just west of Radium Hot Springs is an extremely important wildlife corridor. It allows elk, grizzly bears and other animals an easy access to the Columbia Wetlands and back and forth from the Purcell’s to the Rockies.  

“When the CVRPI started, CWSP wanted to participate to find a way to accomplish two main goals: protect the Radium/Steamboat wildlife corridor and find a good location for dirt bikers/ ATV users and mountain bikers to create designated trails for their enjoyment,” Bayley said.

Bayley wrote, “… it turns out that the CVRPI process did not result in a good outcome for the environment. The plan identifies a trail network area (and a managed trail density area) for motorized and mechanical users in the Steamboat region. Most of the area they recommended is in the core of the wildlife corridor near the Columbia Wetlands. In fact, 83 per cent of the identified trail area is in the wildlife corridor. Instead of locating away from the Columbia Wetlands, they persisted in identifying locations close to Radium for the designated trail areas. While they had some good suggestions to better manage recreation and camping, the current plan which they passed to the government and First Nations is more destructive of the environment than the current situation.

Bayley said four local groups rejected the plan: East Kootenay Wildlife Association, Wildsight, Windermere District Farmers Institute and Columbia Wetlands Stewardship Partners. “Our concerns were not addressed, and our letters of objection were not included in the final CVRPI plan that was sent to the government.”

Franz Feldman, who has been farming on the Steamboat Ranch Unit for decades, said there’s a place for recreational users and campers, but that area needs to be moved from where it’s happening now. “Why they have to use our most important piece of land, that we have to have for our cattle? The same area is important for elk, with spring and fall grazing. Motorized vehicle use is destroying grazing land.”

Rick Thompson lives west of Radium Hot Springs in the Steamboat area and his land is situated in one of the wildlife corridors. He  said, “I support what the CVRPI is doing (but) science has to support any decisions made.” Thompson said he’s noted over the 25, 30 years he’s lived there, that wildlife traffic and wildlife itself, have diminished. 

“Being a passionate recreational vehicle user or an avid weekend camper or a politician does not necessarily qualify you to make scientific decisions about the impacts of these activities on the sustainability of the environment, or the wildlife that inhabits it. We, as humans, have been entrusted with making the right decisions for the environment and the wildlife and we should not treat this trust lightly.”

It seems that decisions being made are elements that lean more toward economic benefits for Radium Hot Springs and recreational users. Drawing lines on a map as to what users go where should only be done by people with scientific knowledge in those areas.