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Oh heli no - Burns Lake council opposes tourism idea

Blocking backcountry users gets council frown
Great Bear Heli-Skiing is proposing an expansion of their recreation tenure into the local area, but local backcountry enthusiasts worry it will shut down other uses. (Great Bear Heli-Skiing photo)

Chopping down a tourism dream is the hope of the Village of Burns Lake, and they aren’t the only ones. Other elected officials in the area are also actively opposing Great Bear Heli-Skiing’s application to operate in an expanded area - an area that would include parts of the Bulkley Valley-Lakes District and perhaps at the expense of already active tourism and recreation activities that would have to stop what they were doing.

The applicants also do business under the name Lower Dean River Lodge (LDRL) and are based in the coastal Bella Coola area, in the very region where the Cheslatta Nation would sometimes winter, travelling on foot, if the weather threatened the interior food supply. That is how close the two areas are to each other.

“LDRL’s vision is to expand its operations from a single season, fly fishing business into a four-season commercial recreation operator, and in doing so, operate on Crown lands outside Provincial Parks and Protected Areas. The LDRL offers helicopter-based recreation opportunities and heli-assisted touring throughout the proposed tenure area,” said the application text found in the provincial government’s online application documentation.

The documents list the names of lakes, mountains and valleys that are well known to local backcountry users: Sibola, Troitsa, Morice, Kemano, Whitesail, Tahtsa…

The Burns Lake Snowmobile Club posted a link on their Facebook page to the government’s comments section of the application process. Voices of support or opposition help influence the final government decision.

Village of Burns Lake councillor Charlie Rensby spotted the link, and did some investigating.

“This would have zero benefit to our community and would actually take away quite a bit of tourism from our area,” said Rensby.

He was also concerned over the process this application has followed. The proposed footprint includes lands in Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako Area E (Francois-Ootsa Rural) represented by Clint Lambert. According to Rensby’s inquiries, Lambert was not notified the application had been made, let alone that the public comment period was nearly closed.

The mayor of Houston - the application territory reaches close to that municipality’s sphere of influence - was only recently made aware.

The issue is not, said Rensby, that a heli-recreation company wants to work in the area, but that the application could close all other motorized vehicles from going into that enormous zone, and it’s a zone already popular with snowmobilers, hunters with all-terrain machines, fishers in boats, and more. He said there was a guiding outfit already bringing tourists to the area and they were not only not informed of the application but would likely have to turn all their guiding trips into pedestrian travel, and the distances involved would make that non-viable.

Burns Lake’s mayor Henry Wiebe said, “I have flown over that area many times, and there are a lot of mountains there that cannot be accessed by snowmobile, which they would be welcome to use, I would say, but they need to stay away from the ones regularly used by snowmobiles.”

Rensby made a motion that the Village of Burns Lake craft a letter of opposition to send to the provincial government, as the application was being considered, with a public comment deadline of April 19.

“It was a really fast process,” he said.

The motion passed unanimously.

Frank Peebles

About the Author: Frank Peebles

I started my career with Black Press Media fresh out of BCIT in 1994, as part of the startup of the Prince George Free Press, then editor of the Lakes District News.
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