River use debate reflects growing tensions
Letter to the Editor
The use of jet boats in the St. Mary River near Kimberley is not a new controversy. But it reflects the growing tensions over how we as individuals and as a community interact with our natural environment.
When Transport Canada banned motorized craft on the Elk River by Fernie, there was a large outcry similar to what we hear today by jet boaters. (Enthusiasts of this activity claim their use of the river doesn’t disrupt the peace and safety of others and should be allowed to continue.) The motorized ban has been a benefit for the Elk Valley community as people are able to enjoy the river without fearing for their lives.
In the simplest terms, it is not safe to have jet boats roaring up and down the medium sized (Class 2) rivers of the East Kootenay. Jet boats endanger people enjoying quiet recreation on these rivers. Jet boat use on the St. Mary is presently somewhat limited, but growing. There are far too many near-miss experiences and they continue to grow. It is simply a matter of time before an accident takes place. In a world of ever-increasing human induced changes, being able to recreate along a stretch of quiet river should be available to everyone.
The East Kootenay has some of the best bull and westslope cutthroat trout rivers to be found anywhere on earth. They are, however, being seriously impacted by human use. Mining and logging take a significant toll, but so too is our growing recreational footprint.
The vegetation on river edges provides important wildlife habitat and stabilizes banks. The significant wakes of jet boats erode and destabilize these natural systems. Gravel beds are a critical component for spawning, which historically has made the St. Mary home to healthy bull trout populations. However, when water levels are low in spawning streams, use by jet boats has shown to cause 20-40% reduction in reproduction from some redds (fish nests).
We all have a responsibility to reduce our impact on all living things that share the land, water and air. More people continue to crowd the landscape, and none of us is without an impact. Whatever we are doing, we need to respect each other and the creatures whose homes were here long before us.