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Posted: June 6, 2020

Time to examine effects and impacts of river use

Letter to the Editor

This letter is in reference to recent letters regarding usage on the St. Mary River. The time has more than come to closely examine and address the ever-increasing effects and impacts usage is wreaking on a relatively pristine valley and waterway.

All modes of river traffic from our vantage point on St. Mary River frontage are surging. An exponential increase being timed more or less with the advent of ‘Adventure Tourism’ in or about 2009, and it’s mandate to widely promote the area.

We’ve seen much that is not respectful of people’s property, or respectful of the river, fish, and foreshore. Infractions by those who have licences, and those who don’t.

Rafting companies and angling guides just set up business. Utilization of property for things like camping, campfires, lunches, or bathroom breaks that might involve your property did not require personal notification, or the granting of permission. Would people dare to set up a business on your personal boulevard in town, or stomp all over your backyard without first asking – basically the same thing?

Permission to access another’s property is a thing of the past. Governments also do not compel tenure holders to uphold that respectful formality.

Our property has been utilized as an outdoor bathroom. We’ve cleaned up people’s garbage strewn underneath obvious private property signs. We’ve witnessed rafting clients throwing volleys of rocks at spawners, and people floating the river at times of really low water, impacting spawning kokanee.

We’ve seen all sorts of river floating craft including inflatable air mattresses, and people manning those crafts with nothing for safety equipment. Many inexperienced people have gotten into trouble, bailing out of the river, and accessing our property to get to the road. We are basically on watch, wondering when we will be called on to assist someone, who bit off more than they could chew, and are left wondering about insurance if someone should get hurt on our property. Almost every year there is a life or two lost.

As far as guides go, how does a person determine who is truly legitimate. During Sept. 2017, total closure rules were ignored, either guides, or guide impersonators, were still taking clientele downriver.

Catch and release, a conservation practice, developed to prevent over harvest of fish stocks in the face of growing human populations, mounting fishing pressure, habitat degradation, increasingly effective fishing tackle and techniques, and inadequate fishing regulations and enforcement.

In light of  the current rate of activity, even with conservation measures, how long can fishing effectively continue, as people who fish the river a lot, are noticing ‘now’ that fish are smaller and fewer?

The constant march of wildlife into towns, another frightening indication of a deteriorating valley. Campfires left smouldering along the banks of the St. Mary, necessitates the constant vigilance of residents, and more fires coming on-stream with the building of mountain bike trails in the Bootleg/Matthew watershed a few years back.

Maniacally logged clear cuts by operators, private and otherwise, have gutted the sidewalls of the valley from the lake all the way up. The effects of which are bound to have an enormous impact on the river and watershed, in years to come. The massacre allowed to continue unabated – what little regulation there is, has been taken ‘full and unfair’ advantage of.

Once a quiet road, vehicular traffic is non-stop on many days, a healthy proportion, maybe 80 – 90% of  those vehicles, sporting recreational vehicles of some kind.  Many types of watercraft are part of the parade. This doesn’t include the river road traffic coming up from the Perry Creek side, all of which tells us the river, lake and valley in general is being inundated with usage

All forms of governments have done their utmost to accommodate a steady flow of tourism. Fishing closures have been moved up by a couple of weeks, dates that originally gave spawning fish, like cutthroat, a fighting chance.  Forest fire bans are almost never called until the very last tourist has cleared the area, regardless of the fact that fires are at ‘least’ 50% human caused. Campfires are allowed in some form or other, even in the most extreme of conditions. Tenures for more backcountry usage and construction, have been handed out like candy with little for environmental impact assessments, or public engagement processes.

Meanwhile, manufacturers are champing at the bit to come out with more innovative recreational machinery to entice the consumer, and seemingly have the ear of government in order to secure playgrounds for its usage. Once playthings are on the market, and people are utilizing, the fun or convenience, soon overrides any thought of environmental impacts, as individually, we are all sure our little forays aren’t causing a problem.

Effects are cumulative, eventually adding up to a situation that is intolerable, if left to progress. When the use of sunscreen can break down an ocean reef, it would seriously imply that we have to be very careful about our presence in regard to ecosystems.

For sure – we definitely need to get with the program managing/controlling traffic and vehicles, while we still have a valley to work with!

Cheryl Olsen,
St. Mary Valley resident

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