Retallack/Ktunaxa Back Country Adventure Proposal

by Ingrid Baezel, Mainstreet

At the April 25 Open House at the Crawford Bay School performance space, Retallack and the Lower Kootenay Band welcomed well over one hundred people to view and discuss their proposal for tenure to operate a back-country adventure tourism endeavour.

Image result for retallack ktunaxa

The partners have jointly submitted an application for a tenure on the east side of Kootenay Lake, south the Purcell Wilderness Conservancy. The proposed 70,000 ha (177,000 acre) multiple use tenure will allow for guided hiking, horseback riding, climbing and mountain biking in summer and guided ski touring, heliskiing, mountaineering, snowshoeing and dogsledding in winter. According the informational placards up at the open hours, the project envisions the following:

  1. Winter guided adventure tourism activities including ski touring, heliskiing, mountaineering, snowshoeing and dogsledding.
  2. Summer guided adventure tourism activities, including hiking, horseback riding, climbing and mountain biking.
  3. A future lodge locatedon the traditional Gambling Otter land of the yaqan nu?kiy.

The proposed tenure area encompasses a traditional connectivity corridor and trade route between the Ktunaxa peoples. The proposed area of 70,000 ha will allow for the disbursement of potential impacts and user conflicts. The projected use is up to 36 guests per day per summer or winter operating season (each approximately 100 days in duration). In total this will result in a maximum of 3600 guest days per operating season.

The two organizations had several representatives on hand to answer questions and delve a little more deeply into their proposal. People expressed a wide range of reponses to the proposal, from absolute support and appreciation to scepticism and outright rejection. In discussion with several different local residents, Mainstreet heard responses such as, “I’m excited to see the opportunities this proposal might bring to our region,”and “I’m terrified of the impact these helicopters will have on wildlife and our serenity.”

The general sentiment appeared to be one of general support but with caveats. Most residents expressed that they’d like to see as few helicopter tours per day as possible and wish they could know that actual sound impact of these flights. “I hope that this doesn’t become a sound pollution annoyance,” said one attendee. “I don’t see how it won’t.”

In discussion with Chris McNamara, chairman and CEO of Retallack, he expressed that they would be (like North West Mountain Experience) using AStar helicopters, which are substantially more quiet and nimble. The down side of these helicopters, when the numbers are crunched, is that they carry fewer passengers, so that presumably implies more flights per day. McNamara explained that they might be looking at up to 36 visitors per rotation (every three or so days). Because the AStars carry only four or five passengers, that would presumably mean 9 or 10 trips every time they bring people up to the lodge, and 9 or 10 trips every time they bring people back down. If the larger helicopters (205/212) are used, that would imply about half so many trips, but they are reportedly louder and more impactful, not to mention harder to easily manoeuvre in tricky terrain.

Retallack already has an existing lodge in the Selkirk mountains between New Denver and Kaslo. They currently have approximately 800 existing clients and boast an 85% return rate.  So far, they have seen substantial success doing their catskiing operation out of that location, which encompasses over 10,000 acres (the new proposal in the Purcells is for over 70,000 hectares). McNamara said that Retallack has been largely responsible for the much of the economic stability in the area, due to the numbers of wealthier outdoor enthusiasts coming in. He spoke to an absolute willingness to partner with local East Shore businesses and do their best to shop and support locally.  Skeptics of the project say they fail to see that partnering having lasting impact and question how the partnership will actually directly and positively impact existing businesses that are typically closed or hours are deeply reduced in the winter months.  McNamara said they would be eager to hire locally for not just the start of the project with building and implementation, but that the project could offer an array of long-term employment for all ages. They are estimating 125 new jobs being created.

Many at the meeting expressed profound concern for the impact on wildlife and pristine, untouched back country area. The concern for the dwindling caribou population and quietude of hibernating animals and their well-being is pervasive. As Wildsight has recently reported, the Purcell caribou herd has only very recently been recorded as having dwindled down to four remaining animals, along with the mere three remaining in the Selkirk range. This project has them very concerned for the future well being of these threatened creatures among so many other species.

McNamara said that one of the first things that Retallack and the LKB would be working on is a real-time GPS system to create a data base of existing animals and their habitats in the area. This would be ongoing and would help create census data and build a real time map to help protect species existing in the area and respect their habitat. He expressed the long-standing and devoted stewardship of the land by the Ktunaxa people and their full support and involvement with this project would surely hold everyone to account and keep preservation and protection at the forefront of the project as it develops.

The proposal representatives have said they aim for carbon neutrality and expect to perhaps even achieve carbon negativity in this project. When asked how that would be achieved, McNamara said that they would be purchasing carbon offsets and doing all they could to reduce emissions and their carbon footprint in perpetuity. “If we could use electric helicopters and plug into micro-hydro systems today, we would,” said McNamara.

For those wishing to give feedback on this proposal, we have until May 13 to do so. Go to the following link: and send in your thoughts on the proposal. Now is the time for input to allow for amendments to the proposal and have a say in the process. It has been suggested that copying those thoughts and sending them to the directors of the RDCK and the RDEK might be useful as well.

Wildsight will be hosting a meeting at the Gray Creek Hall on May 3 at 7pm to discuss environmental and animal impacts of the projects being proposed. All are welcome to attend.

One Response

  1. We must protect the backcountry and wildlife of the Purcell’s, plus the serene environment for human inhabitants of east Kootenay Lake. Frequent helicopter noise will greatly disturb the enjoyment of residents (especially if you are located in the vicinity of the helipads or under their flight path) and the helicopters and snowmobile traffic, along with greater human intrusion into the Purcell’s will be detrimental to wildlife, regardless of the management plans put in place. Please sign this petition if you agree and send your concerns to those listed within the petition! Not every area needs to be (nor should be) used to make a profit or to entertain people. Keep this area as it is! There has been an extension to comment till July 15.

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