Coun. Oakley argues for watershed stewardship

Watershed Committee recommends no commercial access

Kimberley City Councillor Darryl Oakley is not shying away from the debate over how to control access to the Mark Creek Watershed. He welcomes the debate and thinks it’s healthy.

His opinion is somewhat different from members of the Mark Creek Watershed Committee, and some City Council members, in that he thinks stewardship has a chance to work, but he firmly believes everyone is working towards the same goal, which is protecting the ecological integrity of the watershed.

“I do appreciate the efforts of the watershed committee,” Oakley said. “They have worked very hard. They may be questioning my unorthodox approach, but we want the same thing.”

Oakley’s approach is that responsible commercial operators such as a snowmobile tour operator, or community groups such as the Trails Society, could in fact help police the watershed by providing education to those already using it. They could also report flagrant abuses.

And the watershed is being used, highly used, Oakley says.

“There is currently a moratorium on motorized access above 2000 metres, but if you are coming from Saskatchewan to do some snow machining, do you know that? Likely not. We have users who are not aware that it’s a watershed. Then we have users who deliberately cut trees and make a track around the gates.”

Ideally, you’d like to see Conservation Officers policing the area above 2000 metres to protect the valuable caribou habitat,  Oakley says. But if you can’t have that, why not stewardship by responsible groups who have every reason to want to operate in a safe manner?

“I put out the idea of stewardship, of having people act as the eyes and ears if they were granted access. It’s unorthodox in terms of protection, but it’s not unprecedented. Other communities in North America have tried it. I put it out there to get the debate going, so we can come up with solutions. I’m losing the debate on Council right now, but I’m trying, as is everyone else, to find a way to move forward.”

Oakley says that if you talk to old trappers and backcountry people around Kimberley, they will tell you that years ago the watershed was a real wilderness.

“It was a true wilderness; recreational users didn’t go in. It was hard to access. Now we have the watershed being used a lot. It’s under a lot of pressure.”

While some Councillors argue that allowing commercial access to one snowmobile tour operator would open the floodgates to more requests, Oakley does not agree.

“If someone has tenure, they have tenure. You don’t give someone else tenure on the same spot.”

There are two motions regarding no commercial access before Council now, with the Watershed Committee recommending Council endorse them. Oakley hopes to change Council’s mind. But even if he doesn’t, a debate is occurring.

“It’s a healthy discussion right now, and hopefully the outcome is strategies to deal with increased recreational use of the watershed.

“And it opens a bigger, broader debate on backcountry pressure. It’s getting greater all the time.”

Council will be meeting with the Mark Creek Watershed Committee next Friday to continue the discussion.