Upper Clearwater Valley tour looks at land use planning controversy

More than 60 people took part in a tour of Upper Clearwater on Saturday, June 28

Tay Briggs

Tay Briggs

More than 60 people took part in a tour of Upper Clearwater on Saturday, June 28, to learn more about concerns that logging might have on the region’s economy and other values.

The tour was organized by the Wells Gray Action Committee, a group of Upper Clearwater, Clearwater, Barriere, Kamloops and Vancouver residents who are concerned about plans by Canfor to log in the First, Second and Third canyons area.

They also have become concerned by road-building and/or logging underway now on the west side of the Clearwater River.

Those who took part included MLA Terry Lake.

“It’s all about listening,” he said. “The message is that this is part of a process. There has been lots of good input and I appreciate that.”

The tour began at the Spahats lookout, then Third Canyon, and finished up at Upper Clearwater Hall. First to speak was Tay Briggs, a registered professional forester (RPF) who formerly worked for Weyerhaeuser and who now operates a hut-to-hut tour guiding business with her husband, Ian Eakins.

Briggs recalled that, when she was working for Weyerhaeuser, her supervisor advised her not to buy a house in Clearwater because the forest company was only planning to stay in the area for a limited time.

She and her husband did stay, however. When they started their business, there were only two bed-and-breakfasts in Clearwater. Now there are 27 plus more hotels, motels and other tourist-based businesses. Only four per cent of the visitors coming to Canada are from Europe but 48 per cent of those coming to Clearwater and Wells Gray Park are European.

“Why? Because it’s wilderness. There’s a feeling that it is as it was,” Briggs said.

The corridor from Clearwater to the gateway to Wells Gray Park near Hemp Creek contains only a small portion of this area’s wood basket, she said. However, it is critical to the area’s tourist industry and needs to be protected.

Trevor Goward, a longtime Upper Clearwater resident and one of the world’s leading lichenologists, began his talk with a brief history of Wells Gray Park, starting with its founding 75 years ago.

In 1955 the W.A.C. Bennett government extended the park southwards to include Battle Mountain, which was important winter range for caribou.

The Bill Bennett government established the Trophy Mountain Recreational Area in 1986.

That was a hard fight but most now recognize it was a good decisions, Goward said.

In 1995 the Mike Harcourt government set up Caribou Mountain Provincial Park, which forms a connection between Wells Gray and Bowron Lakes parks, creating a huge nature reserve.

Logging in the corridor between Clearwater and the park gateway would sever the connection between the town and the park.

If that happens, Goward predicted that Upper Clearwater would become the tourist destination while Clearwater itself would simply be a road junction.

That would be something that neither the residents of Upper Clearwater nor those of Clearwater would like, he felt.

Biologists do not agree on what is causing the decline in the mountain caribou. Some feel it is not enough food, others blame predation.

The truth is likely more complex, he said.

Capturing pregnant female caribou to protect them during and after they give birth has no science behind it, he said.

“They’re doing this as a desperation measure,” Goward said.

Other approaches, such as caribou transplants and eliminating wolves, are similarly flawed.

Battle Mountain, the Trophies and even Raft Mountain were formerly important winter caribou range.

This no longer the case, probably because nearby logging increased the deer and moose populations, which in turn brought in more predators.

The caribou are now mostly using the northern end of the park.

The trees in some of the areas that burned in the 1926 fire (which burned most of the Clearwater River Valley) are now getting old enough that they are beginning to have some lichen on them – the caribou’s favorite foot – and some caribou are returning.

Goward noted that the fire before the 1926 fire was probably 500-600 years ago, and another major fire is therefore not likely soon.

Cathie Hickson gave her talk at Third Canyon. Formerly with the Geological Survey of Canada, she did her Ph.D. thesis on the volcanoes of Wells Gray Park and area.

“From a geological perspective, this is quite an interesting place,” she said.

The lava people had been standing on at the Spahats lookout was about 500,000 years old, Hickson said, while that that makes up the Sheep Track Bench that the First, Second and Third Canyon creeks drain is about 300,000 years old.

Buck Hill, a small volcanic cone next to the bench, is about 10,000 years old.

“We are here for only a short period of time, but this area gives a window into a far longer period of time,” she said. “It has incredible potential. We need to unleash that.”

The geologist noted that the area is steep and the soils are an unstable mix of volcanic and glacial types.

“Any change will increase the probability of debris flows,” she said.

Tay Briggs spoke for a second time when the tour met at the Upper Clearwater Hall.

She had sat at the table when the Local Resource Management Plan (LRMP) for the Kamloops region was implemented, she said.

She was also involved in developing a local use plan for the Upper Clearwater, now called the Guiding Principles.

Both processes took about 2 1/2 years, she recalled.

Two woodlots were set up as a result of the Guiding Principles, plus a liaison committee to keep communications open.

About two years ago Canfor came to the committee with its logging plans.

“We had some concerns,” Briggs said.

These included water quality, quantity and reliability, slope stability, caribou, and tourism.

The forest company has since come back with new logging plans that include a 20 per cent increase and a clear-cut near the turnoff to the Trophy Mountain flower meadows.

The plans as presented did not include a hydro-geological report, she said.

“Maybe we need to step back from industrial scale logging and look at other processes,” she said.

Tay Briggs’ father, George Briggs, spoke about the possible impacts of logging.

A RPF like his daughter, he formerly managed two National Forests in the U.S. before moving to a ranch in Upper Clearwater in 1976.

Canfor’s new plans show big logging blocks extending over the escarpment where they will be visible and more likely to cause debris flows, he said.

“It’s inevitable that there’s going to be serious repercussions from this logging,” Briggs said.

Biologist Nancy Flood, a senior lecturer at Thompson Rivers University, said she has been involved with the research and education center in Upper Clearwater since before it began.

Over the past 15 years the center has averaged about 6,000 users per year. The university is presently in the process of developing a new research and education center to replace the existing building (a former schoolhouse), which Flood described as “rustic.”

When a washout at First Canyon stranded travellers and residents for several days a few years ago, the centre served as an emergency headquarters where food and water were distributed.

The university is not opposed to logging, she pointed out. Many of the students who use the center are in natural resource management and so cut down trees as part of their education. “We are here for the long term. We’ve been here for the long term. This is TRU’s place,” Flood said.

Trevor Goward wound up the tour by saying that if Wells Gray Park could achieve UNESCO World Heritage or GeoPark status, it would benefit the whole region.

Residents of the Upper Clearwater had felt honored to be involved in the process that led to the development of the Guiding Principles, he said.

Since then two areas have been arbitrarily taken out of the area covered by the Principles without consultation, he said.

“When there’s duplicity like that, people feel angry,” Goward said.