Re Chilkoot Trail National Historic Site of Canada Management Plan Review:
Parks Canada is in the process of reviewing its five-year management plan for the Chilkoot Trail National Historic Site, and is asking the public’s input.
To that effect, a newsletter outlining proposed strategies has recently been made available.
There are many good suggestions in this newsletter. In particular, Parks Canada’s support of First Nations’ traditional use of the area is to be commended.
The newsletter makes several reassuring comments about the role of Parks Canada as an important environmental steward.
However, there is a glaring discrepancy in Parks Canada’s role of environmental protection when it allows recreational snowmobile access in the Chilkoot Trail National Historic Site.
There is no mention at all in the newsletter of the well-documented air and noise pollution and other environmental damage caused by snowmobiles.
As a backcountry skier, I have visited over many years the Chilkoot Trail National Historic Site remote areas, and have frequently observed the damage these machines cause.
Snowmobiles have smashed little trees.
They’ve crashed through snowbridges into a shallow creek, spewing gas and oil in the snow and water.
Snowmobiles have regularly compacted the snow into ice over large open land areas.
This is surely detrimental to small animals that rely on soft snow for shelter and protection, such as hare, mice, ptarmigan.
Not to mention the stress caused by the extreme noise of those machines, which can be heard for kilometres around.
Most snowmobiles are run by two-stroke engines, which discharge up to one-third of the fuel unburned, as well as oil and other toxic fumes.
This pollution ends up accumulating in the environment of the Chilkoot area.
Allowing motorized access to the Chilkoot Trail National Historic Site is not only in conflict with Parks Canada’s mandate of environmental protection, but also harms the commemorative integrity of gold rush history.
The most spectacular aspect of the gold rush was the Stampeders’ arduous trek over the mountain pass to Lindeman by means of their own physical power.
Allowing motorized activity in the Chilkoot Trail National Historic Site detracts greatly from the core of this historical event and the commemorative role of the site.
The original 1988 management plan designated the Chilkoot Trail area for nonmotorized access only.
It is unfortunate that Parks Canada bowed to the lobbying efforts of an interest group, to the detriment of its mandate, and despite the protest of a great number of nonmotorized users.
The current policy of two multi-use weekends for one non-motorized weekend is completely unfair to nonmotorized users.
That leaves only a few days per winter to access that area with any assurance of experiencing peace and quiet.
There is an exclusive aspect to snowmobile use in that they drive away other users seeking clean air and quiet untarnished landscapes.
Closing the Chilkoot Trail National Historic Site to snowmobile access would not deprive snowmobilers much, as they already have the run of much vaster areas of scenic public lands, including the White Pass area, the Haines summit, and other alpine routes surrounding the Chilkoot Trail National Historic Site.
Indeed, the Chilkoot Trail National Historic Site is only a tiny patch of land in comparison to all the surrounding areas that snowmobilers regularly access in the Yukon and northern BC.
The trend in other jurisdictions is to recognize that compromising recreational areas with motorized activity leaves too many dissatisfied, and that it is essential to set aside areas for nonmotorized activity.
For example, the Manitoba government recently established three large wilderness areas where only nonmotorized access is permitted, in addition to allowing First Nations to continue their traditional lifestyles.
In the Yukon, we only have Kluane Park set aside as a nonmotorized area at this time.
I urge Parks Canada to address this shortcoming by re-establishing the original Chilkoot Trail National Historic Site nonmotorized status permanently.
Let’s keep in mind that closing motorized access means that machines only are barred, not people.
Everyone, including snowmobile owners, would be able to experience the quiet winter beauty of the Chilkoot backcountry with snowshoes, skis and dog teams.