Alienation of Public Lands

Private ownership or public access?

The Jumbo Valley is in the Purcell Range of the Columbia Mountains. The valley is noted for its grizzly bear habitat and proximity to glaciers and sensitive wild areas. It is also in the headwaters of the Columbia River, which feeds parts of British Columbia and the U.S. Pacific Northwest with freshwater.

The Jumbo Valley is Canadian “Crown,” or public, land. In addition, all land in British Columbia falls into traditional First Nations’ territory, and the Jumbo Valley is no exception. It belongs to all people, not just a handful of privileged real estate speculators.

The resort development plan, for all its optimistic emphasis on ‘year-round’ skiing and its identification with Zermatt in the Swiss Alps, is essentially a real estate speculation venture anchored to a ski hill.

If the resort went ahead, the proponent could carve up, develop and sell the land within the 104-hectare resort area for a great deal of private profit.

But there’s more: the control of more than 6,000 hectares of Crown land, including the surface of four glaciers, would also be essentially privatized — accessible only to paying customers.

Who pays when public lands go private?

The resort and recreation area would displace an already dwindling population of grizzly bears from thousands of hectares of critical habitat.

In addition to this direct habitat loss, the proposed location of the resort – at the very heart of the wild Purcell Mountains – would cut off important grizzly travel corridors.

The Province of British Columbia is responsible for trying to mitigate the negative impacts that land development has on wildlife.
But who pays for that?

Residents pay — in the form of taxes.

The B.C. government will be forced to consider closing access to surrounding lands to protect the grizzly bear population.
Who, then, loses access to adjacent public lands?

Residents lose.

Traditional activities such as hiking, hunting, climbing, and heli-skiing, as well as established commercial activities such as heli-skiing, would be limited in all adjacent drainages, in an attempt to manage the direct damage to grizzly bears caused by the recreation area’s large footprint.

The burden of ‘off-site’ mitigation

Off-site mitigation means closing some areas to make up for ‘opening’ others. Because the Jumbo resort plan would render 6,000 hectares of critical wildlife habitat unsuitable for wildlife, land-use planners will look to adjacent areas to shut down in an attempt to mitigate the impacts.

But such mitigation will never bring balance back to a 6,000-hectare wild area that has roads, buildings, lifts and other infrastructure on it.

Buy low, sell high: a real snow job

The Province of B.C. rewards developers handsomely for creating real estate development around ski hills. The Province sells the land to the developer — essentially privatizing Crown land in the process, though still holding “control” of it somehow — for about $5,000 per acre.

$5,000 per acre is certainly a steal of a deal, no matter how you slice it.

The Province’s rationale is that most resorts are built in the backcountry, where the value of an acre of land is not high.

The new owner of the land could hold, sell or develop it, making a commitment to match real estate developments with on-hill infrastructure such as lifts and trails.

However, if a resort goes bankrupt, the Province (taxpayers) must step in and run the hill until a buyer steps forward.

Skiing glaciers vs. real human rights

Contrary to what resort developers believe, securing access for all human beings to “glacier resort participation” isn’t a noble cause.

While some people work for social justice and human rights that mean something — access to clean water and education, for example — those who work so that all people may have “access to powder skiing” are laughably disingenuous.

Turning a public land-use question into a discussion about public access to powder skiing is a mistake, especially when the public itself has stated — repeatedly — that it has no appetite for a Jumbo Glacier resort.

“Glacier resort participation” indeed, any resort participation, is cost prohibitive for most people.

The right to participate freely in a democracy is a much more worthy goal, yet the majority of residents who are against the resort have been denied that right on the most basic level—no matter how many times the public has expressed opposition to the resort, there was never an occasion when this opposition would actually lead to the proposal being shelved.