Last Frontier Heliskiing
To date, there is no conclusive study or even a general agreement on the impact that helicopter traffic has on mountain goat populations. But, with 60 percent of British Columbia’s mountain goat population residing in a location that is just a short helicopter ride from Last Frontier Heliskiing’s tenure, the company decided, “Why risk it?” “We want to be good corporate citizens and we’re animal lovers, too,” says Franz Fux, operations manager for the company, which is based in Bell 2, a tiny community north of Terrace. “We don’t want to disturb any wildlife.”
The Skeena Mountains are full of wildlife: moose, grizzly and black bears, wolves, cougars and mountain goats, that mostly live in the valley bottoms during the winter. During this season, heli-skiing is in full swing, and wildlife are largely protected from the sight and sound of the helicopters, carrying skiers and snowboarders around Last Frontier’s 9,000 square kilometer tenure. The exception to this is the mountain goat population that, mainly in the spring, head to high elevation south facing slopes to feed and avoid predators.
“The Ministry of the Environment up here are leading in the field of goat inventories,” Fux says. “They know where every goat is in the North West part of the province. You can’t avoid them if you don’t know where they are.”
Working with the ministry’s wildlife officials, Last Frontier Heliskiing has re-examined its tenure, run by run, flight path by flight path. “We gave up some of our runs and adjusted flight paths, landing zones and take off zones to minimize disturbances to the goats.”
Together, they identified two types of goat zones: No Fly Zones and Sensitive Zones. The No Fly Zones are areas where goats are often seen. “They don’t change their territory very much,” Fux says. “They are in the same place year after year.” Last Frontier helicopters avoid these areas by flying outside a 1500 metre horizontal and 500 metre vertical buffer zone. The Sensitive Zones are areas where goats are occasionally spotted. When animals or tracks are spotted in these areas, the pilots and guides take the clients somewhere else to ski. All wildlife tracks and viewings are recorded and passed on to the wildlife officers at the end of the ski season to help with research.
Earlier this winter the Ministry of Environment conducted a goat survey, in order to re-establish their studies that took place 10 years ago, when Last Frontier Heliskiing started operating in the area. “According to the ministry we are doing a good job,” Fux says, and he is not surprised. “I always knew we didn’t disturb the goats.”
The company is using the same regulations to avoid other helicopter sensitive wildlife, such as wolves, bears, moose and caribou. They have also taken the low impact philosophy to their home base at Bell 2. Last summer they installed a $500,000 sewage treatment system. “We want to try and coexist as best we can,” says Fux.
PHOTOS © TLH Heliskiing, BC Photo: Randylincks.com