For the first time in history, a tenure in the southern B.C interior has been cancelled directly related to the protection of critical habitat for Southern Mountain Caribou. Despite the loss, uncertainty and hardship faced – the family behind the business is committed to achieving their Powder Dreams.
For several decades the Southern Mountain Caribou population throughout B.C has been on a declining trend that is challenging federal recovery objectives for self-sustainability of the species. In 2014 a Government Actions Regulation (GAR) order was approved to protect critical habitat of caribou throughout B.C, disallowing new tenure applications or amendments to further develop land in existing tenures encompassed by the GAR order. Tenures predating the implementation of this order are considered grandfathered in, so existing operators are able to continue as per their tenure management plan, subject to adherence to best practices and mitigation strategies outlined in the Wildlife Guidelines for Backcountry Tourism/Commercial Recreation in British Columbia.
The federal government has announced impending legislation to strengthen the 2014 plan to provide tighter and more effective guidelines for herd recovery. Government and independent biologists have identified local population units (LPU’s) to better analyze potential or imminent threats the species is facing, and the impact these threats have on population trends. The identification of localized threats and relative impacts on the LPU’s will allow for a very specific and effective recovery strategy to protect the species from extirpation within LPU’s, and in turn reflect the species as a whole.
Highland Powder Skiing
Highland Powder Skiing (HPS) was a 17,000 acre cat skiing tenure located in Meadow Creek, B.C. Kerry and Cassandra Penney discovered this tenure had not been used for almost a decade, and pursued HPS to purchase the company. Prior to acquiring Highland, the Penney’s conducted extensive due diligence with respect to caribou concerns and other issues relating to the non-diligent use, and the entire HPS boundary being within the CMH Galena Bay tenure.
The Penney’s had plans to build a lodge site and to develop new ski runs into a previously undeveloped area of the tenure – “Future Cat Skiing Terrain”. Although no guarantees were given – a positive direction was implied and the Penney’s felt confident that they could proceed. After a final assurance from the vendors stating there were no operational concerns and they had completed due diligence on their end as well, the Penney’s proceeded with the share purchase agreement. They took directorship of the company in October 2018.
The Penney’s retained consultation from industry professionals to assist them with their updated the tenure management plan associated with the operating area, proposing a lodge site and building a more extensive road system to utilize the entire tenure boundary. They conducted helicopter reconnaissance work to review the terrain, updated photos and touched down on potential lodge sites. They had full intention on making this a world class operation in the remote lodge, multi day cat skiing industry.
Central Kootenay LPU
In August 2019, the Penney’s submitted a preliminary plan to the province in an attempt to finalize what they could and could not do with respect to concerns raised by CMH. At this time, they were told that they had full capacity to operate as per the existing 2010 management plan, which included the developed half of the boundary. Further use would be subject to approval, which they already knew, but they definitely had to iron out any stronghold CMH had before they could lobby for an investor. The province was prepared to review their plans, cross reference the historical use CMH reported on the terrain in question, and advise the Penney’s of any major concerns on the overlapping terrain.
Within a span of 2 weeks this tone dramatically changed. The Penney’s were told CMH was the least of their concerns at this time. The habitat branch caught wind of the Penney’s application, and this became the beginning of the end.
The Central Kootenay LPU is very small – only 24 animals were counted in 2019 according to census and GPS collar data. This LPU is part of the Central Selkirk herd subpopulation. The data demonstrated 12-14 of these animals have been habituating in and around the HPS tenure boundary. It had became clear that without immediate intervention, achieving recovery objectives in this LPU will be highly unlikely or impossible. This LPU has declined by 67% in the past 5 years and by 32% in the last 17 years. The Imminent Threat Assessment for Southern Mountain Caribou describes the LPU’s throughout B.C, along with threats and recovery objectives for these populations.
Over half of this LPU is encumbered with tenures, the largest being commercial heli-skiing, heli-hiking and cat skiing. These activities are known to occur within critical caribou habitat being high elevation alpine terrain with a deep snowpack including mature forests rich in aboreal lichen. Potential threats to caribou through direct or indirect human interference are imposed through these activities, even with mitigation strategies in place. In the case of the Central Kootenay LPU, these potential threats have become imminent.
Section 4.3 is a clause in all approved license of occupations. It allows for government to amend, suspend or terminate the license, at their sole discretion, based on urgent circumstances. An urgent circumstance includes without limitation, public safety concerns, significant environmental concerns, or any other decision by them under which it is determined to be necessary in the public interest to restrict access to an area.
Based on collective information on the table, the study of GPS collared data with respect to their tenure and the critical nature of the LPU in question, the Penney’s were told that “any works” in this area would devastate the herd. After months of dialogue, research and referral to higher provincial and federal levels, the determination was made that it is not in the best interest for this tenure to continue. A termination agreement for Highland was signed in March 2020.
The Rise of Renegade
In March 2020, a termination agreement was signed, officially cancelling Highland, aka North Country Snowcats. The Penney’s could not give up on their dream they almost had. The province has also been very supportive of the Penney’s in their pursuit of a replacement cat skiing tenure, as they understand the devastating loss they incurred. Kerry began mapping, Cassandra applied policy and occurrences to these new areas – and the concept of Powder Renegade Lodge was born.
The Penney’s contacted their mentor Nick-Holmes Smith of Mustang Powder Lodge, who was keen to jump on board with the research and development of Renegade. The Penney’s and Nick share an enormous passion for developing cat skiing businesses, and by combining their skills, resources and collective passion – the Renegade application has officially been submitted to the Province.
Powder Renegade Lodge will be the newest cat skiing operation in the Monashee Mountains, boasting over 21,000 acres with a lodge at 6400 feet. Guests will access the lodge via helicopter, direct from Kelowna. The company will be family owned and operated, focussed on delivering an exceptional guest experience.
Hard work, dedication and the refusal to give up has allowed this family to fail forward and push forward towards their dream. The Penney’s are committed to making this happen – stay tuned folks!