Sitting in Snow

What are we willing to trade? The trade-off between coal mining and outdoor recreation around Crowsnest Pass.

The other day I received a letter in the mail that I had to go sign for to pick up. When I opened up the envelope, I wasn’t sure how I wanted to respond. This is the case with anything that is controversial and comes down to worrying about what people will say about me and my business. However, I’m ready to start speaking up.

If you aren’t familiar with Crowsnest Pass, then you should become familiar with Crowsnest Pass. It is a beautiful town nestled in the South Canadian Rockies. Historically it is an old mining town, currently with no mines actively extracting. There is one mining company who has been active in the community for years called Riversdale/Benga/Hancock; it may go by any one of those names as it was sold recently. I’m not overly keen on the mine, but I didn’t think it was a big deal. One mine that is actively trying to work with the community. I didn’t think much of it, especially since Crowsnest Pass is a very poor municipality and is up against aging infrastructure and trying to survive. I know that outdoor recreation can be a huge industry here, but it also takes money to build it… something that the municipality does not have money for. So, it’s been left up to individuals, small businesses and groups to develop with their own money, time, knowledge, and drive for a future town focusing on outdoor recreation. This has been a slow process, but IT IS HAPPENING. People move here to be a doctor, or a teacher, or a dentist. People move here for the beauty and the lifestyle that Crowsnest Pass offers. People come here because it is stunning and awesome! It provides a high quality of life.

Looking down on Crowsnest Pass. Atrum and Hancock mines proposed to the right. Montem mines proposed to the left.

The letter I received was about a drilling plan slated for an area just south of Crowsnest Pass. “This letter is to inform you that Montem Resources Alberta Ltd. will be conducting a Coal Exploration Program on the above-noted lands..” This is a new area to be explored, separate from what I previously knew. Over the summer months, a couple of mining companies popped up and showed their existence by plopping their names on buildings in town. Where did these other companies come from? One guy showed up at the community market where I had a booth and was very proud to tell me that the mine company he is working for has the mineral rights from north of Riversdale to Cataract Creek (don’t 100% quote me on that, as I don’t remember the exact northern location, but the area he mentioned was HUGE!). Between Riversdale and Atrum, this covers basically everything between Crowsnest Pass to Highway 532 (west of Chain Lakes). This is a massive area. It broke my heart to hear this as I just started an eco-tourism company in Crowsnest Pass. This takes out a huge area that I operate in. Let’s face it, people do not want to hike or backpack to areas where they are overlooking a mine. I thought to myself, “It’s okay. Don’t worry about it. You still have opportunity to the south of Highway 3. Be resilient.”

Proposed drillholes for Montem Exploration Drilling Plan

Don’t worry about it!?! That was the way that I perceived it because I’m afraid to hurt someone’s feelings. I’m here to tell you that this breaks my heart, it makes me anxious, and I feel like I’ve been a fool for not asking more questions! I just gave up a great career and a good paying job to build a business in outdoor recreation and tourism. You are hurting my feelings by telling me that a mine is going to go where I operate my business. THIS IS MY LIVELIHOOD!

It’s not just my livelihood though. It is others too and it is their quality of life. The area this man at the market described is the main place people go fly-fishing and I know there are several fly-fishing guides in Crowsnest Pass, Fernie and Calgary who use this area to operate their business. I came across a lady an hour back on backcountry roads this summer who was from California and heard about how special this area was! It is special, it is beautiful, it is serene. Several residents of the area also enjoy this outdoor activity that will no longer be the same once mines go into these locations.

I am not 100% sure on these areas. This is rough prediction based on rumours, stories, etc I have heard around town. Crowsnest Pass is a small area between the two Potential Hancock Mining Areas. At the moment, mining cannot occur in protected areas, highlighted by the olive colour. Map is from the Livingstone Public Land Use Zone

It isn’t just fly-fishing though. IT EFFECTS ALL OUTDOOR RECREATION.

Do you like hunting? Well, this area is a huge part of the hunting in southern Alberta. You think that the hunters won’t be kicked out? Let’s say they are allowed to stay. What animal is going to stay when an active mine is in the area? Hunters will be pushed to smaller areas and less hunting will occur. This impacts the hunting community too.

Or what about your children? Do you send them to camp in the summer time? Crowsnest Bible Camp had an incredible year introducing children to the outdoors. What about Blue Bronna that operates just west of Chain Lakes? Guess what?! They are impacted too. We need these places to allow our children to be connected with the outdoors. For them to be challenged both physically and mentally. For them to learn how to solve and cope, and get outside. It is our children’s quality of life too.

Or what about the quadders? I find it a little heart-breaking as they just lost trails due to the Castle Wildland Provincial Park going in. The areas that they are currently allowed to ride are where the mines are planning drilling exploration programs. The dedication that our local Quad Squad group has put into maintaining and building these trails is amazing. For the first time, I am overly grateful for the Castle Park designation. As long as the park boundaries stay the way they are, the mines will NOT go in there. I do worry that these big mine companies are already in conversations with our new Provincial government to change the boundaries and we all know they won’t tell us that the reason they are changing the park boundary is to allow mining. They will use the quadding community and say that they will remove the park boundary to allow quad use. IN REALITY, they are allowing the mines to come in to extract coal. DON’T BE FOOLED. This is a big fear of mine and if we aren’t careful, we will lose our outdoor recreation to mines.

Quadding with views right in front of us where we may see a mine in the future.

Or what about the residents and visitors that come to this area? The hike up Crowsnest Mountain will never be the same as people will look down on heavy equipment and open pit mines. Window Mountain Lake may not be accessible. Our mountain bike trails that are used by a growing mountain bike community, races, and programs will be damaged, destroyed, or not allowed access to. We have an amazing mountain bike company in Crowsnest Pass (Sweet Riders) who teaches mountain bike skills. These small businesses running clinics and races will be impacted! Or what about our local mountain bike club (United Riders of Crowsnest)? Their hard work in building, finding money, applying on grants, fundraising, and so on… it is being impacted!

What about Sinister 7 and other running races, like Meet the Minotaur? Sinister 7 attracts thousands of people to our community each year from around the world and has been in operation for over a decade now. It is the type of event that creates buzz about this community. It is the type of event that brings in money, gives back money to the community, and where we get to keep the pristine environment of the Canadian Rockies. It impacts these types of businesses too!

Looking at Ironstone Lookout. Just to the south of the proposed Montem Exploration Drilling Plan.

Or what about the Great Divide Trail? They have spent the last few years planning, funding, and building a new route along the Great Divide Trail because the BC side of the trail has too many mines. People come from around the world to hike this trail. To their surprise, this area is being slated for mining too. The hard work, the dedication, the sacrifice that people have been putting in to build outdoor recreation is being overlooked as these mining companies probe the area and dismantle the work that several Albertans are putting in to enjoy the great outdoors.

Then, of course, there is my company, which focuses on outdoor recreation and education. I am not ready to sit down and let these mining companies come in and destroy a place and community that I have fallen in love with. I work countless hours to build this business and do this while protecting our environment to allow future generations to enjoy this area too. It’s not about making a quick buck. It’s about building a brighter future.

What are we willing to trade to allow for economic development and is it really the economic development that we want to see?

This letter that I received was the tipping point for me. It made me realize that if all of the mining plans come true, Crowsnest Pass will be surrounded by mines. It’s not just one mine anymore. I’ve heard rumours that there are four mining companies: Riversdale, North Coal, Atrum, and Montem. Four companies and it isn’t just one area. It is the majority of the Livingstone Public Land Use Zone, York Creek, Tent Mountain, and south of Blairmore. It is the places that we live and play.

I struggle with standing up to the mining companies because I have a very small business. I worry that by being vocal, that I will destroy my company. It has gone through my head several times in the last few days since I read that letter. I worry that I will offend my friends who work for these mines. I worry that I will create problems for my friends, who are also trying to make a living. I worry that by causing controversy that I’ll be seen as a problem. But then I thought, I am not just speaking up for myself. I am speaking up for everyone who loves this area. Everyone who plays here. That is why I have decided to speak up on my behalf and on behalf of my business. I’m not doing this just to protect the environment.

I am doing this to protect outdoor recreation and the quality of life for people who live and play in Crowsnest Pass.

Viewscape from Livingstone Public Land Use Zone, looking towards areas where a mine can potentially start and is likely being explored currently.

It is time to speak up and find out what is really going on. Where are these mines going? Where are their exploration programs going? I want to see the full picture and not just be told tidbits of information that only scratch the surface. The mining companies are pretending like they are doing this community a favour because they will provide jobs. The people who started businesses in recreation and tourism, the people who moved here for the quality of life, the people who work tirelessly to create outdoor recreation on their own time and dollar…these people will move away and be replaced with others who are looking to make a quick buck. The quality of life will decrease in this community. Outdoor recreation and tourism provide jobs and economic development in the area. There are countless studies out there that prove that it is viable and a profitable industry. A great thing is that it provides jobs without sacrificing the naturally rewarding elements of the community. And you want to hear the best part? It doesn’t boom and bust…

What are we willing to trade to allow for economic development and is it really the economic development that we want to see? Let’s keep Crowsnest Pass naturally rewarding and not extract what is naturally rewarding for a 25-year mine life.

Viewscape from Livingstone Public Land Use Zone.

What you can do

Help us make it known that Outdoor Recreation is important to Crowsnest Pass and this region.

Contact the Alberta Energy Regulator by October 11, 2019. Follow this link to submit your letter to Alberta Energy Regulator. This is in regards to the Montem Coal Exploration Drilling Plan. How does it effect you?

Make your voice loud and clear.

Ask questions to fully understand the impact of these mines.

Question our political leaders.