Restoration in BC’s Hart mountain ranges

Tumbler Ridge – More than 20 industrial batteries were removed from an alpine region in northeastern BC, as part of a community initiative to restore this delicate ecosystem to its previously pristine status.

The cleanup partners, which include the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y), Tumbler Ridge UNESCO Global Geopark Society and helicopter operator Ridge Rotors, say its only the first phase of a larger project to clean up debris from a sensitive alpine tundra of BC’s Hart ranges. The area is a critical wildlife connection within the Yellowstone to Yukon corridor and important habitat for endangered caribou and other species.

During the building of two long railway tunnels decades ago through this section of the northern Rockies, two large towers were erected on each of the summit ridges. The origins of these survey towers is murky at best, but years of wind and winter storms shredded the materials that made them up, and scattered Styrofoam blocks, sheet metal, and large battery arrays across the alpine meadows.

Dr. Charles Helm, Tumbler Ridge resident with the Wolverine Nordic and Mountain Society, wrote in his book Exploring Tumbler Ridge: “Who put them there, when, or why, is not known. But their effects are plain to see: scorched earth in the surrounding tundra. And who knows how deep into the earth the chemicals in question have leached? This sad and irresponsible state of affairs was reported to the appropriate authorities, with little effect.”

For more than a decade concerned citizens of Tumbler Ridge and the outdoor-lovers have tried to address this issue of industrial alpine pollution. Community leaders tried to identify those responsible and address the problem through official channels, all without success. With Y2Y’s support, the local groups were finally able to take matters into their own hands.

“Lamentably, when all else fails you just have to go out and do the job yourself,” says Dr. Helm. “It does raise the question of the role and performance of some industry players in cleaning up after themselves.”

For Y2Y, cleaning up this pollution in sensitive caribou habitat along one of the last intact wild corridors in the Peace River Break is an opportunity to maintain connectivity in these mountains. Restoration increases the amount of available habitat, restores the ability of fish and wildlife populations to remain connected, and protects ecological function.

“The alpine environment within the Tumbler Ridge UNESCO Global Geopark is a fragile, important ecosystem to be treated with great care,” says Geopark manager Sarah Waters, who flew up to several sites by helicopter with volunteers to gather batteries for proper disposal. “Our organization has been aware of these alpine pollution sites for many years, and we are very happy to have worked with Northern BC Tourism and Ridge Rotors to remove the industrial garbage left behind decades ago. We will continue to work with Y2Y to reclaim and maintain the critical ecosystems found within our Geopark.”

Photo: Tim Burkhart
Photo: Tim Burkhart

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