Back in 1986, the logging plans in the Babine River watershed were anything but sustainable - clear cuts almost to the riverís edge, three bridges and a plan to eradicate the forest.
"To say the least it would have been a disaster," Pierce Clegg says. "It was not about going out of business but it would have changed the whole atmosphere of the place. We realized we would lose the Babine as a wilderness quality watershed."
Clegg didnít know about the logging plans when he bought Babine Norlakes Lodge in 1986, and he wasnít about to let them ruin his dream. His trout lodge and steelhead camp relied on the watershedís health, so Clegg set out to protect the wilderness values of the river, a mission that he continues today.
"The Babine is one of BCís many wilderness treasures," he says. "We realized we had to do the right thing for everyone, every British Columbian." And he would follow the righteous path to reach it. "We were into mitigation as opposed to litigation."
Three years into the mission, Clegg and other supporters of the Babine wilderness made some progress in stopping two of the bridges from being built. Then, they won a battle that none of them expected to win. In 1990, the provincial government created the Babine River Corridor Provincial Park, largely thanks to the work of Clegg and others who successfully demonstrated the fish and wildlife values of the river.
Some would consider this a victory, followed by relaxation and going back to the world famous fishing, but not Clegg. He realized that BC Parks didnít have the budget or manpower to make a master plan or to set up regulations. Also, the park only protected a narrow corridor along the river, leaving important tributaries and the wildlife that did not recognize park boundaries largely unprotected.
"At the end of the day we realized no one was going to look after the park, so we decided we would," he says. Together with Babine Steelhead Lodge and Silver Hilton, two other sport fishing outfitters, Clegg set up the Babine River Foundation. They donated their own money and charged their guests a surcharge in order to fund the foundationís work. This included hiring Richard Overstall, a Smithers lawyer, to keep an eye on logging plans in the watershed and contractors to do fishery studies, economic profiles of fishing generated GDP and guest spending, and fighting for special management zones surrounding the park. "It was a budget limited attempt to address the issues as best as we could," Clegg says.
However, something cohesive was still missing. Four land use plans overlapped the Babine watershed. There was little money or manpower set-aside for implementing and monitoring these plans. Once again, the lodge owners acted. This time they jumped on Overstallís unique idea to set up a monitoring trust that would partner with government to oversee all four land use plans in the Babine. In January 2005, the Babine Watershed Monitoring Trust, the first of its kind in BC, was granted charitable status. Funds came from private and government sectors in a two to one ratio. So far, the Babine River Foundation has been the only private donor.
The trustís independent board of directors ensures land use plans are initiated and monitored. "Right away the trust had to decide what it was going to do with a limited budget in a large watershed," Clegg says. "We asked what values were most at risk and started with those." Work so far has centred on assessments of a tributary that is home to 20 per cent of the Babineís steelhead and monitoring of ditch work and culverts on logging roads. "The logging companies fixed any problems right away," he says.
Now there is talk of creating a monitoring trust for the entire Skeena watershed. "Itís interesting to see how far it will go," Clegg says. Sure the work will benefit Babine Norlakes, but it comes at a cost. Cleggís efforts over the last 20 years have cost him hundreds of thousands of dollars and countless hours, but when he thinks of the alternatives, the price was low. "Itís a lot easier to stomach than if we had just let it go."
PHOTOS © BABINE NORLAKES