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We're number one

About 99 per cent of the time, being put at the top of the list is a cause for celebration.

About 99 per cent of the time, being put at the top of the list is a cause for celebration.

That one per cent comes into play when the recognition being doled out is for something dubious - like perhaps being named the most endangered river in the entire province.

This week, that's exactly what happened, as the Outdoor Recreation Council put the Cheakamus River at the top of the heap of the group's 14th annual Most Endangered BC Rivers list.

Nobody in Squamish can really question that gloomy distinction, as no other river in the province saw all its fish instantly killed by a toxic train spill this year.

Mark Angelo, the council's rivers chair and head of the wildlife program at BCIT, called the Aug. 5 caustic soda spill "the most catastrophic spill that has taken place in BC over the last several decades." So, not only is our Cheakamus the most endangered river this year, it was also the scene of the worst spill in recent memory.

It is also turning out to be one of the most contentious restoration projects ever in the area, as well. Local environmentalists, both private and members of groups, have been very vocal about the lack of real progress in getting to work on restoring the Cheakamus to its former glory, and even more vocal about what seems to be a lack of desire to work on steelhead recovery. Of the more than 500,000 fish eradicated immediately following the spill, steelhead were reportedly the most affected.

The Cheakamus River actually shared the top spot on the list this year with the steelhead streams, which empty into the Gulf of Georgia. So, it would appear steelhead are really not having a great year. That makes it even more confusing as to why the government would want to leave steelhead recovery up to Mother Nature, and not try to lend a bit of a hand to increasing stocks.The Aug. 5 spill was a man-made disaster that killed all the fish in the Cheakamus. Yes, if left alone to nature, stocks will return to what they were - in time, but if we want to see results sooner, and we want to make sure stocks return, then it would seem logical that man-made assistance is what is necessary in this respect. Some reports have said it could well take 50 years for the Cheakamus to recover. That seems pretty unacceptable.

None of the restoration should be left up to just nature. CN caused the spill, and rightly should be 100 per cent responsible for every aspect and cost of bringing that waterway back to its pristine state. If CN really wanted to improve its severely tarnished image in the Sea to Sky corridor, it would go above and beyond what it is already doing, and truly address the concerns of local environmentalists.

Unless efforts are started soon, we may well find ourselves at the top of endangered river lists for the next 49 years. That's no cause for celebration.