B.C. ranch, contractor fined $545,000 for salmon habitat loss

A British Columbia cattle company and a contractor have been fined $545,000 for destroying habitat along the Chilcotin and Kleena Kleene rivers, says Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO).

The fines followed a six-year DFO investigation and three court cases that determined Altherr & Schellenberg Cattle Co. of Williams Lake, B.C., and Bayliff Enterprises altered land to increase its area for farming.

"We hope the message is sent loud and clear to everyone," Chief Joe Alphonse of the Tsilhqot'in First Nation said. "If you want to coexist, you coexist with your surroundings and habitats."

Altherr & Schellenberg Cattle Co. operated on two privately-owned ranch lands near Redstone, B.C., and Kleena Kleene, B.C., each about 430 kilometres northwest of Kelowna.

From 2017 to 2020, DFO says, the company removed river habitat, filled in water channels, diverted streams and blocked fish passages on the lands.

In a news release, DFO says the company did not have approval from the province or under the Fisheries Act. It said landowners have a legal obligation to ensure activity does not harm fish or fish habitats.

That same year the ministry received a complaint about a new fence built at another one of Altherr & Schellenberg Cattle Co.'s properties.

The complaints prompted an investigation that found the companies had cleared trees along rivers on private and Crown land, built fences and disturbed rivers and streams.

Alphonse said the actions destroyed habitat on Tsilhqot'in land, along rivers and spawning pools integral for chinook salmon.

First Nations along the West Coast have relied on salmon for thousands of years. Alphonse said, as do orcas, bears and wildlife in the region.

"The rivers in our territories are our lifeline," he said. "We're very dependent on them."

Landmark fines for habitat degradation, says Tsilhqot'in chief

At separate trials in 2022 and 2023, Altherr & Schellenberg Cattle Co. pleaded guilty to violations of Canada's Fisheries Act, DFO says. They were fined a total of $455,000.

Altherr & Schellenberg hired Bayliff Enterprises to clear land along the Kleena Kleene River. The contractor pleaded guilty last month to violating Canada's Fisheries Act and B.C.'s Forest and Range Practices Act. It was fined $90,000.

Alphonse said the fines are a landmark action to protect salmon on Tsilhqot'in territory.

"It's been free-for-all up here for many years," he said. "So I hope this is a wake-up call for everyone."