Stewart Coffin about Charter Flights and By Fair Means Travel

Note: This text first appeared in Che-Mun, the newsletter of canadian wilderness canoeing. It was published in Outfit 46, Autumn 1986. Stewart Coffin is a well known wilderness traveller in Canada and has vast experience in canoeing the far north - By Fair Means, of course. Reproduction was kindly permitted by Michael Peake, editor, Che-Mun.

Coffin's Corner

Stewart Coffin

Flying into remote wilserness areas by charter float plane seems to becoming increasingly popular, especially with boating parties. I have done it myself in the past, and so have done it my canoeing companions. We stopped doing it 20 years ago when we realized what a nuisance it was becoming.

The vast wilderness of Labrador and northern Quebec is some of the finest canoe country remaining in North America. In the past 30 years, we have ssen about a third of it lost to canoeing bacause of hydro dams, and the future prospects are even worse. In the years to come, there will be an ever-shrinking wilderness area being used (and abused) by growing numbers of parties - not just canoeists but kayakers and rafters, private groups and comercial outfitters.

Every year we notice an increase in river use, and alas, an increase in air traffic. It is discouraging to spend a week paddling and portaging from the railhead into some pristine wilderness country, only to be buzzed daily by low flyinf float planes and wondering when one of them is going to land right next to you and unload. It is even more discouraging when this actually happens and you discover the invasion is being commanded by some ostensible conservation-oriented organization such as the Appalacian Mountain Club or the Sierra Club.

Worse still is to read accounts of such trips in their club publications or other outdoor magazines encouraging others to do the same. Equally distressing to note are the increasing number of advertisements in such magazines by commercial outfitters who run such trips.

The excuse offered follow familiar themes; such as the staement that the area is not accessible any other way, as if one really believed such places exist. Admittedly, some places are less easily reached than others, but one hears this feeble excuse given for flying into the headwaters of rivers that are readily and easily accessible from road or railhead with a little extra effort. This includes practically all rivers in eastern Canada outside of the Ungava Peninsula.

One of th most irritating excuses is that they are all professional people with important jobs, and so their time is too valuable to be wasted on lakes and portage trails. A popular variation on this is that they are all "Class III paddlers" and so their great skill should not be wasted on "Class I" water. (whatever that is supposed to mean!)

A lot of air traffic has nothing to do with canoeing. Some boaters will say; everyone else is doing it, so why souldn't we too? The fishing and hinting camps now use motorized travel almost exclusively - on alnd, on water, or in the air. If a wilderness experience is your main objective, you will certailnly want to avoid passing close to these so-called sporting camps. It is getting harder to do every year, but still possible. Motorized vehicles in their various forms are perhaps the worst curse ever inflicted upon the northern wilderness, worse even than hydro dams. the dams at least stay put and you can learn to avoid them.

We have tried to choose canoe routes where planes cannot land, but if you look at a map you will see how difficult that is, for there are thousands of lakes sprinkeled all accross the land. Worst of all are the Helicopters - they can land almost anywhere. Some fishing parties now use them. We have been buzzed by them a couple of times, and once nearly had our canoe blown in the river.

I have been callig attention to this growing problem for the past five years. The result so far: Both, the AMC and the Sierra Club continue to sponsor fly-in wilderness trips and publish ads for same, if anything more than before. Meanwhile, the AMC expresses its concerns about air pollution, and the Sierra Club complains about sightseeing flights over the Grand Canyon! Among outdoor magazines, credit Summit with refusing to run ads fro Helihiking (which the AMC publishes in fullpage color!)

It is hard to believe that so few care. I hope that this memo will at least call attention to the problem. Please pass the message on to those who might be concerned.