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Chilcotin ranch fined $455,000 after pleading guilty to altering salmon habitat

Altherr Schellenberg Cattle Co. Ltd impacted tributaries of the Chilcotin River
The Chilcotin River and its tributaries are critical fish habitat. (Photo submitted)

A cattle company in the Chilcotin is facing $455,000 in fines and $1.25 million in bond orders after pleading guilty to offences against the fisheries and water sustainability acts.

Altherr & Schellenberg Cattle Co. Ltd., at Redstone west of Williams Lake, was fined in provincial court after pleading guilty last fall and earlier this year.

Agreed statements of facts on sentences from the case describe the alteration of riparian areas and tributaries of the Chilcotin River to develop the land and increase hay production on its ranch, beginning more than six years ago.

In court documents obtained by Black Press Media, Felix Schellenberg is named as principal owner of the ranch at the time the work was being conducted by a contractor. Schellenberg is also a founder of Pasture to Plate and Rafter 25 Ranch.

According to the court documents, officials first observed the tributaries that were extended onto the ranch during a site visit in the fall of 2017 and noticed they were being stripped of vegetation, excavated and then refilled with gravel. The top-soil had also been removed.

“The entire site is in the floodplain of the Upper Chilcotin River, which supports salmon populations (chinook, coho and sockeye) and other various resident fish species,” the document stated.

Court documents show that a fisheries officer delivered an education letter to Altherr and Schellenberg Cattle Co. Ltd. as early as December 2016, stating “prior to conducting any works in natural or man-made channels you should ensure you are compliant with the fisheries provisions of the Fisheries Act.”

On Sept. 26, 2022, the company pleaded guilty to three counts relating to violating the fisheries act, specifically harmful alteration of fish habitat.

When sentenced on Oct. 18, 2022 the company was fined a total of $280,000, which shall be paid to the environmental damages fund with a recommendation it be used for conservation and protection of salmon or restoration of salmon habitat in the Chilcotin region.

On Feb. 28 of this year, the company pleaded guilty to four further counts and was fined a total of $175,000, of which $100,000 was directed to go to the environmental damages fund, with a recommendation the funds be used for conservation and protection of fish or fish habitat in the Cariboo region.

Remediation orders under various fisheries and water acts were also part of the sentencings as well as the $1.2 million in bond order. The company had no previous convictions prior to these under the Fisheries Act and has owned the property where offences took place since 2009 and 1986.

On Thursday, March 15, the Tŝilhqot’in National Government issued a statement calling for all licences and permits issued to Altherr & Schellenberg Cattle Co. Ltd. to be revoked in the wake of the guilty pleas, as the land is located on their traditional territory.

The TNG stated the destruction of fish habitat is kilometers in length and a traditional fishing site was also filled in, said Nits’il?in (Chief) Joe Alphonse.

“…a person that could rip out kilometers of Chinook habitat in order to expand their hay field does not deserve to live and own property in such pristine area,” Alphonse said.

“This is a very sensitive area for Chinook populations – which are close to being listed as a Species at Risk. We have been working hard to enhance the chinook populations in the territory.

Kilometers of destruction can’t be replicated in remediation. It could be thousands of years of evolution that he has wiped out.”

The TNG noted it is pursuing a territory-wide crisis line that would allow the public to notify Tŝilhqot’in Rangers of environmental offences.

“This would ensure an efficient and direct system of notification for offenses on the land.”

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