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Last week's open house on the Ministry of Lands' Commercial Backcountry Recreation policy served as a reminder of how busy the backcountry has become — despite its size and seemingly wide open spaces. With more users the potential for conflict in the backcountry has increased, which is what the CBR policy is attempting to address. Although the policy, currently being drafted, will focus on commercial operators, the issue of "public" access to the backcountry is part and parcel of the whole matter. As the ministry's Don van der Horst said, the hope is that the CBR policy will address the interaction of different groups that is taking place in the backcountry. There are more than 40 commercial backcountry operators registered with the Resort Municipality of Whistler, although only five of them have tenure over their land. Some have other types of operating licences, but many have no land-use agreement with the province — although that is partially due to the moratorium the ministry had placed on granting tenures. The moratorium was designed to bring some order to the system. The CBR policy will include a public review of tenures and ministry officials indicated future applications for tenures may be by some sort of competitive process. But commercial operators are only one group of backcountry users. Several people who spoke last week wanted to make sure public access to the backcountry is maintained and protected. Commercial operation bases cannot impede public access under the CBR policy, but there can also be conflict among non-commercial public groups — usually between groups who use motorized access, such as snowmobiles, and non-motorized groups. Where the CBR policy may be able to help is in creating special "zonings" for snowmobile clubs, for example. To acquire that zoning, however, the clubs would likely have to apply for tenure. Thus, with more than 40 commercial operators, clubs and individuals vying for access to the backcountry in the Whistler area alone the scope of the Ministry of Lands' task starts to become apparent. On top of this there's the Protected Areas Strategy study currently underway at the west end of the Callaghan Valley. The PAS study, which will likely take precedence over the CBR policy, could come up with a range of recommendations ranging from prohibiting all motorized access to allowing mining. Taken all together the size and demands on the backcountry add up. All the more reason to sort out land use conflicts now.

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