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18 months of work produces an accord among backcountry users



From members of the B.C. Mountaineering Club who started going into the backcountry almost 100 years ago, to the snowmobiling community whom have been venturing out for at least 30 years, backcountry recreation is part of the heritage of the Sea to Sky corridor. Over the decades backcountry use has increased by about 60 per cent. In recent years the figure is closer to 200 per cent. Much of the increase occurs in winter when backcountry skiers, snowmobilers, heli-skiers and dog sledders compete for terrain.

And as backcountry use increases so has the risk of conflict between the users.

The Winter Backcountry Forum was created in September, 2001, to head off potential conflicts in the backcountry of the Squamish Forest District. Forty stakeholders, representing motorized and non-motorized backcountry users, commercial recreation operators and various government ministries, sat down together for the first session. That group was whittled down to about 25 members who have been meeting regularly for the past 18 months.

"There were some conflicts between snowmobilers and heli-skiers wanting to use the same area," Pat Harrison, chair of the Sea to Sky Winter Forum acknowledges. "The heli-skiers don’t want the area tracked up before they bring their clients in. Backcountry skiers don’t want the area tracked up before they come in."

User groups don’t want to experience what has occurred in other areas of Canada and the United States.

"We’ve taken a very progressive proactive stand to head off those conflicts so they don’t get out of hand," Harrison continues.

Harrison is personally familiar with incidents in Montana where skiers have poked windshields out of snowmobiles and snowmobilers have not slowed down for skiers.

"That’s just not what we want in the corridor," Harrison pronounces.

Since the stakeholder meetings began a year and a half ago the proceedings have gone well.

"I’m proud to say that at no time have we had any outbursts by any of the members," Harrison says. "They’ve all been very professional. A few voices may go up a little bit but the key was learning to trust one another and to learn all about each others recreation."

During the first session of the forum the stakeholders sat down and asked each other to consider the question: If you had a perfect day in the backcountry what would it be?

"All 40 of us got up and said that in an ideal situation this is what I’d like to have as an experience," Harrison recounts.

The goal became working out how users share the backcountry so that everyone has access to their perfect day. This means that different users might be in the Sea to Sky corridor on the same day but would not be using the same backcountry area at the same time. A map has been produced that shows different uses for different parts of the local backcountry. A document has also been submitted to the provincial government to determine what current legislation is in place and what future legislation could be written that could make the sharing accord a reality.

"In May this area is off limits to such and such a group and then next year in May it’ll be open to that group," Harrison suggests of some areas.

Regulating the backcountry so that different user groups can get the most out of their experience is a huge logistical undertaking but the stakeholders in the forum are committed.

Harrison reports that in 12 of the 13 stakeholder presentations he attended there’s been positive feedback from motorized and non-motorized backcountry recreation users.

"In each case there are one or two individuals who have a minor problem with one aspect of the sharing accord but that’s to be expected," Harrison continues. "We have a sharing accord where 18 stakeholder groups who have been involved have said, ‘I can accept this,’"

But there are some major hurdles.

"This will probably be a three to five year task to make everyone aware of the sharing accord in the corridor," Harrison acknowledges. "Another hurdle will be getting the information out to the public then educating our peers in our own sector."

One idea might be a brochure similar to what is available for hunting and fishing guides denoting which season is open for hunting or fishing.

But the next step is to find out if the public shares the same enthusiasm for the sharing accord as the stakeholder user groups. Meetings were held throughout the corridor this past week. The forum’s recommendations will be taken to the Sea to Sky LRMP on March 28 and 29.

"We hope to have a written document to hand to the government management team that’s leading the Sea to Sky LRMP," Harrison says. "Here’s our plan. We all agreed to it. We all signed off on it."

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