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backcountry policy

By Chris Woodall There are likely to be some upset operators as the province attempts to get a handle on commercial backcountry operators and implement its Commercial Backcountry Recreation policy. Randall Chappel of B.C. Lands is responsible for administering the CBR policy, which is trying to bring existing commercial operators into a situation where they all have a legal land lease. The Lower Mainland has two zones: the Sea to Sky area and the rest of the region. Where operators in the "rest of" zone can have CBR leases that give them a lot of leeway in the kinds of activities they offer, the large number of unauthorized operators and the density of their activities in the Sea to Sky zone means leases have to be implemented in a very controlled way, Chappel says. There are five groups of operations with increasing levels of backcountry legitimacy. At the bottom is Category 5. They are wannabes, Chappel says. Category 4 operators have existing operations that work out of their basement, or have many employees, engaged in a fee for service business. But they have been operating without legal authority, Chappel says. Category 3 operators are people who pre-date the 1991 moratorium on new backcountry tenures and don't have legal authority or permits for their operations, Chappel says. One notch higher are Category 2 operators. These people have been around as long as Category 3s, but have legal status with B.C. Lands, Chappel says. At the top are Category 1 operators. This elite group is currently tenured and have been rolled into current CBR policy, Chappel says. There are only two Category 1s in the entire region, Chappel says, both are heli-ski operations. Category 2 and 3 operators are in the process of being rolled into CBR policy, but again there are only a handful of those, Chappel says. "There may be another few who qualify, but they have yet to step forward." The majority of backcountry operators fit into Category 4. "They are illegal now," Chappel says, and are considered to be trespassing on the backcountry lands they are using. Category 4s had a chance to be "legalized" when a call went out seeking expressions of interest in that step. Deadline was Jan. 1. "A great many did not respond despite our advertising in local newspapers and holding public forums," Chappel says. "Lands is committed to not letting (operators who haven't made a move) keep their activities going. They will be served with notices of trespass." Penalties can include cash fines and seizure of equipment. Category 4s who didn't make the deadline will be reverted to Category 5s, throwing open the areas they operated in to application by all comers. "We could have competing applications. The successful one will be the one with the best merits," Chappel says. The "best merits" will be determined by a thorough process that includes giving the general public a chance to comment on the application, and a review of it by up to 25 government agencies, environmental groups and public recreation interests. "The application is not just a form," Chappel says. "The operator has to show an understanding of the area, its environment, other land users, and have to lay out specific plans how to deal with these elements." A number of people want to operate remote backcountry hotels, Chappel says by way of an example, but they aren't interested in developing out of doors recreation activities. Their ideas will fall outside of CBR policy. In the case of Canadian Snowmobile Adventures, "a decision was made at a high level of government that these people were operating outside the law," Chappel says. But government also thought nothing would be gained by putting them out of business. "Government decided it wasn't going to condone trespassing, but would be giving CSA amnesty to express an interest" in continuing its operations. CSA did this, backing up its expression of interest with an implementation plan of its operations based on its history of having already been operating in the Callaghan area. In return, CSA got a temporary operating permit and was able to convince B.C. Lands that a partnership with Mad River Nordic would be a good thing. Chappel realizes some backcountry operators will feel they didn't get a fair chance at a slice of the backcountry scene. "It's not our mandate to limit the number of businesses," Chappel says in defence. "Not everyone likes the rules, but they're the only thing we have to work with. Someone is always going to be dissatisfied."

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