One week after the legislature closed, one day before Premier Ujjal Dosanjh announced a spring election, and more than 60 years after campaigns to protect the South Chilcotin Wilderness began, the government approved in principle a plan that will increase both protected areas and timber harvesting in the Lillooet Land and Resource Management Plan.
"This decision is based on five years of hard work by people who want a plan that is good for the environment, working people and communities," said Dosanjh in an April 17 press release. Dosanjh and Environment, Lands and Parks Minister Ian Waddell made the announcement while releasing governments decision on Phase 1 of the Lillooet LRMP, which covers a 1.1 million hectare area.
"It protects an outstanding southern interior wilderness known as the Southern Chilcotin Mountains, B.C.s longest-standing unresolved land-use dispute," said the premier. "And it provides a base for the next phase of planning so working families and communities can enjoy greater resource certainty and economic opportunity."
The announcement wraps up more than five years of dialogue among various groups with interests in the area, representing First Nations, resource industries such as forestry and mining, the environment and conservation, recreation and tourism, agriculture, and local and regional governments.
While stakeholders could agree over the majority of the land base, there was some dissension among conservation and industry over more than a dozen key areas within in the LRMP area, including the South Chilcotins.
Unable to come to a consensus, the debate between conservation and industry went to "options", a process whereby proponents for both sides of the issue are invited to submit their ideas for the plan to the provincial cabinet, which makes the final decision. Cabinet chose the conservation option.
"We commend the people at the Lillooet planning table for their commitment to closing the gap between different interests and recommendations," said environment minister Ian Waddell. "The work people have done through mediation demonstrates that participants saw the need to make a decision on Phase 1 and committed themselves to completing this land-use plan during Phase 2."
According to LRMP co-ordinator Phil Whitfield, Phase 1 is about drawing lines on the map. Phase 2 will involve "colouring" those areas in, defining the activities which can and cannot take place. Phase 1 is generally the most difficult part of the plan because it requires table members to reach a consensus. Phase 2 is expected to be completed by this time next year.
The conservation option was drafted by Lillooet LRMP table members representing conservation, recreation and community interests, including the Sierra Club of B.C., the Federation of Mountain Clubs of B.C, the Outdoor Recreation Council of B.C., the Southern Chilcotin Mountains Wilderness Society, the Federation of Cottage Owners (Gun Lake Ratepayers), Chilcotin Holidays Guest Ranch and Guide Outfitters, and Bill Spence and Mike Kennedy of the Community Resources Board.