Reactions were swift last week to a government announcement that would see the boundaries of the South Chilcotin Mountains Park reduced 20 per cent from 72,000 hectares to 55,000 hectares to allow mining and motorized recreational opportunities in the area.
Logging however, will not be permitted in the original park boundaries.
It took the government almost three years to reach the decision, following an extensive review of the Lillooet Land and Resource Management Plan. Although public feedback was overwhelmingly in favour of the park, the provincial government said the agreement, as well as the agreement that will finalize the creation of 14 new parks and protected areas, is a good compromise for the region.
"These recommendations, with their broad community support, will help protect over 180,000 hectares, while opening up new economic opportunities by creating certainty on the land base," said George Abbot, Minister of Sustainable Resource Management.
"That gives families who live and work in the area the chance to build a solid, sustainable future for their communities, themselves and their children."
The boundaries of the South Chilcotin Mountains Park were originally created by an Order In Council by the outgoing NDP government in 2001.
The land use planning process in the Lillooet area had been underway since 1997, but in the end the stakeholders couldnt resolve a number of contentious issues, including the size of the South Chilcotin Mountains Park. As a result both sides of the issue, representing conservation values and resource industries respectively, agreed to let the government decide on two options. The NDP went with the conservation issue.
The new Liberal government never recognized the park, believing that the previous cabinet acted unilaterally in their decision without taking resource industries and the needs of local communities into account. Mining has been one of the most outspoken opponents of the conservation option, suggesting that creation of new parks and protected areas was causing the industry to lose confidence in the viability of operating in province. Some advocates for the mining industry further suggested that the park be shrunk down to just 3,000 hectares to show the resource industry that the province is open for business.
Even though the creation of a 55,000 hectare park in the area will wipe out dozens of existing mining claims, the Mining Association of British Columbia is happy with the decision.
"This was probably the best decision that could have been made, and it was such an important land use decision for the whole province," said Brian Battison, the associations interim president and CEO.
"It puts an end to the uncertainty hanging over that area for a lot of different industries, and it maps the way forward in that it sets out what can be done and what cant be done, and where.