The campaign to protect the Spruce Lake, South Chilcotin Mountains, and the surrounding Rainshadow Wilderness is kicking into high gear for the final stretch of a four-year-old land use planning process.
In 1997 the provincial government initiated the Lillooet Land and Resource Management Plan for the Lillooet Forest District, an area of more than one million hectares.
While consensus has been reached among recreational interests, forestry and mining industries, First Nations and conservationists over most of the area, table members were unable to agree on a few key areas, including Spruce Lake, the South Chilcotins Mountains, the Upper Bridge River, Yalakom Valley, Lost Valley, and the Cayoosh and Bendor Ranges.
These areas are home to mountain goat populations, grizzly bear, bull trout and mark the northern ranges of spotted owls, not to mention some of the most spectacular scenery in the province.
Many environmental groups would like to see as much as 30 per cent of the LRMP area protected.
With the interested parties unable to agree, the LRMP plan will go to options, a process whereby each table member submits a plan for the area of conflict and leaves the final decision to the provincial government. Before the options go the government, however, there will be a public open house at the Lillooet Recreational Centre on Feb. 17 to give table members an opportunity to introduce their concepts.
AWARE, in co-operation the Western Canada Wilderness Committee, will be making a bus trip to the options meeting, which is open to any Whistler residents who want to get involved.
"People need to get involved," says Eddy Roberts, a three-year AWARE director who is moving back to Australia. He has been following the Lillooet LRMP process for AWARE since he became involved with the South Chilcotins Wilderness Society. It was the issue that turned him from an armchair environmentalist into an activist.
"It doesnt take a heck of a lot, and Im always impressed by how much difference you can actually make. Its given me inspiration to keep on campaigning. Even though Ill be in Australia, I plan to stay involved.
"Its an incredible area, and it would be a shame to have none of it left when I come back here. It truly is an incredible place that just happens to be on the chopping block right now, and if we dont act it will be gone forever. More people and more energy could really turn the tide."
The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, the Federation of B.C. Naturalists, and the Vancouver Natural History Society will be unveiling their options at the H.R. MacMillan Planetarium on Feb. 12 in a last minute to bid to generate public support.
The goal is to convince cabinet to move forward with the LRMP process before March, after which time a spring election and new government could put the LRMP process to rest for good.
"This is it," says Stephane Perron, past president of AWARE. "It sounds like its going to options after this so this is our last chance to do anything about it."
Perron says that AWARE is considering renting a bus to take members and interested parties from Whistler to Lillooet to show support for the plan, if enough people are interested.
"No environmental group has had a strong campaign focus on this area, so we want to get people out as much as possible. A lot of people from Whistler visit these areas, so I think there is a lot of local interest in preserving what we can."
According to the Sierra Club of B.C., active logging is already occurring in five of the 10 larger proposed protected areas, and four of the remaining five are already scheduled for development.