Environmentalists prepare to go to Options
As the January deadline approaches for members of the Lillooet Land and Resource Management Plan (LRMP) round table, environmental groups are anticipating that the discrepancies between logging interests and preservation interests will bring the provincial government into the debate. For some environmental groups, the feeling is its about time.
"The environmental groups at the table have a bottom line, and if industry doesnt agree on that bottom line, we wont be able to agree on an entire LRMP package," says Joe Foy, director of the Western Canada Wilderness Committee.
"What were anticipating now is that industry and the environment will have overlaps, areas we can agree on, and where there is no overlap, there is no agreement. From there well have no choice but to proceed to Options."
The Lillooet LRMP area covers more than a million hectares of land, referred to by some as the Rainshadow Wilderness. In early talks with other table members, the Sierra Club of B.C. asked for 32 per cent of the land base to be protected. They were talked down to 18 per cent, but environmental groups have since let the Sierra Club know that they wont accept less than the original 32 per cent.
Any area where groups participating in the LRMP process cant reach an agreement go to Options, where each competing party submits its vision for the area to impartial arbitration in this case, the provincial government. The government must then make a ruling based on the input, which could come from logging companies, conservationists, the tourism industry, recreation, mining, or any party that has an immediate interest in the area.
While the governments ruling may not result in protection, it may recommend the creation of a special management zone that would limit the types and extent of industrial activity permitted in an area.
The WCWC, the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment, and the Sierra Club of B.C. were just a few of the groups to attend the Southern Chilcotins Wilderness Societys annual general meeting on Nov. 30.
"Theres not much time left before the January deadline, and those that would like to preserve key areas recognized that we have to hit the ground running hard," says Foy.
Doug Rahdees of the South Chilcotins Wilderness Society added some urgency to the matter with a slideshow of aerial photographs that showed the extent of logging in areas and the construction of logging roads.
"Has there ever been a lot of road building," says Foy. "This slideshow was a real indictment of the idea that you can have a land use process drag on for years while still allowing the logging companies to build roads."
According to Foy, Ainsworth Lumber has already built a road up to the Upper Bridge River area, which is one of the areas that environmental groups say requires protection.
Another area is the Siska Valley. "You can see the clearcuts that J.S. Jones Logging put in the Siska. This was a pristine area when this process started in 1995," says Foy.
Other key areas include the Spruce Lake/South Chilcotins area, and the Cayoosh range where a ski development is planned.
"There are a lot of important areas. Our concern is that these areas be protected, not only for recreation and tourism, but because they are also very important for the survival of the grizzly bear."
The Southern Chilcotins is one of the biggest battles for environmentalists, partially because of its value to grizzly bears, and partly because it is one of the longest running conservation battles in the province. One member of the Sourth Chilcotins Wilderness Society, Dr. Bert Brink of the University of British Columbia, has been fighting to protect the area for over 60 years.
If the environmentalists can provide the government with viable options by January, Foy expects table members and the government to be able to hammer out an agreement by March. Any later and the process could be set aside or rejected outright following the upcoming provincial election.
"I believe that governments, especially in election times, do what the people want. Park creation is a really popular thing in this region. A lot of people for a long time have wanted this area to be protected," says Foy.
Although the government reached its goal to protect 12 per cent of provincial Crown land with the creation of an additional 600,000 hectares of parkland in the Mackenzie land use plan, Foy says that there is always support for more.
"Its my understanding that Premier Dosanjh views 12 per cent as a floor, not a ceiling. While it was good news for wildlife and tourism, other regions that compete with us for this kind of tourism, like Alaska, have a lot more than 12 per cent protected."
To date, more than three quarters of B.C.s land base is covered by LRMPs, some of which have gone on for five years.