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Liberal government active in backcountry

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New name and new mandate for agency responsible for crown land and water

BCAL has a new name and a new mandate.

Now called Land and Water B.C., the new agency will combine crown land and water applications in an effort to streamline the hundreds of applications that are before the provincial government and clear up the backlog.

"It's clear the way applications for Crown land were handled in the past was too slow," said Stan Hagen, minister of sustainable resource management.

"It could take several years for an entrepreneur or potential investor to get a yes or no decision for anything from a large ski resort to a mom and pop guiding operation. That's not good enough."

The push to clear the piles of applications comes at a significant time as B.C. strikes upon its path towards recreational tourism and slowly moves away from its traditional sources of revenue.

"The map of B.C. could be pretty interesting (in the future)," said Hagen.

The Liberals are aware of the vast economic opportunities that commercial recreation and tourism can bring to the province, as well as the revenue that can be generated from things like independent power projects.

Currently B.C. has 22,000 Crown land tenures, which provide direct government revenue of $202 million.

"There is no question this government is more action oriented," said former Whistler resident Al Raine.

"They definitely want to get on with the job."

But Raine also said name changes are really just cosmetic.

About 12 years ago, he made an application to the provincial government to create the Cayoosh ski resort, about 55 kilometres south west of Lillooet.

"(In the 12 years) I've seen the name changed a couple of times," he joked.

Plans to go ahead with the Cayoosh are currently stalled as negotiations with First Nations in the area falter. The environmental assessment of the land has been done but Raine is unwilling to move ahead until First Nations land claims are cleared up.

He said the application process for tenure of crown land can be very complex and lengthy. He calls it the "analysis-paralysis syndrome."

But he also said as backcountry recreation grows in B.C. there are more user groups whose interests must be taken into consideration when granting land tenures.

"It's when there are a multitude of interests and you are trying to arrive at a compromise among a whole bunch of different user groups, that's where it gets complicated."

The Liberal government however, has forged ahead and as a result of streamlining the process, it claims the backlog of land use applications has been reduced by 90 per cent. Hagen would like to see it eliminated by the end of March.

Backlog in water applications have so far been reduced by 30 per cent, on schedule for a 90 per cent reduction by the end of the next fiscal year.

"The provincial government has certainly given the signal that it is open for business, which in my mind is a good thing," said Paul Lalli, chair of the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District.

But there are some concerns about this new amalgamation.

"Common sense says they're not going to increase revenue by turning down applications," said Norma Wilson, the executive director of the Outdoor Recreation Council of B.C.

"They certainly have a mandate to get these things through."

Wilson said this push to eliminate the backlog, as well as increase revenues, means decisions about the future on crown land are being rushed.

"There is also the opportunity for over crowding and for public recreation to be squeezed out of sites that they've traditionally used," she said.

"It will require a bit of careful watching to ensure that access to public recreation isn't unduly compromised."

But Hagen said his staff is very sensitive to this concern.

So far about 60 per cent of the applications have been accepted and 40 per cent have been rejected.

"The staff is very conscious of the issue of trying to force too much activity," he said.

Above all, he said their biggest concern is to ensure that the environment is not adversely affected.

"The governing factor is that we will not allow any damage to be done to the environment," said Hagen.

Wilson said the amalgamation might lead to better opportunities for wildlife safety and protection of drinking water and other permanent standards.

"There will be accountability now," she said.

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