Final decision on land use may have to wait until the province calms down
Interest groups are expecting a final decision on the Lillooet Land and Resource Management Plan "any day now" that will determine which, if any, new areas will be protected from logging and other resource development.
"It was any day now two weeks ago, and its still any day now based on where the political calendar is right now," says LRMP co-ordinator Phil Whitfield. "It makes life quite interesting."
The Lillooet LRMP table has been negotiating the plan since 1997, with representatives from the major local industries (including forestry and mining), from conservation groups, from recreation and tourism concerns, and from governments and First Nations.
While the table members were able to agree on general management principles for the majority of the million hectare area, sometimes referred to as the Rainshadow Wilderness, conservation and forestry concerns were unable to reach a consensus on key areas within the plans boundaries. These areas include the Southern Chilcotins/Spruce Lake Wilderness (which has been pushed as a candidate for a provincial park for the past 60 years), the Upper Bridge River, the Siska Valley, Shulaps Basin, Bonanza Basin, and Seton Lake.
With the forestry and conservation interests unable to agree on protection, the process goes to "options". Both sides tabled their ideas for the area to the public, and those ideas and the publics reactions will be brought before the provincial cabinet, which will make the final decision.
The cabinet will eventually have to decide between two options: The conservation/tourism/recreation option tabled by the Sierra Club of B.C., and the Community Coalition option, which includes forestry and mining interests.
The first option would see the protected area land base increase by 8.8 per cent and recommends special management zones that together could protect more than 30 per cent of the total land base. It also approves a higher annual allowable cut outside of the protected areas to compensate for any loss of timber, and protects access to key mining areas.
The second option would see no new protected areas, but could allow for special management zones that permit limited and regulated logging and mining where there is a conflict over land use.
Both plans have been submitted to the Land Use Co-ordination Office, and LUCO is waiting for an opportunity to present the options to the cabinet. With at least four public sector unions on strike, the U.S. lumber industry applying for tariffs of up to 80 per cent on softwood, and an election on the horizon, that opportunity could take a while to present itself.
"The cabinet is a little busy these days," says Whitfield. "Its simply a matter of fitting it into their timetable, but I dont know what the status of the timetable is right now."
Once cabinet rules on the options, Whitfield says the LRMP table will move on to the second phase of planning.
"Phase one is the framework, which is basically drawing lines on the map, and phase two is colouring in the lines," he says. "In other words, the framework will set important parameters for things like protected areas zoning, wildlife, economic factors, timber land base, mining opportunities, and so on, and once those things are set by the process, well look at precisely how well manage those areas."
Whitfield expects phase two to take anywhere from eight months to a year to complete, and says planning will begin the moment cabinet rules on the options that were submitted.
"The worst hurdle will be over once weve got some hard lines on the map, then its just a matter of saying we know what we want to do if not exactly how," says Whitfield. "Most of the debate has been about what we want to do, and which is better, this or that? People can probably agree more readily on how to do something rather than on what to do."