By Bob Barnett One of the key natural features of the Whistler Interpretive Forest may be removed and sold for profit by a private contractor. Andy Russell hasn’t yet been issued a permit to remove basalt rock from the ancient volcanic cone that forms part of Loggers Lake, but a representative from the Mines Branch doesn’t see why a permit won’t be issued. "It’s Crown land, open for staking," Al Ludwig said last week. "Unless there’s a real good reason, we don’t usually decline such an application." Bill Barratt, director of Parks and Recreation for Whistler, can think of plenty of reasons why a permit shouldn’t be issued. "There’s $1.5 million of provincial Forestry money that’s been put into the demonstration forest in the last nine years," Barratt said. "Something like that impacts on tourism, which is a sustainable industry, for something (rock removal) which is a one-time thing. It’s frustrating. We’re fighting this." The problem is, the Mines Act supersedes all other jurisdictions. As Whistler found out when Appia Developments applied for a licence to operate a gravel pit and rock crushing operation north of the Cougar Mountain Road two years ago, the Mines Act only considers safety issues legitimate reasons for denying a permit. And Barratt feels there may be more to the Loggers Lake issue than meets the eye. "This goes back to the Parkhurst mine claim," which the municipality denied access to a couple of years ago, Barratt said. The Ministry of Crown Land used to be in charge of "ornamental" mining, such as removal of the cube-shaped basalt columns which are prized by landscapers. Several years ago, under the Ministry of Crown Lands, the municipality established a no-staking reserve on another basalt site, south of the landfill. The site was also gated. But various responsibilities have been shifted amongst ministries over the years, and ornamental mining ended up a responsibility of the Mines Branch within the Ministry of Energy and Mines. Barratt says Mines wanted Whistler to lift its no-staking reserve from the old basalt site so it could generate some revenue, but the municipality declined. Since then, Russell has come forward with his application. Ludwig said either the municipality or the Forest Service, which has partnered with the municipality in developing the interpretive forest, should have requested a no-staking reserve for the Loggers Lake area. "Whistler commented that they thought it was in a no-staking reserve," Ludwig said when asked about comments received during the 30-day referral period. "That’s really not a reason to decline an application. We have to look at the validity of the application." But the site is accessed by a Forestry road, so Russell will require Ministry of Forests approval to remove the rock. In fact, he needed Forestry approval to go in and sort the rock, which he did before the Cheakamus River bridge was removed last week. "In view of the chap was in quite a hurry to remove the material, I said if he got Forestry approval he could move a machine in to sort the material (before getting his permit), but there was to be no removal," Ludwig said. A Forestry official said earlier that a road use permit would be required before any operator would be allowed to haul material over the road. He said it was unclear whether any hauling had taken place, but the matter was under investigation. The interpretive forest is outside the municipal boundaries, but Whistler and the Forest Service have worked together to develop hiking and biking trails throughout the area over the last nine years. A Squamish Forest District recreation map describes interpretive forests as: "...outdoor classrooms providing excellent opportunities to learn about integrated resource management involving forest recreation, fish and wildlife, timber harvesting, visual resource management, and reforestation techniques." The interpretive forest is identified on most maps and under the Forest Practices Code could be designated as its own entity. The volcanic cone made up of the angular basalt columns has been considered one of the natural features of the interpretive forest. The 30-day referral period is up in the next week or so. Russell’s application is to remove up to 200 tons of basalt per year.