After nearly two years of negotiations, the provincial government and Squamish Nation reached a land use agreement last week that recognizes and protects cultural areas and sets a framework for future land use decisions in Sea to Sky.
The agreement does not give Squamish Nation ownership of any land and is separate from the band’s treaty negotiations, but was hailed by Chief Bill Williams as an important first step.
“It outlines an effective framework for land use in our traditional territories and helps us move forward in local economic development as well as establishing new conservancies and cultural management areas,” Williams said.
There are several components of the agreement, but one of the most significant is the creation of two new conservancies totaling more than 11,000 hectares where no development of any kind will take place. The largest at 10,112 hectares is in the upper the Elaho Valley, adjacent to Clendinning Provincial Park — an old growth forest that has been hotly contested in the past by environmentalists and logging companies.
The agreement also protects more than 1,082 hectares in West Squamish, in an area adjacent to Tantalus Provincial Park.
The Western Canada Wilderness Committee (WCWC), which has worked to preserve the Elaho Valley in a park since 1995, hailed the land use agreement.
“All of us here at the Wilderness Committee are literally jumping for joy,” said Joy Foy, national campaign director for the WCWC.
“Of course not everything that we hoped for was protected in the announcement today. In the coming days and years we will work for improvements — but today is for celebrating great progress made on protecting some amazing and much loved wilderness areas, thanks to the Squamish Nation and the B.C. government.”
In 2000, International Forest Products, which had tenure to log in the Elaho, agreed to cease logging in the area until the Squamish Nation could complete their land use plan. The Squamish Nation compiled a list of areas of cultural importance over the next few years, and submitted their plan to the province in 2005 for review.
In addition to protecting more than 11,000 hectares of land — an area roughly 30 times the size of Stanley Park — the agreement includes the creation of other land use designations that will be incorporated into the Sea to Sky Land and Resource Management Plan (LRMP) area.
That includes recognition of 22 cultural sites that range in size from 60 to 410 hectares, for a total area of 3,063 hectares. The list of sites includes traditional use areas, villages, and other sacred places.