More than 60 people attended the first Sea to Sky Land and Resource Management Plan open house in Whistler on March 3, reviewing dozens of maps and documents that will be taken into account during the planning process.
"Theres almost too much information for this area," says Peter Jones, Program Manager of the Land Use Co-ordination Office. "The real challenge is to try and make sense of it."
The first open house meetings, in Pemberton, Whistler, Squamish and North Vancouver, were held to introduce the process to the communities and to gather public feedback. With so much information available, Jones says that public input will be used to determine how that information is weighed.
"The purpose of this open house is to get public input on the issues that they would like to see addressed in the LRMP process," he says. "Public input on the issues whether its the boom of recreation and tourism, the growth of communities, forestry or other resources helps us to make sense of the volumes and volumes of information we have."
While the process is just starting and the members and stakeholders at the LRMP table still have to be named, the government hopes to wrap the process up by fall of 2002.
One of the factors that prolonged the final LRMP plan in other areas of the province was the debate over new protected areas. Since a Protected Areas Strategy (PAS) was completed for the Sea to Sky area in 1996, the provincial government says they have already closed the protected areas debate.
However, the Western Canada Wilderness Committee has already announced that they will not participate in the process because the government wont reopen the PAS, and because logging in controversial areas is continuing while talks are underway.
While 22 per cent of the Squamish Forest District, roughtly 81,000 hectares, has already been protected in 23 new parks, groups like the WCWC and the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment would like to see more protected areas in the Upper Elaho and Sims valleys and will lobby the government and LUCO to include protected areas in the LRMP process.
"The press release introducing the process made it pretty clear that the government has no intention of opening up the Protected Areas Strategy," says AWARE director Eckhard Zeidler. "We will push for protected areas and what most vitally important is that the unroaded area of the Upper Elaho remains that way."
If new parks are impossible, AWARE will push for special management zones and wildlife management zones to protect forest and wildlife values in the area.
"We will look at every option for achieving that end. If we are invited to the table, AWARE will explore those options.
"The mapping and documentation at the open house was very impressive and a lot of hard work has been done, but were making decisions that could last forever, and we need to know more about things like grizzly bear migrations. I hope before the LRMP process wraps up we have that information and we include it in the decision."
Other challenges to the process include the growing population of the Sea to Sky area, which is expected to more than double from 31,000 residents in 2001 to approximately 64,000 by 2026.
"Any plan would have to take that population growth into consideration," says Jones. "Where will they live, where will they work, what will they do for recreation? This is an area that keeps changing, and the last thing we want to do is limit that change in any way by making any lasting decisions based on the way things are today."
Backcountry use conflicts, and conflicts between tourism and recreation and traditional resource uses, also promise to complicate the LRMP process.
"If it was easy to fix, it would have been done a long time ago," says Jones. "We have to develop a process that addresses these issues, to build agreements by understand what the critical problems are and resolving them."
While it sounds like an impossible task, LUCO has the benefit of experience from 20 other LRMP processes around the province. To date more than 70 per cent of B.C. is covered by LRMP plans.
"Were at a point in time where we can benefit from other experiences in B.C.," says Jones. "It helps that the table members are already familiar with one another from other LRMPs, and familiar with the process."
Jones says the next step is to assemble all of the data collected at the open house meetings and use it to develop terms of reference for the LRMP process.