There was a sense of urgency with the overflow crowd at the H.R. MacMillan Planetarium in Vancouver on Monday, Feb. 12, in support of protecting the Rainshadow Wilderness area within the Lillooet Forest District.
The event was a chance for the public to listen to speakers and see the region from photo displays, maps and a slide show, before the Lillooet Land and Resource Management Plan is submitted to the provincial government in March. The Monday event was a precursor to an Open House to be held in Lillooet on Saturday, Feb. 17.
The spectacular landscape within the Lillooet LRMP, four hours north of Vancouver, is home to significant wildlife populations including goat, grizzly bear, and bull trout. The region is also the northernmost limit for spotted owl habitat in British Columbia. Ecological diversity ranges from wet, mountainous transitional coastal-like zones of hemlock and cedar in the west to dry benches of ponderosa pine and grasslands in the east near the Thompson and Fraser rivers.
Jeremy McCall, president of the Vancouver Natural History Society, was the first of four speakers urging support for protecting the area. He reminded the audience that the region encompassing Spruce Lake and the South Chilcotin Mountains wilderness and surrounding Rainshadow Wilderness is the longest standing Park proposal in B.C. McCall emphasized that planning has reached the critical juncture and that if the wilderness isn't protected it will be too late. His presentation included a stunning slide show of wilderness scenes and an overview of lands already clear cut and those planned for clear cutting.
"Choosing between wilderness and industry is never easy," he acknowledged. "The question now is will the right choice be made while we still have a choice."
Bill Wareham, a spokesperson for the Sierra Club, said the area has been on the books for protection for over 60 years.
"It's a bit of a travesty we've left it for so long," he said. "The Lillooet area really is a treasure chest of natural diversity. There are many wonderful places that need conservation and the land use plan offers a way to work through all the details."
A bear corridor between B.C. and the Cascade Mountains in the southern end of Garibaldi Park is of particular concern. One doesn't have to go back too far in history to find anecdotes by pioneers who saw as many as 10 grizzly bears at a time migrating through these corridors.
Yellowstone National Park in the United States is a good example of what can happen if a bear corridor is fragmented. First the bear population becomes genetically isolated. There is no breeding with population outside their immediate area. This results in no new gene material coming in and the bears can become vulnerable to disease. Second, if there's a fire bears can be cut off from an escape route. The result can be problem bears. This is what happened in Yellowstone Park in 1987 when there were big fires. Bears ended up in farmers fields and roadways.
Wareham went on to suggest that the current Forest Practices Code is just not doing the job for wildlife. At the same time, he recognized that the veneer plant in Lillooet is a crucial economic force in the area.
"We're in a tough spot," Wareham said, encouraging the public to speak out about a plan for the area. "In my view this area deserves the best and it's tough getting there."
Jay McArthur, a spokesperson for the Federation of Mountain Clubs of B.C., drew attention to the pristine beauty of the Cayoosh and Bendor Ranges, Duffey Lake Road and the South Chilcotin mountains. It's the variety of the landscape and flora and fauna; everything from the coastal hemlock zone over to ponderosa pine and grasslands, he said. There's a lot of wide open country, punctuated by dramatic peaks, that is very attractive to outdoors people.
"It's hard to do justice to the beauty of the area," he said.
Bear specialist, Wayne McCrory, spoke on behalf of wildlife, particularly the grizzly bear population. All speakers emphasized the need to protect the Southern Chilcotin wilderness from industry and recreation.
"Draw that line in the sand," McCrory urged. "It's all about drawing that line in the sand and penning politicians so 100 years from now our children will have a legacy."
The areas which the LRMP Table felt it was essential to work towards the highest possible level of agreement include: biodiversity, deer and sheep management, grizzly bears, timber impacts, protected areas, and resource management zones. Government is expected to accept the consensus reached on portions of the Framework Document (Phase 1). Strategic Planning Details (Phase 2 ) is expected to begin in April after Phase 1 recommendations have been completed and the government has announced its decision.
A free bus service to the LRMP Open House on Saturday, Feb. 17, at the Lillooet Recreation Centre departs the taxi loop in Whistler at 9 a.m.