Stoltmann national park proposal goes to the House of Commons By Andrew Mitchell There are Douglas Firs in the so-called Stoltmann wilderness that are more than 1,300 years old. When Columbus discovered the Americas, they had already been growing for 800 years. As the future of North America was decided by revolutions, wars and treaties, the trees turned 1,000. They had already been standing for 1,200 years by the time British Columbia became the sixth province in the federation in 1871. And now the future of these ancient trees, along with the 500,000 hectares of land they sit on, may be determined by something as random as picking a name out of a hat. On Monday, Oct. 18, Liberal MP Charles Caccia — a former Minister of the Environment and the current representative for the Davenport riding of Ontario — introduced a Private Member's Bill in the House of Commons calling for the establishment of the Stoltmann National Park. Following his reading, Caccia's name went into a lottery along with the names of 50 other MP's who have also introduced Private Members' Bills. Only 30 of those names were picked at random to receive a second reading and a debate in the House. The Stoltmann bill was the ninth one chosen. "It means we're one step closer to our goal," says Joe Foy, head of the Western Canada Wilderness Committee. "The Stoltmann Bill is expected to come to the House for consideration some time soon in the current session of Parliament." In most cases, the chances of ever passing a Private Members Bill are slim at best. "It's a waste of taxpayers money even drafting a private member's bill," says West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast MP John Reynolds. "I don't think his (Caccia's) own party even supports it," says Reynolds. Although Reynolds is confident Caccia's Bill will fail, many of the organizations that oppose the creation of a national park area have recently come forward to make their stand known — a sign that some people are taking the Bill very seriously. Those organizations include the B.C. Helicopter and Snowcat Skiing Operators Association and the Canada West Ski Areas Association, of which Intrawest is a member. In a joint letter on Oct. 15 to Joan Sawicki, the current B.C. Minister of Environment, the groups stated the proposal to turn the Stoltmann area into a national park "is far too restrictive and narrow to accommodate the needs of the adjoining communities and people of the area." The letter also advocates "encouraging, expanding and developing all forms of motorized, non-motorized, active and passive recreation activities within these areas." On the subject of logging and mining, the letter says "resource extraction can also have a place within these lands" providing resource activities occur in a progressive manner. Instead of clearcutting, the letter suggests trees be removed only in specific areas in order to create new cross-country ski trails, snowmobile routes, camping areas and golf courses. The groups say mining and hydroelectric activities should be allowed, but only if they pass an environmental review and don't infringe on the areas recreational value. Doug O'Mara, owner and operator of Whistler Heli-Skiing Ltd, is a member of both organizations, and endorses the letter's content. He says although the creation of a Stoltmann National Park won't affect his business either way, he believes the area is none of the federal government's business either. "Making this area a federal park will take the control away from local people, the people who live here and work here, and give it to Ottawa," says O'Mara. Foy, who is preparing to leave for Ottawa with literature and a promotional video in support of the national park, was caught off-guard by the letter. "I'm disappointed to see that, to say the least," says Foy. "Our feeling is that this (park) proposal is good for tourism, including the ski operators, and that it would enhance their business. A national park would anchor this regions' place in the world. "You have to ask yourself if Whistler would have been as successful if Garibaldi (Provincial Park) had been clearcut and strip mined," says Foy. "For myself, I'll wait until the economic study comes out. We can let the facts speak for themselves." One Whistler – an organization that includes representatives from Tourism Whistler, the municipality, Whistler-Blackcomb, the chamber of commerce, the commercial sector and the hotel industry – has commissioned an independent consultant to determine what the economic potential of the park will represent for the region. The results will be in sometime over the next week. "In the long term, I think the park will represent a tremendous business opportunity for the area in terms of becoming a tourist destination," says Roy. "The WCWC expects that the economic study commissioned Tourism Whistler on the positive benefits that a National Park would bring to the Vancouver-Squamish-Whistler-Pemberton corridor will be completed in time so that its findings can help sway other MP's to support the Stoltmann Bill." And then there's Interfor: The proposed site of the park represents a significant economic opportunity for B.C.'s number one industry, with the estimated value for a single tree in the Stoltmann Wilderness running as high as $20,000. The federal and provincial governments would be responsible for compensating Interfor and its employees if the areas they are licensed to log, about 15 per cent of the total area, become protected National Park land. It won't come cheaply. For one thing, Interfor isn't interested in a sale: "Our goal is to be in the forestry business, to grow trees and to cut trees," says Rick Slaco, Chief of Forestry at Interfor. "We don't consider it in terms of a total value, and nor are we entertaining one. There are jobs to consider. What we're interested in is long-term, sustainable forestry in the area." Because the provincial economy relies so heavily on its natural resources, Slaco says interested parties should work together in the future to find a middle ground. "Instead of looking for ways to eliminate logging, communities Whistler and Squamish should be looking for ways to make land conservation complementary with land use, rather than dividing the land up into little sections for logging and recreation," says Slaco. A Stoltmann National Park would also have to earn the approval of four other groups who have traditional claims to the land; the Klahoose, Lil'wat, Sechelt and Squamish First Nations. Although the Bill was chosen for a second reading in the House, the prospect of having a new national park established in his backyard is not keeping Chief Bill Williams of the Squamish Nation up nights. "I've seen the Bill process in action. It can take up to two years to generate a Bill in the House, and up to two years to come to a vote. There's a good chance that an election will come in the next two years, which means that the Bill could very well die on the table." If a Stoltmann National Park proposal does gain any ground, Williams is assured that all First Nations groups with claims to the land will have their say, as guaranteed by treaty rights. "The area called Stoltmann wilderness is really the Elaho, which is a Squamish Nation word," says Williams. "Before we could let it become a park we would have to see whether any of our people could use the land in any way. It would be nice to have some old growth forests of our own for our children's children to visit." Getting the Bill passed won't be easy, Foy admits. "We never expected everyone to agree to on the National Park right away, but we don't doubt for a second that we will eventually get the Stoltmann area protected. One way or another, this area must be preserved." The Private Member's Bill will get a second reading in the House of Commons within the next two weeks, where it will be debated in the House. If it isn't thrown out on second reading, the Bill must face a lengthy revision process that could take months or even years — a pace the trees could relate to. Until then, it's business as usual in the so-called Stoltmann wilderness.