Future of Stoltmann wilderness By Andrew Mitchell Although a Private Member's Bill to designate the Stoltmann Wilderness Area as a national park died in Parliament on Nov. 24, debate over the future of the area is very much alive. With the federal government out of the picture and the provincial government still reeling from a pair of court decisions where they were forced to compensate logging companies to the tune of more than $200 million, the future of the Stoltmann area is destined to become increasingly a local issue. As soon as January, B.C. Assets and Lands will be in a position to issue land tenures to commercial tour operators in the Sea to Sky region who have been using the land unofficially for years for nordic skiing and snowmobile tours during the winter and ATV tours, fishing, mountain biking and whitewater rafting during the summer months. Not only will the tenures make it virtually impossible to protect those areas as park land, they will challenge recreational users and commercial users to share some of the most popular trails and access areas. More than 30 Whistler businesses have applied for tenures in the proposed Stoltmann National Park area, many of which could overlap. When you add the 70 or so other Sea to Sky commercial tourism operations into the mix, as well as First Nations’ land claims and Interfor's logging operations in the Elaho Valley, the situation has become incredibly complicated. Squamish Mayor Corrine Lonsdale feels there is a way to resolve the recreational uses of the Stoltmann area with the commercial, and feels confident that Interfor would be willing to compromise with tour operators and recreational users to get a working agreement in place. "I've spoken with Interfor and they are eager to sit down with the tour operators to show everybody that the area can be maintained as a working forest, that there's no need for a park status that would shut everybody out," says Lonsdale. Joe Foy, head of the Western Canada Wilderness Committee (WCWC), says his organization has no problem with tour operators using the Stoltmann area for recreational purposes, but warns against co-operating with Interfor. "One reason for protecting the area is that it will provide for more and better jobs, such as long-term jobs in tour businesses, as long as their activities make sense," says Foy. "Interfor is a big, powerful company, so I can understand that tourism outfits that are not as powerful would want to get along with them. But those outfits also have to understand that Interfor is going to log out some important areas, old-growth forests that have a tremendous potential for tourism. When the tourists see the clearcuts, how many of them are going to want to come back?" One of Foy's biggest concerns is that First Nations won't be consulted when the applications for land tenures are considered. Until First Nations’ land claims can be settled, says Foy, the provincial government doesn't have the legal right to license land tenures. While the logging operations have stopped for the winter, the WCWC is going full steam ahead with their conservation efforts in the Stoltmann. "Winter is a great time to get the word out to people that Interfor is responsible for clearcuts, and for cutting 1,000-year-old trees. If they thought we put up a lot of resistance in ’99, we are going to make 2000 a very uncomfortable year for Interfor," said Foy. Whistler Mayor Hugh O'Reilly is strongly in favour of turning areas of the Stoltmann into a community forest, where the municipality has the power to grant tenures to tour operators. "I think we're better equipped to deal with it, and to deal with the issues that will come up. There are people who have applied and paid for land tenures for the past 10 years, and then there are people who don't get tenure and still operate. Nobody stops them. The province just doesn't have the resources right now to deal with it." O'Reilly and other council members are waiting to see the results of an economic study on the proposed Stoltmann National Park before Whistler council spends any time or resources on the community forest proposal. "The national park may be dead, but we are going to look at the report in the context of opportunities it represents," he says. "There may be some items of real value we can pull out of the study and share with our neighbours. We need to sit down and have a good debate at some point, but we need to gather some more information before we do anything." The study, which was expected to be ready before the Stoltmann Bill reached Parliament, won't be ready until some time in the New Year.