News » Whistler


By Loreth Beswetherick West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast MP, John Reynolds may think the Western Canada Wilderness Committee's proposed Stoltmann National Park will never see the light of day, and that even the drafting of a private member's bill to create the park is a waste of taxpayer's money, but Whistler is taking the proposal seriously. While there is, as yet, little agreement on the ramifications of the proposal, there is general consensus the concept of a protected wilderness area on the resort's doorstep is worth pursuing in some form and that the proposal merits an in-depth economic analysis. Whistler Resort Association president Suzanne Denbak said the proposed Stoltmann wilderness could be a trump card for Whistler in a highly competitive international tourist market. "If we do in fact have the oldest Douglas firs in Canada, from a tourism perspective, that is an incredibly valuable marketing tool for us," said Denbak. "The WRA supports protection of the area but we would like to see it protected in such a manner that a number of local concerns are addressed." The resort association would like to see continued use of the areas already tagged for tourism activities. "If not in its entirety, we would like to see certain areas made available for backcountry use. We would also like to see the protection of the Stoltmann constructed in such a way that there is a net economic benefit to the entire Sea to Sky Corridor, including the communities of Squamish and Pemberton so that they are positive and supportive partners in this venture." The WRA and the Whistler Chamber of Commerce are both on a quest for a detailed economic assessment of the proposal. Denbak said the WRA goal is to reach a common Sea to Sky position on the proposal with Squamish and Pemberton both on side. Whistler's resource-based neighbours are worried about the potential loss of forest industry jobs. Squamish council has gone so far as to put its objection on paper, urging Prime Minister Jean Chretien not to support the proposal. Denbak feels, however, that before the battle lines are drawn, all the facts need to be on the table. "Instead of everyone taking positions, I'd like to get an independent, objective review of what the economic benefits to Whistler, Squamish and Pemberton would be. Then, I'd like to sit down at a table and say, ‘how can we make this work for all of our communities?’" She said efforts are currently underway to begin discussions with Squamish and Pemberton. "My hope is that Squamish and Pemberton will be amenable to partnering on a study... that together we will set the parameters and that we will hand this to a consultant who will work through the details and come back to us in fairly short order," said Denbak. "Time is of the essence." The Whistler Chamber of Commerce is on its own fact-finding mission. The chamber board struck a committee in spring of this year after hearing a presentation from the WCWC's Joe Foy. The committee is comprised of Nick Davies, Dave Manuel, Peter Alder, Jay McKenzie and Tim Wake. "We are taking the proposal very seriously," said committee chair, Davies. But he said the group is a long way from formulating a position and making a recommendation to the chamber. "This is such a complicated issue," said Davies. "To date nobody has taken a really big look at the entire picture in an attempt to compare the merits of one proposal over another. For example, nobody has compared the municipality's community forest proposal to the Stoltmann wilderness proposal to see which one makes more sense or to see if the two can mutually co-exist. That is what the chamber is hoping to do and the first step in that process is to gather information." Davies said the committee has identified six key players, including local governments and industry. The goal is to have a series of three evening meetings at which two players will each make presentations to the committee outlining their positions. "Then we can go back to the chamber and say this is the municipality’s position, this is Intrawest's position and where should we go from here — should we issue a position paper or should we be organizing some kind of town hall meeting," said Davies. "The concern we have is this will be a significant issue over the coming years and nobody is taking a cohesive approach." He said there are overlapping claims for jurisdiction over the wilderness surrounding Whistler and key groups, like backcountry operators, are being excluded from discussions. "This is of concern to the chamber and it certainly is of concern to me as a lawyer who acts for a lot of backcountry operators." There are also First Nations’ claims to consider. Davies said he and Alder have met with municipal administrator Jim Godfrey to make sure they weren't reinventing the wheel with their approach. "It appears in fact we are not. The municipality simply carried on with their community forest proposal and are taking the position of advocates of that proposal." Davies said he understands the WRA plans to hire a consultant "to do essentially the same thing" as the chamber. He said he will contact the WRA to see if any duplication can be avoided. "Certainly if what we are doing is consistent with what their consultant is doing, if nothing else, it would cut some costs for the WRA if we are already a part way along in this process." Whistler council has not voted to support the proposed wilderness area but no-one is speaking against it either. After looking at a recommendation from the municipality’s Forest and Wildland Advisory Committee, council also wants more detailed economic analysis. The FWAC report was received at Monday night's council meeting. Council had requested the FWAC research the Stoltmann proposal and provide a recommendation. The report comes out in favour of a national park subject to a number of conditions. The report states the park should exclude the land covered by Whistler's Land Resource Use Plan. The LRUP area extends beyond municipal boundaries. "The limitations placed on land use in a national park will create conflict with existing commercial backcountry operations, industrial logging, the proposed Whistler community forest and some public recreational uses of the area, such as snowmobiling," said FWAC chair Tom Barratt in the report. He said the committee is also concerned about the impact a park could have on the neighbouring communities of Pemberton and Squamish. "We recommend an in-depth study of the economic effects of such a proposal be completed." Council voted to defer taking an official position until such information was available. Councillor Ken Melamed was pushing for council to approve the Stoltmann proposal in principle, however, Godfrey and Mayor Hugh O'Reilly felt it was prudent to stand back and see what groups like the chamber are doing. Municipal staff will report back to council at its next meeting. O'Reilly expressed concern about the reaction from Squamish and Pemberton should council vote in favour of the Stoltmann. He noted Squamish is state of economic transition and diversification. He said supporting the Stoltmann would be "a punch rather than a pat or a shove" in a new direction for Squamish. "It's a very fine line. I think we are crossing it and it is going to hurt us," he told councillors. Reform MP Reynolds is on record saying he can guarantee the 500,000-hectare national park proposal will never get to the House of Commons. He said Reform members will speak against the bill. Davies, however, said even though the Stoltmann proposal may come to nothing this time around, it is not going to go away. "The WCWC won't necessarily give up the idea," he said. "I think we need to take proposals like this seriously... we can't just look at the short 10 and 20-year term around here. I think it is an unfortunate aspect of this town at the moment. There doesn't appear to be any long-term vision in terms of the 200 and 300-year scope. This town is going to be here 300 years from now. If the Stoltmann doesn't make sense within the next 10 years, over the 100-year term it may make sense and it may be accomplished."