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Tourism sector to present map to LRMP table

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Conservation side says LRMP has been unproductive; discussion phase coming to an end in four months

By Alison Taylor and Andrew Mitchell

A new map of the Sea to Sky corridor defining high value tourism areas could radically change the area’s land use planning for the future.

Instigated by the two tourism seats at the Land and Resource Management Plan (LRMP) table, the map captures the high value of front-, mid- and backcountry areas in the corridor.

Now all the remains over the next four to five months is to convince the other interests at the LRMP table, like mining, forestry, aggregates, energy and others, that this map is the blueprint for land use planning on Crown land over the next 20 years.

Suzanne Denbak, who represents one of the tourism seats at the LRMP table, said the tourism sector is proposing that recreation be the primary use of the land in the area and that everything else be recognized as a subsidiary value.

The tourism land use map shows one front-country zone, six mid-country zones and 14 smaller backcountry zones.

The front-country is the zone that follows Highway 99 and it’s where guests to the region expect to see a certain amount of man-made modifications to the land, like the ski operations.

The mid-country is a combination of roaded and unroaded areas, which is used by motorized and non-motorized interests. The Callaghan Valley would be considered a high value mid-country zone.

The backcountry has been defined as at least one kilometre away from an existing road where non-roaded and non-motorized activity takes place.

"There’s very little backcountry left in the region," said Denbak.

But if guest visits are expected to continue to grow, the backcountry must be protected and even tourism should have a light footprint on backcountry areas.

The guest experience hinges on this idea of an authentic backcountry at the edge of Whistler. Denbak said even if a guest stays in their hotel room, without setting foot in the backcountry during their entire visit, it doesn’t matter. It’s the fact that they could step into the pristine backcountry that’s integral to the branding of the Sea to Sky corridor.

Denbak said this has been one of the things that the tourism seats have tried to convey at the LRMP table, the fact that tourism interests are very complex. They have to sell a range of experiences because everyone’s definition of pristine wilderness is different.

She presented the tourism position at last week’s council meeting where she was offered supported for her work from some municipal councillors.

Councillor Ken Melamed said he hoped the province would listen hard to the tourism seat at the table, particularly in light of the premier’s promise to double tourism receipts in B.C.

"We all know very well that this is what distinguishes us from other competitive resorts," said Melamed.

The boundaries of the map, which was created from studies of wildlife viewing, fishing maps and whitewater inventories among others, have still to be refined.

"We’re pleased with the progress that we’re making," she said, adding that they must stay vigilant over the next four months as the LRMP process wraps up.

Denbak hopes to convince the other sectors at the table of the value of the tourism map so that it can go forward as one plan to the government to be endorsed.

Although the tourism perspective is well-developed, the conservation sector, represented by Whistler’s Johnny Mikes on behalf of AWARE, says the Sea to Sky LRMP has so far been unproductive.

Although the provincial government made it clear from the beginning that the 1996 Protected Areas Strategy – which protected some 22 per cent of the Squamish Forest District in parks – was not open to negotiation at the LRMP table, Mikes feels that the process could have been more open to other forms of conservation.

"The last meeting (on Nov. 22) went reasonably well, but it’s clear we may have underestimated the differences between sectors," said Mikes. "There is some scepticism and dissatisfaction with the process. Some sectors are not confident with the quality of the product and that it will be potentially useful."

Part of the problem is that some sectors represented at the table don’t want to negotiate until various provincial issues can be resolved. For example, the timber industry recently saw the Forest Practices Code replaced by the Forest and Ranges Practices Act, which reduced the industry’s regulatory burdens. In addition, forestry is waiting to see what happens with the provincial government’s proposed Working Forest Legislation.

"Right now the government is saying that 100 per cent of the annual allowable cut (for the Squamish Forest District) should be cut. We can’t really say if that’s right or wrong because we haven’t had a negotiation on what the end allowable cut for forestry should be. Maybe it doesn’t make sense for other sectors, but that’s not even part of the talks," said Mikes.

The problem, he said, is that the group is working with a tight timeline, and that time is almost up. The round table process got underway in early 2002, and most of work for many sectors is expected to wrap up by March of 2004.

Mikes has been part of other LRMP processes in the provinces, where he says the members of the table were empowered to work together to negotiate solutions to land use conflicts. Although it’s a long and often frustrating process, with some groups taking five years or more to hammer out LRMP agreements, the finished product is better because it’s a reasonable consensus among all sectors.

Because so much was taken out of the Sea to Sky LRMP discussions from the beginning, Mikes believes that the table has become more of a focus group for the government than an actual policy board with the power to negotiate real solutions.

"There’s no pressure here on anyone to negotiate," he said.

Mikes said the conservation side respected the government’s decision to stick with the Protected Areas Strategy and is not trying to create any new parks. However, he believes that there is a need to create special management zones, where extra care should be taken by recreational and resource industries to protect habitats and wildlife values. First Nations land uses should also be represented, he says.

In the new year a socio-economic assessment will be completed, as well as a study of impacts on First Nations. Those assessments could help the conservation and tourism sectors, says Mikes.

"We’re still trying to point out what’s lacking, but we need a first draft so we can identify what’s still needed to be done, and the ways we can make this better," he said.

"We went into this process hoping to make some gains, and we’re not at all sure if we’re to be able to get gains for more sensitive management of the land outside of parks – watershed protection, wildlife corridors, that kind of thing."

While a strong tourism component would benefit conservation, the conservation sector believes that some areas have to maintained for other values, including wildlife and First Nations.