BCAL told to help resolve backcountry disputes
By Loreth Beswetherick
The Attorney General’s office has told the B.C. Assets and Lands Corporation to try and smooth things over between feuding backcountry recreation operators in Sea to Sky country while they work towards meeting a December deadline for finalizing a recreation strategy for the area.
If conflicts cannot be resolved at the table, B.C. Assets and Lands will have no option but to take operators without tenure to court.
These were the two alternatives handed down by the Attorney General’s office this week following a B.C. Supreme Court decision in early September that ruled Outdoor Adventures @ Whistler was not in trespass on the 5,200-hectare tenure granted Cougar Mountain last year.
Cougar Mountain had filed for an injunction in July, on the advice of BCAL lawyers, to stop Outdoor Adventures from running unauthorized ATV tours in their tenure area.
Outdoor Adventures has also applied for tenure in the Cougar Mountain area and BCAL has stipulated tenures may overlap.
"The Attorney General has told us we have two options," said BCAL communications advisor Sandy Poggemiller. "The Attorney General suggested we try and resolve this issue by getting the two parties together and seriously discussing the issues and putting as much energy we can into trying to find some common ground," she said.
"The second option is obviously less palatable. If the issues are not resolvable the second option is to take further trespass action under the Land Act."
Poggemiller said meetings have now been held with both operators in an attempt to resolve conflicts.
Cougar Mountain co-owner John Spencer-Nairn confirmed he has met with BCAL commercial recreation co-ordinator Elisabeth Eldridge and Charles Littledale, BCAL regional manager, since the court ruling was handed down. He said another meeting has been scheduled for next week. Spencer-Nairn said it was a little premature to say if talks were heading in the right direction but he is positive.
"I have hope. Lands is doing their best with the facilities and the personnel they have right now," he said. "They are trying to get a program in place."
Cougar Mountain is still considering appealing the Supreme Court decision.
George Meilleur of Outdoor Adventures said he too met with Eldridge and Littledale last week and is now also hopeful issues may be resolved. He said this was the first time BCAL staff had met with him and the first time he could put some "human faces" to the BCAL names.
Meilleur added he will be tabling a proposal to help resolve conflict in the Cougar Mountain area.
He said his ATV season in the area is nearing a close and his winter snowshoeing operation does not necessarily rely on the Cougar Mountain terrain.
"BCAL is trying to move forward with their planning process and they keep saying it will be a great tool," said Meilleur. "We are waiting to see. I don’t know if it will be this great tool — they have had tools before."
Eldridge said the intent of the new strategy is to help avoid conflicts. She said the strategy will set limits on certain activities, like motorized access, in specific zones. It should help redress conflict situations and will provide a backdrop against which to assess tenure applications in terms of the Commercial Recreation Policy adopted in May 1998.
The Commercial Recreation Strategy for the Sea to Sky Corridor has been divided into two phases. The first, started last fall and wrapped up this spring, saw the region broken into landscape units and a data base of resources compiled.
Phase two, started this summer, will identify Crown land for which tenure applications may be processed or where further analysis is required. This phase will also extend well beyond the Sea to Sky Corridor to include the entire Squamish forest district. The goal is to use the finalized strategy as the recreation component for an overall Squamish Land Use Plan, currently being initiated by the provincial Land Use Co-ordination Office.
Phase two is slated to include public workshops in Whistler this month but Poggemiller said no dates or venues have been set yet. Who will be invited to the workshops has not been determined either.
The strategy is due to be wrapped up by Dec. 31. No new tenures will be announced until some time in the year 2000.