Chilcotin park review upsets environmentalists, pleases rural representatives 

Much-maligned park could be opened to resource development

The Liberal government’s review of the Lillooet LRMP, including the 71,000-hectare Southern Chilcotin provincial park, is causing concern among local conservationists.

"This could be the beginning of an assault on B.C.’s provincial parks and protected areas," said Eckhard Zeidler of the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment. "What’s next? Garibaldi?"

According to Zeidler, AWARE’s backyard wilderness co-ordinator, the Liberals are pulling a page out of a former provincial government’s playbook.

During its four decades in power, the pro-business Socreds opened Vancouver Island’s Strathcona provincial park to resource development. (Strathcona, established in 1911, was B.C.’s first provincial park.)

"We’re somewhat distressed," said Zeidler. "(Southern Chilcotin) park is a bellwether."

Zeidler also said he was concerned about what the review means for the Sea to Sky land-use planning process.

"It might set a troubled precedent," he said. "But we’re hopeful that they’ll make the right decision."

The Liberals’ review, however, is winning accolades from people who live near the park.

Russ Oakley, the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District’s Area A director who represents the Gold Bridge-Bralorne area, said he’d like to see the park reduced in size to accommodate mining explorations.

"It has the potential to be a productive area," he told Pique Newsmagazine .

Oakley noted that the mining industry has been active in the area since the 1890s. "It could be a real hot spot again," he said.

Sustainable Resources Minister Stan Hagan is scheduled to meet with concerned citizens and industry groups Aug. 23 in Lillooet.

Southern Chilcotin park, which includes the popular Spruce Lake recreation area, was created last April through an order-in-council by the NDP government – one day before the provincial election was called.

Oakley and other members of the SLRD board have said the NDP decision was deliberately stickhandled through the legislature to win votes from environmentally-conscious urbanites.

The SLRD voted in June to reject the park and the Lillooet Land and Resource Management Plan’s "conservation" option.

The NDP was forced to choose between two options – a "conservation" and a "resource" plan – after the LRMP negotiating table couldn’t reach a consensus on its own.

At the time, the table members agreed to abide by the government’s decision.

According to the LRMP, more than 80 per cent of the land base is still open to resource development. About half that area is dedicated for industrial activities, such as forestry, mining, tourism and agriculture.

A disclaimer written into the plan gives the provincial government – including the newly elected Liberals – the authority to change that decision.

The Liberals promised to review the plan, which they say does not include a socio-economic impact analysis, as part of their election promises.

"The park covers 35 per cent of the area and the majority of residents feel that’s a bit overdone," said Oakley. "We’re not against parks but there needs to be a balance."

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