By Andrew Mitchell
A local initiative that would create a 6,500 hectare wildlife
refuge in the Upper Soo Valley to offset Olympic and First Nations development
in the Callaghan Valley suffered a setback last week when forest companies
announced that they could not wait any longer to develop their harvesting
Forest tenure holders had agreed to hold off including the area
in their logging plans to give the Association of Whistler Area Residents for
the Environment (AWARE) time to find support for their plan in the provincial
government and the Vancouver Organizing Committee. If the province supported
the plan, which would mean some compensation for timber and mining companies,
then the area would receive some official protection through the Sea to Sky
Land and Resource Management Plan.
It would not become a park, but covenants would prevent road
development and resource extraction.
AWARE’s agreement in principle with forestry companies, who
supported the plan, expired in October of 2005. A March 29 letter from the Soo
Coalition for Sustainable Forests Society, which represents tenure holders in
the area, announced that logging companies would need to include the area in
their 2006 Forest Stewardship Plans. While parts of the proposed wildlife
refuge will likely be included in those FSP’s, the coalition reiterated its
commitment to observe best practices regarding old growth management areas,
ungulate winter ranges, and wildlife tree areas.
Councillor Eckhard Zeidler, a former AWARE director and one of
the original proponents of the Soo Accord, said he was disappointed by the lack
of government response to the plan.
“I fully understand and appreciate the forest industry’s
position on this, and appreciate the efforts of the rest of industry and
companies involved and everyone at the LRMP table who endorsed the concept of
an Olympic legacy — right down to the mining industry which said it
wouldn’t go into the area if it was a legacy,” he said.
“Everyone really went out on a limb to help this idea become a
reality, but unfortunately we couldn’t deliver on the terms of the Soo Accord…
because there was no endorsement of any kind from VANOC or the provincial
Zeidler says the disappointment comes from using official
channels to advance the project, and all the effort made to come up with a
multi-party stakeholder agreement at the LRMP table, only to have the project
stall at the provincial government.
The one thing he hasn’t heard yet is “no”, which is why Zeidler
believes there is still hope for the project.
“It remains an AWARE project, AWARE members are very much
continuing to work on it… and it could still be realized that we’ll succeed in
keeping the Upper Soo Valley roadless and pristine.”
While the size of the proposed development in the Callaghan is
smaller as a result of the decision to build the athletes village in Whistler,
Zeidler is concerned by the number of tenure applications in the Callaghan area
now that there is going to be a three-lane paved road to the Olympic Nordic
“It’s on the chopping block, as we speak,” he said. “If
anything it makes it more important to protect the area in the Soo as a
Current AWARE president Brad Kasselman points to the fact that
the area has been recognized as a wildlife corridor, including possibly for
grizzly bears, and that the oldest trees in the Whistler area were discovered
in the Upper Soo Valley this summer by a biologist working for AWARE. Two core
samples indicate that some trees are between 800 and 1,200 years old.
If anything, Kasselman believes that the case for the Upper Soo
is better now than it was when the wildlife refuge was first proposed.
“The next step for us is to show it off,” he said. “We’re going
to do what we can to get important people who can be influential… one way or
another, up there to see it for themselves. We’re also going to try to
catalogue the different species and attributes of the area, continue to build our
“The bottom line is that it’s not just another piece of
wilderness, and to get people to note the amount of development that’s going to
come down the pipe in the Callaghan.
“Of course we’re disappointed, we’ve been working on this in one form or another for six years, but we knew it was going to be hard. There’s no text book, no road map, to make something like this happen, and there’s so many moving parts involved. We’re not looking at it as a defeat, just a minor setback.”
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