By Amy Fendley
An extraordinary variety of wildlife is thriving within the proposed Stoltmann National Park Reserve, as it is the biggest wild area with the largest extent of old-growth forests left on B.C.’s southwest coast, according to the Western Canada Wilderness Committee.
The WCWC has been pushing for several years to have the so-called Stoltmann Wilderness Area preserved. Last year the organization expanded its initial 260,000 hectare proposal to 500,000 hectares, stretching up to the western boundaries of the Resort Municipality of Whistler, and is proposing the area be designated Canada’s first national park reserve in the Coast Mountain Range.
Joe Foy of the WCWC presented the organization’s vision for the Stoltmann to Whistlerites at the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment’s March 4 meeting. Foy shared the WCWC vision and the Whistler community shared its concerns, namely that if the park overlaps some fundamental Whistler boundaries, the community may lose some of its authority over land use.
The proposed park would link with existing parks to include Rainbow and Cougar Mountains and the Callaghan Valley. There is concern that a national park designation, right next to Whistler, might be to restrictive for some backcountry recreation operators.
Due to overlapping land, the Stoltmann Wilderness proposal is in conflict with the provincial Commercial Backcountry Recreation policy, Whistler’s Land Resource Use Policy and the Whistler Community Forest proposal.
In addition to opposition from individual Whistler backcountry recreation and tourism operators, the WCWC is also facing opposition from Pemberton councillor Bruce Macfayden and numerous companies and individuals involved in the timber industry.
Foy says that he wants to see nature-based tourism continue to flourish, but that he sees logging as the problem. He says he will continue to seek out a community controlled tenure, but is concerned there won’t be any protected land without the support of Whistler, its businesses and people. He says that the main focus should be on trying to craft a proposal that works.
The WCWC is considering a large scale plan that would involve two separate designations — one as a park, the other a designation that would accommodate commercial backcountry operators.
"There would be some sort of secondary park nomenclature," says Foy. "The large national park would protect the key areas and (there would be) a special management buffer zone between the park and Whistler.
"All we’re saying, is that it doesn’t make sense to be clear cutting these last ancient stands. We’re trying to protect the lands around Whistler from clear cutting, to preserve the life blood of Whistler’s recreation and tourism industry," says Foy.
"We are aware of the long standing history of tourism operators that utilize this area and we believe they should remain."
Foy says that there is a whole necklace of new cuts and roads planned within the next five years for the Callaghan Valley.
"There are eight proposed cut blocks on the east side of the Callaghan River, and in the Rainbow Lakes area as well," says Foy. "It’s just crazy. Among everything else, these cuts are also going to affect Whistler’s water supply. I know we’re entering into a bit of a shouting match between the various users, but it’s in our interest to see that the issues are resolved and make sure that everyone can make a living."
Whistler Councillor Ken Melamed says he senses the WCWC is trying to be as creative and flexible as it can.
"Without Whistler, they haven’t got a hope," says Melamed, who is a member of the municipality’s Forests and Wildland Advisory Committee and AWARE.
"There is a substantial impact on the LRUP, but there hasn’t really been any outright rejection. The boundaries are hard and fast, and it isn’t a stretch to come up with a buffer zone at all. There are really only two licensed users of the land in question, and all the other companies are operating illegally anyway."
Part of the WCWC’s campaign is to not that there is no national park protecting B.C.’s Coast Mountains. Foy says there could be no better way to celebrate the dawning of a new millennium.
"It’s 1999, and while people are thinking about the last thousand years, we’re trying to protect it for another thousand. These are millennium groves, the trees are thousands of years old," says Foy.
"The three biggest tourism hubs in B.C. are Vancouver, Victoria and Whistler. Protecting wild places is good for the economy... think of the Coast Mountain range like you would the Rockies."
The proposed Stoltmann National Park Reserve is within the traditional territories of the Klahoose, Lil’wat, Sechelt and Squamish First Nations and encompasses the headwaters of the Squamish and Lillooet River systems as well as the Sims, Clendenning Mountain Range, Upper Elaho and the Upper Lillooet valleys. Combined the four contiguous valleys make up half of all the large unlogged valleys remaining in the Lower Mainland region.
The Elaho Valley, the biggest temperate rain forest valley in the region, is at the heart of the Stoltmann proposal.
"The Upper Elaho isn’t the best we’ve ever had," Foy told the Whistler audience. "It’s the best we have left. We have a special responsibility when we look at the creatures of the wild, the grizzlies, the wolves and goats, we have to be on the front line."