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The Stoltmann Wilderness

The name of this (as yet) mythical 260,000-hectare national park will have a familiar ring to many British Columbians. After all, the name has been widely touted by the Western Canada Wilderness Committee since 1995, and has been a rallying cry in protests against logging in the Elaho, Sims and Upper Lillooet valleys.

The name is a tribute to former WCWC director Randy Stoltmann, who was killed in an avalanche while ski traversing west of the Kitlope River in 1994. Stoltmann first formally proposed preserving the Elaho-Upper Lillooet wilderness under the provincial government’s Protected Areas Strategy that same year. Under his vision, the area set aside would span the headwaters of the Squamish and Lillooet River systems encompassing the Sims, Clendenning, Upper Elaho and Upper Lillooet valleys. Of these three watersheds, only the Clendenning and parts of the Upper Lillooet have gained protected status.

Joe Foy, WCWC campaign co-ordinator, says it’s a slow fight, but he believes Stoltmann would be proud of the progress made so far.

"He was an ecologist and accomplished wilderness traveller, an artist with camera and pen, and a writer," Foy says. "He died a young man at the age of 31 and it’s kind of neat that his actions still ripple today in 2001 as we fight to protect the Elaho and Sims valleys."

Surprisingly perhaps, Foy says the WCWC would be willing to drop its Stoltmann Wilderness proposal in favour of the Squamish Nation’s Land Use Plan, which encompasses the southern portion of the Stoltmann boundaries. He says the Squamish Nation Land Use Plan is a compromise in that in some respects it doesn’t go as far as the Stoltmann Wilderness proposal, but in other ways it goes further.

"They have granted protected area status to the key critical areas – the Upper Elaho from Lava Creek north and all of Sims Creek. We proposed protecting the Lower Elaho from Sims Valley up but they have chosen to allow some logging there. We can accept that."

Under the Stoltmann Wilderness Plan, protection would also be extended beyond the Squamish Nation-claimed territory into the Meager Creek valley, which has already seen substantial logging, and up over the Pemberton Ice Cap into the Callaghan. Both plans include protection of the Upper Soo River. Foy adds: "The area they did better in is in proposing protection of the west side of the Squamish River for fishing and habitat protection. This safeguards an important dry form of hemlock forest, one of the most rare forest types in our area. They have also proposed protecting the west side of the Callaghan Valley – that’s a good move too."

The Squamish Nation draft land use plan was released to the public for comment this past June. It splits the area into four different zone designations:

• Forest Stewardship Zone — allows a mix of cultural, forestry, hunting, tourism and outdoor interests. Most of the traditional territory falls under this category;

• Sensitive Areas — areas that require special care to protect wildlife and cultural values;

• Restoration Areas — places where logging or other developments have harmed the natural values;

• Wild Spirit Places — wilderness areas to be retained for cultural and spiritual use. This can include hunting or fishing, but no industrial development is allowed.

Squamish Nation Chief Bill Williams says the second draft should be ready by the end of September, and the feedback to date has been extremely supportive. He says placing the document on the band’s Web site – www.squamish.net – has opened up the proposal to the whole community.

"Our site normally gets around 1,000 hits a week, but the day the Land Use Plan was put on we received 5,000 hits, and more than 70,000 hits within the first three weeks," he says.

As expected, many of the place names under the Squamish Nation plan have aboriginal title in place of their English ones, including the overall territory – Xay Temixw or Sacred Lands. So what of the name Stoltmann? Would that tribute disappear under the new proposal? Foy believes it doesn’t really matter.

"Randy Stoltmann’s memory is exceedingly important. He got us interested in this issue, and the Squamish Nation understands that," he explains. "But it’s time to turn the clock back and get those First Nation names back on the land. Squamish Nation has done such a fine job and now we finally have a year of peace in the Elaho. If we achieve protection for these lands that Randy loved so much, I think he would be pretty darn happy with that, and I think Squamish Nation would find their own way to honour Randy, and things will unfold as they should."

In the event of Squamish Nation gaining governance of its claimed territories, Foy believes they would make better managers of the Elaho than the current or past provincial governments. And he says he is not wearing rose-coloured glasses when looking at potential problems, such as public access restrictions or further environmental damage.

"After working 20 years in this business of protecting natural environments I feel the Squamish Nation can do no worse than the provincial governments, and will probably do a lot better. The Squamish Nation has achieved more towards getting this issue resolved over the past year than any other group."

The Li’wat First Nation also has territorial claims in the Elaho that overlap with the Squamish Nation’s. Chief Williams says the two bands signed an agreement to work together on such issues several months ago and foresees no problems in terms of territory management.

"I don’t think we have major differences in cultural values or how we want the land treated and their response to the draft plan has been positive, although we are still waiting for official feedback." Williams says the biggest challenge is dealing with the provincial government, which still refuses to acknowledge First Nations’ traditional territories.




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