Deals have a way of changing once the spotlight of public attention is removed. Thus it may be with the more than 60-year battle to preserve the South Chilcotin Range.
It was on April 17, just the day before Ujjal Dosanjh pulled the pin on his overdo-for-the-glue-factory government and called a provincial election, that then-Minister of Environment, Lands and Parks Ian Waddell announced cabinet had chosen the conservation option, one of two options presented by the Lillooet Local Resource Management Plan table. The conservation option included the preservation of the South Chilcotin Range, home of the popular Spruce Lake area, which was first proposed for park status in 1937.
The South Chilcotin Park makes up 71,400 hectares within the 1.1 million hectares of the Lillooet LRMP area. The South Chilcotin Park and 13 other protected areas in the conservation option total 19 per cent, or 211,000 hectares, within the Lillooet LRMP area. Eighty-one percent of the land is available for resource development under the conservation option, including 38 per cent dedicated to "industrial" activities such as forestry, mining, agriculture and tourism.
But new Sustainable Resource Management Minister Stan Hagan is reviewing the NDP cabinet decision. He is under particular pressure since all members of the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District with the notable exception of Whistler Mayor Hugh OReilly have voted for a review of the decision. Members of the Thompson-Nicola Regional District also support reviewing the decision. Their main concern is the South Chilcotin Park is too big.
The Lillooet LRMP process took place over five years, with thousands of volunteer man hours by local people concerned about land use decisions. Forestry, recreation, tourism, ranching, mining, conservation and local governments were all represented in the process process being the key word.
While consensus was reached among stakeholders on the majority of the 1.1 million hectares, there was a split along conservation-industry lines over the fate of more than a dozen areas within the LRMP, particularly the South Chilcotin Park. When consensus cant be reached the process calls for parties to present their best proposal, or option. Cabinet can chose one or ignore them all and make a unilateral decision.
Minutes of the March 9-10 LRMP meeting show all parties agreed to present two options and that if one of the two options was selected by cabinet everyone would accept, respect and support the decision. The NDP chose the conservation option.
Was this a political decision by the NDP? No question. Any decision of this type is political. Does the fact that it was made during the NDPs last days in office make it any less legitimate? No.
The process was followed. Local governments, industry, conservation and recreation representatives from the area were heard. Consensus was reached on much of the 1.1 million hectares through the same LRMP process that is about to start in the Sea to Sky area. If that LRMP is as successful in achieving consensus as the Lilllooet one was it will be doing well.
The five-year Lillooet LRMP process was also proceeded by a 10-year Integrated Resource Management Plan study of the South Chilcotin area, which never came to a conclusion.
Since the Liberals have come to power, a socio-economic study of the area in relation to the conservation option has been initiated. This is fine. There was little point in doing a socio-economic study when the land-use plan had still to be decided.
However, there is a feeling the Liberals want to leave their stamp on this land-use decision. Their mandate is to re-energize the economy by helping industry. Fair enough, but there is no reason to undo the five years of work that went into the Lillooet LRMP. It is, after all, only phase I of the LRMP. Phase II, decisions on the 81 per cent of the area that was not protected, is still to be started. In that context, there is still plenty of room for industry.
Minister Hagan is touring the area next week. Its expected the socio-economic study will be completed by the end of the month. A final decision on area is likely by mid-September.
Many Whistler residents invested considerable time and effort in the LRMP process. If the spotlight is turned off the Lillooet LRMP for the next month all that time and effort may be for naught.