Lillooet meeting is key to future of back country access By Andrew Mitchell Horses, bicycles, bears, chairlifts, helicopters and chainsaws are set to battle it out in the Lillooet Community Centre on Feb. 19, as the provincial government hosts an open house meeting on the future of the Lillooet Forest District's Land and Resource Management Plan (LRMP). Local off-road cycling groups, environmentalists, First Nations, recreational users and logging concerns are planning to attend the meeting, all with very different visions as to how the diverse landscape — which represents more than a million hectares of mountains, valleys, lakes and forests referred to by some as the Rainshadow Wilderness Area — should be used. People from as far away as Vancouver plan to make the five hour drive to be heard in the only public LRMP forum to be held in the province. "It's ridiculous that we have to drive so far in order to be heard, but if you care about the environment, and you want to have your say on the way the province is managing our wild areas, you have no choice but to make the drive," says Western Canada Wilderness Committee director Joe Foy. The WCWC has already filled two buses from Vancouver, and could have filled a few more if the budget had allowed for it. "That's how strongly people feel about this. People want to participate in the LRMP process." When the B.C. government was developing the provincial Protected Areas Strategy, the public was left out of the process, according to Foy. "This is a democracy last time I checked, and everyone who has an interest in those areas had a right to be heard. Lillooet is the one opportunity we were given by this provincial government, so you can bet we will be there in numbers to take advantage of it." According to the WCWC, logging is slated to begin throughout the region over the next two years. After analyzing the area from an ecological and recreational point of view, Foy will be recommending that nearly 40 per cent of the total area be designated for protection — two-and-a half times the amount currently allotted under new provincial guidelines that limit protected areas to 16 per cent of the total land mass. "This is a lot more than the arbitrary limit placed on preservation by the current B.C. government," says Foy. "But these unique areas and the wildlife that depend on them deserve protection." The scope of the area runs as far west as the Upper Bridge River area, north through the Southern Chilcotins and Spruce Lake areas, the northern Camelsfoot Range and French Bar Big Bar Badlands, east of Pavilion to include the Two Spring area, south through the Clear Range, Skwaha Lake Ecological Reserve and Spences Bridge, down to the Siska Creek area, and back west to include the Stein Valley Nlaka'Pamux Heritage Park, Duffey Lake Park and the Cayoosh Range. Representatives from the Whistler, Pemberton and Squamish Off Road Cycling Associations will also be in attendance to counter the claims of an advocacy group that mountain biking has a negative impact on horses, the habitat and other wildlife. The group is recommending that key cycling trails in the South Chilcotin and Spruce Lake areas be limited to hikers and horseback riders. Another major player at the meeting will be the local First Nations, who are attempting to secure many of the debated areas as Heritage Parks. The most recent census conducted in the area determined that First Nations comprise more than half the resident population. The Whistler Area Residents for the Environment is also renting a bus to attend the meeting, leaving at 8 a.m. and returning at 8 p.m.. Anyone who wishes to participate in the open house meeting should contact AWARE director Eddie Roberts at 932-6897.