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Snowmobile club frustrated by BCAL

Tenure process needs to be more transparent One of the five priorities identified in the B.C Assets and Lands Business plan for fiscal 2000-2001 was to "make our business approaches more responsive, transparent and accessible.

Tenure process needs to be more transparent

One of the five priorities identified in the B.C Assets and Lands Business plan for fiscal 2000-2001 was to "make our business approaches more responsive, transparent and accessible."

The plan will have run its course by March 31 this year but, judging by the frustration being expressed by public recreation user groups, the Crown corporation still has some ways to go in reaching this goal in the Sea to Sky corridor.

Public user groups, like the corridor snowmobile clubs, feel the public is still being left out of land-use decisions being made by BCAL concerning commercial recreation tenures. They are worried the public will ultimately be squeezed out of areas by commercial operations and some have asked that BCAL hold off making tenure decisions until public access can be secured through a broader planning process, like an LRMP.

"One of the extreme frustrations we have had is, things happen and we don’t get any representation," Powder Mountain Snowmobile Club’s Don Gamache told BCAL representatives at a press conference held in Whistler Monday, Feb. 5.

In addition to the press, the conference was attended by a group of about 30 including both tenured and untenured operators, consultants and representatives of public user groups.

Gamache said organized public groups like the Federation of Mountain clubs and snowmobile clubs under the umbrella of the B.C. Snowmobile Federation are comprised of enthusiasts who care deeply about their sports. "Without getting all these user groups together… I think you are missing a part of the process," Gamache told BCAL’s Charles Littledale and David Reilley and Peter Jones of the province’s Land Use Co-ordination Office.

"The public is getting a back seat and we are getting very tired of it."

Gamache said the user groups have been saying for years that the tenure process needs to be more transparent.

"We are perturbed enough that we are going to start paying a lot of attention to this. Gentlemen, I would ask you to pay heed to this and put some kind of public input into this process."

It was suggested BCAL hold off issuing commercial tenures until a land use strategy is in place that sets some areas aside for public use.

The province officially announced Jan. 26 that a Land Resource Management Plan process was underway for the Squamish Forest District but Littledale said that process will take some time. "We are not sure how long it is going to take and indications are that these (tenure) issues need to be dealt with now."

Littledale said, however, the tenures will be granted in such a way that they remain flexible and BCAL will be able to accommodate the requirements of a future LRMP.

He said the legal method to adjust tenures is built into management plans that can be altered as more is learned about things like environmental issues or the carrying capacity of a specific management unit or watershed.

Littledale noted that public access remains a priority and, should an area be deemed to be exceeding carrying capacity, BCAL has the ability to trim commercial tenures.

"We will end up doing some back pedalling as we get into the LRMP process," noted Littledale. "But we will adjust as we go along. This will be a process that evolves and I don’t think the plan (LRMP) will be the end of it either – we are learning as we go."

Jones noted an LRMP is akin to a municipality’s official community plan. He said municipal business doesn’t grind to a halt while an OCP is being developed or revised.

Jones cautioned too that an LRMP is not "a panacea for the world’s ills."

"What an LRMP can do is provide a forum for people to come together and build some common ground."

Littledale told the group a carrying capacity model devised by consultant Doug Leavers for the Cougar Mountain area has also just been completed, but said: "We are not yet sure how we will implement it." Littledale said the carrying capacity study will be made public and workshops will likely be held in an effort to determine how to put the theory in to practice.

Carrying capacity, it was noted, is something various jurisdictions throughout North America have been grappling with and there has been no "quick fix" found to date.

The goal is to ultimately apply the carrying capacity model to other areas in the Squamish Forest District.

The carrying capacity study will be one of the many studies to go into the LRMP pot. It will be posted on LUCO’s Sea to Sky LRMP Web site at the end of February, along with BCAL’s commercial recreation strategy and the Ministry of Forest’s public recreation study.

Through the broader planning process it may be determined that the public will ultimately have to pay the Crown to access certain public land or pay to use facilities provided by a tenured operator.

Littledale said of the 53 tenure applicants in the corridor, many have expressed concern about building infrastructure only to see increased public use of their business areas. "But at this moment in time, the public has free access," he said. "At this point in time an operator can’t charge the public."

Gamache noted that the public must be involved in making these decisions.

Reilley said, the day after the Feb. 5 press conference, that a meeting with certain public user groups would be slated for later in the week.

"We want to work out an effective process to make sure groups like the snowmobile and the mountain clubs have an opportunity to get their feedback to us," said Reilley. He said this has always been the intention.

The meeting, however, will not be open to the general public.

"If we feel anyone has been missed, we will contact them separately but we feel it will me more efficient to do this at a round table meeting."