Mining interests said to be ‘marginal at best’ in Spruce Lake area 

Environmental Mining Council building consensus toward conservation option for proposed provincial park

Until recently, the battle over the proposed provincial park in the Southern Chilcotin Mountains has been between forestry interests and conservation interests. Both sides agreed to the park in principle, but it became a question of size: the so-called resource option envisioned the park to be no larger than 42,000 hectares, while the conservation option described a park of more than 71,000 hectares.

With only months to go before the government would announce its final decision, the Mining Association of B.C. sent a letter to Minister of Sustainable Resource Management Stan Hagen that said the park would conflict with mining interests in the area. They also challenged the provincial government to make good on its promise to improve the business and investment climate for mining in B.C.

"Basically the mining industry blindsided us with a third option, a park no larger than 3,000 hectares, which is really no park at all," said John McInnis, the executive director of the Environmental Mining Council of B.C.

The EMCBC has since replied to the letter, reminding the minister that the mining industry decided not to participate in the five years of Land and Resource Management Plan discussions for the area, and that the representative that was appointed on the industry’s behalf did agree to at least a 42,000 hectare park.

The EMBC also questioned the viability of mining in the area, which has been explored several times in the past and has always been dismissed as marginal.

"There has been exploration in the area for over a century, and there have been small sniffs of silver, zinc, gold. These have been very small sniffs, small veins and pockets here and there, very discontinuous," said Don Harrison, the land use director for the EMCBC and a former surveyor in the mining industry who has been to the area on two separate explorations.

McInnis and Harrison passed through Whistler on July 29 on their way to Lillooet to meet with local First Nations and tourism industry representatives. With the mining industry entering the battle, they felt it was important to send a strong message to the provincial government.

"We’re trying to identify stakeholder issues around First Nations," explained McInnis. "It’s important because it’s one group that hasn’t been heard from. We’ll be sharing our information with them, and listening to their concerns."

As for the tourism industry, the most recent socio-economic study for the South Chilcotin park area determined that tourism is already a major economic force in the region, worth more than $10 million in annual revenues.

"What we’ve found is that the tourism industry is actually growing because of the park," said Harrison. "A park brings certainty to their operations and investments. They know they’re not going to be with a group up there some day and find that their investment is worthless because there’s a mine or a clearcut in the middle of their operation."

Since this is the first major land use decision the Liberal government will make, Harrison and McInnis believe the mining industry is trying to set a precedent that will govern future land use decisions. The industry recently benefited from changes to the process and regulations that will make it easier and more cost-effective to operate in B.C., but it "still believes that too much land and mineral is already tied up in parks," said Harrison.

"We just think the mining industry should pick its battles better rather than put all of their guns behind the first land use decision to come through the government," added McInnis.

"The South Chilcotins have been a candidate for a park since 1937. There is no evidence that there is any real mining potential in the area – we just feel their lobbying efforts could be better placed elsewhere.

"The whole industry could lose credibility drawing lines in the sand like this, and by taking a back-room approach rather than sitting at the table with other stakeholders."

Ultimately, when the government announces its decision on the park in the fall, the EMCBC feels the government will have no choice but to decide in favour of the conservation option.

"We feel this government values the community round table approach and the five years that was spent building consensus on a land use plan for the area, and we think they’ll do the right thing when they make their decision," said McInnis.

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