Province hailed as ‘biodiversity heroes’ in Sea to Sky 

LRMP recognizes cultural, wildland and parks value in 50 per cent of land


Quietly, behind the scenes, bold steps have been taken to protect land in Sea to Sky country.

So bold are the steps that one local councillor, who ran for office on a green platform and has been deeply involved in environmental initiatives in the corridor, went as far as calling the actions of the provincial government heroic.

"The provincial government is a biodiversity hero," said Councillor Eckhard Zeidler at last week's council meeting.

He is referring specifically to the Sea to Sky Land and Resource Management Plan (LRMP), an at-times contentious and lengthy process that was developed at the request of the province with area stakeholders, from industry to environmentalists.

That plan is the region's vision for land use now and into the future. And the reason Zeidler hails the province as champions of biodiversity is because in that plan more than 50 per cent of the land base in Sea to Sky is protected in some way.

"And no one knows it," he said.

Specifically, eight new conservancies were created in the region through the LRMP, recognizing the high importance of First Nations values. The conservancies stretch throughout the Sea to Sky region, one as far north as the Upper Birkenhead to close to the Upper Elaho in the west and the Upper Rogers in the east.

And right in the heart of Whistler there are two new major conservancies flanking Callaghan Lake Provincial Park.

They total almost 45,000 hectares (more than 110,000 acres), and along with the existing parks in the region, they cover more than 25 per cent of the land.

In addition, 27 per cent of the land has been designated Wildland Zones - those areas with high wildlife habitat values and an emphasis on culture, recreation and tourism.

Minister Pat Bell's pride in the plan is obvious. He was heavily involved in its development as minister of agriculture and lands and continues to stay involved now that his portfolio includes the Integrated Land Management Bureau.

"There's a couple of plans that I think really demonstrate our long term commitment to stability in the province," said Bell this week. "This one and the Great Bear Rainforest are the two that certainly come to mind.

"This is an area (Sea to Sky) that's on the doorstep of the largest population base in the province. It's an area that people want to recreate, that First Nations have strong linkages to from a cultural perspective, and it's important that we represent those values. At the same time, we've been able to manage it in a way that still represents the timber values. There's an active forestry industry in the area. There are still areas that are available for mining, for backcountry tourism. So, it's a plan that came together and I think represented the true spirit of collaboration."

Bell also recognizes just how critical the role for First Nations was to the entire land use process, particularly the roles of Squamish and Lil'wat First Nations.

"Initially it was a challenge for our people to want these protected as a conservancy," admitted Lucinda Phillips, director of land and resources for the Mount Currie Band Council.

She explained that there was a perception in the community that when the national parks were created years ago, the community lost the use of those areas for practising their traditional culture.

Phillips said that through education and communication, she hopes to have the community on board and take ownership of the opportunity.

"We want to encourage our community members to be the caretakers (of the conservancies)," said Phillips.

Chief Bill Williams of the Squamish Nation highlighted the importance of having areas that are protected. The Callaghan conservancy, for example, covers Squamish's Wild Spirit Place, Payakentsut.

"It's an area that we want to be able to showcase to our children's, children's children," he said. "An area where they can go in and know that the grizzly bear and other animals that inhabit the forest are still intact and they live their lives there without fear of being hunted. That we can walk through the forest and still be able to point out different herbs and other growth in the old growth forest that is still being able to be harvested."

Conservancies do not allow for industrial resource development activities - commercial logging, mining, hydroelectric development, new roads and commercial development are not allowed. The goal is to provide for the continuation of First Nations cultural activities and traditional renewable resource harvesting activities, such as gathering traditional foods and hunting, trapping and fishing.

"(We want them) treated the way that we expect the land to be treated," added Williams. "That the land is there, not to be developed for financial gain. That the land has to be fully respected and in doing so, the financial obligations that the province always seems to want to drag out of the land, or the area, is kept quiet."

Together Squamish and Lil'wat, along with the province, are developing management plans for the conservancies.

"I think it's a win for everybody," said Phillips. "It's not only for First Nations."

And there have been other spin-offs from the work done in the LRMP, said Minister Bell, namely this spirit of working in collaboration.

"It's also allowed us to move forward, I think, in other areas in terms of: we've learned how to talk to each other, we've learned how to come to mutual agreement and good decisions," he said. "And when we look at other challenging files, whether it's resorts or IPPs or other sorts of changes on the landscape, it's created a place where we can go have that dialogue and a discussion that usually is fruitful."

This story, said Zeidler, is a story to be told to the world. He urged Whistler staff to think about it as they work to showcase Whistler's 2010 Biodiversity Challenge during the 2010 Games, as a partner with the United Nations in the 2010 International Year of Biodiversity.

"I'm a little bit concerned that our approach... is just very, very Whistler-centric," Zeidler said to staff at the last council meeting.

"Biodiversity does not stop at the Resort Municipality of Whistler boundaries.

"Let's showcase what's real."



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