Setback for Upper Soo 

Moratorium on logging expires for proposed Olympic legacy

By Andrew Mitchell

A local initiative that would create a 6,500 hectare wildlife refuge in the Upper Soo Valley to offset Olympic and First Nations development in the Callaghan Valley suffered a setback last week when forest companies announced that they could not wait any longer to develop their harvesting plans.

Forest tenure holders had agreed to hold off including the area in their logging plans to give the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment (AWARE) time to find support for their plan in the provincial government and the Vancouver Organizing Committee. If the province supported the plan, which would mean some compensation for timber and mining companies, then the area would receive some official protection through the Sea to Sky Land and Resource Management Plan.

It would not become a park, but covenants would prevent road development and resource extraction.

AWARE’s agreement in principle with forestry companies, who supported the plan, expired in October of 2005. A March 29 letter from the Soo Coalition for Sustainable Forests Society, which represents tenure holders in the area, announced that logging companies would need to include the area in their 2006 Forest Stewardship Plans. While parts of the proposed wildlife refuge will likely be included in those FSP’s, the coalition reiterated its commitment to observe best practices regarding old growth management areas, ungulate winter ranges, and wildlife tree areas.

Councillor Eckhard Zeidler, a former AWARE director and one of the original proponents of the Soo Accord, said he was disappointed by the lack of government response to the plan.

“I fully understand and appreciate the forest industry’s position on this, and appreciate the efforts of the rest of industry and companies involved and everyone at the LRMP table who endorsed the concept of an Olympic legacy — right down to the mining industry which said it wouldn’t go into the area if it was a legacy,” he said.

“Everyone really went out on a limb to help this idea become a reality, but unfortunately we couldn’t deliver on the terms of the Soo Accord… because there was no endorsement of any kind from VANOC or the provincial government.”

Zeidler says the disappointment comes from using official channels to advance the project, and all the effort made to come up with a multi-party stakeholder agreement at the LRMP table, only to have the project stall at the provincial government.

The one thing he hasn’t heard yet is “no”, which is why Zeidler believes there is still hope for the project.

“It remains an AWARE project, AWARE members are very much continuing to work on it… and it could still be realized that we’ll succeed in keeping the Upper Soo Valley roadless and pristine.”

While the size of the proposed development in the Callaghan is smaller as a result of the decision to build the athletes village in Whistler, Zeidler is concerned by the number of tenure applications in the Callaghan area now that there is going to be a three-lane paved road to the Olympic Nordic Centre.

“It’s on the chopping block, as we speak,” he said. “If anything it makes it more important to protect the area in the Soo as a wildlife refuge.”

Current AWARE president Brad Kasselman points to the fact that the area has been recognized as a wildlife corridor, including possibly for grizzly bears, and that the oldest trees in the Whistler area were discovered in the Upper Soo Valley this summer by a biologist working for AWARE. Two core samples indicate that some trees are between 800 and 1,200 years old.

If anything, Kasselman believes that the case for the Upper Soo is better now than it was when the wildlife refuge was first proposed.

“The next step for us is to show it off,” he said. “We’re going to do what we can to get important people who can be influential… one way or another, up there to see it for themselves. We’re also going to try to catalogue the different species and attributes of the area, continue to build our case.

“The bottom line is that it’s not just another piece of wilderness, and to get people to note the amount of development that’s going to come down the pipe in the Callaghan.

“Of course we’re disappointed, we’ve been working on this in one form or another for six years, but we knew it was going to be hard. There’s no text book, no road map, to make something like this happen, and there’s so many moving parts involved. We’re not looking at it as a defeat, just a minor setback.”


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