Whistler’s backcountry ‘crowded’ 

Thirty-one tenures offered to commercial recreation operators but management of backcountry will be an ongoing process

The conflict in Whistler’s backcountry over commercial recreation tenures has come to a conclusion. Or has it?

British Columbia Assets and Lands Corporation announced 31 short-term tenure offers May 14 at the Crystal Lodge, but according to Charles Littledale, BCAL’s regional manager, the work is not quite done.

"This is just the beginning," Littledale told Pique Newsmagazine . "It will be a process of managing as we go."

The 31 tenure offers – for various outdoor activities ranging from paintball to paragliding – are anywhere from one- to five-year deals. No details were given on the individual applications but they are all subject to certain conditions and restrictions.

Operators have 60 days to respond to the BCAL offers.

The Callaghan Valley area south of Whistler is a good example of just how busy the backcountry actually is.

Canadian Snowmobile Adventures has been extended a tenure offer for ATV tours in summer and snowmobile tours in winter. "I think it’s great," said owner Doug Washer. "But no one’s exactly sure what is being offered. There’s still work to be done."

Mad River Nordic Centre holds a long-term tenure in the same area for cross-country skiing. "It’s not really an issue from our perspective," said owner Brad Sills.

"We’re moving forward and trying to work out the terms together," Washer added.

The Callaghan Valley is also popular with recreational users and is the proposed site of the Nordic events for Whistler’s 2010 Winter Olympic bid.

However, the BCAL process does not give exclusive use to tenured operators, nor does it exclude the public from using Crown land under tenure.

In addition to the 31 tenures approved, eight more applications were put on hold for technical reasons and will be looked at by BCAL this summer.

"We’re going to try and work out the problems," said Littledale.

One of those problems is the 16 Mile Creek-Soo Valley area north of Whistler, where Cougar Mountain Adventures holds a long-term tenure for a number of summer and winter activities.

Outdoor Adventures @ Whistler, which has been operating in the same area for six years, applied to run guided ATV tours in summer and guided snowshoe tours in winter.

BCAL and the two operators are currently trying to work out their concerns.

"We’re having ongoing discussions," said George Meilleur, owner of Outdoor Adventures @ Whistler. "It’s hard for me to say very much right now."

Littledale said operations, such as Meilleur’s, will be allowed to continue as long as they do not create any environmental problems, block public access or conflict with tenured operators. They must also pay rent for using Crown land, just as do tenured operators.

According to Littledale, BCAL’s goal is to bring untenured operations into a management regime, thus reducing conflict.

"We want to ensure the sustainability of the commercial recreation industry in the area, so we’re working with the various agencies, stakeholders and operators to iron things out," he said.

Two other applications were rejected. One operator will be given a chance to reapply. The other will still run his business, but not on Crown land.

Littledale said commercial recreation and tourism in the Sea-to-Sky region will continue to grow and that the next couple of years will be a real challenge. BCAL will also be reviewing winter-only operations this summer.

"We need to be mindful of what the future holds," he said. "It’s like playing in a crowded backyard."

Meanwhile, some members of the Lil’wat Nation are asking the Mount Currie Indian Band council to reject the whole BCAL process.

"All reviews must stop now," states a poster that has been circulating around the Mount Currie reserve. "Recognition of lands by the federal and provincial governments should be the only subject to discuss."

The Lil’wat Nation, however, is not currently engaged in treaty or land claim negotiations with either government.

Littledale said BCAL has sought information from the Lil’wat and will avoid infringing on potential aboriginal rights or title.

"We have had meetings with the Mount Currie band and have involved them in the process from the start," he said.

The Lil’wat Nation’s traditional territories include land in the Whistler and Pemberton areas.

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