Rainforest Solutions Project

Promoting conservation and economic alternatives in British Columbia's Great Bear Rainforest


Four different ways to use our land: Government looks to balance environment and employment

June 26, 2003

Nine million hectares of beautiful wilderness — two Nova Scotias — were on the table Wednesday when the provincial cabinet reviewed aspects of four separate land use plans.

(Central Coast, BC) – The big news was in the central coast land and resource management plan, where no news was good news, as far as environmentalists and bear-lovers were concerned.

For the past seven years, more than 60 groups have been wrangling over how to manage the remote 4.8-million hectare wilderness, perhaps best-known internationally for the Kermode bear.

It’s less well-known for the sky-high unemployment rate among the 4,400 mostly native population that lives there. Employment versus environment, land claims, international attention are all in the mix.

The B.C. Liberals inherited that long-running process and there were immediate suspicions about whether they were going to follow through on the thrust of the plan, which is to protect as much as possible, while allowing some controlled resource use.

A year ago cabinet imposed a moratorium on logging at 20 specific sites earmarked for protection, and 17 more optional areas, to give the planning process more time to work. That moratorium expires Monday and there were worries that logging would resume before the plan is fine-tuned.

But cabinet on Wednesday extended the moratorium for another year. A no-staking reserve also remains in place, which curtails mineral exploration. And the chief forester will continue to reduce the allowable annual cut for the associated timber supply areas and tree farm licenses.

The spots were originally protected under environmental legislation, but they are now controlled by the Forest Act. But in the woods, it amounts to about the same — no logging. It was originally estimated to cost about 250 to 300 jobs when the bans were first imposed.

You could call it working to a consensus or you could call it a classic B.C. stand-off. Whatever it is, it’s still holding.

Muskwa-Kechika — It was a different story in the spectacular 4.4-million-hectare management area in northeastern B.C. Sustainable Resource Minister Stan Hagen presented cabinet with two pre-tenure plans that will allow gas and oil exploration in parts of the region. Drillers will have to plan around plains bison herds, caribou areas, historical trails and view preservation.

The government has already granted two pre-tenure plans, and three more are expected by next spring.

In all, they will allow oil and gas drilling in a sizable fraction of the huge wilderness, perhaps 20 per cent. The government says it has the support and approval of the 15-member advisory board that oversees the management area.

What’s the difference that prompts a government to bar resource development in one wilderness and allow it in another? Two things: international attention and money.

Preservations have focused worldwide attention on the Spirit Bear, to the point where Hagen acknowledged the central coast region’s “global heritage.”

It’s not worth the trouble to allow logging there at present, when the industry already has so many other problems.

And there is up to $16 billion to be made in oil and gas in the Muskwa-Kechika.

Eight Peaks — A management plan that’s been in the works for 11 months was approved for 44,500 hectares of heli-skiing terrain around Blue River, north of Kamloops on the Yellowhead. It’s the kind of scenery that makes skiers and snowboarders weak in the knees.

The plan attempts to sort snowmobilers from skiers; caribou, mountain goat and grizzlies from recreational users; and loggers from tourists. One of the features is new logging cutblocks that will turn into ski runs upon completion.

They’ve coined a new phrase to sum up the idea: “front country.” Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing operates a back country operation in the area, but the new developments envisioned under the plan create skiers’ heaven in the “front country,” with shorter helicopter flights.

The government has high hopes for this plan, as it is in the vanguard of new adventure tourism opportunities in B.C. There is $21 million worth of capital projects on the drawing board for the area.

Southern Rocky Mountain Management Plan — The previous New Democrat government slapped a “Southern Rockies Conservation Plan” into place shortly before going down to defeat.

The Liberal government ditched it, demanding socio-economic analysis and more input from the communities.

It came up with a “management plan,” instead. It covers more area (360,000 hectares), but the terminology obviously shows how the priorities shifted. Valleys from the U.S. border to the Height of the Rockies Provincial Park are impacted.

There were no developments Wednesday, other than an update. But all in all, it wasn’t a bad week for the wilderness.