Ministry criticized for lack of consultation

The provincial Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations has extended the deadline for public consultation on proposed closures within the Cayoosh and Shulaps Mountain Ranges.

The closures would be authorized under the Alpine Motor Vehicle/Wildlife Act and would apply to all motorized vehicles, including ATVs, motorbikes and snowmobiles.

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According to the ministry, the closures would apply year-round at the 1,920 metre  elevation (approximately 6,300 feet). They are identical to adjacent existing closures under the Wildlife Act such as Nine Mile, Hogback Mountain.

Francis Iredale, a wildlife biologist with the Fish and Wildlife Branch of the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, said the proposed regulations will be posted at this public engagement website: http://apps.nrs.gov.bc.ca/pub/ahte/

He told the News the information should be available the third or fourth week of November.

The ministry had previously set deadlines of Oct. 23, Nov. 1 and Nov. 15 for public consultation on the proposal.

SLRD Area A Director Debbie Demare is critical of the public consultation process used by the ministry. She said the ministry should have put up the website first, rather than later, and should have consulted local residents as well as stakeholder groups.

“They didn’t provide opportunities right off the bat for people to have input,” said Demare.

She said she’s been contacted by a number of area residents concerned about the closures.

“Three to four hundred people have property in the Marshall Lake area and they look at that area as their backyard. There’s a long history of people using the Shulaps area for a variety of reasons, including property owners and mining interests,” Demare told the News.

“A lot of people ask me where are the reports on the Shulaps Range and where is the science that substantiates these closures?” continued Demare. “The ministry has to make this process fair, open and accountable.”

She said she’s also suggested that in the future, the ministry should consider using regional districts as a “sustainable, up to date way to get in touch with local areas such as ours. By necessity, regional districts’ contacts are generally up to date and at a minimum, they can forward information to electoral areas and municipalities.”

Geologist and prospector John Robins echoed Demare’s concerns about the consultation process.  He also said he’s concerned that the ministry’s plans would remove parts of the land base from potential mineral exploration.

Robins has prospected in the area, lived in Bralorne for five years and owned a ranch at Liza Lake.

He said the proposal would remove 300 square kilometres from the Shulaps and an area “just as large, if not larger” in the Cayoosh Range from mineral exploration.

Under the ministry’s notification process, Robins said a “few snowmobile clubs were notified, but the general public wasn’t notified. The local guide-outfitter was notified, but not all stakeholders were consulted. The mineral industry, which in the Bridge River Valley has historically been the biggest economic driver there, didn’t know anything about it until I brought it to their attention.”

He said “the little bit of information” that was provided was a “one-page document that said they were doing this to protect wildlife concerns and there’s no backup to that.”

Robins told the News there is little motorized access in the Shulaps because the area is remote and rugged.

“They’re talking about full closures summer and winter and no snowmobiles. I’m probably one of the only people that snowmobile up there in the winter. I go by snowmobile to access the back country because I’m a back country skier. I’ve never, ever in years seen another snowmobile track.”

Robins said the Association for Mineral Exploration in British Columbia released a statement last week expressing concern about land being removed from potential mineral exploration.

“This is occurring across the province in a broader sense,” stated Robins. “People don’t realize land is being alienated without any kind of consultation under the auspices of ‘We don’t want motor vehicle access, we don’t want ATVs or snowmobiles,’ but it also has the effect of cutting out mineral exploration. The first step towards protected status is eliminating access. We saw that happen in the Spruce Lake area.”

He called for “full disclosure of the public interest behind these decisions. You can’t do these blank closures to say you’re going to protect wildlife if you don’t have studies to back that up.”

The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations said the closures are necessary to protect and conserve wildlife values for grizzly bear (a threatened population), mountain goats (a species of concern), California sheep (a species of concern), whitebark pine (a threatened species of concern), mule deer (a secure species not at risk) and wolverine (a species of concern).

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