FOSP note: the following letter appeared in the Campbell River Courier on Oct 21, 2009.
October 13, 2009
The Honourable Barry Penner,
Minister of the Environment,
While it may be difficult for people to get excited about whether a few horses are traveling into little used areas of Strathcona Park, the issue is only partly about horses. Not that there aren’t many good reasons not to allow horses into wilderness areas, as any hiker in Banff National Park will affirm. The main issue is the extent to which the public is allowed to chart the course and plan for the future of this beautiful Class A park, which over the years has been assaulted by greed and business interests and has only been protected because of the passion and tenacity of members of the public who believe that wilderness is not there solely to be exploited.
The issue, Mister Penner, is about who makes the decisions for the future of the Park and what criteria are used to make those decisions. For Strathcona Park, a long and difficult opposition to the assault of mining and logging resulted in a document called the Master Plan, forged from the willingness of people to put their own personal interests on the line in order to protect this wilderness jewel in the center of our island.
In order to keep the Master Plan current and responding to public concerns, the Strathcona Park Public Advisory Committee (SPPAC) was established, as a link between the public and government – to advise Parks Branch on the way forward.
There has been, in the last few years, a paradigm shift. Applications, like that from Clayoquot Wilderness Resorts to take its guests up the Bedwell River and well into Strathcona Park by horse, have not been put to the litmus test of the Master Plan. Instead, what followed was a flurry of emails and discussions in Parks Branch and a process, that government hoped would look like a public process. And, in spite of over ninety percent public opposition, and the decision by SPPAC that the Master Plan did not need amendment as it was clear on the issue of horse-riding in the Park, we now have a government decision to amend the Master Plan to increase horse-riding in the Park.
There are other activities in the Park that have not been allowed up to now, and should a private company propose involvement with one of those activities, I fear that the government would ignore the Master Plan and SPPAC, and make its decision on issues other than public interest and not in accord with the wishes of the public.
As citizens of Vancouver Island, it is clear that only our determined involvement in this issue will turn this tide. I hope that many will speak out against the public exclusion from the decision making about the future of our park and that you, Mister Minister, will listen to our voices.