History of the Master Plan
65 arrests in the late 1980’s resulted in Peter Larkin creating the Larkin Report which led BC Parks to set up a steering committee composed of Peggy Carswell of the Comox Valley, Anne Fiddick, then mayor of Gold Rive and Jim Rutter from Victoria, executive director of Federation of Mountain Clubs of BC, and a number of BC Parks staff. Among other findings, Mr. Larkin criticized the government’s lack of public consultation. This was rectified by years of public meetings leading up to the creation of the first Master Plan in 1993, and later more extensive consultation for the Master Plan Amendment of 2001.
Both processes involved public hearings in many Vancouver Island communities, and individual meetings between Park staff and stakeholder groups. Events were advertised well ahead of time in local media, and mail-outs to a contact list were also made. None of this was done over the Clayoquot Wilderness Resort (CWR) proposal.
Various groups from the mountain biking community, float plane groups and horse users lobbied for allowing their activities in the Park. All were considered unacceptable in Strathcona Park for a variety of reasons, the main one being overwhelming public opposition to their presence in the Park.
As an attempt to compromise with Anne Fiddick, a horse enthusiast from Gold River, the Master Plan allowed horses to be tested on old logging roads in the areas of Donner and Oshinow Lake for a period of two years after which their impacts would be evaluated. Because of the difficulty of access for horse users to these areas, horses were never used there, so there was no evaluation.
It was obvious to the authors of the Master Plan and its later Amendment that there was no intention to allow horse use anywhere else in the Park. Unfortunately, this was not stated clearly in either Plan, hence the confusion of late. All three Steering Committee members as well as some retired Park staff have stated this clearly.
Another outcome of these early days was the creation of the Strathcona Park Public Advisory Committee (SPPAC). It was created to represent the public which had not being consulted in prior Park decisions.
Another later significant event was a Legal Action brought by FOSP against BC Parks in 1998 over allowing a logging road to be built through the Park to access timber outside of the Park. In a partial victory the Judge concluded that BC Parks had not consulted properly with the public and for a while consultation did improve.
The Flawed Process
The Clayoquot Wilderness Resort proposal was first mentioned in 2004 at a SPPAC meeting where Ron Quilter stated it was a dead issue and would not be permitted. This proposal was to upgrade the trail and bridges in the Park in return for being allowed to take guided horse trip 20 km up the valley to You Creek, and build a campsite, corral and composting toilet at that location. Some tent platforms would be available for public use, but the resort would have priority on the use of the majority of them.
Over the intervening years John Caton’s (CWR manager) persistence, and the government’s philosophy of allowing for private commercial development in BC Parks has kept the proposal alive. As evidenced from the Freedom of Information material, this would have been turned down right away ten years before.
A number of events have led us to believe the public consultation process has been flawed from the beginning.
In 2007 the Federation of Mountain Clubs of BC were given a permit to conduct trail work in the Bedwell Valley as far as Noble Creek. This permit was revoked due to an unsafe bridge crossing over the river. This meant that only accepting the CWR proposal would be a possible option for upgrading the trail. The trail could not be worked on because of an unsafe crossing. The crossing could not be fixed because permission to do the work was withdrawn.
In May 2007 BC Parks allowed CWR to conduct two open houses. The format was chaotic. There were no minutes kept, no speaker forum was allowed and different information was given to different people. BC Parks staff were in attendance to give some hint of credibility. The vast majority of the public attending were opposed to allowing horses in the Park, but felt they were not listened to.
In December 2007 FOSP finally met with Barry Penner after two years of asking. He listened politely to the presentation, and asked a few questions of the Friends.
FOSP pushed for a Round Table discussion with all stake holders and a site visit. As a result, in September, one FOSP member, some government staff and 5 reps from CWR walked from You Creek to CWR to inspect the trail. It was found to be severely eroded in many places. The same day some FOSP members visited the Ursus Valley to look at horse impact off the road bed. It was seen to be significant.
The Round Table resulted in no consensus and no common ground. The same week SPPAC came out mostly opposed to the proposal. In January 2008 SPPAC with some new members was more strongly opposed than before. In spite of this opposition Parks decided to conduct a Level 2 Assessment and public hearings on amending the Master Plan. SPPAC recommended BC Parks not proceed with either, and boycotted both processes.
FOSP obtained the terms of reference for both processes, and objected to the way they were worded. They called for criteria as to how horse impact could be mitigated, not whether or not horse use should be expanded in the Park. FOSP objected, but no change was made. This represented a way of manufacturing consent, not proper consultation.
The Level 2 Assessment was awarded to Forsite Consultants of Campbell River whose expertise is advising logging companies in strategic planning. The 2008 Master Plan Amendment hearings were conducted by an ex BC Parks employee, and were poorly run. Again, the process was manipulated in trying to establish criteria for mitigating horse impact. The public did not buy in, and most spoke in objection to allowing horses in the park.
Results were posted on BC Parks website, and on tallying them up, about 90% of respondents were opposed to allowing horses in the Park. Those supporting the proposal were mostly CWR employees, family members and Wilderness Tourism Association members.
The L2 Assessement was completed several months late (due June 2008, finally released to the public in February 2009). An FOI search has shown Master Plan options went to the Minister last January. He has not acted on them yet, and we have found out a proposed amendment is one of the options. This amendment seems to allow horse use under criteria unknown to us in any area of the Park where there is an old road bed.
From the beginning FOSP has said allowing the CWR proposal would encourage more such applications, that this would be the thin edge of the wedge. Parks staff have always denied this. Now, we think it is obvious that from the beginning the process has been manipulated to allow CWR’s proposal to succeed. Some Parks staff see this as an opportunity to repair a trail at no cost to them when budgets have been severely slashed. However, in an attempt to not be seen as allowing exclusive use, this has opened up a can of worms.
It should also be pointed out that if this amendment were accepted, it would not benefit the general public who would want to take horses into the Park. Most sites are too remote as evidenced in the lack of use of what has already been made available. Any public use would be subject to the same criteria as that set down in the amendment.
Previous discussions of criteria include use of sterile feed and manure management. Recreational riders are not going to be using sterile feed and picking up manure. The only parties that could benefit from this going ahead would be commercial operators who have the resources to satisfy the criteria.