Karl Stevenson, Jennifer Pass, and Bob St.John presented the case against Clayoquot Wilderness Resort’s application for exclusive horse use in the Bedwell Valley within Strathcona Park to a SPPAC (Strathcona Park Public Advisory Committee) meeting on Nov 19, 2010. Here is Karl’s address to the meeting…
Thanks for allowing us to make our presentation to you tonight.
It’s hard for me to know what to say, because the issue is so big, and the time is so short. I’ll start by saying what I’d like to happen, which is to see the CWR permit denied, and the Strathcona Park Master Plan brought back, and strengthened enough so that we never have to deal with a situation like this again.
That would be my immediate wish, but I know it would only be a very temporary fix, because Master Plans, as we’ve so recently seen, can be easily changed to suit government desires.
Ultimately, if we really want lasting protection for our provincial parks, we’ll need to create a better system, one that preserves our parks from political and commercial manipulation. Until that day comes, we’ll always be fighting similar battles against powerful people and their lobbyists.
These battles are all very frustrating, time consuming and tedious, but they’re important, because each one sets a precedent. If we win, we strengthen the park. If we lose, the park gets weaker. In 1988, we fought a major battle, now known as the Strathcona Blockade, and we somehow managed to win. We forced the government to remove the industrial corridor which they’d installed, cutting the park in half, and we also forced them to put the Bedwell Valley back into the park after they’d removed it. SPPAC was also created as a result of the blockade, as was the Strathcona Park Master Plan.
There were many changes which stemmed from the blockade, but they all revolved around the idea that the public, rather than commercial interests, would finally have a say in park decisions.
After the blockade, the park was more or less left alone for a while by the forces of commerce, but as we’ve all seen, money has amazing power. Before many years had passed, a man with a fresh new money-making scheme galloped into view. Soon after he appeared, the government went against public wishes to change the Strathcona Park Master Plan to suit the plans of this galloping cowboy. They ignored the recommendations of SPPAC. They ignored the opinions of their own park officials. They showed us very clearly what they thought about public participation in park decisions.
Their position was made obvious in a 2006 quote from an e-mail sent out by Nancy Wilkin, who was assistant deputy minister of parks at the time. “I read the letter against this, and it was really against “rich” versus “poor”!! Please work with Clayoquot Resort to make this happen.” To me, this e-mail demonstrated a very serious ignorance of the real issues involved, and it also showed which way the government intended to go.
The government said the Master Plan needed to be “clarified”, because it wasn’t clear where horses were allowed in the park. The plan actually allowed horse use in a few very carefully selected areas and they were almost banned entirely, and would have been, except for some circumstances which Peggie might be willing to enlarge upon if she’s asked.
So with the Master Plan now “clarified” to allow a commercial horse operation in the Bedwell Valley, and a park use permit applied for, we now wait to see if it’ll be granted.
We, the Friends of Strathcona Park, are asking SPPAC to write a letter to the new parks minister expressing your opposition to granting a park use permit for a commercial horse operation in the Bedwell Valley.
There are many reasons why we think granting this park use permit will be detrimental to Strathcona Park, but I’ll just outline three main ones.
1) We believe that the original Master Plan was adequately clear on where horse use was allowed in the park, and it didn’t need to be “clarified” to allow horse use in the Bedwell Valley. If the Master Plan needed to be changed at all, it should have followed the clear intent of the original plan, which was obviously to restrict horse use in the park to the few areas specifically listed in the plan, which certainly didn’t include the Bedwell.
2) There is no benefit to the park or the public to grant a permit for a commercial horse trail in the Bedwell Valley. The Friends of Strathcona have shown that volunteers can easily and quickly build a low disturbance foot trail in the Bedwell, at no cost to the public. The Strathcona Master Plan stresses minimal human impact, and horses, by their weight and size alone, but for many other reasons as well, decidedly don’t fit into the minimal human impact category. Our minimal disturbance trail meets the recommendations of the Master Plan, and is much more scenic, practical, and easier to build and maintain, than the proposed highly intrusive impractical, and erosion-prone horse trail.
3) If the permit is granted, it won’t end there. The permit application is intentionally vague, and as low-key as it was possible to make it. Once they’ve got their foot in the door, they won’t stop, they’ll always want more. That’s just the nature of commercial operations, and we’d be naive to believe any differently. Once they’re in, other commercial ventures will demand to be allowed similar opportunities, and it’ll be very hard for the government to refuse, if they even want to.
As I said at the beginning, this is a very big question, and there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye. We’re in the process of building a park, and every precedent we set will have an influence on what sort of park we ultimately create. The Bedwell was a wild valley once, and it will be again if we can just leave it alone. The trees are coming back, and more of the old logging road is collapsing into the river every year. All we have to do is wait, and I, for one, believe that the valley deserves a chance to heal itself after the horrible drubbing we gave it in the sixties.
I don’t think it’s an accident that the CWR proposal conforms so well to government private/public ideologies, and the resort will certainly benefit if the permit is granted, but the Bedwell Valley can only lose.
This is not the time to hit a beautiful recovering valley with a very questionable commercial venture which will only hurt the park.
Thanks for listening.