Land users voice concerns to NDP

NDP agriculture critic Lana Popham heard concerns about forest harvesting in the South Cariboo

British Columbia NDP agriculture critic Lana Popham got an earful when she visited 100 Mile House recently to hear the concerns of area land users.

At a meeting set up by Cariboo-Chilcotin NDP candidate Charlie Wyse, more than a dozen ranchers, trappers, farmers, tourism operators and land-user group representatives shared their concerns about government policies affecting the people, wildlife and habitat in the community.

Wyse says the stakeholders expressed specific concerns about increased logging, including damage to their property from logging equipment, loss of trails, destruction of wildlife habitat, loss of water and the destructive affect on their livelihoods.

Free Rein Guest Ranch co-owner Debbie Atha notes that when she applied for her current tenure to allow operating her business on Crown land at Bridge Lake, she didn’t realize it “didn’t give her any rights” to say what else can happen on the land.

“What was notoriously happening was the logging companies and myself were looking at things through different lenses.”

When she asked for trails and green trees to be maintained, for example, she says the loggers had a different idea than Atha has of what that constitutes.

The horse-tour operator says she told Popham that clarification of the language used in some of the related policies, guidelines and land-use planning documents is needed.

“The other problem is under professional reliance. An industry self-policing is never, in my mind, a good thing.”

She wants a review of the documents and amendments where required to ensure the land users needs are met by the legislation, and is seeking Popham’s assistance to pursue that in Victoria.

With the help of B.C. Wilderness Tourism Association president Brian Gunn, Atha says, she managed to sit at the table with the licensees a couple of times “to implement some mitigating strategies to help my business survive.”

Those strategies haven’t been implemented yet, so her problems with the loss of horse trails and land aesthetics haven’t gone away, but Atha notes she has some hope of getting help to put in some new trails.

“My anger initially was clearly shooting the messenger. When the guys come and chop the trees down and you lose a valid trail, it’s those guys that you’re angry at. After five years dealing with this, I totally appreciate that getting angry at the logging companies is not useful because they’re not doing anything wrong.”

The forestry companies were working within government’s framework, and while Atha doesn’t expect them to foot the bill to reinstall some trails, she hopes they will anyway.

West Fraser Timber was “fantastic” to send out a forester for four days in January to help her identify and map some new trails for her planned tenure amendment, she says, and Tolko has helped her with related satellite mapping issues.

They’ve been “generous enough already” to help her out, she says, but with Gunn’s help she’s asking for compensation anyway.

“These are multimillion-dollar companies and I’m just a little guy who is trying to scratch a living. By no means am I suggesting they should be held accountable, but we asked just because I’m at a loss of what to do.”

She adds a large number of people have contacted her with similar views since her situation became public.

“People have had enough, and they want to say that we’re tired of fighting these battles alone. They’re coming together and realizing that we’re all facing similar issues – concerns about the environment, the watershed and wildlife and the rest of it.”

Atha says she thinks the politicians have got wind of that, and says Popham’s visit was likely a result.

“We’re not anti-logging…. We need to generate this open collaboration so everyone can compromise, [but] we feel we’ve been making all the compromises.”