Mining land grab is a step backward

July 1, 2002

One of this province's great success stories is a decade of land-use planning. In most areas of the province, we have gone from a culture of confrontation and uncertainty to a community-based consensus on the best uses of BC's public lands.

Anyone who thinks about this seriously realizes our best chance to achieve the correct balance of social, economic and environmental goals is through a consensus-based planning process. The existence of land-use plans covering most areas of the province signals real and lasting progress. There are dissenters, of course. For much of the decade, the mining industry, unlike the forest or oil and gas industries, boycotted the land-use process. The recent entry of the mining industry into the debate on land-use issues is a welcome sign. Done properly, the engagement of the mining industry in a multistakeholder forum will help ensure that the appropriate issues are identified and canvassed in the decision-making process.

In BC, land-use planning occurs in an open, inclusive and consensus-oriented forum, such as a land-use planning table. The recent public relations campaign of the Mining Association of BC and the BC Chamber of Mines on their version of land-use, however, runs in a different direction, as does the industry's lobbying of government behind closed doors.

The mining industry has been outspoken in a number of forums about the pending government decision on the Lillooet land-use plan. The industry is quoted as saying the BC government must tear up plans to create a park in the South Chilcotin Mountains if it is serious about attracting mining investment to BC. This is a very unfortunate tack for the industry to take. Its implications are serious and negative far beyond the region.

For years the Lillooet land-use table, like many around the province, has been working on a plan that works: that protects the environment, accommodates the needs of communities, and maintains jobs in the local area. The perspective of the mining industry representatives misses this point. For them, the Lillooet LRMP is a test case to show how much clout the mining industry has with the new government. On the contrary, the government's decision on the Lillooet LRMP is an important test of its commitment to open and accountable decision-making and the application of science-based analysis in conjunction with environmental protection and adherence to widely accepted principles of sustainability. There is more to this issue than bullyboy politics.

The Vancouver Natural History Society first proposed the South Chilcotin area as a park in 1937. BC Parks has rated this proposed protected area as their first priority in the Lillooet LRMP and a very important protected area for the province. Spruce Lake is a focal point for recreation in the area and provides some of the best backcountry adventure potential in southern BC. Wilderness tourism in the South Chilcotin park area currently generates in the order of $10 million annually.

After years of work, the LRMP table came up with two options for a park:

  • The conservation, recreation, tourism and community option proposed a park of 71,000 hectares.
  • The industry-supported Lillooet communities' coalition proposed a smaller park at 42,000 hectares.

The mining industry arbitrarily proposes a 3,000-hectare limit on the South Chilcotin Park. This tiny arbitrary number ignores the scientific realities of the critical bear, deer and plant habitat needs identified in the area.

The industry argues that failure to meet their demand will be catastrophic. Yet, there is a distinct lack of evidence that the industry has a tangible economic interest in the Southern Chilcotin park area given the fact that the region has been well explored for over a century and nothing close to an economic mine has been discovered. The potential for a mine in this area that will bring significant economic and social benefits with minimal environmental impacts is, according the government's own studies, only a vague hope or dream.

The mining industry recently won many significant regulatory and taxation concessions from the government. Given these clear signals, it seems excessive and unnecessary to say government must tear up plans to create the South Chilcotin park as well. In the end this position will only serve to alienate the mining industry from other industry sectors, and the public, who support a cooperative, legitimate land-use planning process.

The mining industry asks for areas in which it can clearly go ahead and develop its business free from interference. Under a policy known as "free entry", the mining industry has access to well over 80% of the land base, including privately-owned land. Wilderness tourism and outdoor recreation are long term sustainable uses of the land and should have similar rights and protection. In the Lillooet region, like certain other areas of the province, these opportunities continue to translate into real economic, as well ecological value.

In this case, the provincial government should ignore the bullying and the false test that the mining industry has laid out for them. They should continue to pursue a balanced view of sustainability that takes into account all community, economic and environmental interests.

Alan Young is the corporate accountability director with the Environmental Mining Council of BC and a research associate with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
John McInnis is the executive director of the Environmental Mining Council of BC.