Strathcona's size still riles activists
Supporters of B.C.'s oldest park, some of whom suffered arrest to save the land from mining, are expressing outrage that Strathcona Park ahs permanently shrunk by 8,000 hectares. "I still find it hard to understand why we have to accept an 8,000 hectare reduction," said carol Latter, a member of Friends of Strathcona Park. "Is this what we got arrested for?" Latter asked members of the Strathcona Park steering committee at a public meeting held at Victoria's Ramada Inn.
Strathcona Park has long been the subject of controversy. In 1987, the situation boiled over when the provincial government removed about 21,000 hectares of the park and opened up more land to forestry and mining. About 60 outraged park supporters, including Latter, were arrested when they deliberately blocked roads into the park to keep out mining-exploration crews. Months later, a government-appointed committee, headed by Dr. Peter Larkin, concluded the government had allowed the park to become "a mess."
Then parks minister Terry Huberts ordered a stop to all new mineral exploration and struck the steering committee to hammer out a master plan for the park's future. But at the Tuesday meeting, steering committee member Jim Rutter told the 60 people he doesn't believe the present Socred government is willing to return all the land it sold off in 1987. "I don't believe the political will exists to go back to the 1986 boundaries," said Rutter.
The committee is recommending the park's boundaries be expanded by 13,000 hectares. But the proposal would still see the 78-year-old park 8,000 hectares smaller than it was in 1986. The committee is also recommending in a number of additions to the park be made in the future. But before the additions are made, Rutter said, the most important short-term goal is to get the entire legislature to agree to permanent boundaries. Until then, any government can wipe the park off the face of the map with a cabinet decision - since it was a cabinet decision that originally created the park. "We have a park that is unprotected. It needs statute protection," said Rutter. "The committee recommendation is 13,000 hectares bigger than it currently is. To me that is a good point to work from," he said.
But that wasn't good enough for many of the people attending the meeting. "I would like to make a strong, strong protest that we have gone backwards," said Warrick Whitehead, Cowichan spokesman for the Sierra Club. "Do we have to go through civil disobedience year after year to get want we want?"
Masselink, deputy minister of parks and chairman of the steering committee,
said a victory had been won when the government accepted, at least in
principle, some of the findings of Larkin's report. "And one of those
principles was that in a park, you don't mine and you don't log,"
said Masselink. "Believe it or not, that was a major step forward
from where we were. This park has seen a lot of abuse over its 78 years
but I think we're starting to turn it around."