Alberni-Pacific Rim MLA Scott Fraser speaks to a crowd near Loon Lake last February during a rally to protest a lack of provincial legislation for the forest lands surrounding the Alberni Valley. Elena Rardon photo

Solutions discussed for backcountry access issues in Alberni

The public will have the chance to discuss solutions at a future meeting

Groups who may not see eye-to-eye on the issue of backcountry access in the Alberni Valley worked together to come up with solutions to alleviate conflict.

Scott Fraser, Alberni-Pacific Rim MLA, hosted a private meeting today (Feb. 23) in Port Alberni bringing together forestry companies, local government representatives, mayors from around the Island, MLAs and community representatives. A public meeting planned for 5 p.m. was cancelled due to weather concerns and will be rescheduled for the near future.

Fraser said people are really feeling the pinch of being restricted to certain backcountry areas, something he described as the number one issue he’s heard over the past year or so.

“All over the Island people are really worried as what’s seen as increasing loss of access to the backcountry,” Fraser said. “It’s an issue that spans the entire Island. We decided, let’s find a solution.”

Last year, Fraser held a rally near Loon Lake to send a message to the provincial government that there isn’t enough legislation for the Valley’s forest lands, which allows private organizations like Island Timberlands to close roads to the public.

During the private meeting, forest companies said access may be restricted because of vandalism, garbage dumping, wildfire concerns and guest safety concerns in areas of active logging.

“So there’s legitimate concerns from the companies and on their rationale for restricting access and legitimate concerns from the public losing that access,” Fraser said.

Fraser wanted to get all groups involved to discuss solutions to access issues.

“We decided let’s find a solution. Let’s bring together all of the groups that may not see eye to eye and have a frank discussion about what are the realities that each group may not understand then try to find solutions together to meet those challenges,” he said.

Solution ideas involved only having gates where the active issues are (logging, wildfire concerns), having people on site to deter users from vandalizing or having technology play a role.

“There are higher technology ways of dealing with gates,” Fraser said. “You can have access but you have to identify yourself at the gate so companies will have some security that you’re not going to be a problem in there.”

After a public meeting is held, where people will have another chance to work together to discuss solutions to the issue, Fraser will present Doug Donaldson, minister of forests, lands, natural resource operations and rural development, with the proposed solutions.

Sue Handel, Private Forest Landowners Association (PFLA) interim executive director, said the company looks forward to considering new approaches to public access that result from the Port Alberni meeting. She added the meeting was very constructive.

karly.blats@vancouverislandfreedaily.com

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