An interview with NDP Forests Minister Dave Zirnhelt, interviewed on Vancouver's CBC AM 690 today at 1245:PM local time, suggested Tsilhqot'in Nation members were involved in deliberately setting fires out of frustration with ongoing unresolved land claims negotiations.
Zirnhelt, himself a Cariboo ranch-owner, was deeply involved in the Gustafsen Lake matter in 1995, both as an MLA for the area and also as then NDP Minister of Agriculture. On today's broadcast Zirnhelt suggested that approximately 20 forest fires now burning were "suspicious". "We can't condone criminal activity", said the minister. He said that a "helicopter had been put at the disposal of the RCMP", and advised that there was a $20,000.00 reward for information leading to apprehension.
The Tsilhqot'in Nation has advised the Province that continuing harvesting and resource extraction on it's unceded territory is illegal. Chief Ervin Charleyboy of the Alexis Creek Band has stated that there is discontent among Tsilhqot'in, especially youth, over this unacceptable situation. Zirnhelt called for "responsible leaders" to condemn any arson.
The continuing unresolved situation regarding jurisdiction over lands and resources, coupled with agressive pro-business initiatives including inducements to the mining industry, and a continuing refusal to conduct a public inquiry into the Gustafsen Lake affair, suggest that another hot BC summer may be looming.