Wednesday, March 30, 2011

BC Parks 100th Birthday

The first day of March 2011, marked 100 years since the first Park or protected area was designated in British Columbia. We can celebrate this centennial through the growth of parks and protected areas to approximately 13% of the total area of BC. We have a large area protected in parks. In addition, we have an even larger area of wilderness or undisturbed natural area in landscapes designated for forest management. This wilderness comprises the alpine areas, poor forest as well as areas of virgin forest that are inaccessible for a variety of reasons.

Few countries in the world have such an endowment of parks and protected areas. Even Switzerland cannot match our spectrum of alpine scenery. Large protected natural areas that we can visit is a special freedom that we enjoy.

BC Government public relations tries to pump the idea of a centennial celebration of BC Parks. BC Government administrations approach towards BC Parks is rather ambiguous. Some have scored points by designating more Parks, but for the most part the attitude is not one of celebration but grudge. Parks cost money to maintain. Parks contain mineral and timber resources that could be turned into a quick dollar.

Government spending to maintain parks has been reduced. Government Park's staff have been downsized and maintenance is conducted by a few regional Park Facility Operators or private companies under contract. These arrangements mirror the management of our public forests. The Forest Service has been downsized and more management responsibilities have been handed to forest companies.

Contracting out the management of public land, both protected areas and managed forests tends to combine the worst sides of the public and private sector. When the Government land management agency is confined to an administrative role, staff have little chance to gain necessary practical experience. The result is an agency that becomes increasingly bureaucratic with restrictive regulations and requirements that do not provide the flexibility to manage local situations. The private corporate partners have little attachment to the land they service and just try to make the easiest short term dollar possible.

Present funding of Parks just provides for the maintenance of the facade. Entry roads signs and parking lots and facilities and possibly trails close to the parking lots are maintained. If you venture farther, there is little evidence of maintenance. Parks staff or contractor staff seldom inspect the trails. In our local Park, the contractor is required to remove windfalls from trails. The park has a "Friends" society and some regular users and volunteers that report windfalls and BC Parks instructs the contractor to remove them. Without this local reporting, the work would be left undone.

Better care of our parks and forest will require more spending. However we also need an attitude change in British Columbia. With the exception of First Nation's people most of us came from some where else. We treat the place like a colony and seek to use up resources. It is time that we decided that we are staying and see the need to look after the place. Local Parks and the wilderness areas within managed forest landscapes that will remain in natural condition could benefit from more local involvement. Many communities throughout BC could develop fantastic trail systems that traverse both areas. The trails will bring hikers and nature seekers from far afield and add to the local economy.