Sunday, January 6, 2013

BC Parks: A Land Warehouse

BC Parks protects 13.7 million hectares and a summary of BC protected areas can be found on the following site:

13.7 million hectares is just a number but what sort of size is it on the ground in the real world. If you took Denmark, Netherlands and Switzerland together the total area adds up to a bit less than the above figure.

The amount of area under protected designation in BC is impressive. The main objective in managing a protected area is to ensure that natural conditions and processes are able to proceed without human intervention or interference. Since some of BC's larger protected areas are remote and relatively inaccessible, they are managed mainly by omission or doing nothing. It is one of the few human endeavors where virtue can be achieved by doing nothing or as little as possible. Land is placed in the protected area warehouse and we sit and do nothing. This makes the perfect low budget solution for governments in a neoconservative age.

The remote location of many BC parks makes the above low budget management strategy successful. However, the management approach starts to come undone if there is people pressure on a park. Sometimes it does not take much people pressure to cause problems. The Kutzeymateen Park in a remote coastal drainage, north of Prince Rupert was protected as a grizzly bear sanctuary. A key feature of the life of grizzly bears in the drainage are the sedge grasses on the estuary. The sprouting sedge grasses have a high content of protein in the spring. The grizzly bears head for this needed source of food, so there is always a collection of grizzly bears available for viewing by visitors arriving in boats. Owing to the high profile of this grizzly bear sanctuary, BC Parks has put a park ranger on site to prevent visitors disrupting bears on the estuary.

BC Parks tries to give some parks near population centers a low profile. Parking and trail access may be limited with a view to reducing use. While this approach may be partly successful population pressure wins out, and the result is pioneering of un-designated trail access within the park. Random and uncontrolled visitation can have negative impacts on sensitive ecosystems.

The history of management of BC Parks has been marked by an emphasis on development of recreation facilities such as parking, camping grounds and washroom facilities. Some parks have ski developments. Little emphasis was placed on the location and engineering of hiking and nature trails.

While the low budget, low maintenance management strategy for BC Parks does provide a kind of default protection for remote protected areas, it comes undone if there is population pressure on a park. Accommodation of the public through the location and construction of well designed trail systems can reduce the impacts of random visitation. Also, interesting maintained trails through many BC Park landscapes could be a magnet for visitors and tourists. Increased government funding of BC Parks seems unlikely, but many forest dependent communities could improve the tourism potential of their local economies by local volunteer initiatives that would build and maintain hiking and nature trails in local BC Parks and the even greater area of wilderness that lies within mountain landscapes that also accommodate timber production.

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