This is the first of a planned series looking at the economic and social state of British Columbia in the 21st century.
For those of you who haven’t heard, yesterday the BC legislature passed the innocuous-sounding “Bill 4: Parks Improvement Act” without much attention outside of environmental circles. For most people in BC, the changes brought by this bill will remain unnoticed for many years. For those who make their living by harvesting natural resources, it’s a lifeline which may save careers which have been strangled by decades of unsustainable resource management policies.
For a great many citizens however, from the simple backcountry guide to those who view our many provincial parks and protected areas as one of the last frontiers of environmental protection on earth, “Bill 4″ is the final knife in the back after years of slow decline thanks to relentless budget cuts at BC Parks; cuts which have resulted in the cancellation of programs, closure of interpretive sites, and only 10 full time rangers to patrol all 32 million acres of protected areas in BC against illicit activities such as helicopter logging.
While Parks and Protected Areas in BC have never been 100% inviolate and were always subject to having their borders (or very existence, in the case of Hamber) changed to allow for resource extraction or other activities, the process was long and required a very strong economic and environmental case being made in order to go ahead. In the history of the province, only Tweedsmuir and Hamber have been significantly altered, the latter due to the murky circumstances of the Columbia River Treaty.
Bill 4 completely alters this process, allowing, in the words of CPAWS:
Changes to the Act will allow poorly-defined industrial “research” to be conducted within provincial parks, facilitating removal of park land to allow for industrial activity, including pipelines, logging roads and resource extraction.
Previously, a park use permit could not be issued unless the applicant could prove that the activity was “necessary for the preservation or maintenance of the recreational values of the park involved.” Bill 4 removes this safeguard, allowing the Minister to grant a permit if it is determined that the research relates to “an environmental assessment or a feasibility study,” or is “necessary to inform decision making around changing the boundaries.”
I highly encourage reading the full CPAWS article, which I’ve linked above, as well as this article in the Vancouver Sun which includes plans acquired under the Freedom of Information Act that highlight the multiple (30+) industrial projects currently pending which would require significant adjustments to park boundaries, or right-of-way through the parks themselves.
BC has always been a resource based economy, to claim otherwise would be facile: The wealth of old-growth timber built the coast of this province, from the temporary communities that author Howard White grew up in; to the massive mill towns of Powell River and Ocean Falls where most of my predecessors worked. The interior grew rich on the booms and busts of mining, from the thousands of independent silver and gold producers to the massive copper & zinc operations of Granby and Teck.
Throughout a century and a half of that resource extraction however, and in the face of some of the richest and most powerful corporate interests in our country, our government retained the foresight and backbone to not only preserve vast swathes of this province as wilderness through the Provincial Parks, but to constantly maintain and expand that protection through all successive governments and ideologies. Up to our current regime, that is.
Bill 4 is the first time a government has ever targeted the parks system as a whole, rather than attempting to reduce a single park such as Strathcona (unsuccessfully in 1987), or Tweedsmuir. The message is clear: the BC Liberals & Environment Minister Mary Polak view our parks not as a unique and irreplaceable wilderness preserve for future generations in perpetuity, but rather a banked asset which can be cashed in when they decide the time is right.
Unless we are willing to see unspoiled and pristine locations such as the Babine River, the Liard River, or the Nisga’a Lava Bed cut apart and criss-crossed by proposed LNG pipelines, we need to make a stand against this legislation.
The mission statement of BC parks, after all, was:
“BC Parks is committed to serving British Columbians and their visitors by:
Protecting and managing for future generations a wide variety of outstanding park lands which represent the best natural features and diverse wilderness environments of the province.
Providing province-wide opportunities for a diversity of high quality and safe outdoor recreation that is compatible with protecting the natural environment.”
The BCGEU is running a campaign to have Bill 4 overturned, please consider adding your voice against this legislation: http://www.bcgeu.ca/save_bc_parks