Parks advocate says energy for saving parks should be directed at advocating for bigger budgets not pipeline dangers
Recent petitions to save B.C. parks from legislation perceived as paving the way for pipelines through protected areas generated some of the hottest petitions online this spring, but the concerns are likely misdirected, according to an advocate and the civil servant overseeing parks.
The recent B.C. Parks Amendment Act (Bill 4) was widely criticized in traditional media and online forums as a means to open parks to industrial uses, a representative for Campaign for B.C. Parks, Ric Careless, and Lori Halls of the Ministry of Environment, told the B.C. Wildlife Federation during its annual general meeting Friday.
In response to the perceived threat, several online petitions surfaced including one by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society generating 165,000 signatures in a week from Facebook users.
“It was some of the best results the site hosting it has ever seen,” Careless said of the petition launched on Sum of Us.
Careless sees the bill as an unfortunate red herring, noting the response from the public clearly indicates pipelines in parks would be met with vehement protest.
“We did an analysis with my organization, BC Spaces for Nature, and we are of the belief all of the proposed pipelines could be built without the necessity of going through parks,” he said.
Hall is the civil servant in charge of parks and protected spaces and said the legislative changes were really an administrative clean-up meant to ensure the wording of the Parks Act reflects stop-gap measures those working on the ground have developed to deal with requests from the film industry, researchers and tourism operators who want to undertake activities technically considered off limits.
Smaller parks originally had special provisions expressly preventing commercial activity when managed under forestry, she explained. Now that activities, like logging, are off limits in these spaces, the language was redundant and made it impossible for park use permits to be issued legally.
Hall said any form of research, even that to count butterflies, is put through rigorous examination to ensure it advances the purpose of the protective space—like fostering and supporting biodiversity—and indicated those evaluating the applications would not throw open the doors to industry.
“We’re very aware of the values that we are there to protect and help thrive,” she said. “…You can’t log, you can’t mine, you can’t undertake industrial activities.”
Filming helps protect parks, and tourism permits, such as those given to kayak guiding operations, further the purpose of the recreation areas, she said, noting it’s important to ensure that productive uses are legally allowed.
From Careless’s perspective, the confusion which prompted the public outcry began when natural gas proponent Kinder Morgan proposed a boundary amendment which would drive a pipeline through the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary.
Characterizing the idea as incredibly stupid, he said the fact that it saw a prompt backlash—and the company rerouted its proposal immediately—is testament to the public’s tenacity when it comes to protecting the parks.
The boundary adjustment provision is not new and was never intended in this amendment, but quickly overshadowed the true purpose of the legislation when Kinder Morgan’s research into the project surfaced.
Boundary adjustments have been legal since 2000 and the provision was amended in 2004 and 2011, according to Hall. B.C. Parks have seen 44 successful adjustments since 2004.
“Those amendments haven’t industrialized the parks,” Hall said. “What they have done is they have allowed us to change the boundaries where there have been administrative errors.”
More advanced mapping tools have been employed to solve some minor issues in some adjustment cases and, in other cases, boundaries have been changed to adjust for the health and safety of surrounding communities, like drilling a well in a park to accommodate a community that doesn’t have water.
Careless called on the public to harness the energy demonstrated in the petitions and pour it into a critical need instead.
“We need $100 million minimum to really make these parks viable,” he said. “…The degradation of our parks is becoming apparent. Some small parks are being decommissioned, the camping season is being shrunk to three months or less and B.C. is now the only jurisdiction in North America where government does not support a parks interpretation program.”
From illegal poaching and logging, which cannot be stopped without more parks staff, to the under-funded trails system, parks simply need more money and more support, he said.
“Today’s $4.5 million budget is the same as it was in 1971 when I got started in parks…Canada’s national parks system, which serves the same number of people as B.C.’s, has a budget 14 times the size.”
The Campaign for Parks will be calling on all sectors to get involved as it moves to push government for a bigger piece of the budgetary pie.
“If government can find billions of dollars to fund a two-week winter Olympics or hundreds of millions of dollars for a new B.C. Place Stadium roof or reduce the taxes paid by mining investors, they can also solve the current parks crisis,” he said.