Comment: Budget fails B.C.’s beleaguered parks system

B.C. Parks is in trouble. Despite recommendations made by the finance committee in the report on Budget 2016 consultations to increase funding for the agency, this year’s budget does not.

As described in numerous submissions to the committee, B.C. Parks is in desperate need of funds to ensure basic visitor services and adequate management. Its $31-million budget is expected to cover more than 14 million hectares, or 14 per cent of the province, which works out to about a toonie per hectare (about the size of two football fields). This figure remains unchanged since 2001, outstripped by inflation and despite an increase in the area protected.

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For comparison, Parks Canada provides 10 times that amount per hectare, and that’s after the Harper government introduced major budget cuts in 2012. Even then, Parks Canada is considered underfunded and suffers a $2.77-billion backlog in infrastructure repair.

Many of B.C.’s parks are starting to suffer from years of neglect, despite the heroic efforts of dedicated but under-resourced staff to stretch budgets creatively.

In the past few years, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society has seen a marked increase in the number of people voicing concerns regarding the state of B.C.’s parks, including poorly maintained campsites and ecological damage due to inadequate monitoring and poor trail maintenance. Core functions such as research and monitoring have had to be cut. With no fat left to trim, these cuts go straight to the bone.

Sadly, this is nothing new. In 2010, B.C.’s auditor general delivered a scathing report on the state of B.C.’s parks, but little has been done to address concerns raised.

B.C. Parks stewards some of the world’s most spectacular and diverse landscapes and seascapes. Almost 20 million people visit B.C.’s provincial parks each year, making them extremely important not only for conservation, but also for the province’s identity, health and economy.

A report by the Canadian Parks Council estimates that every dollar invested in B.C.’s parks and protected-areas system by the government generates $8.42 in visitor spending on food, entertainment, transportation and other goods and services. B.C.’s parks are a cornerstone of the province’s massive tourism industry.

While the creation of new protected areas, including those in the Great Bear Rainforest, is to be celebrated, without new funding this will only spread meagre resources even thinner. Without monitoring and enforcement, these are no more than “paper parks,” protected in theory but not in practice.

Parks that are under-resourced become neglected, and declining visitor experience leads to them being underutilized. This, in turn, makes it easier to alter their protection, a phenomenon that has increased since the Parks Act was changed in 2014 to make it easier to do industrial research in parks.

The 2016 budget fails to recognize the societal and economic value that parks deliver to B.C., and threatens the ecological integrity of these special places. It does a disservice to previous generations who decided to protect these areas from development, and to future generations who deserve to experience them in the same way.

Peter Wood is director of terrestrial conservation for the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society B.C.

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