Peter Wood: B.C. must get road-building under control

Decade-old recommendations gather dust while B.C. wilderness is carved up by hundreds of thousands of kilometres of road. When is enough, enough?

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      Last week, the Forest Practices Board, B.C.’s independent forest watchdog, released a report that takes stock of the province’s road network, and the results are staggering. It estimates that B.C. has over 800,000 kilometres of road. This is greater than the distance to the moon and back, or 20 times around the Earth at the equator. Most (600,000 km) of this is attributed to logging and resource roads, and the report estimates that up to 25,000 km more are built every year. The report also finds that 34,000 km of road is built on extremely steep slopes, making it 10 times more likely that a landslide will occur. A quick Google satellite scan reveals the mess that this has created: our province has become a byzantine labyrinth of roads.

      I’m conflicted. As a backcountry enthusiast, I use resource roads to access some of my favourite places to go hiking, skiing, and camping. However, I know that roads are terrible for wildlife, like caribou and grizzly bear, now wiped out from much of their original habitat. The coast and southern interior have been particularly hard hit by roads built for forestry. This industry has had to go increasingly further afield each year to find timber, having depleted forests closer to the communities that depend on them. There is very little left that has not been roaded, so this obviously can’t go on forever. While roads support needed economic activity, we need to decide what we want left after these resource projects have wrapped up, as this activity will expand to however much we allow.

      Meanwhile, the northeast of B.C. is criss-crossed by roads for gas extraction, and there are 200,000 km of seismic lines, used to explore for gas, over and above the already extensive road network. Far-ranging animals such as caribou are in dire straits. We should be considering what these species need in order to survive before we commit to large LNG export agreements. Once export facilities and pipelines are built, we will be locked into a massive expansion in fracking wells and associated infrastructure.

      The report describes an overall chaotic situation, with very little control or coordination, leading to more industrial roads being built than are necessary. Roads are not being deactivated when they are supposed to be, allowing unwanted access and poaching. All of this leaves the rest of us on the hook for cleaning up industry’s mess, while wildlife pays the price for the habitat loss.

      Oil and gas roads have carved up B.C.'s northeast, putting species like caribou at risk.

      The report provides a sound rationale for why we need a clear plan, backed by legislation, that sets out how roads should be managed in this province, and areas that we want to maintain road-free. But this is nothing new: the board issued similar recommendations a decade ago, decrying the confusing patchwork of administrative responsibilities and legal requirements for road construction, use, maintenance, and deactivation. This week’s report concludes that very little progress on these issues has been made since then. Why not?

      It is time to set objectives for road management based on the values that we seek to maintain, such as wildlife, traditional use, and recreation. If we fail to do this, the default scenario is that roads will continue to expand with little thought for the long-term well-being of the province.


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      Eliza Murphy

      Apr 30, 2015 at 5:54pm

      Dear Peter,
      Thank you for calling attention to a global problem. Roads are the common denominator driving the sixth mass extinction crisis. People have staked enough claim in the land. We need to leave the remaining land without roads without roads. History has shown that once a road penetrates a place, homo sapiens are not far behind. We arrive with desires that are often in direct conflict with the area's wild inhabitants. Our presence leads to the loss of animal lives, deterioration of animal homelands. Wildlife is already undergoing considerable stress from climate change. Why amplify the hardships with more intrusions & damage that arrive with roads?
      Perhaps we ought to consider a rather radical approach & restrict recreation to areas already designated for human fun & adrenaline rushes. Like the current cry to leave what oil remains in the ground in the ground to at least slow climate change, we need to leave what little remains wild wild.
      It's time to institute a road building moratorium worldwide. In under a century vehicles & cars have caused more destruction than any other human contrivance. We continue to fight bloody wars over the fuel to keep vehicles moving. We fight wars over the scarcity of water & food resulting from climate change-induced drought.
      The world's inhabitants need fewer, not more roads. Especially in the places where wild animals need sufficient room to roam without barriers, human intrusion, and added risk that they'll die from being buried under roads that fail.
      In Solidarity,