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.
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.