Changes to B.C. park boundaries should go through independent review, CPAWS report says

Environmental group wants province to endorse creation of three national parks

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      Many of B.C.'s protected areas are effectively "paper parks", according to a new report by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.

      In Protecting Canada: Is It in Our Nature?, CPAWS attributes this state of affairs to a "severely underfunded" B.C. Parks.

      "There is only one park ranger for every 20 provincial parks, which means that each is responsible on average for 3000 km2 of parkland," the report states. "While BC’s protected area system has grown dramatically over the past four decades, its parks budget is the same as it was in 1970."

      CPAWS's annual report looks at Canada's progress towards its international commitment—under the Aichi targets linked to the Convention on Biological Diversity—to protect at least 17 percent of its land and freshwater by 2020. 

      The report asserts that "we are not living up to our potential".

      "Overall Canada is lagging well behind most other countries with only 10% of our landscape protected, versus the global average of over 15%," it says. "Worse still, the pace of progress is dismal and Canada has no nation-wide action plan to reach the targets."

      However, B.C. is "within reach of the target to protect at least 17% by 2020", according to CPAWS.

      In the province, 15.3 percent of the land base was protected in 2014, an increase of 0.9 percent from 2011.

      Ninety-six percent of protected areas in B.C. are overseen by the provincial government, with only four percent managed by the federal government.

      "BC’s rarest and most vulnerable ecosystem types remain underrepresented in its parks and protected areas system, with protection heavily skewed towards 'rocks and ice'. BC’s 1993 provincial Protected Areas Strategy cited the province’s historical patterns of settlement as the reason why representing all of its ecosystems in the protected areas system would be impossible. However, there are now significant opportunities to expand protection including in under-represented ecosystems such as the coastal old growth forests and interior grasslands, as well as to enhance connectivity between existing protected areas," the report states.

      CPAWS also maintains the provincial park system is threatened by 2014 amendments to the Park Act that "allow private companies to conduct industrial research in parks and then use the information acquired to support boundary adjustment proposals".

      "In the past year, boundary changes have been proposed for over two dozen provincial parks, to make way for industrial activity, such as natural gas pipeline projects, logging roads, the Kinder Morgan oil pipeline expansion, and access to private cottages. These changes undermine the fundamental principle that protected areas are to be designated in perpetuity," the report says.

      "Although the Minister of Environment may deny these proposals at an early stage if they are inconsistent with the values that a park was created to protect, many are being allowed to proceed. As a result, concerned citizens are required to take part in lengthy consultations, run by the company applying for the boundary change."

      The report recommends that the provincial government support the establishment of national parks in the South Okanagan-Similkameen region, Flathead Valley, and northern B.C.

      "A national park reserve in one third of the Flathead River Valley, located in the southeast corner of the province, would fill in the missing piece of the world’s first International Peace Park, and protect an area of great importance for biodiversity. It would also enhance ecological connectivity by protecting a critical link for animals moving both north-south and east-west through the Rocky Mountains," it says.

      CPAWS is also calling on the province to rescind the Park Act amendments to "remove harmful changes made last year and establish an independent review board to consider any proposed park boundary changes".

      According to a May news release from the Ministry of Environment, B.C. has 1,029 provincial parks, recreation areas, conservancies, ecological reserves, and protected areas covering over 14 million hectares.

      "B.C.'s protected areas have a high level of protection, and decisions to make boundary adjustments are not taken lightly. There is a rigorous process in place for reviewing boundary adjustments which includes consultations with First Nations, the public and stakeholders," Environment Minister Mary Polak wrote in a 2014 opinion piece.