Recently, proposed amendments to the Park Act were introduced in the legislature to provide clarity for certain activities within B.C.'s provincial parks. Included in the proposed amendments is the issuing of permits for research and information gathering.
To be absolutely clear, these proposed amendments do not allow, promote or otherwise enable industrial projects in parks and protected areas. Recent suggestions that future mining or forestry or other industrial operations will be allowed in parks are simply not true. The Park Act prohibits industrial activity in parks and this will not change with Bill 4.
Currently, issuing research permits is not authorized under the Park Act. That is why we are proposing these amendments; to ensure studies that improve knowledge of potential park impacts can be undertaken in provincial parks.
Research and information gathering activities could include such things as soil sampling for archaeological assessments, collection of plant and animal specimens, or the installation of gauges and instruments to measure environmental conditions. Research can be purely for academic purposes, or as part of an environmental assessment.
Providing for research activities in provincial parks allows us to obtain more fulsome information. This is vital in making informed decisions, and will be especially important if requests for adjustments to park boundaries are eventually proposed.
Permits would only be considered after a thorough review of the protected area values, including management plans, impact assessments and conservation risk assessments. Research applicants would have to make every effort to avoid adverse impacts in protected areas.
In order for land to be removed from a park, a boundary adjustment must be made because new industrial activity will not be allowed in our parks. 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. The impact in the park or protected area, feasibility of alternative sites, and the environmental and socio-economic impact are all factors that are considered when determining whether or not to make a boundary adjustment.
As a result of this rigour, since 2004 only eight proponent-led requests for park boundary adjustments have been approved. Four other requests have been rejected, while others have been withdrawn by the proponent. Ultimately, boundary adjustments require legislative approval. The proposed amendments for research permits do not change the existing robust requirements.
While boundary adjustments have occurred in the past and will be considered in the future, it is important to note that just .006% of lands (562 hectares) have been removed from parks since 2004.
Since 2004, the system of Class A parks, conservancies, ecological reserves and protected areas has increased by more than 3.2 million hectares. This includes converting the designations of some existing areas totalling more than 500,000 to Class A parks and conservancies to provide an increased level of protection.
Should Bill 4 be passed, the province will update its research policy to provide context for decision makers when considering research activities, including ensuring the avoidance of adverse impacts to park values.
As with other policies, the Ministry of Environment welcomes feedback on this draft policy.
To review and comment on the draft permit policy, visit: www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/permits/consultation/research-policy.html
Strong economic growth and strong environmental stewardship can co-exist in British Columbia and we will strive to achieve the right balance.