Peter Wood: What good is a provincial park if it doesn’t protect the land?

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      Like many British Columbians, I find myself in disbelief that B.C.’s parks will now be open to industrial exploration. I’ve always assumed that our protected areas were...protected. Forever.

      With the passing of Bill 4, the B.C. government has sent a message that it only considers parks to be protected until somebody wants them to not be protected, at which point the government should be able to issue them a permit to explore the possibility of removing land from the park so that industrial activity can occur.

      In a generic response to the concerns expressed by over 10,000 citizens, including many letters generated by CPAWS B.C. members, the environment minister claimed that “the Park Act prohibits industrial operations in parks and this will not change”. The only reason the minister can get away with saying Bill 4 won’t allow industrial activity within parks is that the research that is enabled by Bill 4 supports decision making around the removal of existing park land. This is an incredibly cynical response to genuine concerns that were arrived at following extensive review and legal counsel.

      The minister’s response also attempts to allay fears by claiming that the “research” enabled by Bill 4 will be benign, limited to academic research such as soil sampling and collecting plant and animal specimens. If that was the case, there would be no uproar. What the letter fails to mention is that under the amended act, a permit can now be issued for the purposes of an environmental impact assessment, or if the research will be used to inform a decision to change the boundaries of the protected area.

      Why does the act now explicitly allow for “feasibility studies” related to the construction of roads, highways, pipelines, and transmission lines on land that is currently within parks? The government is clearly considering making boundary adjustments to accommodate these uses, and this is reflected in a ministry document that lists over 30 parks being considered for boundary changes. This document was not made public until a freedom of information request forced the government to do so in November 2013.

      The government claims that it is trying to achieve a balance between environmental protection and economic development. The question is then, if the government is unable to achieve that balance using the 85 percent of the province that is not protected, what confidence should we have that they will be able to achieve this by opening up the last 15 percent that has been set aside?

      In the same week that Bill 4 was ushered through, the province also announced the creation of a number of new protected areas. Normally, this gets CPAWS quite excited, as we work tirelessly to obtain protection of B.C.’s most incredible places. But this time, our excitement was tempered by the knowledge that now, at any time, a company can request a permit to conduct industrial research within the park that could eventually lead to protection being removed.

      We are heartened by the unprecedented response we have received from the public, after our call for letters to be sent to the minister. I was proud to personally deliver dozens of hand-written letters generated by our Take Back the Wild participants. We are fortunate to have an incredible base of parks lovers to draw upon.

      I believe that this is a winnable campaign, and I look forward to working with our members and allies in overturning this bill and pushing for legislation that will ensure the integrity of our parks forever.

      Let the B.C. government know that you love B.C.’s parks and want them kept intact. Write a letter to the minister of the environment asking the B.C. government to reverse Bill 4, which paves the way for industrial activity in protected areas.