This article will attempt to explain the battle that the Friends of Strathcona Park (FOSP) are currently engaged in. In essence, it’s exactly the same battle we’ve been fighting since the Strathcona Blockade of 1988. Back then, we were working to protect Strathcona Park from the government, and it’s discouraging to us that, 22 years later, on the eve of the 100th birthday of Strathcona Park, we’re still fighting the same tired battle.
Unfortunately, even after years of education by the public, provincial governments still can’t seem to grasp what wilderness parks are for. They apparently still view parks the same way they view everything else, through money coloured glasses, so it’s not surprising that their clumsy attempts at “management” end up causing so much harm. For people who actually understand parks, and love them, and value them for reasons other than money, it’s extremely disheartening to see our precious parks being so badly mangled by the very agencies which were supposedly created to protect them.
The Friends of Strathcona have always believed that the guiding principle for Strathcona Park should be minimal human impact. The Strathcona Park Master Plan, which was created by the public after the 1988 blockade, also stressed this extremely important principle. Minimal Human Impact. We believe that if we followed this deceptively simple principle in every park decision, Strathcona could finally begin to enjoy some truly meaningful protection from the majority of our more destructive human tendencies.
Last year, the government “amended” the publicly created Strathcona Park Master Plan in a way which will make possible the granting of a park use permit to a private operator who wants to run a high impact commercial operation in a delicate area of Strathcona Park. This operation, (commercial horse trips for the very wealthy, up a coastal rain forest valley) is totally unsuitable for Strathcona Park, and will undoubtedly be harmful to the park in many ways, but apparently it fits well with the political ideologies of the current provincial government.
It has been very upsetting for us to watch the government callously push aside the Strathcona Park Master Plan to suit the whims of a private operator. In many ways, the Master Plan is the park, and the park is the Master Plan. If the Master Plan can be abused this way, so can the park. Strathcona Park, and the Strathcona Park Master Plan, should not be treated like government playthings. The park belongs to the public, not the government, and the Master Plan was a public creation, created to protect the park from exactly the type of harmful activities which this government seems determined to allow.
So our goal is the same as it has always been, which is simply to try to get some lasting protection for the park we love. The government has just butchered an important part of the Master Plan, in order to make it possible to grant a permit to a private operation. In order to protect the park, we must work to re-instate the Master Plan, and hopefully make it stronger. In order to do that, we need public support, and help from the media. In the present situation, if we wait until the government grants the park use permit to the private operator, our work will become very much harder. With the granting of a park use permit, the government will have locked itself into a legal agreement with the private operator (possibly for something like 30 years). If this government (or a future government) then wishes to break the agreement, they will be open to being sued by the commercial operator.
In our efforts to protect the park, FOSP is currently working on several fronts:
1) We, and other groups in BC, are meeting to discuss a strategy for creating better management and protection systems for our provincial parks. We believe that the current systems are outdated, and cause many more problems than they solve. We are tired of fighting the same battles over and over again, against systems which are not only detrimental to our parks, but are costly, inefficient, and impractical as well.
2) The government went against public opinion to “amend” the Strathcona Park Master Plan to make it conform to their own wishes. We believe there are some serious flaws in the process they used to accomplish this. We have asked the office of the BC ombudsman to investigate, and we expect a result soon.
3) We have started a program in Strathcona to re-establish trails which the government has allowed to fall into disrepair, claiming lack of funds. The government seems to think the ideal solution to this problem is to allow private operators into the park, to do work in return for commercial favours. We think that this idea was likely behind the recent government alterations to the Master Plan. We are fighting these alterations, because we believe that high impact commercial operations will harm the park. We believe that our volunteer trail work parties will help keep intrusive commercial operations out of Strathcona, and won’t require tax dollars to do it.
Historically, many of the best trails in Strathcona were constructed and maintained by volunteers, at no cost to the taxpayer. In more recent years, volunteer workers have found their way largely blocked by bureaucratic barriers and park regulations. We believe that by doing trail work with volunteers, we will not only re-establish trail systems which have been allowed to fall into ruin, but we can also show that pieces of the park don’t have to be sold off to commercial concerns in return for trail creation and maintenance.
We welcome anyone, young or old, who wishes to accompany us in these endeavours, which will help us to take back Strathcona Park, and the Strathcona Park Master Plan, from a government which appears to have little understanding or appreciation of what our wilderness parks are for. Our first project in our “Take Back the Park” campaign took place in June, when more than 50 volunteers re-established the Crest Mountain trail, which had been out of commission for about two years. Our next project, scheduled from August 14 -18, is more ambitious, and involves working on the Bedwell Valley Trail, which is accessible by boat (paid for by FOSP) from Tofino. This also happens to be the area involved with the government Master Plan changes, where the private operator hopes to establish his high impact commercial operation.
These work parties are, above all, intended to be fun. They are a chance for people to talk, and learn about Strathcona Park first hand, and to do the park a good turn at the same time. The Friends of Strathcona need your help. We simply cannot protect Strathcona by ourselves. If you care about parks in general, and Strathcona Park in particular, we urge you to get involved. The government isn’t doing it. These work parties are an enjoyable and useful way for us to show by our actions that we care strongly about our parks, and are willing to work to protect them.