Posted by: friendsofstrathcona | August 31, 2010

Environment ministry failing to preserve B.C. parks, auditor-general finds, by Larry Pynn, Vancouver Sun August 24, 2010

VANCOUVER — As BC Parks prepares to celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2011, a report by the auditor-general’s office Monday painted a damning portrait of a fast-expanding yet underfunded system unable to meet its stated commitment to protect ecological integrity.

Parks without management plans. Parks too small or disconnected to be viable, especially for wide-ranging species such as grizzly bears. And parks that do not equitably represent the breadth of biodiversity across the province, including bunchgrass and coastal Douglas fir ecosystems.

Despite its “declared intentions and clear vision to conserve the ecological integrity in B.C.’s parks and protected areas, the Ministry of Environment is not successfully meeting this goal,” the auditor-general’s report found.

“The opinion of regional staff we interviewed was that this lack of progress in addressing threats and undertaking conservation projects was due to the lack of resources and expertise.”

It would cost an estimated $355 million over 10 years to fully implement the auditor-general’s recommendations, Environment Minister Barry Penner said in response.

“That’s a significant amount of money, especially up against other competing demands. It’s a challenge with a limit on how much taxpayers are willing to spend.”

He added that the report does not sufficiently recognize that “B.C. has done more than any other province in Canada to protect habitat” — actions that contribute directly to ecological protection.

The report does note that “over the last ten years, the land administered by BC Parks has grown significantly — from 9.6 million hectares of land in 1999 (approximately 10% of the land base) to its current total of approximately 13 million hectares of land (approximately 14% of the land base).”

NDP environment critic Rob Fleming said in a news release that “given that between 2008 and 2010, the B.C. Liberals cut the budget for parks and protected areas by $6.95 million, or 18.4 per cent, it’s no wonder that our parks are deteriorating.”

Auditor-General John Doyle noted in the report that BC Parks will celebrate its 100th anniversary next year and that “taking action now to ensure ecological integrity for the next 100 years will ensure that ‘Beautiful BC’s’ parks and protected areas are available for future generations to enjoy.”

The report finds that program plans are incomplete and lack adequate performance measures, conservation policies are not being consistently upheld, and the parks and protected area system are not designed to ensure ecological integrity.

The report cites the establishment of Pinecone Burke Provincial Park in 1995 as an area to protect old-growth forests, nationally recognized wetlands, and habitat for important and vulnerable species such as the grizzly bear, tailed frog and great blue heron.

“Reported risks to this park’s ecological integrity include damage from recreational users and aggressive invasive species. However, no management plan is in place for this park.”

Among the report’s recommendations: the ministry should update its parks program plan to include clarification of “ecological integrity and performance targets”; should ensure that conservation program policies are “consistently upheld”; should review its master plans policy to clarify what type of management plan is required for each park and protected area; and should report periodically to the legislature and public on the issue.

On the latter point, Penner said he does that during debate on budget estimates.

Chloe O’Loughlin, executive director of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, B.C. chapter, applauded the findings of the auditor-general’s report, although she noted it only looked at Class A parks and ecological reserves, not marine parks or close to 150 conservancies created more recently on the B.C. central and north coast.

She added that the report more closely addresses policy and planning issues than on-the-ground management and the chronic underfunding of the provincial park system.

“They’ve been cutting the B.C. parks budget for many years. It’s at rock bottom, And the government is saying it is going to continue on.”

She urged the public to tell politicians about the importance of parks not just for ecological health but the well-being of people who visit them.

The report states that the “size of many parks and most ecological reserves is too small” to ensure the viability and likelihood of long-term survival of many species, especially large mammals that require large home ranges or that rely on several different habitats throughout their life cycle.

It states that “many Class A parks do not meet the minimum size suggested by science to maintain ecological integrity, and most ecological reserves are also too small to ensure their ecological viability.”

View the Conservation of Ecological Integrity in B.C. Parks and Protected Areas report at http://www.bcauditor.com.

lpynn@vancouversun.com
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

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Responses

  1. Vancouver Sun August 30, 2010

    I recently completed a history of the provincial park system and so feel it necessary to offer informed comment and perspective. The issues in the auditor-general’s report should come as no surprise, as they have been with us for decades. The report deals with funding shortcomings for planning/ inventory, plan implementation/ monitoring and competing expectations about the role of the parks, and the adequacy of the protected-areas system.

    My research shows that except for a blip in the early 1970s, no government has ever consistently funded parks. Long-term planning has always been feast or famine.

    Secondly, however laudable, premier Mike Harcourt’s aim, in 1992, to have protected-areas status meet the international target of 12 per cent, there has never been a political commitment to acknowledge the costs of meeting that obligation. It’s unfair to criticize park branch staff now for failure to prepare park management plans for more than 600 new parks and conservancies established in less than a decade. If we weren’t adequately funding the park system at five per cent, how would we manage one at 12 per cent?

    To be fair to the Liberals, they did provide significant supplementary funding to parks, but it wasn’t for planning, inventory or operations but, rather, for Kettle Valley Railway trestles and pine-beetle cleanup. Also, more than $200 million has gone to the laudable short-term objective of cost-shared land purchases, such as Burns Bog, Burgoyne, Skaha and Vahalla. But, of course, in the past year the base budget shrank.

    Thirdly, the report elevates public debate on the role of parks in the context of concern for biodiversity, species at risk and climate change. This perspective suggests that we should have a dozen or more clusters to establish buffers and migration corridors.

    The most critical recommendation is the one that recognizes the need for critical assessment of the gaps in the system. Whatever scarce dollars the minister can secure should be directed to that task. And, of course, the minister needs to find money to deliver a centennial program for 2011 to help celebrate our remarkable accomplishment of protecting 14 per cent of our province, even if we don’t yet have plans in place to maintain that commitment over time.

    James D. Anderson

    Former park planner, Victoria
    © Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

  2. Vancouver Sun August 30, 2010

    To paraphrase John Doyle, B.C. Parks’ official mandate is to plan, provide, protect, prevent and purify the habitat that allows rare and endangered species, including humans, to survive. These are the five Ps of B.C. Parks.

    The auditor-general also mentions how the environmental volunteers who work alongside paid environment ministry employees are burning out. Many of us volunteers helped our communities start their environmental rehabilitation and protection groups in the mid-1990s. We foresaw the long-term implications of “downsizing, then privatization” before we started being laid off from Environment Canada, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and the B.C. environment ministry, starting in 1995.

    We have collaborated with and advised our communities and remaining paid professional colleagues for 15 years. We have transmitted our research, knowledge and experience to students so they will be able to pick up, one day, where we leave off. No amount of mathematical modelling and mapping in order to adapt and mitigate our water needs within the context of climate change will replace adequate on-the-ground human feedback and the hard physical work required to adjust the virtual models.

    The good news is that Doyle estimates the annual cost of the five Ps is only $35.5 million. For a long-term plan protecting our parks and the health and safety of all species, including our own, that’s one heck of a bargain.

    Susan Rowntree

    Former hydrology and water-quality monitoring analyst, Victoria
    © Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

  3. Vancouver Sun August 30, 2010

    Re: Lack of funds threatens B.C.’s parks, report finds, Aug. 24

    Not only is B.C. Auditor General John Doyle correct in his conclusion that many of our parks are too small and isolated to maintain abundant populations of wildlife adequately, but they are also not fully protected against all damaging human impacts, either. B.C. continues to allow trophy hunters to shoot grizzly bears for sport in many of our best-known and prized protected areas, as well as in the globally renowned Great Bear Rainforest.

    Our parks should be a refuge for wildlife, not a shooting gallery. If the government wants to improve conditions in our parks, it can take a positive step by ending this destructive practice.

    Faisal Moola

    Director, Terrestrial Conservation and Science Program, David Suzuki Foundation, Vancouver
    © Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

  4. I find it concerning the way Penner spoke about the costs. That shows a narrow-minded approach in my opinion, and an inability to look at the bigger picture. We have to get rid of this liberal government because they won’t invest in conservation. Why did not Penner, rather than looking at the overall costs, simply look at the fact that the parks are not in the right places and are too small, and that at least there should be representation action in the CDF and Okanagan regions that are accessible, threatened and have the most amazing diversity of wildlife and rare species?

    What has been done is rock and ice has been protected, while the absolutely critical habitats, that are only small areas, that could be easily protected, in the CDF and Okanagan, have been neglected. If proper action was taken, the costs of maintenance and the value from parks would be decreased dramatically.

    355 million is nothing in terms of cost/benefit considering the government’s spending habits. Do something real, focused, productive and effective is my suggestion.

    Terry Lake is probably no better than Penner being part of this liberal clique that is selling off our province’s species diversity and most valuable lands.


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