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.
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