Posted by: friendsofstrathcona | August 31, 2010

History holds clues to new ideas for paying for B.C. parks, By Craig McInnes, Vancouver Sun August 28, 2010

As the auditor-general has reported, B.C.’s parks and protected areas are in trouble.

They are a victim in part of the tremendous success over the past two decades in adding to the inventory of protected land in B.C. and the miserable failure of the province to match that expansion with the resources needed to oversee the new territory.

The environment and parks ministry budget is less today than it was in 1992, when the recently elected NDP government adopted the goal of protecting 12 per cent of the province.

That seemed like an immensely ambitious target at the time, but since then we have gone past it, with almost 14 per cent of B.C. now under some kind of protected status.

The auditor-general was looking somewhat narrowly at the province’s declared intention to preserve the “ecological integrity” of B.C.’s parks and protected areas. But whether the issue is providing facilities for park users or protecting wildlife, the limiting feature is the same.

Our magnificent, awe-inspiring natural environment is still primarily considered a cost by the government rather than a resource that should be exploited.

As a cost, parks can’t compete with other needs. Environment Minister Barry Penner, a former park ranger who still looks more comfortable in his hinterland gear than he does in a suit, says it would cost $355 million over 10 years to implement fully the auditor-general’s recommendations.

That’s only $35 million a year, about what the health care system devours in a day. But Penner has to compete, ranger’s cap in hand, for every dollar of his budget with the health pig that cannot be denied, with social services, with policing and education and every other equally worthwhile government initiative. Despite his clear enthusiasm for the job, he’s losing out as badly as any of his predecessors.

While comparisons over the years can be tricky because of accounting changes, the ministry of environment now gets about a third as much as it did in 1992 relative to the size of the provincial budget.

Unless our priorities change, and with an aging population that planners expect will increase the pressure on our health care system there doesn’t seem to be much hope of that, both the service level in our existing parks and our ability to protect natural values in all of the new territory will continue to suffer.

So the only hope in terms of finding significant new money for protecting and operating parks is start taking more seriously the notion that our relatively pristine wilderness should be considered an asset and not just a cost.

It’s worth remembering that some of our first national parks were saved for future generations, not just because of people like John Muir, who saw them as natural cathedrals worthy of preservation in their own right, but also by the efforts of visionary entrepreneurs, who saw in their attractions a way to make a buck.

It’s no accident that Canada’s first national parks were established along our railways. They saw the opportunity to develop resorts and create traffic. They invested in grand hotels and advertised across the country and abroad.

We have a broader view today of the intrinsic value of preserving wilderness and the extraordinarily range of habitat we are blessed with in British Columbia. Parks aren’t just for recreation and our spiritual nourishment, but necessary as our version of Noah’s ark, a refuge for natural diversity in a world increasingly dominated by the needs of one species.

But if we are going to maintain the natural cathedrals, we have to find a way to fill the collection plate. It’s no sin for us to exploit our natural assets if it allows us to protect and enhance them for future generations.

In the six years since the Liberal government passed legislation that would allow for some commercial development in parks, little has been done.

We may need to make a much wider call for proposals from entrepreneurs who are willing to invest in creating and promoting tourist attractions. This will be complicated by competing land claims, but first nations will have to be an integral part of any large developments.

And if environmentalists object to commercial development, let’s invite them to use their international contacts that have been so effective in the past. Let’s invite them to raise funds for the continuing care and maintenance of the territory that’s been preserved as a result of their earlier efforts.

We could sell naming rights to parks or facilities. Why not give people or corporations credit for adding to our ability to experience our natural wonders and preserving them for our children. Let’s set up webcams and create virtual tours with commercial sponsorship.

Dumb ideas? Maybe. But we need to start looking at alternatives. The old idea that taxpayers should step up again is losing ground and maybe it’s time to turn to the past for something new.
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun


  1. Re: History holds clues to new ideas for paying for B.C. Parks by Craig McInnes.

    In his column on Saturday, Craig ends with the question, “Dumb ideas?” I’d have to answer in the affirmative.

    In a study called Economic Benefits of B.C. Parks, it was found that for every dollar spent on parks, there was a $10 return to the economy. In other words investing in our park system is good business. There is no need for the commercialization of our parks in order to pay for them. The cost of rectifying the problems identified in the Auditor Generals Report last week comes out to $35 million per year. That would yield a benefit to the taxpayers of $350 million per year, or $3.5 billion in ten years.

    Commercializing parks reduces their appeal for most users. The best way to build infrastructure is to encourage volunteer groups. This used to be common, but in recent years is less so due to bureaucratic hurdles.

    Parks are a public trust, held by governments on behalf of the people to be preserved and protected in perpetuity for us and for future generations. They don’t have to be developed right away to be useful. They can wait, maybe for a long time. If we lose them now, there’re gone forever.

    John Milne
    Merville, B.C.
    Phone 250-337-8203

  2. Dear Editor

    The article by Craig McInnes, in the August 28 edition of the Vancouver Sun, sums up the provincial government’s attitude toward parks very well: turn our parks into commercial enterprises. They are already attempting this in Strathcona, BC’s oldest provincial park. They’ve made a drastic change, against overwhelming public opinion, to the Strathcona Park Master Plan, in order to allow the granting of a park use permit to a high impact commercial operation which will harm the park in return for dollars.

    One of the most important values of parks, for the people who use them, is that they aren’t commercial enterprises. They are one of the very few things which our society has set apart from the pursuit of money, and that is one of the main things which gives value to parks for the people who treasure them, love them, and use them. Even for many of the people who don’t or can’t use them, it is important and reassuring to know that there are at least a few places where our society’s thirst for cash is held in check.

    Historically, when money enters the picture, parks have always suffered, and Strathcona, the so-called “flagship of the provincial park system”, has suffered more than most. The Friends of Strathcona Park (FOSP), like many other groups in BC, are fighting this current threat to parks by attempting to get the government to allow volunteers to build and maintain trails for nothing. Mountaineering clubs, etc., have been successfully doing this for years, but in the last while, government red tape has made such efforts almost impossible, and many volunteer groups have just given up.

    As far as trail building and maintenance is concerned, when commercial outfits are involved, (as this government seems to wish) costs become huge, and the results are often unsatisfactory, with poorly chosen routes, expensive bridges which are washed away, and major erosion problems. Historically, volunteer groups have been able to create and maintain excellent trails in a fraction of the time, at absolutely no cost to the taxpayer. They’ve been able to do this because they have years of valuable knowledge of the park, which can’t ever be gained by sitting behind a desk.

    Park decisions are being made today by people who may never set foot in the parks they are controlling. This often results in huge, unnecessarily expensive projects, which suit neither the country nor park users. In an effort to protect Strathcona from this wasteful and destructive practise, the Friends of Strathcona Park have mounted a “Take Back the Park” campaign, which involves persuading the government to allow them to use volunteers to create and maintain sensible, practical, long lasting trails, at no cost to the taxpayer. FOSP isn’t the only group doing this, and our efforts have been very successful, with all involved enjoying the experience immensely, and creating tangible, worthwhile results for our parks as a bonus. It is not necessary to turn our parks into commercial enterprises.

    Help us Take Back Our Parks from a government that seems to have no understanding of what our parks are for.

    Karl Stevenson
    3825 Laurel Drive
    Royston, BC
    V0R 2V0

  3. August 31, 2010

    Letter to the editor / media release

    Re: History holds clues to new ideas for paying for B.C. parks by Craig McInnes, Vancouver Sun August 28, 2010

    Reading Mr. McInnes’ article supporting corporate initiatives in the BC Parks system was confusing, inconsistent and frustrating.

    Mr. McInnes quite rightly states that “the only hope in terms of finding significant new money for protecting and operating parks is start taking more seriously the notion that our relatively pristine wilderness should be considered an asset and not just a cost.”

    He seems unaware that the government itself has already recognized this in its 1998 study, ”Economic Benefits of BC Parks”. This study clearly indicates that the parks system already pays more than its way, returning ten dollars to the provincial economy for every dollar spent. No other British Columbia public function has been able to make the same claim.

    A ten-fold profit on investment is heady stuff. Our business-oriented government should be leaping over itself to restore government funding to the parks system in order to start earning back some much needed money. Instead, it is following the twisted logic of Mr. McInnes, who states, “ It’s no sin for us to exploit our natural assets if it allows us to protect and enhance them for future generations.”

    I would venture that most British Columbians would view exploitation and protection as direct opposites. Try replacing “natural assets” with “children” or “citizens” or “drinking water” to see how his logic sounds.

    Our parks are not economic banking units. When not “exploited”, they represent a direct unbroken line from endless time gone by, into a far distant future. Their primary function is to record the natural history of British Columbia’s magnificent ecosystems, as they were, for unborn generations to appreciate.

    To view our parks as anything less, and to exploit them, is to cut that long, unbroken line forever.

    Kel Kelly
    Friends of Strathcona Park
    Courtenay, B.C.

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