FoSP Note: the following appeared in The Vancouver Sun, May 9, 2011….
Unless someone finds a mythical money tree in a B.C. park, the province’s cash-strapped parks system will have to make do with its current budget, says the province’s environment minister.
Terry Lake was on the defensive Monday after the release of hundreds of pages of internal emails that showed B.C.’s parks system is so underfunded it can’t afford to build outhouses, buy enough toilet paper for the public, fix facilities or run basic patrols and services.
“Our B.C. parks have some wonderful flora and fauna, but so far I haven’t found a money tree,” said Lake, whose ministry presides over more than 1,000 provincial parks and protected areas.
The province’s park system is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. While there are acknowledged cost pressures on parks, the government has had to focus on health care and education funding during a time of tight money, Lake said.
“When we come through this economic challenge that we’re facing, I certainly will be an advocate to put more money into parks,” he said.
“But at the same time we have to balance our budget, and we have to make sure health care and education are priorities.”
Park staff and rangers are painting a grim view of cutbacks and staff shortages, as seen in more than 300 pages of emails obtained by the Wilderness Committee environmental group under Freedom of Information legislation.
The emails, dated 2009 and 2010, show staff struggling with minimal service levels. For example, there wasn’t enough money or staff to dig new outhouse holes at Garibaldi Provincial Park when they overflowed or to even buy enough toilet paper. One ranger mentioned having to shower in an outhouse due to travel budget constraints. Staff were unable to clear trails, remove garbage or buy proper hinges and screws to repair bridges.
Rangers, who are responsible for patrolling parks for safety, are told not to drive unless necessary and to park their vehicles when they run out of gas because the government can’t afford towing fees. Travel and vehicle budgets were pooled to cover the cost of installing new parking fee meters, one email says.
Premier Christy Clark eliminated parking fees in provincial parks last week, removing an additional $1 million in revenue but promising the parks budget wouldn’t be cut further.
The Opposition NDP attacked Lake during question period for the government’s 60-per-cent cut to park rangers since 2001 and 25 per slashing of funding. The most recent provincial budget in February cut another $660,000. NDP leader Adrian Dix questioned why the government pays for television advertisements promoting parks during the NHL playoffs when there’s not enough money to run the parks.
“Parks underfunding is serious and getting to the point of being dangerous,” added NDP environment critic Rob Fleming.
The latest round of criticism comes less than a year after B.C.’s auditor-general released a scathing report that said the Environment Ministry was not meeting its goal of properly conserving the ecological integrity of B.C.’s park system.
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