(The following, reprinted in whole,
of a letter from the Outdoor Recreation Council of British Columbia dated March
22, 2002. Members of constituent organizations may want to communicate their
opinions to their local executives.)
OUTDOOR RECREATION ON CROWN LAND IN BC
Threats and Opportunities
document is intended to explain to members of the Outdoor Recreation Council the
threats that are currently facing recreation in BC, and the solution that the
Council is advocating on members’ behalf.
For nearly two decades, there have been
two key agencies involved in providing and managing outdoor recreation at the
provincial government level. These
are the Ministry of Forests and BC Parks. Very
soon, these agencies will be quitting or drastically reducing their activities
in outdoor recreation management. Specific
plans for each agency include:
Ministry of Forests:
- Announced February 26, 2002 that the core services review
determined that recreation sites and trails are no longer a priority, and
that they will be transferred to other agencies, cancelled, or completely
decommissioned. This process
has begun and will be finished by March 2004.
- Currently maintains 1,240 recreation sites and 650 trails.
- The core review also determined that maintaining forest roads
for public use is no longer part of the Ministry’s responsibility. Roads will be transferred to other
agencies, maintained on a user pay basis, deactivated to wilderness status,
- Currently maintains over 20,000 km of roads. Plans to decrease to about 2,000 km.
BC Parks (part of Ministry of Water,
Land and Air Protection)
- Announced closure of 45 parks, on the basis of low use. In these parks, cancelled services
include camping, day use, and pit toilets. There is likely a second list of about 50 areas to be
announced sometime later.
- Cancelled all interpretive services in all parks, including
nature houses and in-park programs. Now
one of two jurisdictions in North America with no interpretation in parks
(other one is Mississippi).
Implications for outdoor recreation
- Recreation sites or trails that have a risk associated with
them, such as a bridge, will be closed and deactivated. Pit toilets will be removed and
tables and fire rings will be dismantled.
Some sites will be reforested. Recreational
use will be prohibited, so that it will not be legal to use the area at all
- Prime sites across BC may be offered to commercial operators,
resulting in public access on a site-by-site fee basis. The less prime sites will be left
for the public, resulting in a system with little value left in it.
- Trails and roads will probably remain available for at least a
year, other than bridges being removed if they are considered too risky to
leave. As roads become impassable, access to outdoor
recreation opportunities decreases dramatically. Access to some provincial parks is dependent on forest
roads, and so some parks will become inaccessible.
- After a year or two, roads begin to slough in and drainage and
surfacing must be maintained or the roads begin to cause environmental
damage. Silt and gravel washes
into creeks, causing problems for fish and recreation.
- Recreation sites concentrate users, decreasing environmental
damage, decreasing fire risk, and keeping garbage confined. Without recreation sites, these
problems will all increase again, potentially resulting in parts of the back
country being closed to recreational access.
- Wildlife is attracted to garbage, and the result is often a
‘garbage bear’ that must be destroyed.
There are negative impacts on private land and on tourism and
recreation experiences from scattered garbage.
- Roads that are maintained by industry or commercial recreation
operators may be gated to exclude the public. The net result is continually decreasing public access
to the back country.
What can we do?
The following choices are some of the
courses of action (or inaction) considered by the Executive.
- Do Nothing. This involves wringing our hands,
waiting, and hoping that the government will come to its senses and decide
that outdoor recreation is an important value and reverse the decisions to
close or transfer the facilities. The
Executive decided that this is unlikely to be a successful strategy. By doing nothing, we can expect to
see all of the implications listed above.
- Protest the closures. While we have certainly expressed
our dissatisfaction with the direction of these decisions, we feel that it
is a waste of our resources to mount a large protest. We encourage others to express
outrage, but caution about expecting much positive government response.
- Search for alternative ways to manage the sites, trails, and
key access roads. This is the alternative on which the executive has
chosen to focus its energy. We are advocating a solution that would see a
separate entity / company take over management of the entire system of
recreation sites and trails, and key access roads. We would play a key role in the
formation of the company, but would continue to focus on advocacy for our
If we pursue option number 3, there are
several assumptions that have to be tested.
- Recreationists would rather pay a small annual fee to maintain
the recreation system than lose access to the back country. This fee would be for use of sites, trails, and roads.
- Government will help us in a couple of ways, namely:
- Agreeing to collect a fee and dedicate the entire amount to a
specific fund that is outside of general revenue.
- Not expect that volunteers and not-for-profit groups can
assume the same sort of liability that governments can.
- Provide some start up funding (what they will save by not
having to deactivate roads and recreation sites) as well as maps and data
to ensure that the transition is accomplished smoothly.
How can it be done?
We envision setting up a separate entity
whose exclusive purpose would be to provide and manage recreation sites, trails
and roads to the extent that funding will allow. Funds would be allocated to several categories (provincial
administration, insurance, and regional priorities), with regional committees
deciding on the specific spending in each region. For example, region A may decide to spend all of their money
on plowing roads in the winter to access good skiing and snowmobiling. Region B might decide to split their
allocation evenly between a new trail, some ditching and drainage repair, and
The entity would be responsible for
managing the government contract, establishing regional committees and
allocating the funds, and establishing maintenance standards and ensuring that
they are met. There would be a
standing contract with the Council to do strategic planning, ensuring a direct
link to our members.
We expect that many groups will take on
stewardship of sites and trails, much as they do now with the Forest Service,
and they might receive materials expenses.
The agreements for this stewardship would be with the provincial entity.
What aren’t we planning to do?
Although parks are being closed as well,
we are not planning to include parks in our management proposal at this time. The reasons are these:
- Managing recreation sites, trails and some roads is a large
task by itself. Expanding our
concept to parks is seen as taking on too much at once.
- BC Parks campgrounds and day use areas are more heavily used by
visitors than our members.
- BC Parks facilities are managed much more intensively and to
higher standards than recreationsites.
These are not places that clubs can manage with volunteers.