B.C. parks grossly underfunded: environmentalists
Funding cuts to B.C. parks over the past decade have left park rangers pleading for even basic supplies like toilet paper, says an environmental group that obtained hundreds of pages of internal government communications through a Freedom of Information request.
The Wilderness Committee said the documents show park staff pleading for the resources for basic patrols, to service pit toilets and even to buy toilet paper for park washrooms. They said even the funds to install an avalanche warning sign and for $100 worth of bolts to repair a bridge appear to have been hard to come by.
Gwen Barlee, policy director for the committee, said the internal communications reveal a shortage of rangers that meant a busy park in the popular Sea-to-Sky corridor was unpatrolled over a long weekend last year, and in some cases outhouses in several parks were closed because there was no money or staff to service them.
"These documents tell a story of cuts so deep in B.C.'s parks that basic tasks couldn't be carried out," Barlee said in a statement.
"The government took away dozens of park ranger vehicles which then resulted in large cuts to the remaining park ranger staff. Staff were talking about taking the Greyhound bus, buying dirt bikes and scooters to try to get around."
Minister disputes findings
Government critics say the Liberals have cut $10 million from the parks budget over the past 10 years, and the committee called on Premier Christy Clark to restore funding.
Clark announced earlier this month that $650,000 in funding would be restored but Barlee says it will take more to restore the parks system in the province.
"As we approach the May long weekend, I think British Columbians will be appalled to learn just how underfunded and neglected our province's parks are," she said.
Environment Minister Terry Lake said B.C. Parks, like many government ministries and services, has been squeezed by tighter budgets. But Lake said it hasn't gotten to the point where the government can't afford toilet paper in park outhouses. He said those are isolated incidents for a park system that receives an 80 per cent public approval rating.
"You are always going to have occasions when you don't perform as well as perhaps you would like to, but I think, on average, we get really good reviews," he said in Victoria. "Our B.C. parks have some wonderful flora and fauna, but I haven't found a money tree in any of our B.C. parks."
Lake said there are 700 B.C. Parks employees and during the summer months the government hires 97 seasonal park rangers.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of B.C.'s provincial parks system. According to the service's website, B.C. Parks manages 972 parks and protected areas in the province, totalling more than 13 million hectares.