Conservation group calls for multi-million dollar investment in B.C.'s parks
Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society says B.C. Parks needs additional $60 million for long-term success
A non-profit conservation group is calling on the province to invest an additional $60 million in upgrades, infrastructure, education and staffing to secure a sustainable future for B.C.'s parks.
B.C. Parks saw its budget reduced slightly from $41.7 million to $40.6 million this year. Bruce Passmore, executive director of the B.C. Chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, says this budget needs to be boosted drastically if the province expects to keep its wilderness areas pristine for years to come.
B.C. Parks has been "chronically underfunded" for a decade, he said.
"We're seeing more pressure on trails, more pressure on infrastructure and more pressure on the environment that B.C. Parks just can't keep up with," Passmore said.
"It's unprecedented to see this level of increase."
B.C. Parks manages one of the largest parks systems in North America, with more than 14 million hectares and 1,034 parks and protected areas.
Locals have flocked to parks, booking up campsites since the pandemic began and borders closed.
It's put added stress on staff, infrastructure and the environment, Passmore said, adding he recently saw 30 tents in an area meant for four tents at Golden Ears Provincial Park.
Signs of neglect include visitors reporting outhouses missing doors, eroding trails, and missing or worn signage on trails, which can lead to safety issues, he said.
The province acknowledges the parks have become more popular than ever.
In a statement, it said $4 million of this year's budget has been allocated for campsite expansion, in addition to $13.9 million allotted to improve existing facilities.
This year, the province says it is making $240,000 available for volunteer and community-led projects to support conservation and recreation through its Park Enhancement Fund.
In May, BC Parks also received an additional $8.1 million toward its operating costs.
'This is the time to do it'
Passmore says some new protocols, like the day pass system meant to ease congestion on some of the most popular trails, are a good start.
But he says a further $60 million investment in parks would improve the trail system, ensure the back country is monitored for safety and ecological integrity, build bridges and maintain trails to minimize further damage, and educate park users.
B.C.'s parks are an important part of the province's economy, he said.
Passmore believes more investment could create more job opportunities, increase tourism and Indigenous stewardship — and that the pandemic is a good time to think about the future.
"It has the potential to play a really important part in B.C.'s economic recovery," he said.
"This is the time to do it, when we don't have the international pressure. Whenever international tourism starts to come back again, if we don't solve this problem now, with the amount of visitation we're seeing just domestically, we're going to have a real problem when we open up internationally."
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