British Columbia

$35 million for B.C. Parks not enough after years of cuts, says conservationist

The province says increased B.C. Parks funding to provide more rangers will strengthen conservation, but critics say the boost will have small effect after years of underfunding.

Joe Foy of the Wilderness Committee says the investment doesn't make up for 'years of neglect'

Tourists and locals who enjoy the outdoors could see a difference in upkeep of B.C. parks with a provincial investment of 35 million dollars. ((Chris Harris Photography))

The provincial government is investing $35 million to "strengthen conservation" in B.C. over the next three years.

Part of the funds will go towards 25 more full-time park rangers, adding to their current roster of seven full-time year-round rangers. It also includes a new B.C. Parks Foundation and programs to protect the environment.

For some, the funding is too little, too late. 

Last summer the B.C. Government and Service Employees Union (BCGEU) called out B.C. Parks for having just over a handful of full-time rangers responsible for patrolling 14 million hectares of protected areas in the province — an area larger than the size of Greece.

B.C. Parks defended itself, pointing out that 87 part-time rangers were brought in to manage peak tourism season in the summer. 

Joe Foy of the Wilderness Committee says the funding is a move in the right direction, but says it's still not enough.

"It doesn't get us to where we need to be to repair the damage after years of neglect," said Foy.

Foy compared it to "cutting off your nose to spite your face."

Campers at Gordon Bay Provincial Park on Vancouver Island. The province is also investing $22.9 million to build 1,900 new campsites in provincial parks and recreation sites. (Photo by: Iain Robert Reid Photography)

Cautiously optimistic

Foy says the deficit in funding over the years has had negative impact on the environment and also on local businesses that rely on visitors to the parks.

He says not having the funding to upkeep vast areas and deter poaching, logging and ATVing hampers tourism. 

"The [B.C.] Park's budget has been bumping along in the basement at about $30 million a year and we want that to double, as well as see the number in full-time park rangers increase to at least 50,"  Foy said.

BCGEU says it is cautiously optimistic.

"We will be keeping in contact with our front lines members to see what their experiences are as this initiative rolls out," said president Stephanie Smith. 

New programs

Mary Polak, Minister of Environment said the new investments will help to preserve and strengthen B.C.'s natural environment.

"We're so fortunate to have right in our own backyard. It's an investment not only for British Columbians, but indeed for the entire world," Polak said.

The funding will also include new programs, such as opening parks to universities and climate-related agencies to measure and monitor the impact of climate change on ecosystems and wildlife. 

On the heels of last year's battle to book a campsite, which left many without digs for the summer, the province is also investing $22.9 million to build 1,900 new campsites in provincial parks and recreation sites. 

According to the province, over the past five years it has invested approximately $60 million in park facilities, projects to attract young families, and offered recreation opportunities and increase attendance.