Southwest BC Recreation and Conservation Committee Report

The SWBC Recreation and Conservation Committee and other FMCBC members have worked on a range of issues over the past several months. Here are highlights of some of the advocacy work on non-motorized recreation issues in southwest BC.

BC Parks’ Day-use Pass Pilot Program in Six Provincial Parks
On July 16, 2020, Minister Heyman reported that out of the $3.5 billion that the Province allocated for its Covid-19 response, his Ministry applied for and received $8.1M for expenses related to BC Parks:

“… to support additional park maintenance, including compliance patrols to enforce the closures; to prepare parks for a gradual reopening that started in mid-May, when restrictions began to be relaxed, and continue to this day; to purchase personal protective equipment, equipment and signage to manage park visitors; and to provide enhanced cleaning of high-touch surfaces when parks reopen. Much of this was supplied to park operators, and there was also some compensation for lost revenue, all of it wrapped up in the $8.1 million.” (41st Parliament, Fifth Session, Report of Proceedings (Hansard), Committee of Supply, Section C, Morning Meeting, p. 157)

The FMCBC was frustrated to learn that none of the $8.1 million would be invested to increase capacity at parks and on trails. Rather, BC Parks budgeted $800,000 for signage, infrastructure and 23 new staff to implement a day-use pass system that would restrict access in six provincial parks. With the one exception of Mount Robson Provincial Park, all parks were in close proximity to Metro Vancouver, which has almost 47% of BC’s population. With the surge in people recreating outdoors, the restricted access placed enormous pressures on municipal and regional parks and backcountry sites and trails that remained open.

Day Pass at BC's Sixth Largest Provincial Parks

BC Parks maintains that the day pass pilot program was implemented to manage overcrowding that in turn leads to environmental impacts, such as trail widening, soil erosion, altered hydrology, and damaged vegetation. In the FMCBC’s view, we find that poor trail design, a 20-year history of little to no maintenance, a failure to expand recreational opportunities, a lack of rangers, and non-existent or dated park management plans have led to the overcrowding and environmental impacts described by BC Parks. Some of the additional funds would have been better spent recruiting park ambassadors to direct visitors to lesser-known trails. With all efforts focused on developing and implementing the day-pass pilot program, BC Parks staff had little time to get much-needed trail work and infrastructure projects completed this year.

The FMCBC’s preliminary evaluation of the BC Parks’ day-use pass program is reflected in the August 2, 2020 post on our website: A Review of the Day-use Pass system from the FMCBC.

Land Resource Management Plan – Sea-to-Sky Corridor
In early July 2020, the FMCBC received notice that the Province legally implemented the non-commercial (public) winter recreation zoning established in the 2008 Sea-to-Sky Land and Resource Management Plan (LRMP). The FMCBC welcomed the news, because these public non-motorized winter recreation zones are now legitimate, enforceable land use designations!

The public winter recreation zoning is based on recommendations made by the Winter Backcountry Recreation Forum, a multi-stakeholder group that met between 2002 and 2004 to address conflicts between public and commercial recreation and motorized and non-motorized users.

The non-motorized representatives included Michael Feller (BCMC), Mary Henderson (ACC-Vancouver), Lesley Bohm (North Shore Hikers), Mark Grist and Sandra Nichol (VOC), Pat Harrison (Valley Outdoor Association and Hike BC) and Monika Bittel (FMCBC). Despite resistance to non-motorized zones (versus shared use) and government/industry viewing heli-skiing as non-motorized, the representatives succeeded in having areas designated for non-motorized winter recreation.

See the map to find the Sea-to-Sky Land Resource Management Plan’s Non-Motorized Public Winter Recreation Zones. The map shows two public recreation zones where snowmobiling is prohibited:

(1) RA1: No motorized use allowed
Blanca Lakes core, Callaghan, Lower Soo, Mount Currie, Gravell Creek, South Sims, Upper Elaho, Sky Pilot*, Mamquam East, Mamquam Lake South, South Ashlu*, Cloudburst,
Westside Squamish River
*Commercial zoning for these areas is RA1-A, which allows for existing commercial use but prohibits expansion of tenures or new motorized tenures.

(2) RA1-A: non-motorized recreation with air access
West Ashlu, North Ashlu, North
Hibachi Ridge, Lizzie Creek, Miller Creek, North Sims, Birkenhead, South Creek, Upper Sockeye Creek, Phelix Creek West, Salal Creek, North Creek, Joffre Creek, Elaho alpine headwaters and Echo Lake

Unauthorized occupation of Crown land in these areas, for uses that are incompatible with the established zoning from December 1 to May 31 annually, is an offence under Section 59 of the Land Act and is subject to a fine of up to $1,000. Ministry staff are currently working to clarify specific directions for certain zones, develop signage for specific winter trailheads, and increase awareness by including the zones on popular mapping applications, such as Trailforks.

Garibaldi Provincial Park –
Winter access and parking at Rubble Creek

In our last Spring edition of Cloudburst, we reported the lack of winter access to the Rubble Creek trailhead in Garibaldi Provincial Park; “no parking / tow away” signs were installed in February 2020 and the access road and parking lot were not being plowed. We were seeking solutions to increase winter access.

Access at Rubble Creek trailhead
BC Parks installs “no parking”and “tow away zone” signage on the access road to the Rubble Creek trailhead in February 2020. Since then, after numerous efforts to increase winter access, the road and parking lot will be plowed for this winter (Photo: Monika Bittel).

Although any loss of a non-motorized, backcountry recreation opportunity in the Sea-to-Sky corridor compounds over-capacity issues in other backcountry areas, the loss of this access was particularly significant:

(1) it left only two winter access points for Garibaldi Provincial Park, namely, Diamond Head and Singing Pass, both of which are at capacity

(2) it was virtually impossible to access Garibaldi Lake and surrounding terrain, including VOC’s Burton Hut and the popular Garibaldi Neve
Traverse

(3) Garibaldi Provincial Park is the one predictable place where the public will not encounter snowmobiles or
helicopters (excluding the Spearhead)

(4) the trail to Garibaldi Lake has lower levels of avalanche hazards than most other trails in the region. Closure of this access point may push people into areas where hazards are greater.

With winter approaching, on November 18, 2020, the FMCBC submitted a letter to BC Parks asking that the Rubble Creek access road and parking for the Garibaldi Lake trail be plowed. The letter was featured in The Squamish Reporter, Pique Newsmagazine and The Squamish Chief. The FMCBC initially scheduled a meeting with BC Parks, but the October election delayed the planned meeting to discuss solutions.

On December 1, 2020, the FMCBC, along with representatives from the ACC (Vancouver and Whistler sections), UBC Varsity Outdoor Club VOC, Friends of Garibaldi Park, and BC Mountaineering Club met with BC Parks to discuss winter access to the Garibaldi Lake trailhead. At the meeting, BC Parks confirmed that the only viable access solution is to plow the road and parking lot for this winter season, because the Garibaldi Civil Defense Zone precludes parking along the lower section of the road.

However, their request for funds to plow the road had been declined by the Executive. BC Parks staff confirmed their request pre-dated the election and the Premier’s new mandate letters to his new Ministers. With no funds available, BC Parks was willing to enter a partnership agreement with a community organization, such as one of the FMCBC clubs, which would be responsible for fundraising the required money, establishing levels of service, and subcontracting the plowing.

After the meeting, the representatives met to plan next steps, which included getting backcountry recreationists to write letters to MLAs, working through the logistics and feasibility of a partnership agreement, and drafting a new letter asking the Minister to reconsider the request in light of the new mandate letter.

On December 3, 2020, all efforts came to a halt when the FMCBC and partnering groups received the happy news from David Whiteside, BC Parks Squamish Area Supervisor, that BC Parks found one-time funding to plow the access to Rubble Creek for this winter season. Joffre Lakes Park and Brandywine Park however would remain closed.

The FMCBC believes the media’s coverage of this issue, the letters to MLAs, and the new mandate letter played a role in the final outcome. Restoring winter access to Garibaldi Lake and surrounding terrain was a relatively easy way for the Minister to demonstrate his commitment towards fulfilling the new mandate, given that the quote for plowing services was in the range of $12,000 to $18,000 per year.

Funding for BC Parks and Recreation Sites and Trails BC

In June 2020, the FMCBC submitted budget recommendations to the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services for BC Parks and Recreation Sites and Trails BC (RSTBC):

• To increase in BC Parks’ by $60M to an annual budget of $100M, allowing BC Parks to fulfill its mandate and to hire more senior rangers and planning technicians to proactively respond to the heightened demand for recreation opportunities in parks.

• To uplift RSTBC’s operational funding by $4M over the next three years, allowing RSTBC to increase its staff by 33% and operating budget by 30-40%.

Thanks to all members who contributed to FMCBC’s budget submission, including Rupert Merer (ACC-Whistler) who submitted an analysis report that highlighted BC Parks’ focus on “frontcountry” activities, including campsites, to the detriment of backcountry trails and infrastructure.

In August 2020, the BC Government’s Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services released its two-volume report. As in previous years, the Committee acknowledged the need for increased funding to help BC Parks and RSTBC address a backlog of maintenance, limited staff resources, and new emerging pressures, such as increased usage during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Committee recommended increasing operational funding for BC Parks and RSTBC to support staffing, monitoring and enforcement, maintenance, land management planning, oversight of public health and safety, and recreational infrastructure and services, including promoting and supporting volunteer efforts.

Fund BC Parks

More public backcountry recreation opportunities are needed, given the upward surge in trail usage and outdoor activities this past summer. Residents would benefit from the creation of new trails and campgrounds and improvement of older, established trail networks, infrastructure, and campgrounds.

In the October-snap election, the FMCBC followed parties and saw all candidates make some short or vague statements about BC Parks in their platforms, although no costing or minimal additional funding were mentioned.

It is therefore encouraging to see Premier Horgan’s mandate letter to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy recognize the heightened importance of outdoor recreation in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and assign a Parliamentary Secretary for Environment, Kelly Greene, to assist Minister George Heyman with the task of guiding work to create new campgrounds, trails, and protected areas; propose new funding to improve infrastructure; and ensure provincial parks remain affordable for British Columbians in the Minister’s new mandate letter.

Hopefully, the new mandate marks a reset for BC Parks.

Unfortunately, RSTBC and backcountry recreation opportunities on Crown land outside of provincial parks received no specific mention of the Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development in the Premier’s mandate letter.

The only potential positive aspect is that the Ministry for Lands and Natural Resource Operations has been carved out of the unwieldly FLNRO, although the new ministry’s responsibilities and tasks remain unclear. With a more manageable FLNRO, perhaps RSTBC has a better chance to gain much needed funding and attention.

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