SWBC Recreation & Conservation Committee Report

The SWBC Recreation and Conservation Committee, FMCBC clubs and members have worked on a range of issues since the last report in Cloudburst. The following highlights some advocacy projects, which have absorbed members’ time over the past several months.

Outdoor Recreation in BC – Public Service Transformation

BC Parks and Recreation Sites and Trails (RSTBC) are the two provincial government agencies that manage recreation and trails on provincial crown land. Until 2022, the two agencies were under the jurisdiction of two separate ministers – Minister of the Environment & Climate Change Strategy (BC Parks) and Minister of Forests (RSTBC). While both agencies are now under the jurisdiction of the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Strategy, there are seven other ministries involved in some part of outdoor recreation. The need for a coordinated approach to management of outdoor recreation is long-standing.

The current public service model for managing outdoor recreation is outdated and ill-equipped to manage the growth and diverse range of outdoor recreation opportunities available. The outdoor recreation ecosystem is increasingly complex. There are over 200 distinct first nations with unique traditions, interests and history and a commitment by BC to Indigenous Reconciliation through Indigenous-led solutions, co-management and shared decision-making. There is climate change. There are commitments to sustainability and biodiversity. Technological changes, such as mobile apps for trail and navigation, social media and emergency communications systems, have changed how government and people share information. Recognizing that the provincial public service model is outdated, the provincial government has tasked John Hawkings to transform the provincial public service model. He has a two-year mandate, with the goal of completing the revisioning and implementation started before the 2024 October elections.

Three Ministries are directly engaged in the Transformation Process – Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy (Conservation and Recreation Division – BC Parks and RSTBC), Ministry of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport (Mountain Resorts Branch, and Ministry of Forests (Lands Branch, Integrated Resource Operations and Regional Operations). Seven other ministries are engaged indirectly through internal discussions to realign operations and policies to better serve the outdoor recreation sector, whether public or commercial.
Over the summer, the FMCBC and members from several clubs participated in the transformation process through in-person or virtual meetings, sharing perspectives on what a “new and improved” public service for outdoor recreation would look like.

It was encouraging to see many issues that the FMCBC has sought to address recognized by government in the transformation process:

• Increasing demand and overcrowding, particularly during peak seasons, straining infrastructures, fragile ecosystems, wildlife habitats and sensitive natural areas

• Maintenance of aging trails and infrastructure

• Site access (e.g., insufficient parking, maintenance of FSRs)

• Absence of coordinated approach, and

• Cumbersome provincial processes (e.g., permitting, authorizations, approval of trails)

Participants in the transformation process heard that there is a willingness by government to assess, plan, develop and manage the diverse range of recreation opportunities to better serve public interests; and, that there is momentum for an aligned and intention-based provincial vision for outdoor recreation to effectively guide agencies and First Nations managing, supporting or contributing to outdoor recreation for everybody in BC.

While cautiously optimistic about this revisioning and transformation process, the FMCBC will continue to engage as opportunities arise and monitor developments as they unfold. There will be implementation challenges with institutional and vested interests resistant to change. It will take leadership and time for new ideas to take hold and management priorities to change.

2024 Budget Consultations – BC Funding Commitments Benefiting Outdoor Recreation

In the 2023 Spring/Summer Cloudburst, we reported on the submissions made to the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Governance in June 2023 by the FMCBC, Caledonia Ramblers (Prince George), Outdoor Recreation Council of BC (ORCBC) and other allies. As in the past, our “asks” were aligned with those of our allies: long-term, stable funding for BC Parks (about $100M annual budget) and for RSTBC (about $20M annual budget).FMCBC also advocated for funding to repair and upgrade roads to access provincial parks, trails and recreation sites. A number of examples from across BC were included in the FMCBC submissions to demonstrate the province-wide need for greater funding for BC Parks, RSTBC and repairs to access roads.

The lack of funding for maintenance of backcountry access roads is a long-standing issue – see for example the article, Managing B.C.’s Resource Roads, by Virginia Rasch of the East Kootenay Outdoor Club, published in the 2015 Winter/Fall issue of Cloudburst; and, the 2015 Forest Practices Board’s report, Access Management and Resource Roads: 2015 Update. With neither RSTBC nor BC Parks having the mandate or resources to maintain access roads, access to many parks, recreations sites and popular trails has been lost due to washouts and failing infastructure (i.e., culverts and bridges) or is limited to those with 4WD, high clearance vehicles. This places pressure on those parks, recreation sites and trails which remain accessible.

On August 3, 2023, the Select Standing Committee released its Report on the Budget
2024 Consultation. With respect to Parks and Recreation, the Committee recommended investment in BC’s parks and recreation sites to improve maintenance and access to these areas (see pages 6-9, 31-42, 103-104). Their recommendations are:

56. Provide increased, long-term funding for BC Parks and Recreation Sites and Trails BC to support:
a. Long-term planning, development, and maintenance of trails, day-use sites, and campsites;
b. Partnerships with First Nations on recreation projects;
c. Improved accessibility of recreation facilities;
d. Maintenance of roads and infrastructure;
e. Climate change mitigation efforts; and
f. Timely approval of applications for trail and site developments and maintenance from volunteer-led recreation groups.

57. Increase revenue in the BC Parks system by implementing a one-time inflationary province-wide increase of $3-5 per night for provincial campsite fees.

58. Provide increased grants and funding to volunteer organizations that maintain provincial parks and trails.
With provincial elections scheduled for October 2024, it will be interesting to see if the Select Standing Committee’s recommendations for parks and recreations are reflected in the 2024 budget. While the budgetary demands relating to housing, affordability, health and climate change, it will be a challenge to secure greater funding for provincial parks and recreation. However, with the greater realization of the importance of outdoor recreation as a driver of physical and mental well-being, regional economic diversity and community growth, there is good likelihood for long-term stable funding for the maintenance, enhancement and development of outdoor recreation assets in BC.

Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation

In November 2019, the BC government passed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (the Declaration Act), establishing the UN Declaration as the foundation for the Province’s work to advance reconciliation and enshrining in law the human rights of Indigenous peoples in BC. Alongside the new legislation, the government released its Draft Principles that Guide the Province of British Columbia’s Relationship with Indigenous Peoples to guide the public service in implementing the UN Declaration. If truly committed to meaningful reconciliation, this commitment should be reflected in changes to policies, programs, and legislation to align them with the UN Declaration and adequate resources implement advance reconciliation.

BC Parks is a good example. BC has 1039 parks and protected areas, covering over 14% of the provincial land base. Many parks and protected areas however were established with little to no consultation or consideration for Indigenous Peoples’ historical occupation, use or connections to the land. This is reflected in the disclaimer, which appears under “Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples” on the webpage for each park:

BC Parks honours Indigenous Peoples’ connection to the land and respects the importance of their diverse teachings, traditions, and practices within these territories. This park webpage may not adequately represent the full history of this park and the connection of Indigenous Peoples to this land. We are working in partnership with Indigenous Peoples to update our websites so that they better reflect the history and cultures of these special places.

BC Parks’ reconciliation vision and action plan is outlined in BC Parks Reconciliation Action Plan 2021-2024. There is also a Parks and Protected Areas Indigenous (re)Naming Checklist [PDF] for Indigenous (re)naming of parks and protected areas.

The Action Plan highlights work being undertaken, as well as many actions BC Parks would like to start doing, subject to the availability of “capacity/resources”. Actions include development of management plans that will reflect the full history and connection of Indigenous Peoples and collaborative management with First Nations. Given the challenges some regional offices are experiencing with staff recruitment and high staff turn-over, it may be some time before each park has a management plan that reflects BC Parks’ reconciliation vision. A list of management plans currently in development or recently approved can be found under Management Plans on BC Parks’ website. All other approved management plans are not currently posted. BC Parks advises this is a temporary measure while they build out their new website. In the interim, digital copies of archived management plans can be requested from BC Parks via email (parkinfo@gov.bc.ca). Even with a “visitor use management action plan” in place, there can be bumps along the road to reconciliation when staffing and resources don’t allow timely response to concerns raised and implementation of aspects of the plan, as demonstrated by the closure and reopening of Joffre Lakes Park this summer (https://globalnews.ca/news/9962771/joffre-lakes-deal-first-nations/).

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *