THE DISMANTLING OF BC'S OUTDOOR RECREATIONAL INFRASTRUCTURE
Apr 3, 2002
By Pat Harrison, Executive Director
Federation of Mountain Clubs of BC
I have sat through many frustrating meetings as a member of the Federation of Mountain Clubs of BC, but few as frustrating as the one at Richmond Inn on Thursday, 28 March 2002. The meeting was organized by the MOF (Ministry of Forests) and LWBC (Land and Water BC, formally BCAL [BC Assets and Land Corporation]). I am not frustrated at the messengers, but at the message they carried: The government is going to dismantle the Outdoor Recreation Infrastructure of BC and sell it off to the highest bidder. As Ed Mankelow, member of the BC Wildlife Federation Conservation Committee mentioned "It's all about money". The only mandate of MOF after the 'Core Review Process" (which did not involve the public) is production of fibre.
I am outraged that this government believes that public crown land is a private reserve for the wealthy. Let's remember, this is our land, and we should be stating (dictating) what the core functions on our land are. No longer is Outdoor Recreation considered a core function of MOF. The entire Outdoor Recreation operation for the province costs the taxpayers between 5-7 million dollars per year including salaries; one of the lowest in Canada.
So here are the specifics:
Here are options for the 45,000 kilometres of FSRs:
MOF has a reduced budget of $188 million per year ($538 down to $350 million).
This translates into a loss of 1,433 MOF employees (4,061 down to 2,628).
Forest Service Roads (FSRs) are no longer considered a core function.
It costs 10-20 million to maintain the 45,000 kilometres of FSRs.
Questions arising from participants at the meeting were:
35,000 km to be maintained by industry. These are classified as Industrial Roads (reminiscent of the 1960's).
1,300 km to be maintained by MOF as Community Roads (if a First Nation's Reserve, post office, or school are serviced).
The remainder will be left to decay. MOF will check annually (with what employees?) the remaining 8,000 km of road to see if they are safe. These will be classified as Wilderness Use Roads (do wildernesses have roads in them?). MOF will not brush or grade these roads, but will determine if they are needed for environmental protection (forest fires fighting). MOF now expects these roads to be used primarily by people owning 4X4 s. That's 8,000 km of road not available to people who can not afford these types of vehicles or choose not to own these types of vehicles. If MOF determines that it is cheaper to pull a culvert than replace it on WURs, then the WURs will be deactivated.
- As government is currently in the process of making government not liable on crown land, who is liable if someone is injured on Crown Land because of poor road conditions?
What staff are left to check WURs each year?
- Who will be doing enforcement of any kind?
- Who will be reporting environmental degradation? MWLP? Probably not as they have so few biologists left.
MOF did state that if a user pay mechanism were put into place, they would be willing to buy back services and maintain liability. Huh? MOF also stated that all recreation sites and trails will be transferred to private organizations utilizing the services of LWBC (Land and Water BC). In other words, privatization of our public lands to the highest bidder. One must remember that LWBC is mandated to increase its revenue through sales and leases by 75% this year! While MOF states none of the roads will be private, nor access denied, nor roads gated, the highest bidder will get control and can charge a fee for access. Now there is a plan for complete inequity from region to region, valley to valley, trail to trail. This process will ensure total fragmentation of our Outdoor Recreation Infrastructure.
So, when is this going to take place? Now! Here are the timelines:
- March 2002: analysis of potential for land transfer.
- April 2002: LWBC to help implement transfer.
May 2002: Public notification (absolutely no public input).
- June 2002: expression of interest in taking on road, trail, and recreational sites.
- March 2004: All recreational roads, sites, and trails to be transferred.
All for the savings of 5-7 million dollars per year for recreational sites and trails! After forty years of hard work by many, many organizations to have access to our lands, all of hard work is to go down the toilet in the next few months. I believe this government must have looked at the New Zealand model of privatization: "Do it hard and do it fast before Jo and Joanna Q. Public has a clue what's going on." By the time Mr. and Ms. Public go to their favourite recreational site, trail, or road, it will be too late. Their favourite site will have either been privatized or closed (if not vendor is found).
Another problem that arose was that of risk of assessment. All roads, sites, and trails will have a risk assessment completed by June 2002. If bridges or other structures are deemed unsafe, then the trails will be declassified as trails. That means that any type of activity can now occur on a trail that was previously classified as non-motorized or wilderness. All risk assessment will be done in house with no public input. How many trails do you know in the backcountry that are free of snow before June 2002? How will the government have a clue what shape the trails or their structures are in? By June 2002, removal of MOF signs will commence. At this moment of writing, MOF officials were unable to give us the criteria for risk assessment.
For organizations having agreements with MOF, those agreements are null and void as of 1 April 2002. BC Hydro, BC Federation of Snowmobiles, the Four Wheel Drive Association of BC, and the Federation of Mountain Clubs of BC no longer have any agreements with MOF. When asked by Gerry Bolduc of the Four Wheel Drive Association of BC and Pat Harrison of the Federation of Mountain Clubs of BC how volunteer work would fit into the transfer, they did not have an answer. They seemed unaware of all the volunteer work worth millions of dollars even existing. Is the government willing to give up this valuable service to the public by privatizing the backcountry?
MOF will continue to set recreational standards (even though they no longer have any recreationalists on staff) and will be responsible for "visual recreation that needs management". What the heck does that mean?
Land and Water BC were present at the meeting "to assist" in the transfer. Let's not forget their mandate as a company (with Stan Hagen the lone stockholder): to increase economic development. Alex Walllace, Co-Chair of the FMCBC Trails Committee, asked the LWBC spokesperson about LWBC's role in land stewardship. LWBC spokeperson responded that he did not know what stewardship meant noR does LWBC have any recreational mandate and as such will not participate in Outdoor Recreation activities. Their sole involvement is getting people a commercial tenure on our public land. This means the more favourite sites will be up for grabs by the organizations with the deepest pockets. That ought to cause an all out war among user groups! As LWBC spokesperson stated "We only charge a nominal fee for tenures: as little as $500. We really don't make any money off of this process." Let's do the math: 650 hiking trails times $500 equals?, well, you know, nothing we or any other non-profit organization can afford. Furthermore, all commercial tenure groups will have to pay for liability insurance, as the government can no longer be held accountable. LWBC says after all "It's all about performance-based government". I'm suggesting that we give government "performance-based writing". Before going to bed tonight, I am calling on all 4,000 members of the Federation of Mountain Clubs of BC, and CEO's and owners of outdoor recreational stores to say to government "No Way!" We don't want our Outdoor Recreation Infrastructure fragmented. We want government to operate it.
We made enough fuss at the meeting last Thursday that government will continue to fund some of the recreational sites this summer. When the senior citizens raised a fuss over losing their bus privileges, the government recanted. Please write today, not tomorrow. Tell Premier Campbell and Stan Hagen to lay off the Outdoor Recreational Infrastructure. We can make a difference. Tell non-FMCBC people to contact: naturalists, snowmobilers, mountain bikers, ATVers, horseriders, hunters, fishers, and others to write. We all have a stake in this. And don't forget the health benefits from outdoor recreation that save the government money.
Federation of Mountain Clubs of BC
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