Kootenay environmental groups oppose changes to BC Parks

Bill 4 has passed its second reading in the provincial legislature, but many environmentalists are hoping that is as far as it will go.

A proposed amendment to the BC Park Act has several regional environmental groups in opposition.

Bill 4 has passed its second reading in the provincial legislature, but many environmentalists are hoping that is as far as it will go.

“Thousands of letters protesting this Bill have poured into government offices,” said Anne Sherrod, a director of Valhalla Wilderness Watch, a group based in the Kootenays. “The Liberals ignored those letters and refused to allow time for further consultation. This bill was only tabled on Feb. 13, which shows how much it is being fast-tracked to prevent the public from making an effective defence of our parks.”

When the bill was originally introduced, the government said it would provide clear and consistent direction around authorizing outdoor recreation, tourism, commercial filming and research activities in BC Parks.

The bill will affect all provincial parks, including several in Golden’s surrounding area, such as the Bugaboo Provincial Park.

The bill introduces amendments to the BC Park Act that will ensure commercial filming activities are properly authorized, remove size provisions to ensure all Class A parks are managed to the same standard regardless of size, and allow permits for research and information gathering.

Wildsight worries that these changes are being implemented to allow for “exploratory drilling, ore sampling and road building” within the parks, threatening both wildlife and recreation.

“Our parks, including the Purcell Wilderness conservancy, Height of the Rockies, St. Mary’s Alpine Park… and provincial parks across B.C. were created to strike a balance on the landscape, to assure future generations have the opportunity to experience the wildlife and wilderness that makes British Columbia unique in the world,” said John Bergenske, executive director of Wildsight.

“These proposed changes threaten the integrity of our park system and the wild places that British Columbians cherish.”

Minister of the Environment May Polak insists that these concerns are unfounded.

“To be absolutely clear, these proposed amendments do not allow, promote or otherwise enable industrial projects in parks and protected area. Recent suggestions that future mining or forestry or other industrial operations will be allowed in parks are simply not true,” said Polak.

The proposed amendments are being put in place to allow for studies. Currently issuing research permits is not permitted, meaning there is no way to take soil samples for archaeological assessments, or collect animal or plant specimens.

“Research can be purely for academic purposes, or as part of an environmental assessment,” said Polak.

The Bill was debated in the legislature in early March, with the NDP in opposition, and passed its second reading.