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If anyone doubts the intentions of Fee-Demo, Take a look at Canada

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August 02, 2002 12:48PM
Yvonne Zacharias - Vancouver Sun
Wednesday, July 31, 2002

A leaked government document obtained by the Valhalla Wilderness Society indicates the province is planning a major withdrawal from the parks system by the year 2004 while paving the way for more involvement by the private sector.

While the details are sketchy, park rangers and supervision in campsites will be a thing of the past if the government carries through on the plan. With the removal of subsidies, campsite fees are sure to rise by April of next year. Facility maintenance by the government would cease by April of 2004. Private business would be invited in to parks and other protected

Dated Feb. 19 of this year, the brief document entitled "stop doing protected areas" is described as section work plans for the ministry of water, land and air protection.

It lays out the following timetable:

-By April 1, 2003, there would be no park rangers in front-country areas like campsites and picnic areas. Subsidies for recreation use would cease. Private businesses would be allowed to carry out "low-risk" commercial activities without a park permit.

-By April 1, 2004, government-funded facility maintenance or capital improvements and direct "regular" supervision would cease in front-country parks.

A second section in the planning document, entitled "priorities for protected areas," calls for a "new governance model," a transfer of protected areas like parks to Parks Canada and local administration, increased commercial recreation opportunities and a volunteer-stewardship strategy.

"This is basically a total pull-out of the government involvement in parks," Sarah Pugh, director of the environmental group, said in an interview. "Wilderness preservation is out of the question with a model like this."

The document, written in point form, is consistent with what the government has already done. For instance, it lists the first round of cuts, which were to implemented by April of this year. Most of those cuts, including free firewood, school programs, government-funded interpretive programs and park brochures, were carried out.

In a news release, the Valhalla Wilderness Society decried the plan. It says much of the province's backwoods beauty will be inaccessible or accessible only to those who can pay a fee. It predicts users of trails will either have to maintain them themselves or pay to use them, and people will now have to pay to use picnic sites.

It is particularly concerned with the government's plan to discontinue the requirement of permits for low-risk commercial activities. "We are wondering what low-risk means," said Pugh. With no requirement for permits, she expressed concern over degradation of the environment.

As for the over-all government plan, "we've been watching this and expecting some move in this direction, but this is more than we had ever imagined," Pugh said.

Liz Bicknell, director of communications at the ministry of water, land and air protection, confirmed the existence of the document, but she said it is only a plan and no final decisions will be made until a government-appointed recreation stewardship panel reports sometime toward the end of this year.

She said, however, that the document reflects a government plan to make recreation pay for itself and to come up with a new way of doing things.

The past NDP administration doubled the size of the park system but did not put the money in place to maintain it, she said. "The status quo is no longer possible."

But "the government recognizes we have a jewel here and it has no intention of jeopardizing that." The leaked document comes at a time when the government is already besieged with complaints that it is no longer maintaining recreation areas on Crown forestry lands.

Golden Mayor Walter (Red) Scott said in an interview Tuesday that the cutbacks have tarnished the pristine countryside in his area. After mountain roads are washed out, they remain impassible and toilet facilities aren't being maintained, he said.

If the government wants to pave the way for public-private partnerships, he argued, it must give communities more time to marshal their forces. "It is a huge concern for us," Scott said. "In the rural area, we have a lot of people who come here to live for the quality of life. As for the tourists, we are advertising ourselves as supernatural B.C., yet we don't have a good recreational site for them to go to."

A document prepared by the Golden economic development office provides details of the deterioration.

"Sites and trails are being destroyed through decay, over-use or blatant vandalism, while unmanaged [or unpoliced] activity has created situations of lawlessness in the backcountry," the document says. "Awareness is already spreading amongst travelers and tourists that British Columbia's famous wilderness is no longer a safe clean destination but is now to be avoided."

Tourists visiting travel information centres are being told that "the backcountry they came to visit is either inaccessible, repugnant or unsafe."

The report provides a detailed glimpse of what has happened in just one corner of the province:

-Cedar Lake: "Barrels full of garbage and debris litter Cedar Lake, while whole trees are being cut down at the site. It is well known that when management is removed from public facilities, respect by users diminishes accordingly. Garbage and broken glass are now strewn on the beach, signs and tables have been vandalized and burned, oil barrels have appeared, the toilet is unsanitary."

-Susan Lake: "The toilet may have to be removed completely as it may constitute a public health risk by mid to late summer with the anticipated use. Of equal or greater concern is the road to the lake, which has undergone a significant slump on one of its slopes, making safe passage impossible."

-Gorman Lake: "The trail is already in need of work and the site toilet is becoming a health hazard, meaning it will likely have to be closed and/or removed by the end of the summer."

-Mummery Glacier Trail and recreation site: "The second most popular B.C. forestry service hike in the Blaeberry Valley (in the Golden area) is now completely inaccessible because the road has washed out."

-Mount Seven Hang-gliding/Paragliding launch site: "This is one of the most popular flying sites on the planet. Located a few minutes out of Golden, thousands of hang-gliders and paragliders from around the world come to Golden for this experience. . . . This year, new washroom facilities, which everyone fought long and hard for, will be boarded up because there is no money for maintenance. A smaller washroom facility closer to the top is already physically unusable and filthy and while there are many good
Samaritans trying to keep it clean, it's not enough . . . the refuse is piling up."

Golden isn't the only community speaking out on the issue.

In a document sent to The Vancouver Sun, a group calling itself the Coalition to Save Forest Recreation in B.C., which was started in Cranbrookin June, outlined its concerns over government cuts to forest recreation services in B.C.

"Asking volunteers to manage the entire resource of Crown land used for recreation is unrealistic," it said. "Most non-profit organizations in rural communities cannot carry the burden of insurance and management of sites and community groups cannot handle the enforcement issues that are already becoming a big problem."

Mike Hogan, director of communications for the ministry of forests, said the government is trying to turn the operation of these recreation areas over to community groups.

"Recreation sites, as great as they are, fall outside of our core mandate." That was echoed by Forests Minister Mike de Jong, who said Tuesday in an interview that he is confident volunteers and community organizations can keep recreation sites on Crown lands operating.

"We are obviously facing severe budgetary restrictions," he said.
Asked how community groups could come up with the heavy equipment to maintain access roads, he agreed that was a problem in areas where a forestry company is not already maintaining a road.

In such cases, he said, he is considering redesignating some roads as "wilderness" roads, although he couldn't explain exactly how rough they would be.

But Pugh said that turning the maintenance and operation of parks and wilderness areas over to community groups is the wrong way to go.

These groups, however well-intentioned, often don't have the skills or ecological knowledge to do the job, she said. "Government parks are public property. This is a government mandate. You can't just cast it off like that."

If anyone doubts the intentions of Fee-Demo, Take a look at Canada

free our forests 689August 02, 2002 12:48PM

Re: If anyone doubts the intentions of Fee-Demo, Take a look at Canada

paul 379August 06, 2002 07:42AM

Re: If anyone doubts the intentions of Fee-Demo, Take a look at Canada

katrina 365August 08, 2002 12:52AM

Re: If anyone doubts the intentions of Fee-Demo, Take a look at Canada

free our forests 744August 08, 2002 09:26AM

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