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BC Parks pulls statistical report after significant errors are identified

Mistakes suggest wider mismanagement and underfunding, says parks advocate
Numbers game BC Parks is now reviewing a statistical report that claimed busy Cypress Provincial Park saw a dramatic drop in visitation. photo by Alyssa Noel

Visitation to BC Parks, by most estimation, has grown in recent years.

But that's not what was borne out in the agency's most recent statistics report, which covers from March 2017 to March 2018.

It found a slight decrease in total park attendance from the previous year: from 24,815,157 to 23,562,482.

Moreover, it noted a dramatic drop in visitation to South Coast parks, saying visitation decreased by about 2 million visitors between 2016-17 and 2017-18.

Most glaringly, the report said that Mount Seymour Park went from 930,650 to 487,085 visitors (a drop of almost 50 per cent), and busy Cypress Provincial Park went from 1,712,879 visitors to 208,453 visitors (a drop of nearly 90 per cent).

The discrepancies—which fly in the face of anecdotal evidence—were pointed out by local outdoor recreation advocate Steve Jones, and BC Parks responded quickly by taking the report off of its website and pledging to review the report and correct any errors, but not before some media outlets reported the faulty data.

According to Tori Ball, a terrestrial campaigner with the B.C. chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), the errors are "very concerning" and suggest there could be wider mismanagement at BC Parks related to underfunding.

"If their tracking of visitation is this far off, it doesn't give a lot of confidence for the tracking of things that would take (even) more effort to monitor," said Ball, noting concerns such as wildlife management.

The errors appear to be at popular parks that are close to Vancouver, she added.

"It makes me worry about parks that are further out," said Ball.

Ball said that underfunding continues to plague BC Parks. With a 2018-19 budget of $40.5 million, BC parks receives approximately $2.88 for every hectare of protected land—while Alberta Parks and Parks Canada get about $24 and $38 respectively.

Ball is therefore calling for more funding for full-time rangers at BC Parks.

"Funding continues to be a core issue for BC Parks, both on the staffing level and what resources those staff have to work with," she said.

"There are not enough rangers to go across the province. The area that each ranger has to cover is huge. And even though student rangers are great, they are seasonal and only for the summer."

Ball's comments were echoed by Jones, who said he is also concerned with funding levels.

Jones, however, applauds BC Parks staff for taking swift action when they realized something was amiss with the report.

"I think they noticed quickly enough, and I don't think it really has (had) a major impact yet on any decisions," said Jones.

"I think they've taken a good approach and they will get the right numbers out there to make sure their management decisions are made off of accurate data."

Jones, who lives on the North Shore, said the figures run contrary to what he's seen at local parks.

"All of the anecdotal evidence is things keep getting busier and busier as the population grows and more people live active, outdoor lifestyles," said Jones. "And also as Destinations BC (the provincial tourism agency) continues to actively grow [interest]."

Jones is also concerned about other backcountry camping spots, namely those on Crown land with little or nothing in the way of amenities and infrastructure.

"I think one of the concerns is where are the people going that aren't being counted?" he said.

"Semaphore Lakes has been a major concern for a while. There is a lot of concern about it because it has no outhouses and there is no food cache. Are people following leave-no-trace principles when they are in these areas with no infrastructure?

"Anecdotally, no is the answer."

In a statement to Pique, BC Parks said staff is currently reviewing the "Statistics Report from 2017-18 and the report will be re-posted once a full review has been concluded.

"We recognize some data entries were missing from the 17-18 report and are working with our staff to correct this gap and ensure we have a full data set. We apologize for this oversight and are committed to correcting any errors or missing entries in the report."