Naturalists stay positive regarding possible changes to parks 

FBCN meeting gathers input for the recreation stewardship panel

As part of the Federation of B.C. Naturalists’ general meeting in Whistler, about a dozen members gathered to discuss recent draft recommendations that could change B.C.’s provincial parks.

Among the recommendations put forth by the recreation stewardship panel are the introduction of fees for park users, increased fees for outdoor recreation activities and limited commercial activities in parks.

The draft report was released on Sept. 15 and to date nothing has been finalized.

"At the moment we don’t have enough specifics," said Bryce Leigh, a member of Sea to Sky Park Watch and the Alpine Club of Canada, Vancouver and Whistler sections.

"Are you going to have to pay to ski into the Black Tusk meadows in the wintertime and if you do, what do you get for that?" he questioned, adding that it is still too early to tell.

Leigh was not at the meeting on Friday that walked Naturalists from around B.C. through the panel’s recommendations in order to record feedback.

The government appointed panel was charged to find new ways to manage and fund fish, wildlife and park recreation activities in provincial parks.

"We’re very, very pleased with the job they’re doing and we have to commend that," said Jeremy McCall, with the FBCN in Vancouver, who helped facilitate the discussion.

"We want to be positive and constructive and that’s the position I would like the FBCN to take."

McCall cited the first principle, which states conservation is primary and will guide the development and management of recreational opportunities, as key.

"The huge priority given to conservation is threaded throughout these principles and recommendations," said McCall.

"We’re surprised to see it in some way but you can’t knock it."

Of the 31 panel recommendations there were nine that were cause for concern for the Naturalists, said co-chair Tom Burgess, of FBCN Victoria.

The recommendation calling for commercial activity in parks was one that sparked debate at the meeting.

Chair of the panel Bruce Strachan has stated that any future commercial investment would be done with taste, saying there would be no "golden arches."

Still McCall said there needed to be a procedure in place defining what is acceptable and what isn’t.

"This panel has a clear idea of the ethical standards of businesses who will be in the park," he said, adding they should elaborate on this recommendation.

But Leigh is not as convinced that privatization is a good way to raise money for B.C.’s park system.

"Once you start privatization, those people change the rules because then it’s their money in there," he said.

"In order of preference clearly no privatization is the first choice and we’d need to be convinced otherwise."

Another recommendation that piqued the Naturalists was the one dealing with new or increased user fees.

The report is unclear how those monies would be raised.

There are suggestions of parking fees or an annual pass to access crown land, but as of yet nothing has been finalized.

"Generally it appears to be good but if there are going to be user fees or funds generated out of the park, they should go back into the park... They should be related to that park," said Leigh.

With increased fees and new fees the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection estimates it can increase revenue by $10 to $16 million.

"I think we all realize that they need to raise more money," said Leigh.

"The parks in general have a value to everyone in B.C. and they have a value to everyone in B.C. whether you go in and use them or not.

"There may be a case for user fees as such but I don’t think the user should pay 100 per cent of the costs."

This idea was echoed at the Naturalists meeting, although McCall indicated that conservationists would be willing to pay more to use the parks.

"We’re prepared to pay more," he said.

McCall and Burgess were eager to record the comments and suggestions by other Naturalists at the group so as to hand them into the panel before Oct. 15.

The panel’s final report must be submitted by Nov. 29 to Joyce Murray, minister of Water, Land and Air Protection.

Apart from written and e-mailed suggestions within the month’s timeframe there will be no other public consultation process.

There have been complaints from various organizations about the lack of public consultation in the process.

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