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Backcountry access threatened



Recreational groups oppose government plans for forestry roads

There are more than 45,000 kilometres of forestry roads in British Columbia, and for many backcountry explorers and recreational users, they are the arteries that lead into the heart of our renowned wilderness.

With the provincial government facing a budget deficit that could run as high as $5 billion, the Ministry of Forests (MOF) and Land and Water B.C. (formerly B.C. Assets and Lands) have been forced to cut their budgets and look for ways to make their sectors more profitable. As a result of this "Core Review Process," which includes all government ministries, changes are coming to the way that the government maintains forestry roads that some backcountry users believe will amount to the dismantling of B.C.’s outdoor recreational infrastructure.

According to Pat Harrison, the executive director of the Federation of Mountain Clubs of B.C. the government is preparing to sell off pieces of this infrastructure to the highest bidder.

The government shared its plans with stakeholders at a meeting in Richmond at the end of March, a meeting organized by MOF and LWBC.

The MOF has reduced its budget by $188 million, from $538 million to $300 million. It is also estimated that the MOF’s workforce of 4,000 employees will be reduced to 2,600.

Forest Service Roads (FSRs), which cost the government between $10 million and $20 million to maintain, will no longer be seen as a core function of the ministry.

The options for the 45,000 km in FSRs are as follows:

• 35,000 km to be maintained by industry, and classified as Industrial Roads.

• 1,300 km to be maintained by the MOF as Community Roads because they are essential to First Nations reserves, post offices or schools.

• The remainder, more than 8,000 km will be left to decay as Wilderness Use Roads. The MOF will do annual checks to assess their safety, but will not brush or grade them unless they are needed for forest fires. They will likely be used by people driving four-wheel drive trucks and all-terrain vehicles. If the MOF determines that it is cheaper to pull a culvert than to replace it, then the road will be deactivated.

According to Harrison, LWBC will be in charge of the task of awarding contracts to maintain the Industrial Roads to the public, which would assume the costs and liability of maintaining the FSR, and that would presumably charge the public user fees to access areas.

"In other words, privatization of our public lands to the highest bidder," says Harrison. "One must remember that LWBC is mandated to increase its revenue through sales and leases by 75 per cent this year."

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