The opportunity to enjoy vast tracts of wilderness is undoubtedly one of British Columbia's main selling points.
But increasingly, British Columbians are being fenced off from natural areas they have enjoyed for years, something the B.C. Green Party is looking to change with a private members' bill re-introduced this month.
First unveiled in February under the then-Liberal government, the Right to Roam Act is aimed at improving public access to Crown land and is being modelled on a combination of B.C.'s existing Hunting and Fishing Heritage Act and Nova Scotia's Angling Act.
"Since the introduction of this bill for the first time last year, my office has received an endless stream of emails and phone calls from British Columbians who are struggling with this issue in their communities," said Green Party leader Andrew Weaver in a statement. "It is clear that the right to access wilderness, especially on leased crown land, is a debate we need to have in B.C."
The issue can be traced back to a bill that was considered by B.C. legislators in 1962, according to a 2016 report by the University of Victoria. Had the Public Access Act been enacted, it would have given the province the ability to regulate the use of private easements and right-of-ways. But the bill was shelved after forestry companies freely granted recreational access to their Crown land and privately-held properties.
In the intervening years, many companies have withdrawn access, and hundreds of kilometres of access roads have been decommissioned and gated off.
"In the last 20 years, we've seen (public access) evaporate and we've seen more and more logging companies decommission logging roads," said Alpine Club of Canada member and Spearhead Huts Society chair Jayson Faulkner. "As a teenager, I used to be able to get up most of those roads. Unfortunately, there hasn't been as much planning with regards to the sensitivities around access for people wanting to recreate... and use some of that infrastructure."
Faulkner urged a measured approach to the issue that will balance the right of British Columbians to experience nature with commercial interests on Crown land.
"I recognize that there's some situations where you've got someone who's made significant capital investments... and all of a sudden everybody and their dog can show up on dirtbikes and snowmobiles and sled through there all over their tenure. So I think there has to be some sensitivities around that, too," he said, adding that he hopes non-motorized access to public lands will be prioritized over motorized use.
Whistler Search and Rescue (WSAR) manager Brad Sills doesn't believe improving access to large swaths of public land will necessarily come with added risk — provided it's paired with an educational component.
"Search and rescue is not here to tell people where they can't go, but how to be prepared for those places you are going. Hopefully, people exercise good judgment and don't go to places that present big risks," he said.
Wine'd Up raises $73K for WSAR
The numbers are in, and once again, Whistlerites opened their wallets for local search-and-rescue crews in a big way.
Roughly $73,000 was raised at last month's WSAR fundraiser, Wine'd Up, at Dusty's. Over 160 guests attended the 18th annual gala and dinner prepared by some of Whistler's top chefs.
The funds raised, which surpassed last year's total by just $780, will help WSAR during what Sills called "a rebuild year."
"We've got a lot of expensive training that we have to move forward with: recertifications for the helicopter long-line (rescues), some new equipment, and general communications gear," he noted.
A big focus for WSAR over the coming year will be to strengthen its relationship with AdventureSmart, the volunteer organization's educational arm.
"They've got a really good website, so rather than us having to bend everybody's ear all the time about what they should and shouldn't do, there's a whole section devoted just to that," said Sills. "It's very current, and it's really super advice."
To learn more, visit www.adventuresmart.ca.