In one of a series of recent announcements which indicates the provincial election is unofficially underway, Premier Ujjal Dosanjh last week declared that his government had passed its 12 per cent target for land protection with the approval of the Okanagan Shuswap land and resource management plan.
The plan creates 49 protected areas, 122,963 hectares, bringing the total protected area in British Columbia to 12.37 per cent of the province. The premiers office sent out a release saying B.C. is recognized around the world as a leader in environmental preservation. "Weve become a leader by showing the world how local people can resolve tough disputes in a way that preserves B.C.s unique environment as well as opportunities for development," the premier said.
It all sounds very nice on the surface, but does the province really have the ability to support this decision? To start with, all of the new protected area is claimed by the Penticton Indian Band as part of its traditional territory. Treaty talks and native land claims are a long way from resolution, although "protecting" these areas probably doesnt limit any future settlement, should such a thing ever come about.
But returning to the issue of protecting lands, if the province has been keen on reaching the arbitrary 12 per cent figure, it has been substantially less enthused about providing the resources to see that those protected areas are properly managed. While the amount of protected land has increased in the last decade, staff and resources for overseeing those protected areas has not kept pace. The Callaghan Park is a case in point.
This week, the draft management plan for the little park at the head of the Callaghan Valley finally went to the public for feedback. The park was proclaimed nearly four years ago, when the Lower Mainland Protected Areas Strategy was finalized. So while it has been a park in name for close to four years, all that has really meant is that mining and logging have been prohibited in the area.
The draft management plan provides further details of what is and isnt allowed in the park, a snowmobile corridor being perhaps the most controversial aspect of the plan. But whether the plan can be enforced, with all the traffic that is now using the Callaghan Valley, is another question.
The provinces follow through on other aspects of the Protected Areas Strategy is equally dismal. A land resource management plan was recommended for the Sea to Sky area at the time the PAS was finished in 1996. It is just now about to get underway.
What Premier Dosanjh needs to do is follow through on his announcements by providing the resources to support new protected areas.