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B.C.'s resources need support

External Reference/Copyright
Issue date: 
February 17, 2012
Publisher Name: 
Vancouver Sun
Stephen Hume
Author e-Mail: 
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We pride ourselves on being Super, Natural British Columbia, province of pristine lakes, spectacular wilderness, friendly resource communities and vibrant, sophisticated cities.

We market B.C. as "the best place on earth," a place where tourists have unparalleled opportunities to view wildlife, hike trackless forests, ski virgin powder, paddle still-wild rivers then relax in splendid surroundings - from remote hike-in campgrounds to five-star resorts.

Even Vancouver and Victoria sell themselves as much for their jewel-like settings in the crown of creation as they do for their restaurants, night-life and cultural attractions.

Yet the engine that all this marketing promotes is in danger of throwing a rod. It hasn't been serviced properly for years. It's losing compression on half its cylinders. In fact, it's evolving into a rusted out jalopy driven by political hicks and hayseeds.

Perhaps we should change that license plate slogan from "Beautiful B.C." to "The Land of Rip and Run."

That's the alarming picture that emerges from research by four retired professionals. They analyze the government's own data to quantify trends in the management of renewable resources that are mainstays of the provincial economy.

A bit of perspective: renewable resources - forests, fresh and salt water, arable land, range land, fish and wildlife - generate more than $25 billion in provincial economic activity each year.

Industries based on harvesting B.C.'s forests represent a third of B.C.'s exports, more than 30 per cent of Canada's total exports of forest products and generate almost $10 billion in economic activity.

Renewables like hydro, and agriculture and their associated services generate more than $7 billion.

In 2009, tourism generated almost $13 billion in diversified economic activity. Tourism, by the way, accounts for 129,000 jobs in this province.

Renewable resources and their management are critical wealth-generators in B.C.'s economic well-being.

Yet the study shows convincingly that the provincial politicians to whom we delegate stewardship of these assets have permitted renew-able resource management to deteriorate dangerously.

Diminishing government commitment to managing our renewable resources - and these are the most important resources, for they can still be available long after mines have played out and natural gas reserves pumped dry - risks the province's future environmental sustainability and threatens social and economic opportunities that arise from it, the paper says.

The complexity of resource management issues has grown rapidly. Those issues will become even more complex as B.C.'s booming population accelerates competing demands by multiple users upon the resource base.

The needs for recreation and for industry, the demands upon water resources by municipalities and by agriculture, conflicts between urban development and needs for wild-life habitat, between tourism and resource extraction, between salmon and hydroelectricity, all become more challenging to reconcile.

But as these conflicts gain momentum, the experts warn, our provincial government has been systematically running down its capacity to plan for and to manage the conflicts of today, let alone those that hurtle toward us like a freight train.

Take something as simple as trout fishing. It turns out that pursuit of the humble rainbow trout attracted half of the four million angling days recorded in B.C. in 2005. Those anglers spent an average of $120 a day, which adds up to $240 million - and of every four trout they caught, three were released to be caught again!

Yet the study cites evidence that of 134,000 crossings of streams by resource roads in the province, 58 per cent pose a moderate-to-high risk of blocking fish passage and 77,000 need remediation. The province, however, has reduced funding to a level that permits remediation of fewer than 25 per year. To reverse the damage by one industry that threatens the returns from another will take 3,000 years.

The study points out that while resource management responsibilities under successive Social Credit, NDP and Liberal governments have grown by 200 per cent, budget allocations for resource ministries charged with managing this increasingly complicated landscape of competing interests have collapsed.

In the last decade, funding for renewable resource management in B.C. - forests, fish, wildlife, agricultural range, fresh water resources, parks, ecological reserves, and so on - is down by more than half.

Staff available to administer the quadrupled responsibilities has dwindled by almost one in three.

This is three times worse than the Roman practice of "decimation," in which a mutinous Legion was punished by having every tenth soldier executed.

There have been even more cuts in the last two fiscal years, the

researchers say, but they can't be accurately quantified because the government no longer reports this inconvenient fact.

Perhaps the most telling graph in the study shows the overall increase in provincial budgets from 1975 to 2011 while budgets for provincial resource ministries are virtually a straight line.

"This situation partly reflects the huge growth in budgets for the health, education and social services sectors," the researchers observe. "But even when these 'big three' sectors are removed from the provincial budget pool, the renewable resource minis-tries' budgets have declined compared to other ministries."

Staffing levels in key areas of planning, management and enforcement - professional biologists, professional foresters - are inadequate.

"We believe that the picture created by this report is a matter of serious concern and is not generally known by government, the resource sector, the professional associations, or the public," the researchers say.

"Evidence suggests that the province is already experiencing significant impacts associated with insufficient investments in renewable resource management, and that those impacts will become much greater over time."


Extpub | by Dr. Radut