Article from Larry Pynn of The Province
Welcome to Davis Lake Provincial Park, abandoned and abused poster child for the underfunding of B.C. Parks.
The government website for the 192-hectare, Class-A park, about a 45-minute drive northeast of Mission, tells visitors to expect nature appreciation, a “unique ecology,” a scenic waterfall, and a 15-minute walk through “a virtually pure stand of western hemlock” to lakeside camping.
Anticipate, too, prime bird habitat, including the “great potential” for seeing the endangered northern spotted owl, reduced to just a few in the wilds of southwestern B.C.
Sounds idyllic. But the reality couldn’t be more different.
Expect gunfire and chainsaws, broken glass, empty beer cans, four-wheel-drive vehicles and dirt bikes ripping up the landscape and creating mud bogs, and vehicle parts littering the forest after crashes with trees or rocks.
Old logging roads in the park are supposed to be deactivated, but off-road enthusiasts have found ways to carve out their own access routes, interlacing the park with deeply incised tracks.
“The topsoil’s gone,” remarks Mike Pearson, an Agassiz-based biologist who visited Davis Lake recently to conduct surveys of endangered fish. “It’s been eroded right down to the rocks.”
There are no signs to even indicate that this is a provincial park, or to suggest that the province has any presence here. The place gives all the indications of a park utterly abandoned, left to those who would destroy it bit by bit without any thought to its ecological value.
Pearson reaches down to the shoreline and picks up two shotgun shells. There is gunfire in the near distance, and a makeshift firing range in a logging clearcut on the park’s northern border.
Someone is chainsawing logs to create a raft with sheets of plywood.
“It’s pretty appalling,” Pearson tersely concludes.
Is this what B.C. Parks has become?
The agency is quick to concede Davis Lake’s failings, and admits that park employees are reluctant to even visit the place because of the gunfire.
“I’ve heard that from staff, yes,” said Jennie Aikman, regional director for the South Coast region. “The firearm use poses a safety risk to staff in that area.”
But she argues that Davis Lake is not emblematic of the general status of B.C.’s parks and protected areas, which account for more than 14 per cent (more than 14 million hectares) of the provincial land base.
Aikman notes that Davis Lake lies within a broader area east of Stake Lake that has suffered from unregulated off-road activities. The RCMP, the province, Fraser Valley Regional District, and local residents are working to make a difference. In April, the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations created recreational no-shooting zones within 400 metres of certain Crown roads within the regional district, including around Davis Lake.
What Davis Lake does share with scores of provincial parks is that it lacks a current management plan, an issue raised in a report by the office of the Auditor General of B.C. in 2010.
The report found that the Ministry of Environment had failed to meet its mandate to preserve the ecological integrity of parks and protected areas. The report made recommendations on clarifying “ecological integrity and performance targets,” ensuring conservation program policies are “consistently upheld,” and reviewing its master-plans policy to clarify what type of management plan is required for each park.
B.C.’s parks and protected areas system is comprised of 643 parks, 156 conservancies, 148 ecological reserves, 84 protected areas designated under the Environment and Land Use Act, and two recreation areas.
No management plans
Almost 30 per cent still have no management plans, including 38,000-hectare Pinecone Burke Provincial Park.
Mel Turner, who served 30 years with B.C. Parks before retiring in 2003 as manager of planning and conservation for the Lower Mainland, says the government lauded the creation of Pinecone Burke in 1995, then essentially did nothing to allow the place to serve the recreation needs of a growing Lower Mainland.
“It hasn’t seen any development,” he asserted. “If we’re going to talk about how much land we’re protecting, we should also talk about the resources that go toward that.”
There is a park presence around areas such as Widgeon Falls, but wilderness trails through the park have generally not been developed. That could change soon, says Aikman, noting a draft plan for the park should be released later this year, after consultations with stakeholders and First Nations. The province is also working on updating the management plan for 3,509-hectare Mount Seymour Provincial Park.
Other regional park improvements in the offing: pit toilet replacement at Viewpoint Beach in Golden Ears; Elsay Lake emergency shelter improvements at Mount Seymour; bear-aware signage at Callaghan; viewing platform fencing upgrade at Nairn Falls; Cheakamus Lake bear caches upgrade at Garibaldi; and Lindeman to Greendrop Lake trail improvements at Chilliwack Lake.
B.C. Parks has a budget of $51 million for 2017-18, up from about $33 million last year, due mostly to additional funding initiatives by former Liberal Premier Christy Clark.
In November 2016, Clark announced $23 million to create 1,900 new provincial campsites over the next five years — 800 in B.C. parks and 1,100 in rugged Crown land areas. The initiative followed public complaints about an inability to secure campsites, including through the online reservation system.
In February 2017, the province also announced $10 million as an initial endowment to the B.C. Parks Foundation, part of $35 million over three years for the park system. The foundation’s mandate, in large part, is to raise funds for conservation, restoration, research, infrastructure and education.
Increased funding needed
Among the foundation’s directors are artist and naturalist Robert Bateman and Eric Peterson, chairman of the Tula Foundation and director of Tula’s Hakai Institute.
Despite the new funding, Turner insists the provincial parks system remain a “poor cousin” to regional and national parks, and deserves an annual budget closer to $90 million or $100 million, based on size and visitation.
“There’s no fault to the agency (B.C. Parks), which is going flat out,” he emphasizes. “The government has given them so much to do … but not provided the support.”
Turner said increased funding for B.C. Parks should go to staffing, education and interpretive programs, and capital programs for maintenance and new development.
Joe Foy of the Wilderness Committee agrees that a $100-million budget is justifiable. “In a province of over 4.6 million, that equals about $21 per British Columbian. Not a bad investment, considering the return in conservation, enjoyment and increased business revenues.”
George Heyman, B.C.’s NDP Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, is only weeks into his job, but says he is keen to help restore pride in the park system. “We have a commitment to put more boots on the ground, hire more conservation officers and park rangers.
“Most British Columbians believe the park system is underfunded, and in many cases services are non-existent or inadequate. We’ve lost interpretive services. In some cases, there’s no monitoring of activity in parks. The previous government was forced to acknowledge some of that.
“We’d like to put more resources into parks. We’re still in the early stages, looking at a variety of options, and getting more information on where we can make a difference so I can make recommendations to Treasury Board and the Minister of Finance.”
Not all want management
This day at Davis Lake, the only ones who have walked in are six young people from White Rock who lack a vehicle to navigate the rough, short hike from the main logging road. They spotted Davis Lake on the Internet and then found it only through trial and error given the absence of park signs, which have been removed by vandals over the years. They were towelling off after a short swim in the lake, which features a thick forest rising abruptly from water’s edge on the west side.
You would think they would decry the state of management in the park, but you’re wrong. They are not overly keen on the added rules and crowds that would go with a better managed and advertised park, and are almost accepting of the gunfire, provided it remains in the distance. They note that popular parks in the area such as Golden Ears are full on summer weekends, making it difficult to make last-minute camping plans.
“It’s a little hard to find the trail down,” acknowledges Justine Albert, who is studying psychology and English at the University of Western Ontario in London. “It’s rough and scrambly. The campsite was clean when we found it, but you could have people who trash it and no one would know it.”
The signs that do exist on the gravel logging road leading here are all pockmarked from gunfire.
A short walk away, Jesse Dostal of the Cowichan Valley is among a group of five adults and four youngsters — the others are from Mission — who have been coming to Davis Lake for more than 20 years.
“It used to be quiet and peaceful. No one came here,” Dostal says. “Now, as you can see, all the vehicles on the other side over there and broken glass all over the place here.
“But that doesn’t mean we want people to come in and manage the parkland more — that’s one reason why we come here. There’s no formal facilities, and no one to say don’t do this or stay off that. People do their own thing.
“We just love this place. You’d never know it was a provincial park.”
Of course, for every person who is willing to accept the current state of affairs at Davis Lake, there are likely many more who would never dream of camping here until B.C. Parks takes control.
Pearson first visited the park about a decade ago, and said conditions have deteriorated significantly since then. “It was quieter. People would walk to the lake.”
With care and cash, it could once again be a special place to visit. “It’s so beautiful,” he says, taking a visual sweep of the lake. “But with the lack of management, it’s been seriously degraded.”
One wonders if the park can endure another decade in freefall, forsaken by a province that still clings to an image — Super, Natural B.C. — forged during better times.