Protect, develop or conserve?

MLA John Rustad stood up against a parks bill in the legislature, but said he’s not against parks, or the bill itself.

Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad recently stood up against a parks bill in the legislature, but Rustad said he’s not against parks, or even the bill itself.

Instead, Rustad said his point was to draw attention to the lack of a clear plan or target for parks in British Columbia.

“It’s great that we have the park system we have, I don’t even mind the idea of seeing the parks that we have expanded, but the question is, when do we have enough parks in British Columbia?” said Rustad.

Instead, Rustad said he wants to see a target set which would then be managed, making sure the resources are in place to manage the parks and protected areas.

If the target of protected land was met, priorities would have to be weighed in cases where other areas warranted protection.

“Maybe it becomes the situation of an exchange,” he said.

The amendments to the parks bill his government was passing included the additional of 260,000 hectares of land into parks.

“As you can imagine, it starts to get very very difficult to undertake forestry or other activities if we are continually eroding the land base from which they can operate on,” said Rustad.

This comes after the province’s auditor general released a report condemning the province’s protection of biological diversity.

“A person could argue that every square inch of the province is a unique ecological biodiverse component of the province, but the question is how much land do we want to put aside that supports the core fabric of what British Columbia is … and what do we set aside for other activities that support communities and families and the revenue that we need to support the very parks that we’re creating?” said Rustad. “Where’s the balance?”

People talk about the cumulative impacts of resource development, perhaps we should be looking at the cumulative impact of constraints and restrictions on our land base as well.”

If the people in the province want to protect 50 per cent of the land base, Rustad said the decision should be made and there will be consequences, but there will be certainty for industry trying to bring forward projects and investing in their development.

BC Conservative candidate for Nechako Lakes Dan Brooks, however, sees the issue differently.

“We don’t need to have a conversation about how to limit parks, what we need to do is have a conversation about how to conserve what’s outside of parks better so that we don’t need to create more parks,” said Brooks. “That’s really what economic sustainability on the forest landscape is about.”

“If we conserve, we don’t need to protect,” said Brooks.

He believes corporations are already trying to meet the needs of communities to maintain social licence within the communities.

Citing “free to grow” standards as creating unnecessary barriers to better management and conservation by requiring companies to remove deciduous trees with herbicides or cutting.

“This is preventing Canfor from actually taking a more proactive role in conservation,” said Brooks.

In a written response to Rustad’s actions on his website, Brooks said: “ The Liberals have failed to balance the dramatic increase in development with the needs for non-timber values, and their neglect has naturally resulted in increased demand for more protection in the form of permanent parks.”

NDP candidate Sussanne Skidmore-Hewlett did not respond to an interview request prior to press time.