VICTORIA – At he time of writing, Premier Glen Clark was poised to unveil British Columbia’s newest and biggest park.
About the size of Nova Scotia, the 4.4 million-hectare remote wilderness area in northeastern B.C. would provide wildlife protection on an unprecedented scale.
The huge park, comprising one million hectares in park land and 3.4 million hectares in "special management areas," would be home to an estimated 27,000 moose, 15,000 elk, 9,000 stone’s sheep, 5,000 mountain goats, 1,000 wolves, 500 grizzly bears and 500 black bears.
Plans for the park have been in the works for more than four years. About six months ago, all parties involved n the discussion stage agreed unanimously on a final proposal which was sent to cabinet.
When even opposition MLAs are in favor of a government initiative, you know it’s got to be good. And Richard Neufeld, the former Reform and now Liberal MLA for Peace River North has nothing but praise for the scheme, provided the premier sticks to the proposal that was sent to cabinet.
"The message is if you start changing it because by some miracle in Victoria you think you know better, that won’t fly," he said. At the time of writing the announcement was still two days away, but Clark was expected to approve exactly what had been proposed.
Environmental purists will probably balk at the special management areas, preferring the whole thing to be protected from any commercial activity, which may range from mining and oil exploration to logging and hunting.
A brief look at the jobless rate, however, should be enough to convince anyone that a compromise is called for, particularly if commercial enterprises in the special management areas are subject t strict rules and regulations.
Industry representatives welcome a chance to prove that they can work in an environmentally sensitive area without upsetting the ecological balance.
"We know there are ways to work collectively to develop plans and procedures that alow us to continue to develop the resource in a way in harmony with the environmental interests," says Wayne Soper of Westcoast Energy, a major investor n the area.
The new park would also fit perfectly into the fabric of another major international scheme that envisions connecting all parks strutting the Rockies from the Yukon to Yellowstone Park in the U.S. to provide wildlife corridors through which animals can travel safely and unhindered from park to park
When the American and Canadian parks systems were created, we knew little about wildlife migration, and as a result, most wildlife species are confined to ghetto-like parks and have no chance to move as far afield as they should.
The proposed corridors, connecting all major parks along a stretch of thousands of miles, would give wildlife a new chance at survival in the long run.
Banff National Park with its teeming urban environment and out-of-control tourism is probably the worst example of what a parks and wildlife habitat shouldn’t be like.
The new park I northeastern British Columbia will be something to cherish for future generations. It gives us a chance to do it right.
But before Clark grabs all the credit, some of which he undoubtedly deserves, it is prudent to remember that it was his predecessor, Mike Harcourt, who set in motion the process of increasing British Columbia’s protected areas to 12 per cent from six per cent of the province’s land mass.
In the contiguous U.S., wilderness parks are far and few between. What once was wilderness has been swallowed by the habitat needed for its 300 million people. Canada in general and British Columbia in particular are in the fortunate position to have wilderness areas left.
Our children and grandchildren will thank us for having protected some of British Columbia’s awesome wilderness before it was goo late.