Forest Practices Board Investigation Confirms Environmental Damage, Government Dysfunction

It was pure luck that B.C. Wildlife Federation Executive Director Jesse Zeman came across a scene of incompetence, destruction and blatant disregard for the rules in a government Protected Area near his Okanagan home. 

“We were following a wildlife trail on foot and found a road in the protected area on a slope that had no road previously,” explained Zeman. “There was exposed pipe, garbage, erosion and a number of large trees had been knocked down.” 

Further, the nearby creek crossing had no culvert, which should have been installed during road construction.  Instead, it was jammed with rocks and logs. 

“As we walked along, we encountered off-stream watering below the creek and a number of cows were grazing there,” he said. “The take-home date for cattle is October 31 in the area and this was well into November.” 

Watering tanks for the cattle were overflowing and some recently installed pipe was already exposed due to erosion.  Faced with evidence of significant Forest and Range Practices Act violations, Zeman asked BC Parks about the nature of the construction. BC Parks stated they were unaware of the construction and the violations. 

“That was the start of a very long journey to the truth,” Zeman said.  

The attached report from the Forest Practices Board took three years to produce and confirmed the depth of the government’s dysfunction. Among its findings: 

  • The Board found that the Ministry of Forests did not obtain the required authorization to construct 19 kilometres of barbed wire fence and two water diversions. 
  • One of the water diversions was found to have multiple issues with its construction and was determined by investigators to have caused damage to the environment.
  • Legal requirements for range use and the construction of range developments were not followed, resulting in damage to the environment. 
  • Cattle were grazing illegally in an area “known to support red-listed and blue-listed plant species.” 

Contracts for remediation work had been awarded from provincial government emergency funds released in the aftermath of the 2015 Testalinden Creek wildfire. But oversight was sadly lacking. 

While Natural Resource Officers from the Ministry of Forests investigated the damage, Zeman took photos of the area and filed a complaint with the Forest Practices Board.  

The Range Branch of the Ministry of Forests and BC Parks in the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change have a document title “Memorandum of Understanding for Administering and Managing livestock use in Provincial Parks and Protected Areas” which is supposed to help the two agencies work together.  

“They are supposed to talk to each other about management of the Protected Area, but the fact that BC Parks didn’t know what was happening suggests that arrangement has gone sideways,” said Zeman. “The road that shouldn’t exist is wide enough for a dump truck.” 

The following June, Zeman entered the area and found a stream diverted into a culvert leading to erosion on the slope, and the road was badly eroded in a number of areas, raising the risk of landslides. The road and area around the stream should have been restored with native plants, but there was no evidence that had happened either. 

“To make matters worse, I couldn’t find any evidence of a water license that would allow a stream diversion in the first place,” said Zeman. 

“The Ministry of Forests hired a contractor to build the road and install the water diversion without the required permits and did nothing to ensure that the contractor followed the rules,” Zeman said. 

“This is what happens when the province of BC defunds conservation of our land, air, water, fish and wildlife,” he said. “There are multiple unforced errors that occurred because the Okanagan District within the Ministry of Forests thought it was above the law.  Every time we looked further into what happened we found more and more issues and blatant disregard for the rules.  Why do members of the public have to force the government to follow its own rules?” 

Read the full report here: IRC250-Grasslands_PR

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