B.C. government puts commercial interests first, British Columbians last in backcountry access
Commercial enterprises, from logging companies to mushroom pickers, are being allowed to operate in post-wildfire landscapes that are apparently so sensitive the public is barred from entry.
“The province must restrict commercial intrusion and motorized access to fire-damaged areas of the Interior to prevent erosion, limit the spread of invasive weeds, prevent environmental damage by off-road vehicles, and to allow natural regeneration,” said B.C. Wildlife Federation executive director Jesse Zeman. “A number of parts of the province already have road densities which are well above scientifically acceptable thresholds, and we need to manage some motorized vehicle access in wildfire recovery areas.”
In 2021, the BCWF approached the Ministry of Forests to temporarily close wildfire-affected areas to motorized vehicles, plan restoration activities and a phased re-opening of areas to motorized vehicles where appropriate. Unfortunately, that is not what is taking place.
“Anyone looking to make a dollar has full access to these regions, while ordinary British Columbians who want to hike, camp, hunt, or fish are barred from entry,” said Zeman. “This regulation includes anyone who makes a buck off B.C.’s backcountry, even including social media influencers. If the region is closed to the public, it should be closed to everyone.”
“These landscapes cannot properly recover if the provincial government grants exceptions, while barring you and I from entry,” he said.
In June, the BCWF wrote to B.C. Forest Minister Bruce Ralston asking that the government clarify and enforce rational restrictions in sensitive post-fire landscapes. The Minister has not responded to our concerns.
Ministry staff have told us that all commercial users have unfettered access and that permits have been issued to commercial users to access the closure areas. The BCWF was told the only motorized “commercial activity” excluded is guided hunting.
The BCWF supports backcountry closures, road decommissioning, and post-wildfire restoration based on science.
“When forests have recovered, and access points identified, everyday British Columbians should be top of mind,” said Zeman. “But the B.C. government has shown repeatedly that it doesn’t care about ordinary British Columbians, fairness, or equity when there is money to be made.”
The BCWF supports a return to principled, science-based access to post-wildfire forests, in which critical areas are off-limits to all motorized use. When these areas are ready to be re-opened, British Columbians should be the government’s first priority, not its last.
The B.C. Wildlife Federation has worked with the Ministry of Forests in good faith to address issues related to the sustainability of habitat and wildlife in post-wildfire areas. The Ministry has not been responsive to these concerns. To date, these closures have been poorly managed, unfairly implemented, and enforcement has been non-existent. The province has also failed to address ecological concerns about road densities and salvage logging, the two most significant impacts on the landscape.
Several B.C. First Nations have responded to this dysfunctional situation by implementing regional closures themselves.
The provincial government has created a two-tier system where it is only the public that is excluded from these areas.
This year’s catastrophic wildfire season will inevitably lead to more access restrictions in fire-damaged regions, compounding what is already a long-running disaster for the environment and for the rights of ordinary British Columbians.
Read our letter to Minister Ralston linked below: