BC Changing laws regarding “Natural Resource Roads”

The Government of BC is planning on changing some of the laws governing “Natural Resource Roads” (logging, mining etc), and to bring them all under one act: the Natural Resource Road Act.

They’ve posted a discussion paper and other resources, and are accepting comments from the public until December 15th 2011.

Access

Most avid backcountry users I know in BC share a constant frustration regarding the logging road infrastructure in this province. Many of us are of the opinion that once a road is built into an area, and recreational access is improved, that the road should be maintained for recreational access. We see the economic benefits of road maintenance to be obvious — backcountry skiers, mountaineers, hikers and many other user groups currently travel to BC and throughout the province in search of easy to access wilderness areas. They spend money, hire guides, stay in hotels and eat at restaurants.

One local example that comes to mind is the Shannon Creek spur of the Indian River Road that gives access to the Mount Habrich and Sky Pilot areas. When I was in university (the 90’s) we could drive this road all the way to the trail heads to both mountains, making either a very enjoyable day trip — one contains bona fide rock climbing, and the other is a group of five peaks with many classic mountaineering routes.

Since that date, the road has gone through many states. It’s been “deactivated”, and then fell into great disrepair, making it impossible to drive without a 4×4, and in subsequent years quite dangerous. It’s been “reactivated” when logging behind The Chief and Slhaney took off again, but only to a certain extent. As recently as last year a trip report into the area (I was last there in 2009) recorded 7 hours to ascend the mountain, and 12 hours for the round trip.

There are dozens of examples and these road deactivations affect recreationists of all types. For instance, the aforementioned Indian River Road was also deactivated several years back, limiting access to dirt bikers, quads, 4×4, and anglers who used to use it to access Norton Lake.

To be clear, I am not advocating creating new roads into previously pristine locations such as the Boise Valley, or Garibaldi Park. However, if a road has been in place for a long time, and has been in use by many people to access the recreational opportunities of this province, then it is clearly economically beneficial to keep it open.

SAR Training

An interesting aside; as a SAR team we train every year for mountain rescue and travel techniques such as class 4 movement and glacier travel. In south west BC our training options almost always involve either using a helicopter to access glaciated terrain such as in the Tantalus Range, or driving up Blackcomb Mountain to the Horstman Hut — since, in the interest of time and getting the most training for our volunteer hours, we don’t want to “waste” a day hiking in to an area. It’s clear from the lack of choices that places with easy access to the alpine are few and far between. You’d never be able to tell that from looking at the advertising that encourages people to come to BC.

Safety

My other concern revolves around safety for backcountry users. I don’t speak for the SAR community, but I do know we face significant challenges accessing lost or injured subjects. When the weather is bad, or near nightfall, we are faced with travelling up the same access roads you used to get into an area. If those roads are in bad shape, we have the same trouble using them, and in addition SAR teams must acquire and maintain significant 4×4 assets to travel these roads safely. It would make backcountry recreation in BC a lot safer if the road to the trailhead was the least of your worries.

Give Your Feedback

My cursory reading of the discussion paper and the principles and policies being proposed doesn’t give me a strong feeling that the Province is going to include these concepts in the new legislation.

I encourage those that care to read the discussion paper and to submit feedback to this proposals as soon as you can, before the deadline of December 15th 2011. Make it clear that you care about public access to the crown lands of BC. Since tax dollars are used to subsidize road construction for resource extraction, the province should step in to maintain those roads for continuing recreational access; this would ensure that the public would get an even greater return on the tax investment. With respect to deactivation (question 14 on the feedback form) make it clear that you do not support road deactivation for areas with significant recreational potential.

And of course, if you disagree, feel free to comment below!

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