Friday, October 14, 2005

ISLAND’S TWO UNESCO BIOSPHERES DO LITTLE TO PROTECT ENVIRONMENT

Biosphere Reserves are areas of terrestrial or marine ecosystems which are internationally recognized within UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere Program for promoting and demonstrating a balanced relationship between people and nature.” While this designation does not provide any legal or physical protection to the environment in these areas, it does draw attention to the region and, according to UNESCO, they have a role to play locally and globally.

I attended the opening ceremonies for both the Clayoquot and Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Reserves where I listened to municipal, provincial and federal government representatives pay lip service to ecological sensitivity and respect for the environment. Today very little has been done about turning these concepts into a reality.

For several years biologists, environmental groups, and local residents have been calling for a wilderness corridor that would connect the only two UNESCO Biosphere reserves in British Columbia with a very real protection zone for the environment. There is an incredible opportunity, in the mid-island region, for such a ‘park’ that would serve wildlife and tourism in a much more comprehensive way than is currently the case.

The Beaufort Range is being brutally logged today while Mt. Arrowsmith and all parts south have already been clear-cut and are now being logged for the second time. There is only a very fine ribbon of forest left that could be protected to allow the free movement of wildlife across the island. What is left of the old-growth forest in the Cameron Valley, provides access across the island for Roosevelt Elk, and other threatened species, who need to travel in order to continue breeding with a diverse gene pool.

This type of protection takes forward-thinking vision on all levels of government. At the unveiling of the Clayoquot Biosphere Reserve then Prime Minister Jean Chr├ętien spoke about his role as Parks Minister in creating the Pacific Rim National Park. The vision to protect that wilderness area was brought forward by local individuals and was turned into a reality by elected representatives at the federal level who provided very real protection for several sensitive ecosystems. Today this park provides the economic drive for two vibrant communities which reap the rewards of a thriving tourism industry.

Tourism is about more than just a pit stop at the side of the road. A destination that draws people from around the world also has the opportunity to keep those people for a day or two with educational tours, scenic train rides, and a variety of other activities based around the attractions of a park. The expansion of Cathedral Grove is a good start but plans to put a parking lot and connecting trail systems in the wetland forest, which is the most sensitive area of this class “A” park show the short-sightedness of the BC Liberal government.

Logging giant Brascan, who bought out Weyerhaeuser, is currently heli-logging the banks of the Cameron River where steep canyon walls have protected the ancient trees for centuries. As this sensitive ecosystem is destroyed it will no doubt have a detrimental effect downstream where fish and drinking water are of concern. Keep a careful watch for activity at the yellow gates on the way to Port ALberni just outside Cathedral Grove Park because Brascan plans to log the only substantial old growth forest which has been left outside the park.

I hope that a recent announcement, by BC Minister of Environment Barry Penner, is true and that he will hold public consultation meetings around the issue of Cathedral Grove. Over the past few years I have seen the lack of public meetings and even blatant attempts to mis-inform the public about the reality of logging in a sensitive park system. The time is now to connect the east coast of Vancouver Island with the west coast with a protected wilderness corridor. Perhaps the time has come for the short term goals of the Provincial government to be replaced by a National Park. Please contact your local MLA, MP, and Barry Penner Minister of Environment Phone: 250 387-1187 E-mail: barry.penner.mla@leg.bc.ca