The Economic Case for Parks: CPAWS-BC’s Presentation to the Finance Committee

The Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services is conducting public consultations across British Columbia on proposals and recommendations regarding the provincial budget and fiscal policy for the coming fiscal year. CPAWS-BC presented at the Vancouver hearing yesterday, and delivered the following paper on how the establishment of a new national park could benefit the economy.


The Economic Benefits of Parks for British Columbia

Submission to the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services
by Peter Wood, Director of Terrestrial Conservation
Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society – BC Chapter
Vancouver, BC, September 18, 2014

British Columbia has a strong history of creating and maintaining parks, and this forms a core part of our provincial identity. We offer a world-class parks experience to visitors, and we have a robust tourism industry based on this. Support for creating this system came from the grassroots, as demonstrated through the outcome of many local land and resource management plans. Yet these places are of global significance, and attract visitors from all over the world.

BC’s national parks are gems within this system, from the lush temperate rainforests of Pacific Rim, to the towering mountains of Glacier, Yoho, Kootenay and Mount Revelstoke. They are a great source of pride for British Columbia, and a gift to future generations. But they are also a great source of economic wealth. An independent study conducted in 2011 found that BC’s national parks contribute $260 million in GDP, $179 million in labour income, $24 million in tax revenue to the Province, and support just over 4,000 full time equivalent jobs.

These parks represent BC’s contribution to a national effort to conserve areas representative of Canada’s unique ecosystems. Yet key ecosystems remain unrepresented within this system, and this presents an opportunity to expand this source of economic activity. One of these is the grasslands of the South Okanagan – Similkameen, a region of spectacular yet fragile beauty. Grasslands are a globally rare ecosystem, and have been reduced to about 10% of their original range. In BC, they are home to about a third of all of our species at risk.

In recognition of this, in 2003, the Governments of Canada and British Columbia signed a Memorandum of Understanding to cooperate on assessing the feasibility of establishing a national park reserve in this region. After much consideration and years of research, the Canada-British Columbia Steering Committee recommended that a national park reserve is feasible, and that negotiations for a national park reserve establishment agreement proceed. Notably, the Steering Committee recognized the importance of a timely decision, due to the area being “one of Canada’s richest areas of natural biodiversity” and its large number of species and habitats at risk. Last year, the Okanagan Nation Alliance and four of its constituent bands conducted their own feasibility assessment- the largest consultation of their communities ever undertaken- and arrived at the same conclusion.

While the ecological reasons to support this park are obvious, the economic benefits, both local and provincial, are no less significant. Based on average numbers achieved in other national parks to date, we could expect that this would result in in 700 jobs, $50 million in GDP, and $4 million in tax revenues. In contrast to boom-and-bust cycles created by resource extraction, this economic activity is sustained and supports stable, thriving communities. A  socio-economic assessment completed in 2008 concluded that there would be a significant positive economic impact associated with the establishment of a national park reserve, and also predicted no significant negative socio-economic impact from changes to regional land use. Parks Canada has provided assurances that ranching and other uses will be accommodated, and have modified the original design of the park boundaries significantly to accommodate hunting and other local interests.

The best news is that the costs associated with the establishment of the park would be covered by the federal government. Moreover, this would reduce the Province’s current costs of managing the provincial protected areas that form part of the proposed park- this forms about a third of the 284 square kilometers being proposed as the park area.
At the time of the announcement of the feasibility study, the Province said that it would not be proceeding with the park at this time, citing a lack of local support. However, since then, the local support expressed for this park has been overwhelming and diverse. The Regional Districts of the Boundary-Kootenay, South Okanagan-Similkameen, Central and North Okanagan, as well as the BC Chamber of Commerce, Okanagan Basin Water Board, Thompson-Okanagan Tourism Association and the Okanagan Nation Alliance have all passed resolutions, since January 2011, asking the Province to return to national park discussions with Canada.  This proposed national park maintains the continued support of the Government of Canada and regional and municipal governments, but to proceed requires support of the Government of British Columbia.

Many local leaders have commented that this decision is a “no-brainer” due to the overwhelming evidence that has come to light. But the truth is that quite a few brains have been involved in carefully researching and evaluating this proposal, over nearly a decade, in arriving at this conclusion. I hope you will consider the information I have presented before you today, and support the creation of a new park to boost BC’s economic development.