Wilderness Tourism Association of BC Calls for Greater Cooperation in Forest Management

Logging in the Great Bear Rainforest
Logging in the Great Bear Rainforest

On Feb. 6th, the Wilderness Tourism Association of BC sent the following letter to the Premier of BC and to the Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development. In it, the WTA requests that “the government to announce the creation of a multi-disciplinary task group to consider the economic and governance implications of making changes to FRPA to ensure that forest harvesting, wilderness tourism, and public recreation opportunities remain viable for all, while improving accountability for the outcomes of this public resource.”

If you’d like to learn more about the WTA and its activities, please contact me. I currently serve as Secretary of the association.

February 6, 2018

Honorable John Horgan, Premier of BC,

Honorable Doug Donaldson, Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development

Dear Premier and Minister:

The Wilderness Tourism Association (WTA) of BC is an industry association focused on improving land use practices and resolving land use issues for the benefit of wilderness tourism operators, the environment, and other resource users. We are writing to express our concern about current forestry practices and elicit your participation in creating an approach for all resource users that Is fair for all users.

Revenues from wilderness tourism contributes over $2 billion annually to BC. As you are aware, tourism is one of BC’s top three economic drivers employing thousands while having a small environmental footprint. The images from the Super, Natural BC campaign attracts a significant portion of tourists to our province. Maintaining this image, and delivering on quality experiences in a natural environment, is the cornerstone for tourism in our province.

Forest harvesting and access to remote areas is often the primary negative influence on wilderness tourism and recreational experiences. The Forest and Range Practices Act (FRPA) and Regulation, as currently written, puts all resource users except for the forest industry at a significant disadvantage from a resource utilization perspective. Neither the Act, nor regulation, compels forest companies to consult or consider other forest users or values (except where specified in regulation) in their forest planning, access and harvest activities. Where visual constraints for forestry exist, they are often inadequate or grossly outdated.

The professional reliance and goodwill model relied upon for the past 11 years has failed other forest resource users as noted repeatedly by the Forest Practices Board, tourism operators, and public recreationalists. The lack of government monitoring, and enforcement along with a culture of indifference by forestry decision makers, has left the integrated forest management concept in need of substantial changes.

Asking businesses and public recreationalists to participate in voluntary forest planning activities, with no requirement to consider their input or justify final decisions, leads to frustration. The lack of meaningful engagement asks a lot of people, who should be able to depend on the government to ensure fair and wise use of crown resources.

We believe a paradigm shift is required and recommend the changes listed below be adopted.These changes would have a low-cost impact on industry profitability and government while significantly improving the business certainty, investment and outcomes for the tourism industry and others dependent on the forest landscape.

  • Making changes to the FRPA regulations to require the forest industry to consult and consider non-timber values in their planning and decision making would make a significant improvement in outcomes for non-timber interests. A regulation similar to Oil and Gas regulation (Oil and Gas Act Sec. 22,24 and Regs. Sec. 4,7,9-14) requiring the industry to consult with affected stakeholders would address the majority of the issues that consistently compromise tourism and recreation values in the natural environment. Requiring the forest industry to consult and consider visual quality impacts in areas with high tourism and recreation values in forestry planning will make a considerable difference in the outcomes experienced by businesses with non-timber interests.
  • Revitalization of the enforcement and compliance branch is crucial. Without oversight, countless examples of mismanagement, overharvesting, harvest in inappropriate areas, lack of adherence to legal requirements such as VQOs and EBM can be found all over the province. The findings of the Forest Practices Board on various investigations around the province support this claim.

The WTA supports the recommendations and key findings of the Forest Practices Board in their review of FRPA (Dec/2017: SR/55 and SR/45, SR/52). The WTA has been involved in the FRPA Advisory Committee as well as the Discovery Islands Forestry and Tourism Working Group and feel that with some commitment from government for equality for use of forest resources, there is room for both industries to continue to thrive.

We will be approaching the forest industry with the same request to define workable processes that provides value to all parties. Unfortunately, there is little motivation for the Forest industry to accommodate these requests, therefore, government support is instrumental for these discussions and resulting outcomes to be successful. To be clear, this initiative is not about whether forestry will occur, but rather about how it occurs and where to provide the best economic, social, and environmental outcomes for the province.

If the government is serious about diversifying the provincial economy particularly in rural BC, changes must occur that support the values of other forest resource users while recognizing the value that timber harvesting continues to provide to our province.

Our request is for the government to announce the creation of a multi-disciplinary task group to consider the economic and governance implications of making changes to FRPA to ensure that forest harvesting, wilderness tourism, and public recreation opportunities remain viable for all, while improving accountability for the outcomes of this public resource. The WTA would welcome the opportunity to participate in this initiative.

Yours Truly

Kevin Smith


Wilderness Tourism Association of BC

Cc: Minister Lisa Beare

WTA Board Members


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Inaugural IMPACT Sustainable Travel and Tourism Conference 2018

Lessons from the North Panel
Lessons from the North Panel
Tourism as Leader in a New Age of Environmental and Social Responsibility

Last week (Jan. 21st and 24th), I participated in the inaugural IMPACT Sustainable Travel and Tourism conference held here in Victoria, BC. The conference arose from a partnership between Tourism Victoria, Synergy Enterprises, Beattie Tartan Integrated Communications and Starrboard Enterprises.

This conference turned out to be one of the most stimulating and important ones I’ve ever attended.  For one thing, it was the first of its kind in Canada. Up to now, there had been no deep conversation on the topic of sustainability within the industry. The founding partners believed that the time had come to make it happen.

“The tourism industry has the opportunity to impact global change and lead the world in a new age of environmental and social responsibility,” they declared on the conference website.  Wow! That statement blew my socks off. It really sets the bar high for the industry. I was keen to hear how they responded to the challenge.

Conference Participants

As if this ideal wasn’t remarkable enough, so were the organizers, volunteers, speakers and participants. Keith Henry, CEO of Indigenous Tourism Canada and Dr. Rachel Dodds, Professor in the Ted Rogers School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Ryerson University served as co-chairs. The Honourable Bardish Chagger, Minister of Small Business and Tourism and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons kicked off the conference. Elizabeth May, the Leader of the Green Party of Canada, provided a candid assessment of efforts by the current federal government to support and promote green tourism. Mayor Lisa Helps gave an overview of how Victoria was striving for sustainable tourism. Plus the organizers did a splendid job of recruiting excellent speakers for plenaries and panel sessions.

About 170 or so people convened for the three day event. Of them, I only knew a few. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting and getting to know as many of the others as I could. Most of the participants represented small to medium sized tour companies. While the majority operated in BC and Alberta, a few came from Yukon, NWT, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Prince Edward Island. One of the speakers flew in from Costa Rica while another came from Washington, DC. There may have been others that I’ve missed.

What made all these people remarkable was their obvious passion and commitment to advancing sustainability not just within their operations but also within the broader industry. Quite frankly, they were inspiring and fun to be around. Their enthusiasm was contagious. I also admired their willingness to grapple with difficult and complex issues, such as how best to respond to the rising tide of Chinese tourists, or what to do about the overcrowding happening in places like Tofino or Banff National Park.

Conference themes included: indigenous tourism, climate change, certification, waste reduction, low-emissions travel, and labour shortage.

Robert Sandford Speaks on Climate Change at IMPACT Conference
Robert Sandford Speaks on Climate Change at IMPACT Conference
Conference Jottings

The following are a few of the notes I took during the conference.

“Canada leads the world in Indigenous tourism.” Keith Henry, CEO of Indigenous Tourism Canada and IMPACT conference co-chair.

“If this is tourism season, why can’t we hunt them?” Graffiti seen in Barcelona and described by Elizabeth Becker, author and journalist.

“As China goes, so goes the rest of the world.” Elizabeth Becker speaking on the impact of Chinese tourism.

“In the face of climate change, sustainability within the tourism industry is not enough. We need restorative tourism.” Robert Sandford, EPCOR Chair in Water and Climate Security at the United Nations University Institute for Water Environment and Health and author.

“Tourism is extremely vulnerable to climate change. We’re seeing the destruction of destinations. Extreme weather events are having significant impacts on air travel. In time, we may be forced to give up discretionary travel.” Robert Sandford.

“Students and youth are no longer coming to Dawson for summer jobs in tourism. Many used to camp because of the short supply of housing. But with climate change, we’re having more rain.” Jackie Olsen, CEO of Klondike Visitor Association.

“The only metric that has matter is numbers. Tourism has been the business of more, more, more. The focus should be on better, not more.” Greg Klassen, Principal of Twenty31.

“The problem in Banff is vehicle management. The actual number of visitors is down 18% from the highs of mid-1990s. But what’s way up is the number of private vehicles.” Darren Reeder, Executive Director of the Banff Lake Louise Hospitality Association.

Priorities for Ecotourists in Costa Rica
Priorities for Ecotourists in Costa Rica (slide shot with iPhone at distance)
Take-Aways from the Conference

Now for some of the take-away messages/questions:

  • Unprecedented political engagement in sustainable tourism. Can we hold onto this momentum and is this a pivot point?
  • Green Hushing? Are we keeping our best secrets too quiet?
  • We need to ban volume numbers from our vocabulary, or at least put them into context with other objectives.
  • Its no longer about “sustainable tourism”; its about restorative tourism. How can tourism make things better.
  • Better to take small steps now and not wait for government to lead the way.
  • A business must be financially viable to focus on sustainability
  • Tourism can be a catalyst for societal good.
  • Sustainable tourism can save the world, one destination at a time.

All in all, an awesome conference with plans to repeat it annually going forward. It will be held roughly the same time in January next year and in Victoria again. I encourage anyone with an interest in supporting the advancement of sustainable tourism in Canada and abroad to attend.





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Goldstream Provincial Park In Winter A Photographer’s Delight

Goldstream River
Goldstream River

This past Saturday I did something I haven’t done in a very long time. I decided to walk along the lower stretch of the Goldstream River. I normally avoid visiting this area of Goldstream Provincial Park. The constant din of traffic rushing back and forth on the highway just a stone’s throw away intrudes too deeply on the otherwise peaceful setting. But for some reason, the noise didn’t get to me this time. Instead, I found myself entranced by the photographic opportunities that presented themselves at every turn in the trail.

Close Up of Riffle in Goldstream River
Close Up of Riffle in Goldstream River
Annual Fall Salmon Run

Goldstream Provincial Park straddles the Trans-Canada Highway #1 just before it begins the climb up and over Malahat Summit. This location puts it only 16 kms northwest of Victoria. Each October, the day use parking lot and trails overflow with visitors. They line the river’s edge to watch one of the region’s natural spectacles: the annual run of returning Chum salmon. As many as 30,000 salmon return each year, making the Goldstream a world-class salmon spawning stream.

Fish Skeleton
Fish Skeleton on Pebbles

Being well into winter, the Goldstream River spilled over its banks in many places, swollen by frequent periods of rain. I didn’t see many remains of the last fall’s salmon run. Perhaps much had been swept down stream and into the estuary.

American Dipper
An American Dipper Hunts in the Shallows of Goldstream River
Why do American Dippers Dip?

While photographing a section of the river, an American Dipper flew from the other side and landed a few metres in front of me. Even if I hadn’t recognized what it was by colour and markings, there was no mistaking two distinctive behaviours. It constantly bobs up and down or what some call dipping. Hence, the name of the bird. As to why American Dippers dip repeatedly, no one knows for certain. It could be an advantage in hunting for its prey, typically aquatic insects. Or, it could be a form of communication. The other unique adaptation is this bird’s ability to swim under water, even in swift and turbulent currents.

While observing the American Dipper at close range was a highlight, the real show-stoppers lay everywhere around me.

Use without Abuse?

The 2017 BC Provincial Park statistics haven’t been released yet; however, if the trend of the past few years holds, around 100,000 people will have visited Goldstream Provincial Park in the past year. That’s a lot of people for such a small park, especially given their use is concentrated on three areas: day use, public campground and the group campground. Of the three areas, the first suffered the most from the concentrated use, especially it’s trees.

Fortunately, BC Parks has wakened to the damage being done to tree roots. Fences, yellow ribbon and signs have been put in place to encourage visitors to stay on trails and to let degraded areas recover.

As I left the park, I felt very grateful for what I had experienced. For the past 2.5 hours, I had been almost completely absorbed in the beauty of the place. So much so, that I hadn’t really noticed how hard it was raining or how loud the traffic was. Pure magic it was.


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