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Eco group urges B.C. to re-form park fund

Mar 02 2012

Using a backdrop of parkland bought by the Capital Regional District, an environmental group on Thursday called on the provincial government to set up a park acquisition fund similar to that of the CRD.

A fund of at least $40 million a year, raising $400 million over 10 years, is needed if old growth and other endangered ecosystems on private lands are to be protected, said Ken Wu, Ancient Forest Alliance co-founder.

Environment Ministry spokesman Suntanu Dalal said there is no set annual budget for buying parkland, but other strategies - such as density transfers, land exchanges or partnering with organizations such as land trusts - are used for acquiring land.

Until 2008-09, there was a land acquisition budget, Dalal said. "Due to fiscal challenges, that fund no longer exists. However, the ability to continue to acquire key properties has remained," Dalal said.

Sooke Potholes Regional Park, part of which was protected through the CRD's park acquisition fund, is an example of what can be achieved, Wu said at a news conference.

The situation is urgent because Island Timberlands is set to log several privately owned forests with high recreational and environmental value, he said.

"The government must step forward with a funding solution," Wu said. "At the same time, Island Timberlands needs to put the brakes on their plans to log the last old growth stands and contentious areas until those lands can be purchased for protection."

Island Timberlands did not return calls on Thursday.

The company recently postponed logging on Cortes Island, a move that activist Zoe Miles attributes to intense public pressure. "It's a temporary victory, but it does give us more time to raise funds for land purchase," Miles said. "If Island Timberlands is genuinely willing to consider a land sale at fair market value, then it's the responsibility of our provincial government to listen to its electorate and make that happen."

Conservationists fear Cathedral Grove Canyon, near Port Alberni, and the nearby Cameron Valley Firebreak are about to be logged.

Dalal said the priority for the next fiscal year will be completing projects where there are legal obligations in place or where land with significant value is donated to the province.

"Lands are selected based on priorities for conservation, recreation or operational purposes," he said.

jlavoie@timescolonist.com

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