kenstorie.ca/ writing

The Environment / Letters to Politicians #11

To:
 
Mr. Steve Ashton
Minister of Conservation
 
CC.Parks Department  /  Minister of Tourism
 
I’m writing to bring to your attention a concern about some environmentally  unsound procedures, practices (habits?) followed by the staffs in our Provincial Parks.  We believe that governments and their agencies should set a standard for environmentally sound practices, and that Provincial Parks and other nature oriented departments have a special obligation in this regard.
 
We recently had a short holiday at Hnausa Provincial Park. It’s been a favorite for years but we were disturbed by some trends.
 
The most disturbing trend was the near-constant use of a 4 Wheel All Terrain vehicle to do a variety of tasks. These vehicles produce more emissions in an hour than a modern car does in 5 hours. They are noisy and dangerous. They are being used for a whole host of near-useless activities. What happens is that instead of planning a circuit to do maintenance or cleaning tasks, staff hop on this machine, cross the entire park, perform a small task like moving a picnic table, then return. (We observed exactly that!).  These machines are just too tempting - who could resist a a bit of joy riding? Whoever made the decision to purchase these toys was not only incredibly environmentally insensitive, but also naive as to their usefulness.
 
And then there are the lawn mowers and trimmers. I realize that there aren’t many viable alternatives to the big ride-on mower used, but we need to make reasonable decisions as to how often grass needs to be mowed. There are now electric alternatives for small mowers and trimmers.  I know it will take time and money to phase out these machines, but I think a Parks Department is definitely the place to start such changes.
 
The point is, that even if you must have all these power tools, someone needs to make responsible decisions about their use. At one time on an otherwise peaceful morning, there were three staff using gas powered implements, doing relatively unnecessary tasks.  I watched one worker use a gas power trimmer to trim the edge of the lawn along the beach - totally unnecessary. 
 
The staff that we encountered were friendly and pleasant, and in most ways were doing a fine job - but they perhaps needed some leadership and guidelines.
 
A second concern was the use of Personal Watercraft near the campground and beach.  Once again, noisy and polluting. These vehicles have no place near a Provincial Campground. Why would we continue to allow the self-serving pleasure of a few insensitive individuals take priority over the rights of the majority of campers who would like a clean lake and peaceful surroundings?
 
As an aside, we couldn’t help but notice the huge Seadoos that the Beach Patrol a Grand Beach have at their disposal. I know someone will make a case that these could be useful in an emergency. I challenge anyone to provide stats indicating that they do increase safety. Regardless, they are being used for routine trips to check out the perimeter while the kayaks sit empty. This is so totally unacceptable that I really wonder if there is any environmental senisitivity at all in Parks Management. Who makes these decisions?
 
A third concern is more general. We wonder about the direction new developments are taking. What is the vision for Provincial Parks? What is the purpose? What should we be promoting?
 
For example; the two of us pull into Hnausa with our small vehicle and pay the modest $10 fee, and set up our small tent. We use a small amount of wood, produce a small amount of garbage, and make every effort to not be intrusive in any way.   Most of the other sites contain large camper trailers or motor homes, some have as many as three vehicles, many sites have a tent as well.  Many have brought in a whole variety of furniture, barbecues, etc.  One had a gas-powered generator. This isn’t camping, these are low-rent summer homes.  A common practice seems to be for someone to set up camp and then have a few friends over for the evenings. Vehicle traffic is constant - even past the 11 o’clock deadline.  I must point out that these were family gatherings - not the wild party crowd - and we’re not complaining about their behavior in that sense. The point is; these users pay the same fee as us, but in terms of environmental impact and in terms of use of resources - we’re much more profitable as clients. Shouldn’t a fee structure promote non intrusive low impact use of natural resources?
 
Some quick recommendations :
 
1. Upper management should visit a few parks as customers and observe. There are often much better ways to do things.
 
2. Staff at parks should spend a little less time on lawn care and more on other tasks. Enforcing existing rules would be a useful task.
 
3. Environmentally friendly practices should be the norm. All policies and procedures should encourage promote respect for the environment.
 
4. We need to recognize the difference between people who come to campground to enjoy nature and people who come to visit and party. Both  can be accommodated - but it’s two different things. We’ve asked before about the possibility of more tent-only vehicle-free quiet zones.
 
In summary: We are citizens concerned with the environment, interested in quiet non-intrusive getaways, and we believe that Parks Management should be working towards providing more opportunities of that nature.
 
We would be happy to answer any follow-up questions you might have.  We know criticism is easy and developing solutions is much more difficult. Are there things such as citizen boards, focus groups, or data-gathering task forces that can provide input into Park policies? I would be willing to volunteer some time - especially at research tasks.
 
 
Thanks for your attention.
 
 
Ken and Bev Storie
 
bkstorie@mts.net

 

 

MINISTER OF CONSERVATION

Legislative Building

Winnipeg, Manitoba, CANADA

 

R3C OV8

 

Ken and Bev Storie

#129-m 1201 20th Street

Brandon MB R7B 2P5            DEC 13 2003

 

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Storie:

 

This is in response to your email to my predecessor Honourable Steve Ashton, regarding your recent stay at Hnausa Provincial Park, which outlined your observations and recommendations concerning various aspects of park operations. As you noted, government and their agencies should set a standard for environmentally sound practices and that provincial parks have a special obligation to fulfil this commitment.

 

Manitoba Conservation is committed to ensure that our provincial parks are a safe and peaceful venue for all park users to enjoy. Our provincial parks are dedicated to the people of Manitoba and visitors to Manitoba. Conserving ecosystems and maintaining bio-diversity; preserving unique and representative natural, cultural and heritage resources; and providing outdoor recreational and educational opportunities and experiences are the prime purposes of our provincial park system.

 

Your comments on the department's use of maintenance and patrol machinery and personal watercraft will be shared with supervisory staff with respect to noise and emissions in our environment. Your second concern raised the issue of noise and emissions from personal watercraft operating near the vicinity of swimming areas and campgrounds. There are no plans to ban personal watercraft in provincial parks as their use is an accepted recreational activity providing that they are used in a safe and responsible manner. Department staff will continue to monitor personal watercraft activity and will consider program adjustments if required.

 

Tent-only campsites are offered in many provincial park campgrounds, but vehicle access is not normally restricted. A few exceptions such as Wekusko Falls and Grass River provincial park campgrounds or bachcountry campsites do restrict vehicle access and promote pedestrian or canoe traffic. I appreciate your low-impact ethics on camping and your views will be kept in mind as Manitoba Conservation manages our provincial park system.

 

Yours sincerely, Stan Struthers Minister of Conservation