Gary Robbins is an endurance athlete based out of Chilliwack, B.C. Through his 15-plus years of competitive trail running he holds many wins, course records and fastest known times around the world. He is perhaps best known for his Barkley Marathons endeavours and narrowly missing a 60-hour race cut-off time by mere seconds in 2017
I’m an endurance runner. I’ve spent much of the past 20-plus years scampering over mountains from New Zealand to Japan, from my home in Chilliwack, B.C., to the North Cascades.
I wasn’t always into this. Growing up in Newfoundland, I was not a particularly fit or active person. I knew I ought to exercise, but jogging on a road never appealed. Eventually, I moved to Banff and discovered outdoor spaces. Trail running became a by-product of trying to hike faster, to cover ground more quickly.
As co-founder of a trail running company on the West Coast, I’m lucky enough to help more than 5,000 people – locals and visitors to B.C. alike – get out into nature each year. I believe that once you experience wild spaces, you’re more likely to want to protect them. I’ve watched this happen over and over again for new trail runners. They discover a love of running in the woods and that deepens their appreciation for the wilderness.
B.C.’s incredible provincial park system – a network favoured by local trail runners – accounts for almost all of the 15.5 per cent of land that is protected in the province (conservancies and other designations make up the rest).
However, the B.C. government reports another 4.1 per cent of its land mass as “other conserved areas” in the federal government’s protected and conserved areas database. That brings the total amount of land mass the province claims it is protecting to 19.6 per cent.
These “other” areas are not focused on conservation at all, however; rather they may protect nature as a happy accident. Think of a military base or a sacred area.
But here’s the thing: Some of these “other” protected areas permit mining and oil and gas extraction. And sometimes the protection isn’t permanent, as in the case of Old Growth Management Areas, whose boundaries can easily be shifted or redrawn without consultation or due process. This is especially concerning when it happens at the request of a forest company wanting to log a previously conserved area.
Claiming these areas as protected land feels a bit like cheating and certainly seems disingenuous. That 4.1 per cent may seem small, but it amounts to an enormous swath of B.C. – nearly the size of Vancouver Island and Haida Gwaii put together. It is important to hold the B.C. government accountable if they’re not being forthright about what “protected” areas really mean.
As a competitive athlete, I know numbers matter. More than 90 countries, including Canada, have committed to protecting 30 per cent of their lands and water by 2030. The only way we’re going to meet this goal is by starting sooner, protecting 25 per cent of B.C. by 2025 to help preserve the places and biodiversity that we rely upon. For me, 25 per cent should be the minimum.
So if the government thinks it has protected 19.6 per cent of the province, but it has really only protected 15.5 per cent, that’s a problem. The government should either adjust its numbers or upgrade these “other conserved areas” to make sure they are actually protected.
Here’s one more number for you – 78. In a recent survey by the B.C. chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, that’s the percentage of British Columbians who said it was wrong for the government to claim areas are protected when they don’t even meet the province’s own standards.
I’m in my mid-40s now. Looking back on the 20 years I’ve spent trail running, hiking and adventuring, I owe my life and my health to what I found out there in those natural spaces. Let’s protect them for future generations to enjoy.
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