B.C.’s independent forest-industry watchdog said Tuesday that the province still doesn’t have a good handle on the management of the thousands of kilometers of resource access roads carved into the back country, a decade after it first warned the province about the looming liabilities they pose.
In its 2015 report, the B.C. Forest Practices Board estimates the province has 600,000 kilometres of resource roads on Crown land, with 10,000 kilometers added per year, but the government’s “information about and management of these roads remains inadequate,” the report said.
Resource companies build the roads to access timber, establish natural-gas drilling sites or mining operations, but the province doesn’t have an accurate inventory of them, the report said. Often the most current information about them comes from permits issued approving their construction, not reports on how many were actually built.
“We went through 11 different data sets to piece together our limited picture of what the road landscape looks like,” said Forest Practices Board chairman Tim Ryan. “Nobody has done it before, nobody has a clear picture on what’s out there, on what’s deactivated, not deactivated, what’s an active road and who’s taking care of it.”
The majority of those roads are on Crown land, but pose environmental risks to fish and wildlife habitat if left to erode — not to mention public safety hazards if they are not maintained or deactivated when no longer in use, Ryan said.
And complicating the assignment of responsibility is the fact that resource roads are authorized through 12 different pieces of legislation between the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, the Oil and Gas  Commission and Ministry of Energy and Mines, the report said.
The Forest Practices Board’s key recommendation is that the province complete work on consolidating those bits of legislation into a single act, which was first proposed in 2007, Ryan said, and complete an up-to-date database on where resource roads are and what their status is.
The province is working on writing that single piece of legislation, the Natural Resource Roads Act, said Forest Minister Steve Thomson, but it has involved extensive consultations between government, industry, communities and recreational users.
“It’s currently being finalized,” Thomson said. “We really are looking at making sure we get it right and have the support of all sectors as we bring it forward.”
GeoBC, the provincial agency that collects geospatial information on roads, streams and terrain for the resource sector, is also in the process of compiling that up-to-date database of roads with a deadline to be complete by July 2016.
“It is complex, we are working in stages to do that,” Thomson said.
Ryan said the province needs that baseline information so that more formal strategic plans can be written to manage public access on those roads.
That would include determining which roads will need to be deactivated for environmental, wildlife or safety concerns and which roads will be maintained, as well as who will be responsible for maintaining them.
The reports other recommendations include:
• Creating a website-based tool, referred to as a wiki, that allows collaborative editing of road locations and conditions;
• Creating a new public-highway designation for resource roads that offer access to communities, which would implement a B.C. Forest Safety Ombudsman’s recommendation.