Since the establishment of Strathcona, the first provincial park in 1911, the parks and protected areas system has grown to over 1000 protected areas, covering over 14 million hectares, 14.4% of the province.
Types of parks and protected areas
Parks and protected areas system administered by BC Parks (as of March 9, 2023)
|Class A parks||630||10,553,292|
|Class B parks||2||3,778|
|Class C parks||13||484|
|Designations under the Environment and Land Use Act||85||383,475|
BC Parks designations and the allowable activities under each designation type [PDF]
British Columbia’s protected areas system provides for the protection and maintenance of important natural and cultural values and outstanding outdoor recreation opportunities.
Protected areas contain some of the best representative elements of British Columbia’s natural and cultural heritage. They include ecological reserves; provincial parks; conservancies; recreation areas; and protected areas established under the Environment and Land Use Act.
All provincial parks are highly protected Crown lands and managed to high standards. There are three classifications of provincial parks: Class A, Class B or Class C parks.
Class A park
The majority of the provincial parks in the system are Class A parks. These parks are lands dedicated to the preservation of their natural environments for the inspiration, use and enjoyment of the public.
Development in a Class A park is limited to that which is necessary for the maintenance of its recreational values. Activities such as grazing, hay cutting and other uses (except commercial logging, mining or hydroelectric development) that existed at the time the park was established may be allowed to continue in certain parks.
Class A parks can be established by two means. Class A parks can be established by either order in council under the Park Act or by inclusion in a schedule to the Protected Areas of British Columbia Act.
Class B park
Class B parks differ from Class A parks in that a Class B park may permit a broader range of activities and uses provided that such uses are not detrimental to the recreational values of the park.
Class B parks are established by order in council.
Class C park
The requirements for the management of Class C parks with respect to restricting the alienation of interests and protecting natural resources is identical to those for Class A parks. Class C parks differ from Class A parks in that a Class C park must be managed by a local board appointed by the minister. They are generally small parks providing local recreational amenities.
Class C parks are established by order in council.
Conservancies are Crown lands set aside for:
- the protection and maintenance of their biological diversity and natural environments;
- the preservation and maintenance of social, ceremonial and cultural uses of First Nations;
- the protection and maintenance of their recreational values; and
- development or use of natural resources in a manner consistent with the purposes of (a), (b), and (c) above.
The conservancy designation explicitly recognizes the importance of these areas to First Nations for social, ceremonial and cultural uses. Conservancies provide for a wider range of low impact, compatible economic opportunities than Class A parks, however, commercial logging, mining and hydroelectric power generation, other than local run-of-the-river projects, are prohibited. These economic opportunities must still not restrict, prevent or hinder the conservancy from meeting its intended purpose with respect to maintaining biological diversity, natural environments, First Nations social, ceremonial and cultural uses, and recreational values.
Conservancies can be designated by two means. Conservancies can be established by order in council under the Park Act or by inclusion in a schedule to the Protected Areas of British Columbia Act. Presently, all conservancies are established by inclusion in schedules to the Protected Areas of British Columbia Act.
Protected areas are established by order in council under the Environment and Land Use Act. The Environment and Land Use Act is a broad piece of legislation which empowers a Land Use Committee of Cabinet to ensure that all aspects of the preservation and maintenance of the natural environment are fully considered in the administration of land use and resource development.
Protected areas generally have one or more existing or proposed activities that are not usually allowed in a park (e.g., proposed industrial road, pipeline, transmission line or communication site). Allowable activities and management direction are determined by specific provisions and any special conditions when the area is established as well as relevant sections of the Park Act and Park, Conservancy and Recreation Area Regulation as identified in the order in council.
Protected area designations under the Environment and Land Use Act are by order in council.
Ecological reserves are Crown lands reserved for ecological purposes including the following:
- Areas suitable for scientific research and educational purposes associated with studies in productivity and other aspects of the natural environment;
- Areas that are representative examples of natural ecosystems in British Columbia;
- Areas that serve as examples of ecosystems that have been modified by human beings and offer an opportunity to study the recovery of the natural ecosystem from modification;
- Areas where rare or endangered native plants and animals in their natural habitat may be preserved; and,
- Areas that contain unique and rare examples of botanical, zoological or geological phenomena.
The legislation guiding the ecological reserve program is very restrictive and all extractive activities are prohibited. As such, ecological reserves are considered to be the areas most highly protected and least subject to human influence.
Ecological reserves can be established by two means: (i) by order in council under the Ecological Reserve Act or (ii) by inclusion in schedules to the Protected Areas of British Columbia Act.
While most ecological reserves are open to the public, they are not established for outdoor recreation and no extractive activities are allowed.
Recreation areas are Crown lands set aside for public recreational use. The majority of these areas were established to allow a mineral resource evaluation under a time-limited tenure; no other industrial activities are permitted. All current recreation areas are being evaluated to determine if they should become fully protected or returned to integrated resource management lands.
Recreation areas are established by order in council.