British Columbia has 58,000 kilometres of forest service roads, thousands of kilometres of which are in the Kootenays. Originally built to access timber for logging operations, the roads are also used for other commercial uses and by recreational users to access the backcountry.
A recent audit to determine whether the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development is properly managing the province’s network of forestry roads has found shortcomings.
Overall, the audit, conducted by the Office of the Auditor General, found that the ministry did not manage safety and environmental risks on FSRs as required by its own policies; specifically, it did not complete necessary maintenance and repairs on roads and crossing structures such as bridges and major culverts. The audit also found that shortcomings in maintenance work and lack of reliable information increase risks to road users and to the environment.
FSRs are maintained by forest companies under road user permits, or by the B.C. government when there is no industrial user responsible.
The audit finds that the ministry’s information on inventory, inspections and maintenance for FSRs was inconsistent, difficult to share and at times inaccurate. Some districts did not keep consistent or compete inspection and maintenance records. The auditor said that with this lack of consistency it was impossible to determine from the records if the districts and business areas were meeting required frequencies for inspections and timelines for repairs.
Also districts are not maintaining FSRs as required, partially due to funding shortfalls.
In 2019-2020, the natural resource districts received only about 25 per cent of their budget requests for maintenance on roads they had deemed as priority. And about $9 million worth of high-priority maintenance and repair work was unfunded.
“We found that the ministry did not complete critical maintenance and repairs on roads, bridges and major culverts that are part of the 58,000 kilometers of FSRs in the province,” said Michael Pickup, auditor general.
It was found that the ministry roles and responsibilities for monitoring that maintenance by industrial users was unclear.
While the ministry does try to deactivate FSRs not being used industrially, the audit found that there is pressure to keep roads open for non-industrial users, which increases the need for ongoing maintenance.
The audit came up with nine recommendations.
1. It is recommended that the ministry develop and implement policy, procedures and practices designed to ensure that information on forest service roads, including those under road use permits, is complete, accurate and easily accessible to ministry staff, including BC Timber Sales staff. This includes location, length, the ministry entity responsible for administration, and the permit holder responsible for maintenance.
2 Develop and implement a plan to inspect and maintain bridges and major culverts on forest service roads in accordance with its policy.
3 Review and reconcile the Engineering Manual and Engineering Program Funding Policy to provide consistent guidance for determining forest service road inspection frequency, scheduling maintenance work, and closing and deactivating roads.
4 Review existing or implement new policy, procedures and practices to enable natural resource districts to accurately and consistently track ministry inspections and maintenance on forest service roads.
5 Assess whether the natural resource districts are inspecting forest service roads as required by policy and take action to reconcile any gaps.
6 Take action to reconcile the discrepancy between policy requirements for maintaining forest service roads and the extent of maintenance that actually occurs, given resource allocations.
7 Develop and implement policy, procedures and practices that enable business areas to accurately and consistently track inspections and maintenance on forest service roads.
8 Assess whether it is inspecting and maintaining forest service roads as required by policy and take action to reconcile any gaps.
In their response to the audit, which was included in the report, the ministry said it accepted the recommendations.
“We agree there are opportunities for improvement in FSR management and systems policies and data collection to address OAG findings and recommendations. We will further examine and finalize our electronic data systems and associated policy to ensure data entry accurately captures FSR inventory and responsibility and tracks road permits. We will ensure these data systems and related road policies record FSR and bridge risk assessment, inspections, maintenance and deactivation to better support service plan development and delivery,” the statement said.