Over the past year, I have been frequenting national and provincial parks more often. Each time, I’ve had to pay upon entering. I didn’t think much of it until my boyfriend and I went on a trip to Seattle, Washington over the summer. While we were there, we visited both the Olympic National Park and Mount Rainier National Park. On both occasions, we had to pay a $25 vehicle entry fee. I know it doesn’t seem like a lot of money in the grand scheme of things—$25 for everyone in a single vehicle for 7 days is a fair deal—and yet I couldn’t help but wonder why we had to pay. Shouldn’t the marvels of nature be free and accessible to all? I don’t pay to see the trees outside my house, so why should I pay for access to see a forest of trees?
Upon researching the topic of Canadian national parks, I’ve learned that for most parks, there is an entry fee. Now, why is there a fee? According to Parks Canada, the fees “help maintain the places and services that national and international visitors use most – including scenic parkways, day use areas, trails and public safety, education and information services.” Park infrastructure, like many other things, wears down over time and paying fees helps restore the parks to make them safe and prevent any further degradation. For example, bridges to cross raging rapids or rails to prevent unexpected falls are all paid for by the fee revenue so as to enhance the public experience.
Bridges such as this one are paid for by entry fees. (Photo taken by me.)
But what about the government? What are they doing to help sustain national parks? The truth is, the Canadian government does allocate money in its budget to support the maintenance of national parks. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is already providing $364 million to Parks Canada over 2018-2019 that will fund national parks, marine conservation areas and historic sites. Even with this money paid via our tax dollars, there are 47 National Parks (this is not including the conservation areas and historic sites) in Canada and each one has a multitude of monetary needs from paying employees to building roadways for the parks. $364 million dollars may seem like a lot of money, but it’s easy to see how quickly that money will be depleted once it is dispersed amongst these various areas. Paying entrance fees will help to alleviate some of the financial burdens that are unable to be met by government assistance.
What about allocating more money in the governmental budget to Parks Canada? Remember that the budget takes our tax dollars and divvies them up amongst the various sectors of society, including healthcare, education, and green initiatives. If the government shifts more money towards Park Canada, less money will go towards, for example, healthcare. Do we value healthcare more than the parks? Truthfully, we do, or else we would have to pay for expensive medical procedures out of pocket.
Now, one might counter with, “Why should my tax dollars even go to these parks? I don’t use them, so why do I have to pay for them?” There are two responses to this argument: a moral one and an economic one. For the former, consider this: most likely, you use a car on a day-to-day basis. It is already well-known that cars release greenhouse gases, damaging the environment. In some areas, climate change has resulted in rising water levels. These rising water levels flood areas not used to a large influx of water, so the wildlife and flora and fauna are destroyed as a result. Your act of using a motor vehicle can result in the irrevocable destruction of nature in some areas of the world, including those in national parks. Since your presence on the earth impacts the rest of nature, you should be held responsible for its conservation in the form of tax dollars.
The economic response is as follows: the earth’s resources can be quantified in the form of natural capital, which refers to the “earth’s natural ecosystem as stocks or assets that provide resources and a flow of services.” Essentially, this means that renewable and non-renewable resources have a dollar value associated with them depending on their benefit to society. For example, the annual value of air pollution removed by trees in the Greenbelt is $68,863,488. The fewer trees there are, the more money we have to spend to keep our air clean, so it makes sense to pay taxes towards the conservation of forests to avoid having to pay more in the future to clean the air. This natural capital demonstrates the need to maintain the earth’s ecosystem in order to still have benefits such as lumber and food. National Parks are a significant source of these resources.
A diagram showing the connection between natural capital and society. (Image source: Natural Capital Coalition)
So, after all this, where do we stand in terms of paying for National Parks? Well, considering moral and economic arguments, it makes sense to pay via our tax dollars for the preservation of National Parks. However, due to a limited government budget and deterioration, it is fair that those directly using the parks should pay an additional entry fee. Acts such as camping and hiking will result in damage to the environment. Crossing a bridge, for example, will eventually result in the bridge falling into disrepair, making it a safety hazard for others.
At the end of the day, we are responsible for the earth, so we should continue to make a concerted effort to conserve it for the benefit of everyone now and in the future.