Commons BC—comprised of a volunteer group of scientists, land use and policy experts and citizens—proposes the following course of action for the next BC government as it sets out to manage BC’s Crown lands—that is, 94% of the province.
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1. Restore the fish habitat protection legislation that was removed from the Federal Fisheries Act by including the same habitat provisions in the modernization of the provincial Water Act. Such a move would be welcomed by fishermen, environmentalists, First Nations and a great many members of the general public who regard the salmon resource as an iconic feature of BC. It would also help to highlight how ill-advised this move was by the federal government.
An extensive background report on the implications of this potential initiative was completed by law students at University of Victoria and can be made available.
2. Modernize the Water Act. Immediately legislate and implement the changes that have been already consulted on, including:
- Give first priority in any allocation to protecting environmental flows, for salmon, wildlife and nature including covenants to protect them in the granting of any license.
- Require plans for any water-stressed areas and change existing allocations to protect environmental flows
- Where multi-stakeholders are involved, prepare water sustainability plans after the model of BC Hydro’s Water Use Plans
- Allow for emergency reductions in allocations in time of water scarcity
- Have Ministry of Environment (MOE) or the Auditor General’s audit all licenses in water- stressed areas and cancel any unused licenses
3. Revise the Environmental Assessment process, including, but not limited to a better way to:
- Establish a “traffic light” approach at the big picture level
- Assess strategic level programs, such as policies and laws, in addition to specific individual projects.
- Set sustainability criteria that must be met for a project to even apply
- Set rules regarding the use of qualified experts
- Require careful assessment to determine if a project is really needed
- Develop better methods to evaluate and weigh ecological benefits in any cost/benefit analysis.
- Develop methods to incorporate public opinion from any consultative process and explore ways to weigh this factor quantitatively in the decision
- Factor in how important an area is provincially to maintaining ecological health
- Assess a project on the total history of cumulative development on a site not just the isolated effects of the current proposal
4. Appoint a small blue ribbon panel with responsibility for development of a 50 year “Vision for Nature” in BC, i.e., a provincial biodiversity plan.
As long as there is no collective long term vision for BC’s natural legacy, the valley-by-valley fights between environmentalists and industry will continue unabated. The province desperately needs an open dialogue on how it plans to balance protection of the natural world with economic development and what we want this province to look like in fifty years.
This vision could include:
- An ecological map showing the desired land status in of the province in 50 years and what has to be protected, expanded or better managed.
- Polling and interactive dialogue with the public through social media to determine what kind of a natural landscape people want
- Where and how large should animal populations be – how may do we “need”?
- What appropriate revisions have to be made in legislation, policy?
- What changes in governance are needed?
5. Expand the authority and support to the Forest Practices Board to improve its oversight function in monitoring ‘results based management’ by private companies.
Restore the requirement for a mandatory Sustainable Forest Plan that would incorporate and address all forest values, not just timber and which would be the basis for most resource planning.
6. Selected joint sign-off. For referrals on selected important key ecological lands, amend the legislation that governs the issuance of permits for mining, forestry, subdivisions, oil and gas, grazing to give environmental officers equal authority as statutory decision makers to bring balance to government resource decision making on sensitive lands. Such authority could be project specific at the Cabinet’s discretion. (Admittedly a hard one.)
7. Explore the establishment of a permanent endowment to fund environmental initiatives, based on one, or a mixture, of the following mechanisms:
- 1% tax on sporting goods, similar to the Pitman-Robertson, Dingle-Johnston acts in the USA
- One-time major Conservation Endowment from BC Lottery funds
- A Conservation Impost on one or more of a ton of coal, a cubic meter of timber, a cubic foot of gas, a barrel of oil, development permits.
8. Place a complete moratorium on any further construction or approval of independent power projects (IPPs) and the threat to fisheries they pose. Sponsor an independent, non-political assessment of British Columbia’s need for electrical power with a view to obtaining an accurate forecast to guide future construction, transmission, pricing and conservation initiatives. Perhaps no single analysis is more important to planning for the province’s future direction.
Defer any decision or movement on the Site C Dam until this assessment is completed.
9. Initiate a two(or more?)—year process to identify the lands that are needed to establish ecological connectivity between the existing Parks, Protected Areas, federal lands, compatible forest company lands and holdings of land acquisition organizations. Action is needed to ensure that protected areas don’t become “isolated” by development, resource extraction and subdivision. Emphasis should be on the four ecosystems that are most threatened as identified in “Taking Nature’s Pulse”:
- This could be a mini-version of something similar to the previous Land and Resource Management Planning process, using the elements of that process that proved most successful.
- The core consideration in this exercise should be science, especially the findings of “Taking Nature’s Pulse” reducing the need for extensive stakeholder consultation. • Any that is needed can be done through social media
- Explore whether and how such lands can be adequately protected without the necessity of giving all of them legal park status.
10. As an initial sign of positive change and good faith, the new Government of BC should commit to $10 million successively in each the three budget years from 2013 to 2016, for a fund of $30(?) million to begin to restore:
- Implementation of the Conservation Framework in Ministry of Environment
- Development of species recovery plans
- Interpretative programs in BC Parks.
11. Restore $3 million funding to the Muskwa Kechika Board to implement the original vision of the Muskwa Management Act, which is currently stagnated due to removal of funding… This funding would:
- Allow better oversight and reporting, now lacking, on industrial activities
- Facilitate a public relations/communications plan to make the MK better known internationally
- Enable critical research on large predator systems
- Restore management capability to the Northern Rockies Park
12. Support and maintain the Healthy Forests/Healthy Communities dialogue as an ongoing vehicle for consultation and as a sounding board for forest communities.
13. Establish a program “Recycle the Wilderness,” designed to restore wilderness quality, ecological capability, forest productivity and recreational capacity to lands that have already been accessed, altered and degraded for resource extraction. As will be obvious, this initiative is a logical but more ambitious extension of the program to protect ecological connectivity outlined in (9) above.
The iconic images that best identify British Columbia to the world are the province’s wilderness and wildlife, made all the more significant because across the globe, the pristine natural world is disappearing. Industrial access to wilderness engenders repeated conflict in BC because it is a diminishing resource – continually eroded but never enhanced.
Every year, development, access and resource extraction invade and impact more and more wilderness areas and after their economic “usefulness” ends, the areas are simply abandoned.
There is in fact, considerable potential to make wilderness a “renewable” resource and restore selected areas to close to pristine condition through imaginative and innovative management of the land.
Over the past decade, a substantial amount of both Crown and private lands have been set aside by various parties for ecological purposes. Over 14% of the Crown land is in protected area. In addition land acquisition organizations such as The Nature Trust, The Nature Conservancy of British Columbia, The Land Conservancy and Ducks Unlimited have significant private land holdings. The Nature Trust, for example, holds 61,000 hectares.
In appropriate areas, these protected lands—both Crown and private—could be managed collectively as one parcel along with adjacent restored lands that have already been logged and mined. For almost every species, the larger the piece being managed, the more ecological options there are, and the greater the chance that a large chunk of the landscape could be returned to wilderness quality, forestry productivity and ecological capability. The program would:
- Improve management, interpretation and ecological restoration within existing Parks to maximize the investment already made and repair the damage caused by years of reduced budgets.
- Recycle lands already impacted by resource extraction by:- Putting excess roads to bed
– Pulling problem stream crossings
– Removing construction infrastructure
– Replanting where appropriate
– Provide ecological connectivity between (1) existing parks, (2) Protected Areas and lands held by (3) agreeable forest companies and (4) private land acquisition organizations by establishing a short term Land and Resource Management Planning process to designate such lands, with consultation conducted through social media.
– Science—especially the findings of “Taking Nature’s Pulse”—should be the core consideration in this exercise, negating the need for extensive stakeholder consultation.
– Find a way such lands can be adequately protected without the necessity of giving them all legal park status.
14. Establish a Youth Conservation Corps to restore and rehabilitate trails, infrastructure, and landscapes in BC Parks and to be the cornerstone workforce in the “Recycling the Wilderness” program. Make this program a combination of apprenticeship and mentoring so that knowledgeable (retired?) professionals could train entry level workers in ecological field work. Partnerships can be promoted with environmental organizations.
15. Formally adopt a Public Land Charter (or Ethic) for British Columbia.
There is an increasing demand from the public that there should be a set of principles that guide our use of public land and that reflect respect for all values on the land. This charter could enshrine, but not be limited to, such concepts as:
- What environmental “rights” can citizens reasonably expect to enjoy?
- What obligation does government have to the public?
- What obligations do individuals have?
- Should wildlife/nature have “rights”?