We’re asking British Columbians to weigh in on a simple Yes or No question: Does BC need a policy that specifically supports wetlands?
Why would BC need a wetland policy?
We’ve been asking BC communities informally for years, and finally decided we need to “go to the polls” and then share the results back to the public and to decision makers. Some of you may love wetlands but may argue that BC has sufficient regulations to protect them or will even be vehiminantly opposed to more government intervention – while others will see the value in gaining increased certainty and measures to conserve one of our most sensitive and historically maligned ecosystems and the need for the government to take a more concerted role in their conservation.
Despite the Federal Government’s No Net Loss Policy for wetlands introduced in 1991 and the hope Canadians had for ending the trend of wetland loss across the country, the policy only applies to Federal lands (a mere 1% of our landscape). The Federal Government has some decision making authority for wetlands that offer homes to migratory birds, certain fish; and wetlands with federally listed species at risk. However, most of the power to protect and conserve almost all of BC’s wetlands is held by the Provincial Government.
Provincially, the BC government has taken some commendable strides in enabling better protection for wetlands, and some provincial policies do support their conservation. Most recently, under the new 2015 Water Sustainability Act, wetland types such as marshes, swamps, and fens (unfortunately not bogs) are clearly articulated and thus the Act enables protection from many activities that would occur in or near them. The previous act only specified swamps and interpretation of the outdated 1909 Act resulted in some wetlands not being protected. The clarification to additional wetland classes should help in future interpretation by decision makers. This is promising and we applaud this direction. However, what may be considered a concern is that most approvals regarding impact to wetlands and mitigation of those impacts are still left to the discretion of the decision maker.
Other Provinces and States have developed a specific wetland policy or provincial tools to better conserve wetlands:
Nova Scotia Wetland Policy: as of 2011, Nova Scotia adopted a “No Net Loss policy goal (with a no loss policy of wetlands deemed to have special significance).
Albert Wetland Policy: in 2013, Alberta released a policy with a goal “to conserve, restore, protect, and manage Alberta’s wetlands to sustain the benefits they provide to the environment, society, and the economy.”
Ontario’s Wetland Evaluation System: for the last 20 years versions of Ontario’s Wetland evaluation system have provided a method for resource managers to make informed decisions across the province. Ontario’s wetland policy is currently provided through a broader: Provincial Policy Statement.
What BC could gain from a wetland policy and related supporting mechanisms:
- Better clarity for business, developers, and other proponents, on expected outcomes of their projects, enabling them to understand potential costs early in the business proposal.
- More guidance and enabling mechanisms to Local Government decision makers who implement land use decisions
- Improved provincial accounting for wetland impacts and measures to protect or mitigate these impacts.
Please participate in the poll click here. You can answer Yes or No. We want to hear from you and weigh in on this proposed policy we are considering taking forward to the Province.
Your participation will enter you to win one of four BCWF Wetlands Beaver long-sleeve shirts. Poll will end on February 28th 2016.
Details on wetland importance and historic and current loss:
Wetlands are used by approximately 50% of wildlife species; approximately 30 % of Species at Risk depend on them, despite wetlands only occupying approximately 6% of our provincial landscape. We have begun to recognize the tremendous value wetlands can provide to society including: flood control, water purification, and stream recharge. Economists have begun to associate economic values in the thousands to tens of thousands per hectare of wetland based on benefits provided to society. By 1990, the Fraser Lowlands had lost 86% of its historic wetlands, with just over another 1000 hectares lost between 1989 and 2009. The Okanagan has lost nearly 95% of its historic wetlands, with 31-38% loss since 1988. The trend is fairly consistent across developed areas of our Province. In Canada, approximately 80 acres are lost daily.
The BC Wildlife Federation initiated a Wetlands Program 20 years ago which has provided stewardship training to communities across BC involving wetland advocacy, conservation and restoration. Learn more at www.bcwf.bc.ca.