Saanich needs to take a new approach with EDPA

EDPA bylaw has to be carefully crafted, and even more carefully implemented

I am a registered professional biologist and Saanich homeowner. In my career I worked on conserving wildlife habitat, species at risk and ecosystems at risk. I strongly support maintaining biological diversity. I am also a strong supporter of landowners’ rights. I believe the two have to be balanced. The Environmental Development Permit Area issue has become extremely polarized. It need not be. We need to find a co-operative approach where ecological values and landowners’ rights can both be maintained. All stakeholders need their opinions heard.

A report by Dr. Peter Pearse, commissioned by then federal environment minister David Anderson for the Federal Species at Risk Act, indicates: “…we live in a society today where, if an individual suffers losses because of undertakings carried out in the public interest, the public interest requires that the individual be compensated.”

The report goes on to say that the federal government’s preferred approach to protecting habitats was to engage the voluntary efforts of landowners through incentive and stewardship programs. Where mandatory restrictions are necessary these would be done through landowner compensation.

Saanich’s recent declaration of the right to a healthy environment states, “Ensure equitable distribution of environmental benefits and burdens within the municipality.”

Voluntary actions to protect ecological features are far better supported than mandatory restrictions. Many Saanich residents already have a deep love for their properties and this needs to be encouraged and promoted.

There are conservation groups, such as Habitat Acquisition Trust (HAT), that work with great success in the Victoria area to encourage and support landowners in protecting and enhancing special features on their properties.

There needs to be a clear vision for the EDPA bylaw that defines what the district is attempting to accomplish over the longer term and exactly how this will occur. All residents need to understand how their property fits the vision. The vision and actions required in the EDPA need to be scientifically defensible, with documented proof that such actions, such as restoration, can be successfully accomplished in local ecosystems. Are there sites in Saanich, or nearby, where restoration has occurred that the District of Saanich is trying to emulate? What are the associated costs and the time required?

Saanich Parks need to be a major component of the EDPA solution. The parks department needs to be provided with sufficient funding to do restoration on their special areas, such as Garry oak woodland, which are rapidly becoming overrun with invasive species, especially invasive grasses.

I believe that there is a place for an EDPA bylaw. However, it has to be carefully crafted, and even more carefully implemented. Implementation has to come with clear rules that landowners understand before these rules are applied to their properties. The new bylaw needs to encourage positive actions for the environment such as removal of invasive species and planting native species. We need an EDPA bylaw that all residents of Saanich can embrace. We need to work co-operatively towards this.

Ted Lea