Saanich councillor calls Garry oak undergrowth clearing ‘heart-breaking’

Coun. Nathalie Chambers made the comment as council moves forward to replace EDPA

A Saanich councillor said it was “heart-breaking” to see crews clear the undergrowth of a Garry oak ecosystem in Saanich in calling for a return to “stewardship and reverence” towards the community’s natural lands.

“The Garry oak ecosystem is endemic and contains many specialist species including up to 63-117 specialist pollinators, wildlife and vegetation that can only find food, forage [and] refuge in [that system],” she said. “The understory is critical habitat for these species and their conservation needs.”

Coun. Nathalie Chambers made these comments in response to developments on Milner Avenue, where private crews last week cleared the undergrowth of four lots where Kasapi Construction plans to build a subdivision. The proposed subdivision would stand on land previously protected by the Environmental Development Permit Area (EDPA) bylaw and area residents have accused the company of trying create facts on the ground.

Staff last year asked the company to revise its subdivision, which remains active, and said last week that they found “no contraventions at the present time” when asked about the legality of the crews cutting down the under-growth. Staff could also find no evidence in support of claims by area residents that the EDPA would have protected the lots from the work.

“Without a specific assessment of the site by a qualified professional, it can not be confirmed if the vegetation being cleared would or would not have been protected under the old EDPA,” said Kelsie McLeod, a Saanich spokesperson.

RELATED: Residents accuse developer of playing ‘dirty’ over sensitive eco-system in Saanich

But if the circumstances surrounding this specific application remain the source of contention, it has re-drawn attention to the state of local measures designed to protect the natural environment following the demise of the EDPA.

Saanich’s previous council instructed staff to bring forward a biodiversity conservation strategy consisting of various components, a process about to hit a major milestone Monday, as council prepares to receive a staff report on the subject, with several recommendations to move forward attached to it.

Tentatively bearing the name Natural Saanich, the proposed framework would consist of three major elements: a new climate plan, a biodiversity conservation plan, and a stewardship program.

“Natural Saanich would also include recommended updates to existing bylaws, policies, and programs as well as new ones that are directly related to biodiversity,” said Sharon Hvozdanski, Saanich’s director of planning, in a staff report. “These recommendations would come about as a result of the gap analysis and outcomes of the [climate action plan] and [biodiversity conservation plan]. The [stewardship program] would also support the outcomes.”

Notably, Hvozdanski said the proposed framework “would also consider options for a new [development permit area]” as informed by the so-called Diamond Head report, an extensive, but ultimately unrealized review of the EDPA before its rescinding.

This said, the development of this framework still remains in its early stages. Hvozdanski’s report anticipates completion for sometime in 2022.

Chambers, meanwhile, plans to bring forward proposals for interim measures.


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