I was at the Saanich council meeting held Sept. 28 about the potential removal of two properties from the Environmental Development Permit Area (EDPA) Atlas. This bylaw exists in Saanich to: protect the areas of highest biodiversity; require mitigation during development; and require restoration to damaged or degraded ecosystems during development.
EDPA has received a lot of attention over the past couple years. Some Saanich citizens believe their properties are not ecologically sensitive and therefore should not have limited development potential. They also feel that the EDPA bylaw has diminished the “value” of their properties.
I sympathize with some of the owners’ issues and agree with them that Saanich also needs to implement positive incentives for private landowners to conserve habitat on their properties. I also think some of those fighting to abolish the EDPA bylaw originally moved to Saanich for its natural beauty, the result of Saanich’s careful legislation around development.
During the meeting, Mayor Richard Atwell spontaneously attempted to repeal the entire EDPA bylaw without any consultation with Saanich councillors or citizens. It showed an utter disrespect not only for our natural environment, but for the councillors and for his predecessors who worked to make this important bylaw a reality. What do you think this says about how much respect the mayor has for you?
I agree that flaws exist within the current EDPA bylaw and I agree that those flaws should be addressed. However, ecosystems need protection on private lands. Saanich has some of the largest tracks of remaining Garry oak ecosystem (GOE) in our region. Habitat loss is the primary threat, with less than five per cent of the original GOEs remaining. Most GOE remnants are in isolated, fragmented communities that have no connection to other oak communities. It is important to retain the components of these ecosystems as much as possible.
According to Mayor Atwell, Saanich would focus on existing parklands and ignore private land, counter to the views of experts working in GOE conservation. Mayor Atwell’s impulsive behaviour testifies to his immature attitude towards important laws that are here to protect the environment.
Mayor Atwell condoned poor behaviour from Saanich residents during the meeting. Several people approached me afterwards to say they wanted to say something, but were too afraid. They congratulated those of us who spoke in favour for “being brave.” Should we have to be “brave” to approach council?
The reality is: We are land stewards, not land owners. The effects of habitat degradation are cumulative and severe.
Please let Saanich councillors and Mayor Atwell know that you support a bylaw that works towards the protection of rare species and habitats on private land, a model that can be improved and emulated in other municipalities. If you are an affected landowner, start thinking about the constructive changes that would help this bylaw work for you.
Kristen Miskelly, owner and operator
Saanich Native Plants