Landowners feel impact of environmental bylaw

Conditions imposed by Saanich far more strict than other B.C. municipalities

Re: Saanich begins review of environmental development bylaw, Oct. 12

The article regarding the Environmental Development Permit Area (EDPA) bylaw review continues to provide misinformation about the bylaw and how it has impacted homeowners.

Saanich CAO Paul Thorkelsson is quoted as saying: “It’s important to note that Saanich is not alone in our pursuit of environmental protection. Many municipalities in B.C. have similar regulations in place.”

What Mr. Thorkelsson does not point out is that the implementation of the EDPA in the District of Saanich is very different than all other municipalities. No other municipality continues to protect Environmentally Significant Areas (ESAs) when they no longer occur. Only Saanich continues to maintain that areas with lawn and gardens under Garry oak trees are sensitive ecosystem ESAs, even if the natural ecosystems have been gone for over half a century.  No other jurisdiction in the CRD uses computer-generated buffers.

All other municipalities would remove these properties from the EDPA, because they recognize that these are mapping errors, based on air photographs from the 1990s. These areas have never been checked on the ground.  UVIC professor Deborah Curran, in her 2016 version of the Green Bylaws Toolkit, has a section that talks about the importance of accurate maps. It indicates that “mapping efforts should attempt to ground-truth ESAs mapped from air photos” and goes on to say that “to confirm ground-truthing raises the level of confidence in the accuracy of the ESA maps.”  This important step has been completely missed by Saanich.

Metro Vancouver has recently had sensitive ecosystem mapping done by consultants. The final step was to do accuracy assessment of the mapping, which came up with accuracy numbers in the high 80s and low 90 per cent. Saanich, again, has not performed this important step.

The B.C. Local Government Act gives municipalities the authority to designate development permit areas for the “protection of the natural environment, its ecosystems and biological diversity.” If the natural environment no longer exists, does Saanich have the authority to use an EDPA?

Only the District of Saanich requires landowners to plant native plants on their properties within the EDPA in exchange for a building permit for a house or garage. This is occurring in areas that contained no native species before building. However, on the District of Saanich lands, such as in many parks and public areas, Saanich continues to plant and maintain mostly non-native species. An example is Saanich’s Gorge Park, within what is mapped as a Marine Backshore ESA in the EDPA. This spring over 20 different species of trees were planted. Not one of these species is a native species.

Our group has put forward a proposal that would encourage all residents of Saanich to be part of the biodiversity solution.  This would encourage all individual landowners to plant native species, and remove aggressive invasive species.

We believe that by taking a co-operative approach, providing education and possibly plant materials, the district will be much more successful in engaging landowners to improve biodiversity. We believe that protection is still needed for those areas that actually have special ecological features remaining, but this needs to be done in co-operation and possibly through incentives, that all residents of Saanich can contribute to.

Anita Bull, president

Saanich Citizens for a Responsible EDPA