Past priorities 2013-2017
Organizing for Change and its member groups put forward three to five priorities each year that are opportunities for both government and opposition to demonstrate environmental leadership. Over the course of a four-year election cycle we encourage government and opposition to build a positive track record of success in protecting B.C.’s magnificent natural heritage that they will be proud to stand on in coming elections.
- Passing the long-awaited Water Sustainability Act, replacing BC’s century-old Water Act. While many of the critical details will be implemented through yet-to-be-developed regulations, the new Act is a big improvement over the old one.
- Deferring more than 60 outstanding coal claims in the Sacred Headwaters to ensure they don’t become tenures, which would then be big barriers to protection options in on-going talks with the Tahltan First Nation.
- Following on the coal claim deferrals in the Sacred Headwaters, government pursued an innovative approach to secure a decade of ‘space’ in which the proposed coal mine in the Sacred Headwaters would not be pursued, allowing talks with Tahltan about protection and other land use issues in the region to continue.
Permanent Protection for BC’s Flathead Valley ↑
While the rich biodiversity of the Flathead River Valley and adjacent Elk Valley remained the topic of much discussion in the past year, little action was taken towards a national park in the Flathead or securing a wildlife corridor in the Elk. However, the mandate letters sent to Ministers in June 2015 directed several of them to work together to “provide options to Cabinet on a wildlife access corridor in southeast British Columbia.” We will be watching how this development unfolds in the coming months and look forward to working with government to ensure this direction results in concrete protection measures on the ground.
Protecting the Sacred Headwaters ↑↑
LNG in BC’s North: Time to Look at the Big Picture
The B.C. government made progress in the past year to introduce policies and initiatives that attempt to assess the overlapping impacts of a whole range of resource uses on the B.C. landbase – from logging and mining to the rapidly expanding gas fracking fields in the northeast. However, none of them take the necessary step of stitching together those assessments with the potential impact scenarios for proposed LNG projects at the ‘big picture’ level. As well, neither local communities nor provincial environmental organizations have meaningfully been brought into those initiatives to ensure their perspectives and values are addressed in decision-making. Without these changes, local tolerance for the significant impacts of LNG development is predictably waning.
Sharing and Protecting BC’s Water
At more than 100 years old, BC’s Water Act was in desperate need of an overhaul. Government embarked on ‘modernizing’ the Water Act more than four years ago. In October, 2013 they released a “Legislative Proposal for a Water Sustainability Act” as a third (and last) opportunity for the public to have their say on what the replacement Act should be and do. Hundreds of British Columbians submitted comments and hundreds more sent emails to make their voices heard. Again.
The B.C. government made an unequivocal commitment during the 2013 election to pass a new Water Sustainability Act, and in May 2014 the new Act received Royal Assent. Many of the critical details will be implemented by regulations now being developed, but there are several things to like about the new Act: it’s likely groundwater will finally be regulated, there are better protections of water flows for fish, and it opens the door for much more local planning and engagement in water management, especially in critical areas. There remain many short-comings, in particular the extension to groundwater of the B.C.’s antiquated First-In-Time, First-In-Right (FITFIR) approach to water licensing. As well, government made it easier for gas companies to get consecutive short-term permits for water for fracking purposes rather than stopping the abuse of the existing requirements. The new Act was many years in the making, with several opportunities for public engagement along the way. First Nations have called the process unsatisfactory, saying the new Act does not recognize their Rights and ongoing use of water. This may lead to significant challenges when it comes to implementation. However, we applaud government’s persistence in working through this complex and far-reaching legislative endeavour. For more information on the pros and cons of the new legislation, check outWest Coast Environmental Law’s blog post.
Preserving Options for the Sacred Headwaters
The Sacred Headwaters region is the birthplace of three of B.C.’s most iconic salmon rivers: the Skeena, the Nass and the Stikine. It is home to grizzly, caribou and moose. It is in the ancient territories of the Tahltan First Nations. And it’s been in industrial crosshairs for several years.
The provincial government established formal discussions with the Tahltan First Nations to determine long-term options for the region, including potential protection. These talks are a promising path forward, but they’re overshadowed by more than 60 coal licenses in the region. If any of these licenses become actual coal tenures they become barriers to several potential solutions.
To ensure the Provincial-Tahltan discussions have the greatest latitude possible to explore solutions that can meet both parties’ interests, the province needs to establish coal and mineral reserves in the region that would, at least temporarily, preclude any new tenures being granted. This protects the integrity of the discussions, and protects taxpayers from unnecessary compensation claims.
In the fall of 2013, we supported the Tahltan First Nation’s call for the government to ensure no new coal tenures were granted in the Sacred Headwaters region in order to protect the integrity of formal discussions underway between the province and the Tahltan. In December, we applauded the province’s announcement of a one-year deferral of new coal tenures in the region, affecting more than 60 claims across 225,000 hectares that could have become tenures. Any new tenures increase the cost of protection options as tenure holders would demand compensation from B.C. taxpayers. While it doesn’t yet address the outstanding coal mine proposed on Mt. Klappan, the deferral creates space for the parties to consider full protection in this magnificent region as the talks continue. We encourage all parties to be creative in making this happen!
Last Stand for the Great Bear Rainforest
The Great Bear Rainforest is the largest coastal temperate rainforest on the planet. Stretching along British Columbia’s coast north of Vancouver Island, it is the traditional territory of First Nations who have lived in this ecosystem for thousands of years. It is known as ‘Canada’s Amazon’ for its dense web of natural life including towering ancient trees, grizzly bears, salmon, wolves, and the rare white kermode, or ‘spirit’ bear.
In February 2006, after years of protest, market campaigns, land use planning, and negotiations, an historic agreement was reached between environmental organizations, logging companies, First Nations communities and the British Columbia Government. Together they would:
- Legislate the protection of more than 2 million hectares of coastal temperate rainforest,
- Implement new lighter touch logging regulations outside of protected areas,
- Support conservation-based economies in coastal communities, and
- Strengthen First Nations involvement in decisions affecting their traditional territory.
On March 31, 2009 environmental groups along with the B.C. government, industry and First Nations announced the implementation of these key milestones. As well, they embarked on a five-year plan to achieve the concurrent goals of low ecological risk and high quality of life in communities by March 2014.
The deadline for this last major piece of the Great Bear Rainforest puzzle is rapidly approaching. Environmental groups and logging companies have been working hard to come to agreement on how to achieve low ecological risk while still contributing to human well-being through the practice of commercial forestry in the region. It will soon be in the hands of the province and First Nations to make the final decisions that could secure the long term health of the region’s magnificent ecosystems, and ensure they continue to support the communities that have depended on them for thousands of years.
As of March 31, 2014, the milestone date agreed on five years ago, it’s clear that the final steps of the Great Bear Rainforest Agreements for healthy rainforest and healthy communities will take several months longer than originally planned. The good news is that the province and First Nations have renewed their commitment – in writing – to finish the task by the end of 2014.
Logging companies and environmental organizations shared recommendations to ensure management of this iconic region minimizes risk to its globally-significant biodiversity at the turn of the year and government-to-government discussions with the First Nations of the region remain on-going. While it’s understandable that such a complex task needs more time to be completed, it is crucial that it be completed by the end of the year as on-going, destructive logging by TimberWest in the southern portion of the Great Bear Rainforest is exploiting loopholes that will be closed by the new regulations.
We continue to work with the province, First Nations and industry partners to successfully bring this process to a close. We look forward to the completion of the government-to-government discussions, and the implementation of new regulations, by the end of 2014.