Welcome to Pender Island, where the destruction of a globally rare ecosystem is ongoing

Take action and protect Gulf Island habitats.

In the Sunday edition of the Times Colonist, Raincoast ran a full page advertisement asking people to call and email the Premier of BC. Here’s why.

The Islands Trust was created to protect the unique ecosystems of BC’s Gulf Islands, without being given the authority to do so. But rather than protecting the ­environment from potentially harmful human activities, the Islands Trust is now protecting human activities that harm the environment.

Deforestation weakens stressed habitats

In the midst of the twin biodiversity and climate change crises, deforestation weakens already stressed and increasingly threatened habitats. The Gulf Islands represent 33.2% of the provincial extent of coastal Douglas-fir forests and associated habitats, which are among the most biodiverse in the province. 

Yet, this region is also the most degraded. 

According to the B.C. Conservation Data Centre, there are 43 ecological communities at risk within the coastal Douglas-fir zone. Even prior to the current climate and biodiversity crisis, the Islands Trust was uniquely mandated to “preserve and protect” the habitats and ecosystems of the Trust islands and ensure the sustainability of their communities. 

The Islands Trust was created to protect the unique ecosystems of BC’s Gulf Islands, without being given the authority to do so.  Tweet This!

An Oxford University publication from 2019 stated that coastal regions, islands and ecosystems “exist in a delicate balance at the land-sea interface” making them exceptionally vulnerable to climate change impacts. The loss, degradation and conversion of native habitats, forest canopy, forest understory, and wetlands, reduces water storage, perpetuates water shortages, increases soil desiccation and erosion, increases flood and fire risk, increases temperatures and heat waves, perpetuates declines in biodiversity and weakens community resilience.

A Nature series publication expanded on the implications from such risks, noting that habitat and climate-induced threats to biodiversity could have ripple effects from extinctions that can cascade beyond just a single species, impacting whole food webs and services that humans rely on. 

In light of the fundamental need for functioning food webs and the regional, national and international recognition of a global climate and biodiversity crisis, the Trust needs to act

The loss of forest habitat on Trust islands is occurring because, despite the Trust’s “preserve and protect” mandate, there are few to no constraints on the development of properties, footprint and amenities of houses, limits on the extent of habitat conversion per lot, the extent of impervious surfaces, limits on water and other resource demands, limits on extensive tree removal, or limits to development and growth on finite islands. 

In addition, there appears to be no recognition of cumulative impacts on, or the carrying capacity of, the Gulf Islands.

We have prepared key talking points to guide you

Last year the Environmental Law Centre at the University of Victoria reviewed the tools available to the Islands Trust to fulfill their “preserve and protect” mandate. The resulting report found that provincial law reform is “clearly needed” and recommended that the Trust petition the province “to reform the law to [provide] the legal tools necessary to protect its precious forests”. The following talking points have been informed by that report.

  • The province must give the Islands Trust the authority needed to protect forest ecosystems with Development Permit requirements, particularly through enforcement powers to make Development Permit Areas effective.
    • Please enhance and clarify the power of  the Islands Trust to enforce DPA requirements and conditions by enabling local governments to enforce violations. 
    • Please support the reversal of the Denman Island decision (Denman Island Trust Committee v. 4064 Investments Ltd. 2001 BCCA 736) to grant the Island Trust the explicit jurisdiction to comprehensively protect the threatened privately owned forests of the Islands via forest protection/forestry DPAs by a carefully drawn amendment to section 29 of the Islands Trust Act. 
    • Please make funding available to support these changes across the 13 islands of the Trust area. This would be a preferable approach to expecting each individual Local Trust Committee to perform this work. This would enable each Local Trust Committee to enact appropriate bylaw amendments in a timely way.

Notes: Municipalities across the province tend to agree that DPAs are one of the most effective tools available to protect sensitive ecosystems; however, they also agree that they are fundamentally flawed in that they are largely unenforceable. There is something very wrong when the best tools available for protecting ecosystems are largely unemployable. 

  • Local Trust Committees have not been afforded the same powers given to municipalities to design and implement tree cutting bylaws.
    • Please enhance the Trust’s jurisdiction over tree cutting bylaws, making it equal to that of municipalities under section 8 of the Community Charter. 

Notes: Local Trust Committees could do far more to regulate tree cutting if the Province were to grant the Trust the same power possessed by municipalities to regulate, prohibit and impose requirements regarding tree cutting. There is ample justification for the Islands Trust being afforded a larger breadth of tree cutting powers, akin to the municipal fundamental power over trees, without having to make a similar argument for regional districts in general.

  • Privately managed forest land under the Private Managed Forest Land Act is dramatically less protected than land managed under Crown forest land rules.
    • Please amend Section 21 of the Private Managed Forest Land Act to allow the Islands Trust to regulate forestry protection measures on Privately Managed Forest Lands within the Trust area. The inability to restrict forest management activities on private land is one of the single largest barriers to sustainable forest management on the Gulf Islands. 

Notes: Privately managed forest land (PMFL) under the Private Managed Forest Land Act is dramatically less protected than land managed under Crown forest land rulesIt has been almost 50 years since the Islands Trust Act brought the federation of the Islands Trust into being. Nearly all Local Trustees sitting on Trust Council support the provision of stronger powers to the Islands Trust to better protect forest ecosystems within the Trust Area. After nearly five decades of struggling to fulfill their mandate with both hands tied behind their backs, it is time the province provided the tools necessary to ensure biodiversity, climate change resiliency, and long-term stability in one of the rarest and most unique associations of ecosystems on the planet.

Report: Legal Measures to Protect the Gulf Islands Coastal Douglas-fir Zone

Our annual report is out now!

Get highlights from the year, our science, flagship projects, staff and volunteers, as well as a peek at what’s in store for the coming year.

Research scientist, Adam Warner conducting genetics research in our genetics lab.
Photo by Alex Harris / Raincoast Conservation Foundation.