Advancing urgently needed tree protection policy in the Islands Trust

Reflections on what I learned from researching tree policy and the Islands Trust.

This summer, I had the privilege of working with Raincoast as their Tree Protection Policy Intern. The main focus of my work has been to develop a comprehensive report on tree protection bylaws in BC and explore the feasibility of implementing similar bylaws in the Islands Trust area.

The Islands Trust is a unique form of local governance covering 13 Gulf Islands in the Salish Sea. It was created by the province of British Columbia in 1974 to “preserve and protect the trust area and its unique amenities and environment.”1 While the concept of “unique amenities” has been highly contested within the Islands Trust and among Gulf Island residents over the past several decades, the environment of the Trust area undoubtedly includes the rare and vulnerable Coastal Douglas-fir (CDF) biogeoclimatic zone.2

Despite the fact that it is a form of local government created specifically for conservation purposes, the Islands Trust lacks some important conservation policy tools that are available to municipalities. One key policy tool that it lacks is the ability to pass comprehensive tree bylaws that regulate tree cutting, damaging, and removal on private lands. This gap in the Islands Trust’s jurisdiction is what spurred my tree bylaw research with Raincoast.

Overview of findings: tree bylaws in BC

At the beginning of my time with Raincoast, I expanded a database of the tree policy currently in place in BC’s 162 municipalities and 27 regional districts; of these, only 58 municipalities and two regional districts currently have tree bylaws in place. I then examined each tree bylaw to identify best practices and determine what the Islands Trust can learn from them, both under their current jurisdiction and in the future if they are granted additional tools for protecting trees and forests. To complement this work, I conducted research on jurisdictional issues currently preventing the Islands Trust from enacting comprehensive tree bylaws, and what needs to change to enable better tree and forest protection in the Trust Area.

I presented the findings of this research during a webinar hosted on July 28th. They were also compiled into a comprehensive tree bylaw report, now publicly available.

What needs to change: implementing tree bylaws in the Islands Trust

Unfortunately, the Islands Trust does not currently have the same jurisdiction over trees granted to municipalities under s.8(3)(c) of the Community Charter. Instead, the Islands Trust Act (at s.29(1)(b)) grants Local Trust Committees in the Islands Trust the much narrower jurisdiction of a regional district under s.500 of the Local Government Act. While this ability is limited, it still has the potential to protect trees in at least some areas. Local Trust Committees should consider making use of it (none of them currently do). Even still, this narrow jurisdiction is not enough to enable the Islands Trust to most effectively carry out its preserve and protect mandate. To remedy this, the province should amend the Islands Trust Act to grant Local Trust Committees in the Islands Trust the same authority of a municipality under s.8(3)(c) of the Community Charter. Given the special mandate and structure of the Trust, it should arguably have even greater tree protection powers than municipalities. 

Given both the precarity of CDF ecosystems and the fact that the unique structure of the Islands Trust was created for the specific purpose of protecting the natural environment of the Islands Trust Area, it seems paradoxical that the Islands Trust has less jurisdiction to protect trees than municipalities in BC. With the CDF being rapidly lost due to increasing human pressures, the need for the province to grant the Islands Trust the tools it needs is urgent. Once the province provides the Trust with these tools to protect local ecosystems, Local Trust Committees must be careful in designing bylaws to ensure the CDF and its priceless species and ecosystems are strongly protected.

Moving forward

As a law student who is passionate about the environment and interested in both public policy and environmental law, I was excited to have the opportunity to work with Raincoast this summer. I was thrilled to be able to apply the skills I gained from my first year of law school towards supporting the important conservation work being done by Raincoast. Working with Raincoast was also an incredibly valuable learning experience for me. I learned so much from my research and my fellow Raincoasters about the ecology of the Islands Trust region and the importance and uniqueness of the CDF. My research with Raincoast also gave me an appreciation for the intricacies of policy design and the surprising amount of nuance and carefulness required – even for something as seemingly simple as a tree bylaw – in order to craft environmental policy that is actually effective at accomplishing the kind of protection that is needed.

My work this summer helped solidify my desire to pursue environmental law and policy, and I am confident that all the learnings I have gained from working with Raincoast will make me a much stronger advocate. And I hope that what I accomplished in my time with Raincoast will help lead to desperately needed change from the province to give the Islands Trust the tools it needs to protect the priceless CDF before it is too late.

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For 25 years, Raincoast has been furthering biodiversity conservation in BC. Thanks to your generous donations, among many other accomplishments, we have been able to end commercial trophy hunting of large carnivores in over 38,000 square kilometers of the Great Bear Rainforest, begin acquiring forest land in order to protect threatened Coastal Douglas-fir ecosystems, aid recovery of endangered Southern Resident killer whales by restoring Chinook salmon habitat, and establish a university research lab dedicated to applied conservation science. Strong partnerships are integral to our success.

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