Delegating to the Islands Trust: The 30×30 challenge

As a special governance federation with a “preserve and protect” mandate, Raincoast encouraged the Islands Trust to incorporate the 15 actions of the Montreal Pledge into their planning processes via a delegation at their quarterly meeting in March. The Trust decided on a different course of action.

On March 7, 2023, Forest Conservation Program Director Shauna Doll made a delegation to Islands Trust Council urging them to incorporate biodiversity protection into their land-use planning ethos by committing to pursuing fulfilment of the 15 actions outlined in the Montreal Pledge.  As context, the Trust has been a special purpose governance body with a conservation mandate for almost 50 years. 

Specifically, the Trust was created by the provincial government in 1974 with the express purpose of [preserving] and [protecting] the trust area and its unique amenities and environment for the benefit of the residents of the trust area and of British Columbia generally. Competing interests have called this purpose into question in recent years, and many islands within the Trust area have been embroiled in debates regarding the level of protection the Coastal Douglas-fir (CDF) forests and associated habitats characteristic of the Trust area deserve. 

Unfortunately, the Islands Trust did not elect to adopt the Montreal Pledge, but instead passed a motion to “consider how the Montreal Charter on biodiversity impacts the work of the Islands Trust and share their thinking with Trust Council.” 

A decision that was made, however, was to rescind efforts to work with the BC provincial government  to investigate how environmental protection regulations, like tree bylaws, could be applied in the Trust context. Currently, there are very limited options to protect forests on private lands in the Islands Trust Area. Private lands make up the majority (up to 80% on some islands) of land ownership in the Trust area.

Although some Trust residents disagree with the implementation of such regulations within the Trust Area, if the Trust were granted the authority to implement such regulations, there would not  be an obligation for implementation. Rather, such regulations would serve as a potential tool that could be customised to the unique needs of each island. 

Discussion around the decision to end collaboration with the province on this work centred on the need to strategically review other options for better caring for forests, options which in the 49 years of Trust operations have yet to be identified. And so, the can gets kicked down the road yet again.

Moving forward, it appears that Development Permit Areas will be the only option for protecting forests in the Islands Trust region. 

The following is the content of Raincoast’s March 7th delegation. 

 The 30 x 30 commitment

British Columbia is the most biodiverse province in Canada. Yet, as of 2019, 1,807 species were in decline and 278 were at risk of extinction. There is currently no species at risk legislation in place in BC and the federal Species at Risk Act has proven to be inadequate with the status of over 370 of the 455 species evaluated more than once staying the same or declining since being listed1

Unfortunately, this level of species decline is being observed across the planet. During the most recent UN Biodiversity conference in Montreal it was acknowledged that “The stakes could not be higher: the planet is experiencing a dangerous decline in nature as a result of human activity. It is experiencing its largest loss of life since the dinosaurs. One million plant and animal species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades.2” The science is clear. According to the IPCC, without action to slow or altogether halt destruction of forests and other vital ecosystems we will not meet the 1.5-degree Celcius target by 20303

In response to this urgent need to protect biodiversity, in December 2022 nearly 190 countries, including Canada, collectively committed to protecting 30% of Earth’s land and oceans by 20304.

The Montreal Pledge

To address this commitment on a local scale, the host city of COP15 invited local governments from across the globe to sign on to The Montreal Pledge, a 15-action framework geared toward halting biodiversity loss5

Cities across the globe, including Vancouver, have committed to the Montreal Pledge, and though the islands of the Trust Area are not municipalities, most goals outlined in the Pledge are highly relevant to land-use planning and decision-making in the Islands Trust context. 

The goals fall under three major themes: 1) reducing threats to biodiversity, 2) sharing the benefits of biodiversity, and 3) governance, management, and education. Some of the most relevant goals to the Trust Area include:

  • integrating biodiversity into territorial and regulatory planning,
  • integrating biodiversity into governance frameworks and public policies, and increasing financial resources allocated to conservation and sustainable use, and 
  • prioritizing nature-based solutions to protect against extreme weather events and hazards and to regulate air and water quality.

Although the participation of Indigenous people in biodiversity enhancement is nested within the 15 actions outlined in the Montreal Pledge, such partnership should be established as a first priority and inform the pursuit of all other actions outlined. 

Bringing it back to the Trust

According to the BC Conservation Data Centre, the Coastal Douglas-fir zone contains more species at risk than any other ecological zone in BC; this includes 25 globally imperilled species and over 200 species that are provincially classified as imperilled or threatened6

As previously mentioned, BC currently has no provincial species at risk legislation and the federal Species at Risk Act has achieved limited results. While more effective policy in this realm would be welcome, in the past three decades conservation ecologists have recognized that centring ecological recovery efforts on just one or a few endangered species often overlooks the ecosystem as a whole7

So while the recovery of individual threatened and endangered species within the CDF region is a vital goal, the pathway to achieving that goal lies in landscape-level approaches. And more often than not, as demonstrated in a growing body of literature on the subject8, local governance structures will be pivotal to the implementation of such measures on the ground. 

With the Trust’s jurisdiction over such a significant extent of the CDF, paired with their unique preserve and protect mandate, the Trust is uniquely positioned to pursue widespread and impactful ecological protection in this region, a region that has been repeatedly recognized as an area of high conservation priority. The very existence of the Trust is a testament to this fact, complemented by conservation priority9, carbon stock1011,, and biodiversity assessments12, among other studies. 

While similar ecological communities exist south of the Canadian border13, this is not a justification for inaction in BC. This would be akin to justifying clearcutting the Great Bear Rainforest on BC’s central coast because temperate rainforest exists elsewhere on the planet; or to give up efforts to protect genetically and culturally distinct Southern Resident killer whales in the Salish Sea because Northern Residents live in nearby waters; or to stop investing in healthcare in Canada because there are for-profit health clinics across the border.  Species are protected when populations are protected throughout their range.  We don’t expect the US to assume our responsibilities for other obligations, why would we expect the US to assume protection for habitats in Canada? There’s always somewhere else to protect until there isn’t. We have a responsibility to protect what is in our power and jurisdiction. 

Adopting the Montreal Pledge could help  guide such protections and might help to kick-start action toward some of the other declarations made by the Trust over the past three plus years; this includes the Reconciliation Declaration and the Climate Declaration, both made in 2019, and the unanimously passed motion to declare June 2022-June 2023 as the Year of the Salish Sea at the March Trust Council meeting in 2022. 

In complement to the adoption of the Montreal Pledge, the Trust is encouraged to continue pursuing the implementation of land-use planning tools like bylaws and DPAs, neither of which have to be ultimatum-like tools, but rather are highly customizable to the contexts and ecosystems to which they are intended to apply.

Of course, combatting biodiversity loss is not a set-it-and-forget-it endeavour. Even if the Trust should adopt the Montreal Pledge today, the expectation should not be that if we protect 30% of ecosystems on each island in the Trust area, we will be “out of the woods,” so to speak. 

In fact, that 30% figure has been described by many as a floor, not a ceiling. The Pledge is proposed as a roadmap toward incorporating an ecological ethos into land-use planning in the Trust area now and into the future. In the words of renowned conservation biologist, Dr. Reed Noss: 

“Biology–the science of life–and planning (for example, regional planning or land-use planning) have been considered totally separate disciplines, pursued by different people with different training, and different interests. At a time when the ecological integrity of Earth is declining rapidly and human land use is the major cause of this decline, effective conservation requires that we bring biology and planning together. This convergence is necessary not just for planning networks of parks and other protected areas, but for planning and locating human activities generally.”14

The original delegation was drafted as a presentation; some syntax has been changed for a better reading experience

Footnotes

  1.  Westwood, A.R, Otto, S.P., Mooers, A. Darimont, C. Hodges, K.E., Johnson, C., Starzomski, B.M, Burton, C., Chan, K.M.A., Festa-Bianchet, M., Fluker, S., Gulati, S., Jacob, A.L., Kraus, D., Martin, T.G., Palen, W.J., Reynolds, J.D., Whitton, J. (2019). Protecting biodiversity in British Columbia: Recommendations for developing species at risk legislation. FACETS, 4. (136-160). DOI: 10.1139/facets-2018-0042
  2.  UN Environment Programme. (2022, Dec 20). COP15 ends with landmark biodiversity agreement. https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/story/cop15-ends-landmark-biodiversity-agreement
  3.  Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2019). Global warming of 1.5℃: Summary for policymakers, technical summary, and FAQs. https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/sites/2/2019/06/SR15_Summary_Volume_Low_Res.pdf
  4.  Einhorn, C. (2022, Dec 19). Nearly every country signs on to a sweeping deal to protect nature. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/12/19/climate/biodiversity-cop15-montreal-30×30.html
  5.  Montreal. (2022, Dec 9). Montréal Pledge: Call for COP15 launched to world’s cities. https://montreal.ca/en/articles/montreal-pledge-call-cop15-launched-to-worlds-cities-39529
  6.  British Columbia Conservation Data Centre. (2021). BC Species and Ecosystems Explorer. British Columbia Ministry of Environment. Victoria, B.C. Available: https://a100.gov.bc.ca/pub/eswp/ (accessed Nov 19, 2021).
  7.  Noss, R. (2002). Ch. 11: Maintaining ecological integrity of landscapes and ecoregions. In D. Pimental, L. Westra, & R.F. Noss (Eds.), Ecological Integrity: Integrating environment, conservation, and health (pp. 191-208). Island Press.
  8.  Bork, K. & Hirokawa, K. (2021). Trends in local ecosystem governance. Frontiers in Climate, 3 (719150). 1-18. DOI: 10.3389/fclim.2021.719150
  9. Ricketts, T.H., Dinerstein, E, Olson, D.M., Loucks, C.J., Eichbaum, W.M., DellaSalla, D.A., Kavanagh, K.C., Hedao, P. Hurley, P.T., Carney, K.M., Abell, R.A., Walters, S. (1999). A conservation assessment of the terrestrial ecoregions of North America. Volume 1, The United States and Canada. Washington, DC, Island Press.
  10. Goldstein, A., Turner, W. R., Spawn, S. A., Anderson-Teixeira, K. J., Cook-Patton, S., Fargione, J., Gibbs, H. K., Bronson, G., Hewson, J. H., Howard, J. F., Ledezma, J. C., Page, S., Koh, L. P., Rockström Johan, Sanderman, J., & Hole, D. G. (2020). Protecting irrecoverable carbon in Earth’s ecosystems. Nature Climate Change, 10(4), 287–295. DOI: 10.1038/s41558-020-0738-8
  11. Noon, M. L., Goldstein, A., Ledezma, J. C., Roehrdanz, P. R., Cook-Patton, S. C., Spawn-Lee, S. A., Wright, T. M., Gonzalez-Roglich, M., Hole, D. G., Rockström, J., & Turner, W. R. (2022). Mapping the irrecoverable carbon in Earth’s ecosystems. Nature Sustainability, 5(1), 37–46. DOI: 10.1038/s41893-021-00803-6
  12. SARA, 2002. Species at Risk Act c.29 https://laws.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/s-15.3/page-10.html#h-435647, Douglas, G.W & Penny, J.L. (2006). Conservation evaluation of the Small-flowered Tonella, Tonella tenella, in Canada. In The Canadian Field Naturalist, 120(2). 179-179. DOI: 10.22621/cfn.v120i2.284, and Sadler, K.D. & Bradfield, G.E.(2010). Ecological facets of plant species rarity in rock outcrop ecosystems of the Gulf Islands, British Columbia. Botany, 88. (429-434). DOI:10.1139/B10-011
  13. Nuszdorfer, F.C., Klinka, K., & Demarchi D.A. (1991). Chapter 5: Coastal Douglas-fir Zone in D. Meidinger & J. Pojar (Eds.), Ecosystems of British Columbia (pp. 81-95). BC Ministry of Forests. https://www.for.gov.bc.ca/hfd/pubs/docs/srs/srs06.pdf and Franklin, J.F. and C.T. Dyrness. (1973). Natural vegetation of Oregon and Washington. U.S. Dep. Agric. For. Serv., Gen. Tech. Rep. PNW-8. Portland, Oreg.
  14.  Noss, R. (2002). Ch. 11: Maintaining ecological integrity of landscapes and ecoregions. In D. Pimental, L. Westra, & R.F. Noss (Eds.), Ecological Integrity: Integrating environment, conservation, and health (pp. 191-208). Island Press.

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Coastal wolf with a salmon in its month.
Photo by Dene Rossouw.