Get to know BC's new Draft Biodiversity and Ecosystem Health Framework

Cedar waxwing with wings spread, on a branch with red berries

Three years after the provincial government committed to enacting legislation prioritizing biodiversity and ecosystem health, movement is finally taking shape with the release of the draft Biodiversity and Ecosystem Health Framework (BEHF or the “Framework”) on November 15th, 2023.

As we have previously written, BC’s promise of a new law for biodiversity and ecosystem health could be transformative. Such a law has been called for by First Nations, fish and wildlife organizations, environmental groups, and local governments. Alongside allies, West Coast has been advocating and engaging with the Ministry of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship (WLRS) to advance this goal.  

So, what is the Framework? According to WLRS:

The purpose of the Framework is to provide strategic direction that sets the course for changes in legislation and current practices that aligns the Province’s commitment to UNDRIP with specific goals that are intended to maintain and enhance biodiversity and ecological integrity, protect and conserve priority areas, restore degraded ecosystems, and ensure healthy communities and economies for generations to come.

Thus, the strategic direction set out in the Framework will be key to shaping future legislation. The draft Framework is open for public comment until January 31st, 2024 and we encourage our supporters to make their voices heard.  

In this blog, we’ll look at what is in the Framework, what we find promising and where gaps exist, and what we want the Province to know as the Framework is finalized and implemented through legislation.  

What’s in the Framework

First and foremost, the Framework states that:  

The British Columbia government commits to the conservation and management of ecosystem health and biodiversity as an overarching priority and will formalize this priority through legislation and other enabling tools that apply to, and can be accessed by, all sectors.

This paradigm shift towards prioritizing biodiversity and ecosystem health is expressed in the Framework as:  

“[A] transformational shift from a land management system that prioritizes resource extraction (subject to constraints) to a future that is proactive, prioritizes the conservation and management of ecosystem health and biodiversity, and is implemented jointly with title and rights holders.”

West Coast has long advocated for this paradigm shift and applauds BC’s commitment to it.

The Framework states that it is built on the foundation of upholding the United National Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and the Declaration Act. The Province commits to working in partnership with First Nations in advancing territorial planning and commits to jointly implementing this paradigm shift through the co-development of legislation.  

The Framework is divided into three pillars. Actions under the first pillar, “Taking a whole-of-government approach” include co-developing with First Nations new legislation “to give effect to the Framework, including affirming First Nation jurisdiction, governance, and stewardship practices.”

Under this pillar, the Framework also indicates that a new Office of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Health will be established. The draft includes giving the Office the “necessary powers and authorities to lead a coordinated and collaborative approach across government and in partnership with First Nations to implement the framework.” This Office is central to the Framework and is tasked with “ensuring accountability to meet ecosystem health and biodiversity objectives and standards across government.”

The Office of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Health would lead development of ecosystem health and biodiversity objectives and standards to apply across all sectors “based in science and local and Indigenous knowledge.” The Framework also commits to using ecosystem-based management principles in planning activities (e.g., land use planning, watershed planning, forest landscape planning) to minimize biodiversity risk, ensure maintenance of ecological integrity, manage cumulative effects, and establish protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures.

Pillar two of the Framework is “Fostering and supporting a whole-of-society approach” and references, among other things, conservation financing mechanisms; pathways for innovation, skills and training; and economic diversification.

Pillar three of the Framework is “Adopting an open and transparent process.” The Framework includes the commitment to regularly and publicly report on the state of biodiversity and ecosystem health (and progress on implementing the Framework), and to enhanced oversight through compliance and enforcement (including through Indigenous Guardian programs).  

Notably, the Framework states that BC will “develop an implementation plan to operationalize the Framework that identifies the necessary resources which will accelerate and integrate related initiatives and fill gaps.” Related initiatives include the Coastal Marine Strategy, which West Coast has been closely involved with as a stakeholder; and protected areas, which include marine protected areas (MPAs) like those being developed as part of the Northern Shelf Bioregion MPA network.  

As part of the implementation plan, BC commits to implement interim measures. This is a critical point as effective interim measures must be implemented immediately to commence the paradigm shift and mitigate the risk that delay undermines the substantive intent of the Framework.  

What’s missing in the Framework

Important, and potentially game-changing commitments have been made in the draft Framework, but gaps still exist.  

Beyond its prefacing elements, the Framework does not tangibly indicate whether and how BC intends to align its laws, policies and practices with First Nations-led conservation, and in particular with First Nations governance of Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (“IPCAs”) declared by them.  The absence of any reference to IPCAs at all is a glaring omission from the Framework.  

The proposed Office of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Health is an exciting and promising idea. But situating the Office solely within the BC Public Service, rather than as a co-governed institution (and without the benefit of an independent Western and Indigenous science body(ies) to inform its work), raises questions about whether the Office will have the capacity and experience to implement a legally pluralistic approach that is attentive to the diversity of ecosystems and territories and those who are most knowledgeable about them.

It is also unclear what authorities the Office will have to achieve its stated purpose and goals. The Office needs proper authority to realize the Framework’s full potential. A lot of weight is put on the Office, including holding the government accountable for meeting its objectives and standards. If the Office does not have the authority and capacity to achieve its many objectives, then it risks being ineffective.

There is a general lack of specifics in this Framework about how it will be given legal teeth, and no mechanisms for external accountability are proposed to ensure it is implemented effectively. The Framework notes that biodiversity and ecosystem health objectives and standards for key ecosystems could be recognized in legislation, but this appears to be the only clear function of the law that is explained. Further, there is no commitment to a timeline for such legislation, which has been an outstanding promise for years. It is critical that the details and specifics of this framework and the proposed legislation be established through co-development with Nations.

The Framework downplays the critical role of an interconnected and representative network of protected areas in maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem health, going so far as to suggest that protection, restoration, or enhancement efforts may be limited to situations where “an ecosystem is severely degraded or at risk.” It is difficult to see how this aligns with BC’s commitment to protect 30% of terrestrial ecosystems by 2030. Further, all protection and conservation designations and measures must uphold the integral role of First Nations’ governance and management (e.g., cultural burning) in maintaining and restoring ecological conditions that allow all species to thrive.

Finally, while the commitment to an ecosystem-based planning and management approach is long overdue and very welcome, the Framework stops short of saying that a new law will require or create legal triggers for actually doing ecosystem-based planning (particularly at the strategic level) on the ground. To date, BC’s modernizing land use planning initiative has been under-resourced and narrow in scope, with few opportunities to expand. This must change if the commitments in the Framework are to have an impact on the ground. The Framework also fails to recognize the need for new legal designations or other tools that would overhaul BC’s current inadequate hodgepodge of measures under various resource statutes, which will be required to effectively ensure that biodiversity and ecosystem health are prioritized.

The paradigm shift proposed in the Framework is essential if we hope to secure ecological and community resilience for our children. But without dates or timelines for when these processes and actions will occur, the sober reality is that we continue to lose what biodiversity we have left, and our communities remain vulnerable to the types of ecological disasters that arise when ecosystems are pushed to and past their limits.  

What we want the Province to know moving forward  

Now that the draft Framework has been published, we have an important window of opportunity. Until January 31st the Province is accepting comments as they develop the finalized version of the Framework. 

Based on what’s in the Framework and the gaps that it leaves, here are some things we want the Province to know moving forward:

  1. We welcome the long overdue and important commitment to ecosystem-based planning and management across BC, and to legislating legal objectives for biodiversity and ecosystems based on western and Indigenous science that will apply across all resource sectors.        
  2. A new law for biodiversity and ecosystem health is essential to give teeth to the Framework.      
  3. Aligning BC laws, policies and practices with Indigenous-led conservation, including First Nations governance of IPCAs, needs to be front and centre in the Framework and new law for biodiversity and ecosystem health.      
  4. The Framework should recognize the need for, and commit to enacting, new legal tools and processes that allow for prompt, unified implementation of measures and outcomes for biodiversity and ecosystem health that apply across all statutes and sectors, allowing for regional flexibility.        
  5. Immediate measures to kick off implementation of the Framework should include:        
    1. Announcement of a mutually agreed-to Consultation and Cooperation Plan for timely, sufficiently resourced co-development of a new biodiversity and ecosystem health law in full alignment with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.        
    2. Creation of the Office of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Health. The Office should be a legally pluralistic body, structured in a way that ethically engages with Indigenous law and knowledge, and applies best available scientific knowledge. The Office needs to be given the legal authority to achieve its stated goals.      
    3. Legal orders made when the Framework is announced to require the immediate prioritization of biodiversity and ecosystem health in provincial decision-making across all sectors including in ongoing land use planning.  

Ready to make your own submission? Use the tool below to send your comments to the Ministry of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship – or send your thoughts by email to

First Nations who are interested in the intersection between IPCAs and the Biodiversity and Ecosystem Health Framework may contact staff lawyer Estella White at or Jessica Clogg at

Update: This submission tool has now been archived, as the deadline for comments has passed.

Top photo: Cedar waxwing (Deborah Freeman via Flickr Creative Commons)

Whitney Lafreniere Vicente, Staff Lawyer