Land Use Planning for Nature, Climate and Communities: Taking Stock and Moving Forward

cumulative impacts; land use planning; climate change; forest carbon offsets; mineral tenure reform; green economy
Jessica Clogg, Deborah Carlson

In this report West Coast Environmental Law analyzes the resource management direction provided by twenty years of strategic land use planning in BC to address three related questions:    

  1. How well do existing land designations and related resource management objectives manage the effects of cumulative environmental change from resource management and other human activities?
  2. Do BC’s existing land designations and resource management objectives provide for resilience and adaptability of ecological systems and human communities in the face of climate change?
  3. How could existing or new land designations be used to enable a ‘greener’ BC economy while safeguarding our natural life support systems?

All legally established, mapped areas with conservation-related management objectives at the landscape level or above were included in the analysis, which examined legislative requirements associated with relevant designations and related management objectives. Concurrently, ForestEthics Solutions released maps compiling existing environmental designations for the province as a whole for the first time. Based on data assembled in collaboration with several provincial ministries, the maps and legal analysis illustrate how BC’s collection of land-use designations masks a weak and fragmented approach to conservation at the provincial level.

Key Findings:

  1. BC has many forms of land use designations, but only 15.6% of BC’s land base is covered by an environmental designation that protects the land and water from most types of resource development.
  2. When it comes to managing for resilience, BC’s laws and policies are ‘hardwired for failure’.  Our laws and policies governing the nature, extent and distribution of various land use designations present barriers to maintaining resilient ecological systems and human communities. These barriers include:
  • Legal or policy caps on how much land may be protected and/or how great an impact on resource extraction is permitted
  • Exemptions and loopholes that allow economic considerations to trump conservation objectives
  • Designations and legal management objectives that are not applicable to most forms of development
  • Absence of mandatory triggers for conservation planning
  • Failure to recognize and give legal effect to First Nations decision-making authority in the context of land use planning and environmental decision-making
  1. Climate change was not explicitly taken into account in most strategic land use plans and resulting decisions about designations and land use objectives.
  2. Lack of overall strategic direction and gaps in the enabling legal framework are likely to hamper forests’ contribution to a ‘greener’ economy in BC, but with leadership from provincial and First Nations governments and collaboration with non-governmental organizations these challenges could be surmountable.
  3. With respect to many land designations in BC, our laws do not position us well for the rigorous application of forest carbon accounting standards, with potential environmental and economic costs to the province and project proponents.
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