Learning About the Benefits of Natural Engineering

Regional Rundown with Area director Gerry Wilkie, talking about recent Climate Change conference

Recently I attended a conference on Vancouver Island entitled “Climate Change, Nature’s Services and Thinking Like a Watershed.” The conference was sponsored by a number of organizations including the Comox Valley Land Trust, Comox Valley Regional District, City of Courtenay and K’omoks First Nation.

The presentations focussed on how nature can play a critical role in helping communities address major challenges resulting from climate change, inappropriate past land use practices, and aging infrastructure.  There were a wide a range of speakers including engineers and biologists, an economist and Real Estate developer and local government officials. They all spoke about how understanding nature and replicating natural processes can work for us in managing our built environment, especially in flood control and managing slope and shoreline erosion.

Within the Town of Gibson, conservation of all the upland riparian and wetland environment is a council priority. While the area is open for passive recreational use, development is prohibited within this zone.  These lands have been incorporated as ecological assets into the Town’s asset management program and are projected to provide substantial savings in managing storm water infrastructure and damage from flooding. Just as important to the Town of Gibson are the intrinsic social and physical health benefits accruing to residents virtually at no cost. This is just one example of a host of presentations discussing, innovative land development, sea level rise and shoreline protection, water conservation and sustainability and the positive economics of environmental design and eco-system management.

The Comox Valley Regional District is much smaller than our Columbia Valley. Almost all development and its 60,000 residents are concentrated along the ocean and lower benchlands. Virtually all the upland region including the large Comox Lake and River Watershed is on private land owned by the forest industry which is the case on much of Vancouver Island going back to the days when the government ceded land for coal mining and railway development. Even though they have widespread community support, this presents the eco-system management in the Comox Valley RD with a huge challenge.

We are fortunate here in the RDEK that almost all of the land base around our communities and our watersheds is owned by the Crown and ecosystem management principles should be much more readily achieved.  However, our planning and development environmental policies, which in my opinion could be stronger, only apply to private land. Non-governmental organizations such as The Lake Windermere Ambassadors, The Columbia Lake Stewardship Partners, the Kootenay Conservation Program, Wildsight, The Windermere District Farmers Institute, The Lake Windermere Rod and Gun Club and the Columbia Wetlands Stewardship Partners all have been strong advocates for more conservation-minded land use management.  The economically important forest industry has a large impact on the Columbia Valley land base and other consumptive demands on Crown land are also increasing, including recreation.  Can our ecosystems continue to supply the demand for its services?  Can we continue along the same path we have been following or is a change in behaviour needed?

The economically important forest industry has a large impact on the Columbia Valley land base and in order to maintain timber supply is now moving to logging on steeper slopes.  Other demands on Crown land such as outdoor recreation, mining and solar energy exploration are also increasing and some wildlife populations are declining. The mantra of growth and development is unsustainable. Our ecosystems cannot continue to meet our demand for their services. We pride ourselves on balancing our provincial budget. What about our account with Mother Nature?