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Saanich endorses new conservation strategy from ashes of repealed bylaw that vexed homeowners

The new strategy comes seven years after the death of the controversial Environmental Development Permit Area bylaw, which council repealed in 2017
PKOLS or Mount Doug Park in Saanich. Creating a priority list of natural parks that require managing is one of the priority items on the strategy. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

The District of Saanich is hoping a new biodiversity conservation strategy will be able to do what its controversial predecessor couldn’t — maintain and enhance biodiversity in Saanich for the next 10 to 20 years.

Saanich council Monday unanimously endorsed the new strategy and environmental policy framework in hopes it will create a more co-ordinated and comprehensive approach to maintaining biodiversity.

The new strategy comes seven years after the death of the Environmental Development Permit Area bylaw, which council repealed in 2017.

That bylaw, in place for five years, was intended to protect sensitive ecosystems by restricting changes on properties within the EDPA’s boundaries.

The bylaw was vehemently opposed by many homeowners and ultimately scrapped.

The goal of the new strategy is to take steps to conserve existing biodiversity and ecosystems and create incentive programs “that will help restore and enhance that biodiversity,” Mayor Dean Murdock said.

The new strategy recommends about 130 actions organized into timelines ranging from immediate to long-term and ongoing.

It identifies 14 priority actions — 11 of which are to be undertaken within the first year, including updating ecosystem data, creating a priority list of natural parks that require ­managing, updating the invasive-species strategy and developing an incentive program to protect natural features through development in urban areas.

Priority actions to be looked at over the mid-term include implementing a marine shoreline development permit area to reduce the impact of waterfront development and restore degraded foreshore, expanding programs to encourage biodiversity stewardship and education, and educating private land­owners on their obligations to natural-state covenants.

“It outlines a number of actions that are going to result in some more very specific initiatives that will come out. But this is really setting out a larger framework and work plan that will guide the district for the next 10 years,” said Murdock.

The strategy suggests the need for $330,000 in funding for some of the priority action items over the first year, though $110,000 of that would be one-time funding for staff.

The strategy was pulled together through extensive engagement, the Resilient Saanich Technical Committee and the help of Diamond Head Consulting from Vancouver.

Alison Kwan, biologist with Diamond Head, said the purpose of the strategy is to help better understand the ecosystems, map the biodiversity habitat network and recommend tools and policies to protect it.

The focus in the early years will be on stewardship of private and public lands and park management and restoration.

Murdock said residents will not likely see much immediate impact of the strategy, as the initial focus will be on policy work to provide clarity and direction.

“You won’t see signage popping up tomorrow or fencing put up in different areas overnight — this is really setting out how we can better define some of the areas that are going to require more work,” he said.

Coun. Nathalie Chambers said the document comes at the right time. “With all the species at risk and everything, we must start protecting habitat.”

Coun. Zac de Vries said cities can be leaders in biodiversity conservation by promoting green spaces and fostering lives of all species.

“Local governments can create a balanced blend of the very things that are important for urban life around housing, jobs and commerce and natural sanctuaries that are also important,” he said.

“The strategy is at the heart of how we will go about doing that both individually and collectively.”

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