By FRANTS ATTORP
At the March 9 Islands Trust Council meeting, eight trustees voted to make the natural environment the top priority in the Trust Policy Statement by removing reference to housing, and by defining the Trust area’s unique amenities as including the environment.
North Pender Trustee Benjamin McConchie put their case succinctly: “Why is there no focus on the environment? We are losing the environmental battle slowly, a death by a thousand cuts.”
Unfortunately, the three members of Salt Spring’s Local Trust Committee all helped defeat the motions. Trustee Laura Patrick shared the view of several others that the interpretation of the Trust mandate be kept “as broad as possible.”
Those four words have far-reaching implications for the entire Trust Area as they give trustees enormous latitude in implementing social, economic and environmental goals. Prioritizing everything is the same as prioritizing nothing, and the result of such unanchored policies is apparent in the urban sprawl that surrounds the Gulf Islands.
Yes, the narrowing of the mandate’s interpretation would put more constraints on local trustees, especially when considering rezoning applications, but isn’t that exactly what’s needed at this juncture? Last year’s State of the Islands Report showed that the natural environment of the islands is in trouble — even before all existing lots have been developed!
Warnings about the unsustainability of development on Salt Spring go back to at least 2007 when the Islands Trust commissioned an ecosystem health review by David Rapport, a local resident who is a renowned expert on assessing the impacts of human activities on ecosystems.
Rapport made 10 recommendations, the very first of which is “that the Islands Trust mandate be directed first and foremost towards preserving and protecting the health of Salt Spring‘s ecosystems,” and that “the OCP be amended to reflect the primacy of this goal.”
His second recommendation was to amend the level of build-out in the OCP: “If, with the current island population at half the build-out, we are already experiencing problems associated with damaged ecosystems, then we are already at or past build-out for maintaining healthy ecosystems.”
His third recommendation called for “a hold on further development that may compromise the health of ecosystems.” He even indicated down-zoning (removing already approved densities) may be necessary in some areas to protect watersheds.
Rapport also recommended a scientific assessment to establish the current state of health of local ecosystems and the collective impacts of existing land-use practices and other human activities. He emphasized the importance of restoring ecosystems that have already been damaged.
In light of this report and other information currently available, it is astounding that our trustees voted the way they did. How can the Gulf Islands possibly survive as a protected area without a commitment to the environment?
The good news is that the review of the Policy Statement is still ongoing. I encourage all island residents to write to Trust Council (firstname.lastname@example.org) asking that protection of the natural environment be prioritized in the Policy Statement. The correspondence deadline for the June meeting is May 20.
The writer is a Salt Spring resident.