Time for BC to renew its land use leadership

Time for BC to renew its land use leadership
Bruce Sieffert,Time for B.C. to Renew Lan Use Leadership

Time for BC to renew its land use leadership

From 1990 to the mid 2000’s, British Columbia was a globally‐recognized leader in using community‐based land use planning to seek balanced and sustainable management of our rich endowment of natural resources.

Leadership emerged then because it was needed. Those old enough to remember might recall how the forestry and land use debate in B.C. became so intense in the 1980’s that it was dubbed the “war in the woods.”

To their credit governments of that era, along with community leaders, environmental advocates, and industry spokespersons, rose to the occasion. The community‐based land use planning processes that emerged provided a dramatic shift on B.C.’s public lands, with a doubling of the park and protected area system, coupled with a broad commitment to sustainable forest management. These processes were challenging at times – collaboration is seldom the shortest or easiest path – but they did provide the tools for substantial community influence on land use, ultimately providing a social licence for a new balance that included protection and sustainable development.

But now those hard‐won gains are at risk of being lost – with the possibility that a new “war in the woods” might take shape. Communities are once again feeling excluded from the management of the public lands around them. As noted by Harshaw, Pillman and Aird in an earlier background paper for the Healthy Forests Healthy Communities initiative, government has backed away from the community‐based planning processes that flourished in the 1990’s. Even modest support for community‐based plan implementation committees has dried up.

To avoid a return to a divisive land use debate in B.C. a renewed commitment to planning and community engagement is essential. It is important at the outset to explicitly recognize aboriginal rights and title, and the aspirations of both First Nation communities and non‐aboriginal communities.

The good work provided by previous planning will often provide a good starting place – but we should not be wedded to the specific approaches and products of the 90’s. Planning processes must be flexible to reflect the wide range of communities and First Nations. Some communities may have the interest and capacity to deal comprehensively with major regional challenges, while others may want to focus their energies on very specific local land use issues.

We can start now by empowering those First Nations and communities who are ready to move ahead. The province needs to play a sponsorship role, working with First Nations on a government‐to‐government basis, to describe a clear mandate to seek a renewed community‐based land use vision.

The province also needs to provide seed money. Any estimate of fiscal requirements is speculative at this time, given the need for communities to define their interests and tailor processes accordingly. A relatively small investment of $10 to 20 million over the next ten years would likely be sufficient to support well run and focused planning exercises in a number of communities. Moreover, the provincial government may not be the only funding source. The current collaborative marine planning initiative on the B.C. coast has brought together funding from a number of sources. The government does need to renew its own expertise in planning and community engagement, which has largely been eroded in a decade of downsizing.

In summary, it will take three things to move forward: a core investment by the provincial government, respect for and partnership with First Nations, and, more than anything, the time, energy, and creativity of British Columbians working together in well‐defined and well‐supported collaborative processes.

These are once again challenging times for communities and citizens, both First Nation and a non‐aboriginal.

This means that a working consensus can be difficult to reach. But as our past experience shows, British Columbians can come together in challenging times to define a new land use balance for our public lands. It is time for British Columbia to show it can lead once again.

Bruce Sieffert has over 30 years experience with the B.C. government in land use planning and policy, and is currently an adjunct professor with the Centre for Livehoods and Ecology at Royal Roads University


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