Case Study by: Austin Perez
Victoria, the capital city of the province of British Columbia, is located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island off of the western coast of Canada. The Victoria region, known as the Capital Regional District (CRD), has a population of 375,000 people, making it the 15th most populous metropolitan area in Canada. The region is well known for its beautiful architecture with a distinct British influence reminiscent of the Victorian era, and is renowned for its lush gardens and green spaces scattered all over the region. With its dense forests, picturesque coastline, and abundant greenery, the CRD is highly regarded for its natural beauty. Like a growing number of other regions around the world, the CRD places a major emphasis on promoting sustainability, ecological integrity, and the conservation of its natural environment. However, the CRD has gone above and beyond the norm in developing its regional conservation strategy by creating a unique policy that features an extraordinary commitment to examining the application of the Nature Needs Half vision by promoting ecological connectivity and striving to manage at least half of the region’s land and water base for the conservation of nature.
Victoria City View © Ron Niebrugge
The CRD has developed a policy entitled the Regional Parks Strategic Plan for 2012-2021 (RPSP), which is a management strategy for the region’s parks and trails for the next ten years. The RPSP and its budget have now been formally approved by the CRD Board of Directors and placed into effect, giving the CRD a unique and progressive policy that emphasizes connectivity and ecosystem health in a manner that epitomizes the Nature Needs Half vision within the regional environment of the CRD.
The following excerpt from the Regional Parks Strategic Plan expresses the Capital Region District’s ambitious vision for the conservation of wild nature in the region:
“Regional parks and trails will become part of a larger integrated and connected system of natural areas. Subscribing to the idea that “nature needs half,” policies and actions are explored through sustainability planning to significantly enhance the system of natural areas in the region in order to sustain life supporting ecological processes. By conserving at least half of the Capitol Region’s land and water base for nature, residents may live and work in harmony with the environment.”
Proposed Regional Parks & Trail System Map
A vitally important aspect of the Nature Needs Half vision emphasized in the RPSP is the significance of promoting ecosystem connectivity. The RPSP prescribes that an effective policy aiming to conserve the region’s wild nature must focus on connecting and integrating ecosystems. Accordingly, the RPSP encourages connectivity by striving to create a green-blue belt to connect regional parks and protected areas by creating natural corridors designed to protect biodiversity and facilitate the movement of the region’s species. The CRD also believes that promoting ecosystem connectivity will have a beneficial impact on the region’s citizens and visitors as well. The ultimate goal of the CRD is to create a parks and trails system that allows people to travel by bike or foot from one end of the Region to the other entirely on trails and completely surrounded by greenery.
The CRD believes that promoting ecosystem connectivity has three main beneficial outcomes for both the region’s wild nature and for its citizens. First, connectivity allows for species of wildlife to be able to move freely and safely through the region by way of natural corridors, and allows for ecosystems to remain healthy, viable, and intact. Second, connectivity allows the citizens and visitors of the CRD to move from community to community on bike or on foot and be completely surrounded by nature, which promotes health, recreation, and sustainability for the region and its people. And third, connectivity promotes greater access to wild nature, thus increasing the opportunity for people in the region to connect with nature and experience the beauty and splendor of the CRD’s natural environment.
Another goal presented in the RPSP is the protection of the region’s wild nature and the conservation of its biodiversity. An essential element of the CRD’s conservation strategy is to identify key ecological zones that are threatened or have a critical ecological importance. There are three main ecological zones in the CRD: the Coastal Douglas-fir zone, the Coastal Western Hemlock zone, and the Mountain Hemlock zone. Several ecosystems within the Coastal Douglas-fir biogeoclimactic zone are globally imperiled, and this zone contains some of the most endangered ecosystems and wildlife species in all of Canada. The Coastal Douglas-fir zone contains 24 species of global conservation concern, as well as 35 ecological communities and 218 wildlife and plant species that are at risk throughout British Columbia. One such critically endangered species within Victoria’s Coastal Douglas-fir ecosystem is the Garry oak, a rare tree species that exists exclusively on southeastern coast of Vancouver Island near Victoria. The CRD has identified the Garry oak ecosystem as critically important, and the RPSP recognizes the importance of protecting it and the region’s other vital ecosystems.
Great Horned Owl © Travelfootprints.ca
Many other species of wildlife also live within the natural environment of the CRD. Black-tailed deer, black bears, cougars, and great horned owls can all be spotted in the forest ecosystems surrounding Victoria and within the rest of the CRD. Important nesting grounds for many waterfowl species including Great Blue Herons, Mallards, and Trumpeter Swans are also prevalent within the wild nature of the CRD. The region’s marine ecosystems are also home to an abundance of wildlife. Several species of whales inhabit the coastal waters off the southern coast of Vancouver Island, including Orca whales and humpback whales, as well as other species of marine mammals such as seals, dolphins, and porpoises.
Great Blue Heron © Dave Hutchison Images
The RPSP not only strives to manage at least half of its existing land and water base for the conservation of nature, it also promotes the acquisition of new lands to restore and conserve as areas of wild nature. The RPSP declares that the “acquisition of land for the regional parks system is part of the long-term vision for the system and will be considered a priority.” The CRD established the Land Acquisition Fund in 2000, which imposed a small levy upon its citizens to raise money for the acquisition of new land areas to designate as regional parks, trails, or another forms of protected land areas. Since the establishment of the Land Acquisition Fund in 2000, CRD Regional Parks and its partners have purchased approximately $48,018,264 CAD worth of land, which has resulted in the acquisition of 4,485 hectares of new land. The lands acquired through this fund have a very beneficial environmental and economic impact on the region by allowing for the protection of critical ecosystems, while also increasing tourism opportunities through opening up more parks and increasing recreational opportunities allowing for more walking, hiking, and biking activities.
The CRD’s RPSP not only epitomizes the Nature Needs Half vision by promoting ecosystem connectivity and the conservation of at least half of its land and water base for nature, it also serves as an excellent example of how the collaborative efforts of many private organizations, public institutions, and tribal groups working together can create a cohesive and effective conservation policy. Intergovernmental collaboration was especially crucial in developing a conservation policy in Victoria and the CRD, as municipal, regional, provincial, and federal levels of government all have distinct roles in determining the designation of public parks and protected areas. Collaboration with the First Nations Tribal Groups was also a vital component in developing the RPSP. The CRD encompasses the territorial land of several First Nations, and therefore, integrating the interests and land ethic of the First Nations peoples was a very important element to integrate into the region’s policy.
Biogeoclimatic zones in the CRD
The next step for the CRD will be for the Nature Needs Half vision that is encapsulated in the RPSP to be considered in the preparation of the Regional Sustainability Strategy (RSS) — the Regional Growth Strategy for the CRD that establishes the region’s long-term plans for growth and development. The Regional Growth Strategy addresses a wide range of issues such as transportation, population change, settlement patterns, and resource management. Incorporating the Nature Needs Half vision into the Regional Growth Strategy will be an even greater step forward for the CRD towards creating a policy dedicated to managing at least half of the region’s land and water base for the conservation of nature, as it would adopt the strategy developed in the RPSP as a part of the long-term development goals for the entire CRD. Members of the Citizen Advisory Panel for the CRD are confident that the Nature Needs Half vision will be included in the RSS, and that the goal of conserving at least half of the region’s land and water base as wild nature will be formally included as a part of the region’s growth and development plan as a key long-term strategy for protecting its natural environment.
Butchart Gardens in Victoria, BC
The CRD has developed a uniquely progressive conservation policy that epitomizes the Nature Needs Half vision by specifically emphasizing the importance of ecosystem connectivity and promoting the management of at least half of its land and water base for the conservation of nature. The CRD has created a policy that strives to protect its wild nature, conserve its biodiversity, and allow for its citizens to be able to experience the amazing beauty of its natural environment for many generations to come. The CRD is therefore an excellent example of a region committed to examining the implementation of the Nature Needs Half vision to create an effective wildlands conservation policy within an urban/suburban and natural resource-based environment, and the CRD’s Regional Parks Strategic Plan exemplifies how a collaborative effort can create a framework for policy that promotes ecosystem connectivity and the conservation of wild nature for an entire region and group of communities. By incorporating the Nature Needs Half vision into its RPSP, the Capital Region District have established themselves as forward-thinking leaders in the development of wilderness conservation policy and act as an excellent example of how effective and viable policy can be developed and implemented in order to protect and interconnect half of an area’s wildlands and waters.
*Special thanks to Bob Peart and Jeff Ward for being wonderful sources of information and for sharing their expertise and perspective for this case study. Mr. Peart is a member of the Citizen Advisory Panel that helped develop the CRD Regional Parks Plan for 2012-2021, and Mr. Ward is the Manager of Planning, Resource Management, and Development for Capital Region District Parks.