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LETTER: Saanich’s biodiversity strategy strays off course

(Black Press Media file photo)

The District of Saanich is offering opportunities for public engagement to coincide with the release of the district’s draft Biodiversity Conservation Strategy (BCS). There will be an in-person open house May 14, from 4:30 to 7 p.m. at the Cedar Hill Golf Course clubhouse, an online open house May 16, from 7 to 8 p.m. via Zoom and a questionnaire will be live until May 24 on HelloSaanich.

Saanich Citizens for Resilient Environmental Stewardship (SCRES) is very concerned that the present direction being put forward by Saanich does not match what Saanich council wanted to see. Council put a team of experts in place known as the Resilient Saanich Technical Committee. The RSTC has made many excellent recommendations to enhance biodiversity within Saanich. Many of these recommendations have not seen the light of day in the Draft Biodiversity Conservation Strategy. Staff also disbanded the RSTC in December, a full six months before the BCS will come to council. This does not follow the council-approved terms of reference, which indicated the RSTC would be disbanded once the strategy is approved by council.

SCRES is concerned that the Environmental Development Permit Area is coming back even though there was never a full assessment of how effective the original EDPA was, and that the flawed mapping is still shown on the Saanich Map GIS system. The RSTC never discussed the EDPA, so they have not weighed in on this important issue.

Concerning is something called a Habitat Network that is being considered by staff and the Draft Biodiversity Strategy. For this to be effective, the district would have to acquire land and restore significant lands. This while highly degraded ecosystems in Saanich parks are not being restored because the Parks Department is critically underfunded. No plan exists to deal with the restoration of these parks, nor to manage the many species at risk in Saanich parks.

A high priority for SCRES has always been a voluntary private land stewardship program, which SCRES believes the original council motion for all of the Resilient Saanich work, was meant to address. This program is not found in the present Draft Biodiversity Strategy. This is very concerning.

SCRES encourages landowners to attend the open house and to respond to the questionnaire before May 24.

SCRES believes that without significant input by landowners this conservation strategy is going to end up with a very similar version of the original EDPA, which was never shown to be effective in enhancing biodiversity in the District of Saanich.

Anita Bull, president

Saanich Citizens for Resilient Environmental Stewardship