I have heard frustration from my constituents on the Southern Gulf Islands with the ongoing clear-cut logging in their communities since my election as the provincial representative of Saanich North and the Islands in 2017. Entire forests are falling.
Working with my Islands Trust colleagues, we learned that there is currently no policy in place to regulate tree cutting. Other than site-specific development permit areas, we learned that the Islands Trust Act does not have a provision equivalent to the one in the Local Government Act that would allow local trust councils to enact and enforce tree cutting bylaws.
While this would not stop all tree-cutting, it would at least add regulations to ensure that sensitive ecosystems, endangered species and the neighbourhood, would all be considered in advance of trees falling.
In September 2020, the Island Trust Council voted in favour of a motion asking the provincial government to amend the Islands Trust Act to allow for the creation of tree-cutting bylaws.
I asked Hon. Josie Osborne, Minister of Municipal Affairs, if she is going to follow through on the request.
When we hear about the Salish Sea, it’s often in the context of the southern resident killer whale or the sockeye salmon. Both are iconic, both are endangered, and there is an overwhelming response in Saanich North and the Islands when they’re raised. Add the coastal Douglas fir to species that draw the attention of my constituents.
A narrow strip of land circling the Salish Sea, including greater Victoria and the southern Gulf Islands, is known as the coastal Douglas fir biogeoclimatic zone. This zone is characterized by a unique geography and diversity of ecosystems that include unique wetlands, shorelines and the Garry oak meadows.
Over the last four years, my Islands Trust colleagues and I have heard from our constituents on the southern Gulf Islands who want these sensitive ecosystems protected from clearcuts. Neither the Islands Trust nor the provincial government have the policy in place to stop clearcut logging from taking place in the area. It turns out the powers extended in the Local Government Act do not exist in the Islands Trust Act.
My question is to the Minister of Municipal Affairs. Will the minister amend the Islands Trust Act to allow local trust councils to implement and enforce bylaws to regulate tree cutting?
Hon. J. Osborne:
Thank you to the member for the question. It’s an honour to rise in this House and receive my first question as the Minister of Municipal Affairs.
As those in this House know, I’m a passionate advocate for local governments, for families and for the environment. I appreciate this question very much because I know how much the member cares about this issue too.
The former government did not do enough to prioritize environmental protection, nor was enough done to ensure that communities had say in how their forests were managed. This government is focused on making different choices to make sure that forests and biodiversity are there for generations to come.
I did have the opportunity to recently meet with the Islands Trust. I commended them for the excellent work that they’re doing, heard them and listened to them to gain insight into their proposal. We have committed to further discussions. So, again, thank you to the member opposite for the question.
Member for Saanich North and the Islands on a supplemental.
Thank you to the minister for the response. Clearcut logging is having a dramatic effect on the landscape of the southern Gulf Islands. It’s having a detrimental impact on the environment and Gulf Island neighbourhoods. A public information campaign is underway, and Gulf Islanders have been demanding accountability from their elected officials, and they should.
As the Coastal Douglas-fir Conservation Partnership website highlights, the CDF zone is “home to the highest number of species and ecosystems at risk in B.C., many of which are ranked globally as imperiled or critically imperiled.” For more than a decade, the conservation partnership has included all levels of government, ENGOs, landowners and industry, and yet the clearcuts continue unregulated.
At the Islands Trust council meeting in September of 2020, a motion was passed by council requesting the province give the trust the power to create the tree-cutting bylaws like a municipal government has. They’ve asked for these powers through their council table.
So, again to the Minister of Municipal Affairs, every day we delay is another day that these endangered ecosystems are at risk. Will the minister commit today to urgently amend the Islands Trust Act as per the request of the council? When can the council see to have the power to create tree-cutting bylaws?
Hon. J. Osborne:
Again, I know just how much coastal communities care deeply about forests, about waters, about wildlife, about biodiversity. And as a former marine biologist myself and a member, a resident, of a coastal community, I resonate and understand these concerns.
So, again, I really appreciated sitting down and talking with representatives from the Islands Trust about this issue. The member opposite knows how much I care about this. I definitely invite him…. My virtual office door is open, and I’m happy to discuss this with him further.
Again, I’m committed to continuing to work with my colleagues. This government is listening to communities, understanding their concerns, and we are here to work with them. I welcome the opportunity to discuss this further.