Key Policies on Biodiversity and Freshwater Conservation For Gabriola Island

This page (available as a download in PDF) provides information on the major policies and planning tools contained in the Gabriola Official Community Plan (OCP), the Islands Trust’s Coastal Douglas-fir Ecosystem Protection Toolkit and Gulf Islands Groundwater Protection Toolkit that address environmental issues generally and speak to the protection and promotion of biodiversity and the conservation of the island’s freshwater resources. It covers:

  1. the OCP’s general statements about environmental preservation
  2. specific environment-related goals in the OCP
  3. various OCP objectives and policies relevant to biodiversity and freshwater conservation
  4. the OCP’s specific objectives and policies about groundwater protection
  5. current relevant Development Permit Areas on Gabriola
  6. key policies in the Islands Trust’s Coastal Douglas-fir Toolkit
  7. key policies in the Islands Trust’s Groundwater Protection Toolkit.

Key considerations

Gabriola’s Official Community Plan speaks to the protection of the environment in both general and specific ways. It includes a number of objectives and policies related to the natural environment. There is currently no overarching strategy to identify biodiversity and freshwater conservation priorities and ensure that effective objectives and policies are both in place and regulated in order to achieve them.

The Islands Trust’s Coastal Douglas-fir (CDF) Toolkit provides specific guidance on regulatory tools that Local Trust Committees can use to protect our important biogeoclimatic zone. Similarly, the Islands Trust’s Groundwater Protection Toolkit provides guidance on regulatory tools that can be used to protect groundwater resources. None of the CDF Toolkit recommendations and only one of the Groundwater Protection Toolkit recommendations have been incorporated into the Gabriola OCP and Land Use Bylaw.

What does the Gabriola Official Community Plan (1997) say about sustaining or protecting biodiversity?

The Gabriola Official Community Plan (1997) doesn’t specifically address the need to actively sustain, protect or encourage biodiversity. It does state that:

“This Plan attempts to preserve the unique environment of the Gabriola Planning Area for future generations through its established goals, which speak to the protection of the natural environment and its sensitive ecosystems…” and that “future land use and development decisions must consider the anticipated impacts of proposed development on the environment and community resources.” (s.2.0.m)

The OCP’s environmental goals (s.1.3) are:

  1. To preserve the unique natural environment of land, water and air and the life it supports.
  2. To preserve the natural beauty of the Gabriola Planning Area and recognize that areas of sensitivity or unique value require special protective measures.
  3. To encourage the removal of existing sources of pollution and discourage activities or projects inside or outside the Gabriola Planning Area, which would reduce the health, quiet, natural and aesthetic values of the Area.
  4. To encourage only the selective and careful use of renewable natural resources in ways consistent with the goals and policies of the Plan.
  5. To recognize the provincial and national significance of the unique social and physical diversities of the Plan Area.
  6. To encourage good stewardship practices and the voluntary placement of land under protective covenants.
  7. To reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prepare for the impacts of climate change.

The OCP also includes several objectives and policies that have general application to the natural environment:

2.0 General Land Use Objectives:

2.2 To promote the preservation of land that has social, environmental and cultural significance;

2.3. To ensure development is undertaken in a manner which minimizes negative community and environmental impact

* These objectives speak to preservation and minimization of impact. We’d like to hear from you on whether these objectives are enough to address protection of the natural environment and biodiversity.

4.2 Parks and Outdoor Recreation Objectives:

4.2.2. To acquire parkland that is representative of the bioregion (i.e. wetlands, first growth forest);

4.2 e) A community trails network shall be encouraged to be established incorporating existing public trails. Effort should be made to maintain the contiguous nature of existing, established traditional trails. Such initiative is subject to the consent of the private property owners affected and the provision of appropriate signage being provided to indicate where a trail crosses private property.

5.2 Forestry Objectives:

5.2.1) To preserve large contiguous areas of forested land;

5.2.2) To support forestry practices which are compatible with and complementary to the values of conservation and sustainability;

5.2.3) To support timber production while retaining the environmental and recreational values of forested land;

5.2.4) To protect the groundwater resource and recharge areas; and

5.2.5) To encourage the use of forested land for purposes of recreation, wildlife habitat and maintaining the island’s biological diversity.

6.1 Environmentally Sensitive Area Objectives

6.1.1. To ensure the protection of environmentally sensitive areas on Gabriola;

6.1.2. To protect important habitat and water resources areas through vegetation retention and building setbacks;

6.1.3. To encourage retention of the natural tree cover along the shoreline and to discourage tree removal to minimal selective cutting;

6.1.4. To encourage owners of property which is environmentally sensitive to work co-operatively with conservation-based groups in defining means of providing for the protection of important sites; and

6.1.5. To consider the goals and objectives of the Regional Conservation Plan when making land-use decisions.

* These objectives speak to the importance of protecting environmentally sensitive areas. We’d like to hear from you on how private property owners can protect environmentally sensitive areas.

6.1 Environmentally Sensitive Area Policies

6.1a) Development within environmentally sensitive areas may be regulated through the use of development permits. (Note more information on Development Permit Areas below)

6.1b) With respect to an area identified as being environmentally sensitive, the registration of a natural state or environmental covenant and/or the use of a development permit shall be required as a condition of rezoning so as to ensure the long term protection of environmental features.

6.1c) Voluntary covenants or easements to protect natural features and donation or sale of sensitive areas to a conservation agency shall be encouraged.

6.1d) In order to protect area watercourses, rezoning adjacent to a watercourse shall be conditional upon the establishment of a protective setback area. The Ministry of Environment – Federal Fisheries report titled: Stream Stewardship – A Guide for Planners & Developers and Land Development Guidelines for the Aquatic Habitat shall be used as a guideline in determining how land is to be developed adjacent a watercourse (including a lake and wetland).

6.1e) To protect against hazardous conditions and to protect environmentally sensitive areas a setback shall apply from the high water mark of the sea. In the case where a bluff or large land ridge is the prominent upland feature adjacent the sea, a setback from the upper edge of the bluff or ridge shall be applicable.

6.1f)The sandstone and conglomerate banks along Gabriola’s shoreline shall be protected against the accelerated effects of erosion resulting from human activity by requiring the setback of buildings or structures and control of storm water runoff.

6.1g) Trees bearing the nests of great blue heron, bald eagle, osprey and other raptors shall not be cut in accordance with provincial legislation. The zoning bylaw shall set standards and regulate the provision of screening for preserving and protecting trees bearing such nests. Such condition shall be applicable with respect to the rezoning of any site containing such a feature.

6.1h) Fresh water features which have special biological significance to the local environment, such as Hoggan Lake, shall be protected through zoning and shall be designated as a development permit area.

6.1i) So as to ensure the Island’s environmental resource sites are protected, owners (and potential developers) of property located within an environmental sensitive area shall be encouraged to work with recognized conservancy organizations early on in the development process to ensure steps are taken to protect the environmentally sensitive site.

6.2 Marine Resources Objectives

6.2.1. To manage coastal marine resources in keeping with the Islands Trust preserve and protect mandate;

6.2.2. To preserve and protect unique, rare, or representative marine plant and animal communities in their natural habitats;

6.2.3. To protect the natural and scenic values of the coastline which provide the Island with its rural marine character;

Policy 6.2.c) A marine protection zone shall also be established in the zoning bylaw for the protection of significant marine and foreshore areas. The Gabriola Pass Marine Protection Area and foreshore waters in the vicinity of the Flat Top Islands shall be zoned marine protection.

7.1 Land Transportation Policies

f) New roads, and modifications to existing roads, should not fragment agricultural land or environmentally sensitive areas, such as wetlands.

8. Climate Change Adaptation and Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction Policies

8b) The Local Trust Committee should consider the development of new criteria for assessing official community plan or land use bylaw amendment applications from the perspective of climate change adaptation and greenhouse gas emission reduction.

8c) The Local Trust Committee should consider new development permit area guidelines that promote low impact land uses, alternative transportation, energy conservation, water conservation, and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

8h) The Local Trust Committee should consider amending the Land Use Bylaw to measure the footprint of buildings and structures from the interior walls instead of the outer perimeter of the foundation of the building, so increased insulation is encouraged.

8e) The Local Trust Committee should identify significant unfragmented forest ecosystems within the planning area and ensure that these areas are noted on mapping both for their environmental values as well as carbon sequestration areas.

What does the OCP say about Groundwater protection?

In addition to the general objectives and policies listed above that may be useful for groundwater protection, the OCP includes specific objectives and policies related to Gabriola’s water supply. 

7.4 Water Supply Objectives

1. To manage the island’s groundwater resources on a sustainable basis

2. To protect the groundwater resource from contamination

3. To promote water resource conservation strategies and to reduce water demand as much as possible

4. To undertake a program to monitor the quality and quantity of the groundwater aquifers on Gabriola, and,

5. To discourage non-essential large scale use of domestic water (such as lawn sprinkling and swimming pool filling) during periods of low water supply.

7.4 Water Supply Policies

a) Methods of water conservation such as low water use fixtures, retention of rainwater and runoff in cisterns and ponds and other means shall be encouraged.

b) The use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides shall be discouraged in order to protect water sources.

c) No piping of water from a source outside the Plan Area shall be permitted.

d) In considering the approval of a community water system, consideration shall be given to the results of a water management review, prepared by a Professional Engineer which examines:

i. the potential impact on existing water users in the immediate area;

ii. the recharge capability of the water source relative to anticipated maximum water demand of the proposed system;

iii. ownership and management of the system; and,

iv. remedies available in the event of a water system failure.

e) Abandoned wells must be properly capped so as to avoid contamination of the aquifer.

f) Industrial or recreational uses which are consumptive of large quantities of water shall be discouraged.

How are Development Permit Areas (DPAs) used for environmental protection on Gabriola?

* We’d like to hear from you on whether the existing DPAs are sufficient to protect environmentally sensitive areas on Gabriola Island, or if you’d like the LTC to explore more protection through the use of Development Permit Areas.

As noted above, Environmental Policy 6.1a) allows for the regulation of environmentally sensitive areas through the use of development permits. Development permits are used in situations where particular areas of land are designated for specific uses of importance to the community. A development permit must be obtained from the Local Trust Committee for any construction, structural alteration, or building additions to take place in those areas, as well as for subdivision or land alteration.

Section 9 of the OCP designates a number of development permit areas, some of which are used for environmental protection.

Gabriola currently has five Development Permit Areas designated for the protection of the natural environment:

  1. The Tunnel
  2. Lock Bay
  3. Riparian Areas (fish supporting creeks and streams)
  4. Flat Top Islands
  5. Gabriola Pass

Maps of these DPAs are here:

Specific guidelines regulating activity in these areas are contained in the Land Use Bylaw:

What are the key Policies in the Islands Trust’s Coastal Douglas-fir Toolkit?

The Islands Trust’s “Protecting the Coastal Douglas-Fir Zone” toolkit (2018) describes the CDF zone and its threats, and explores the various regulatory tools that Local Trust Committees can use to preserve and protect the zone.

A key message of the Toolkit is that:

“The Coastal Douglas-fir (CDF) Biogeoclimatic Zone is found nowhere else in Canada. It includes a unique set of ecosystems that occur along the edge of south-east Vancouver Island, across the Gulf Islands, and along the southwest coast of Vancouver Island. The Islands Trust Area is entirely within the CDF zone.” (p.8)

The Toolkit describes the importance of CDF conservation:

“There is significant concern for the conservation of the CDF zone. The Coastal Douglas-fir Conservation Partnership has emphasized the importance of the CDF zone as being biologically rich and containing globally imperiled and provincially identified species at risk, as well as containing ecosystems at risk. CDF ecosystems clean our air and water, absorb carbon from the atmosphere, provide climate change mitigation and adaptation, and contribute to food resilience by providing habitat for pollinators and insectivores. CDF forests are important for people’s mental health and wellbeing, and provide recreational and educational opportunities for people to learn about the significance, ecology, and cultural importance of these special coastal rainforests.The CDF zone can also add to property values. Individual properties that are in the vicinity of natural areas and parkland can increase property values by 3–6% (or more). ” (p.8)

The Toolkit describes the threat to the Coastal Douglas-fir Zone in this way (p.12):

“Coastal Douglas-fir ecosystems are under threat from human pressures. Of all the zones in the province, the CDF has been most altered by human activities:

  • Almost half of the CDF lands have been converted for human use (urban, roads, agriculture, mining, industrial, etc.).
    • 75% of the human population of BC lives in the CDF, including the major centres of Vancouver, Victoria, and Nanaimo where population growth is expected to continue.
    • The CDF has the highest road density of any biogeoclimatic zone in BC. The trend of deforestation and residential sprawl continues. Even in the Islands Trust Area, many local trust committees have not reduced the subdivision potential inherited by the zoning that was already in place when the Islands Trust was created in 1974. The continued parcelization and subdivision of land causes fragmentation and perpetuates the incremental loss of contiguous forest cover, threatening the remaining natural systems.”

The Toolkit includes a map of priority conservation areas on Gabriola. Mudge and DeCourcy (p.10):

The Tookit also provides the following summary of the key regulatory tools that Local Trust Committees can use to protect the CDF zone in their jurisdiction:

“To advance protection of the Coastal Douglas-fir zone, official community plans should specifically set goals, objectives, and policies that support CDF retention and protection. Each OCP (Official Community Plan) should also be amended to:

  • Include strong language directing protection of the CDF zone.
    • Implement the Islands Trust Conservancy Regional Conservation Plan.
    • Include specific policies supporting park dedication that protects CDF forests (see the section on park dedication below).
    • Include Development Permit Areas for the protection of the environment, specifically the Coastal Douglas-fir zone and associated ecosystems.
    • Include “urban” containment boundaries achieved through Land designations and land use policies that preserve large lot areas outside of the villages, and that direct density to specific areas of the islands zoned for mixed use commercial/residential, smaller lots, and areas that can be serviced by adequate water supplies.
    • Identify protection of the CDF zone as an amenity that can be provided at the time of rezoning. Establish the nexus between development impacts and ecological services.
    • Include enabling policies for conservation subdivisions, amenity zoning, density transfers, and density bonusing.
    • Include language and policies that reference and honour the cultural heritage of Coast Salish stewardship, including the protection of culturally important places, and archaeological sites.” (p.17-18)

The CDF Toolkit is here:

What are the key policies in the Islands Trust’s Gulf Islands Groundwater Protection Toolkit?

* We would like to hear from you about which Groundwater Protection Toolkit guidelines the Local Trust Committee should focus on including in the OCP and LUB.

The Islands Trust’s “Gulf Islands Groundwater Protection” toolkit (2014) reviews the types of aquifers that Gulf Islands residents rely on, identifies development pressures as a concern, and reviews the information available to understand groundwater issues.

The Toolkit also enumerates the variety of regulatory tools that Local Trust Committees can use to protect groundwater resources, such as policy and regulatory changes that can be made to Official Community Plans (OCPs) and Land Use Planning Bylaws, including the establishment of development permit areas, the creation of subdivision servicing bylaws, and bylaw enforcement.

The Toolkit gives several examples of effective OCP policies for aquifer and groundwater protection (p.7):

  • Protect aquifers by establishing development permit areas that require buffer zones [around water-sensitive areas].
  • Designate aquifer protection zone(s) and development permit areas for which studies may be required.
  • Commit the Local Trust Committee (LTC) to an integrated water management planning approach that will coordinate action on the community water supply, rainwater management, green infrastructure and government regulations
  • Encourage cluster development that minimizes impervious surfaces and other impacts across the landscape.
  • Direct LTCs to encourage communities to practice water conservation and protection.

It also provides examples of effective Land Use Bylaw measures (p.7):

  • Regulate use and density of property to direct development away from groundwater-limited or aquifer recharge areas
    • Limit lot sizes to reduce density in groundwater scarce areas
    • Prohibit potentially polluting uses in areas where aquifers must be protected
    • Set standards on aspects of development that will have an impact on the water resources on the site or in an area (e.g., setbacks from riparian areas)
    • Encourage groundwater sensitive development by clustering development through rezoning and possibly utilizing density bonus provisions.
    • Leverage habitat protection or water-efficient amenities when rezoning.

As well, the Toolkit provides these examples of water-related Development Permit Area guidelines (p.9):

  • Mandate replanting and rehabilitation of disturbed areas
  • Erosion and sediment control (site specific plan)
  • Environmental impact assessments/hydrologic studies to satisfaction of the Local Trust Committee
  • Consistency between pre- and post-development hydrology
  • Vegetation as per landscape plan
  • Incorporate standards from other levels of government (e.g. Riparian Areas Regulation)
  • Limits as to the amount of impermeable surfaces
  • Specify areas that must remain clear of development.

The Toolkit provides example guidelines for rainwater harvesting in a sample Development Permit Area bylaw appendix (p.20-21):

  • Dwelling units should be sited to allow for the optimal placement of a gravity fed rainwater collection tank which collects rainwater from the roof leaders of the dwelling unit which capture the majority of the rainwater flows
  • Dwelling units should be designed to maximize opportunities for rainwater catchment from all roof surfaces
  • Impervious surfaces should be minimized. The use of impervious paved driveways shall be discouraged
  • The LTC may require that all new dwelling units include an external rainwater harvesting system such which includes the following:
    • i.    External equipment for collecting and distributing rainwater from the dwelling unit roof
    • ii.   A storage tank(s) with a minimum storage capacity of 18,000 litres which is designed for rainwater collection and is rated for potable use
    • iii.   A pumping system
    • iv. An overflow handling system
  • All external pipe, plumbing fixtures, and hose bibs where rainwater is used shall be clearly marked with “Non-Potable Water Do Not Drink”
  • Where external rainwater harvesting equipment is required as a condition of the permit, the LTC shall encourage the applicant to install dedicated plumbing lines within proposed dwelling units to make use of stored rainwater for flushing toilets and other non-potable uses.

The Toolkit also discusses the creation of Subdivision Servicing Bylaws which can:

  • establish standards for the subdivision of land that maximize infiltration of water and minimize impervious surfaces and evaluate the sustainability of new groundwater withdrawal from a specific aquifer
  • set the standards by which works and services must be constructed when land is divided into new parcels
  • set standards that support groundwater quality and supply
  • require that each proposed lot has a reliable source of potable water, and establish infiltration, drainage and permeability standards
  • direct development to mimic natural hydrology by requiring rainwater infiltration and limiting impervious surfaces
  • incorporate any existing wellhead protection area(s) that are regulated by zoning or a development permit area. (p.11-12)

Further, the Toolkit says, land development approvals that are typically based on “proof of water” evaluations “generally do not give consideration to long-term ground water consideration such as impacts of future development or cumulative impacts of developments over time in a watershed” and focus on “yield and quality of each well and not the sustainability and protection of the aquifer system as a whole.”  

Currently the Gabriola Land Use Bylaw does not have proof of water requirements for subdivision applications, so an owner applying to subdivide land must meet the provincial requirements for proof of water. If an owner of land is applying to rezone a property to a different use or density, the Local Trust Committee can require the applicant to submit a hydrology report. This information is  reviewed by Trust staff, and would need to demonstrate sufficient water to support the development and no impact on adjacent wells resulting from the development.

The Toolkit is here: