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Moving beyond the data : examining the effectiveness of the sensitive ecosystem inventory as a tool for local and regional conservation planning Hobson, Angela Margaret

Abstract

Since the late 1980s and early 1990s, regions throughout British Columbia (BC) have experienced rapid and widespread loss of natural areas. Lack of funding has frequently led to poor ecosystem management, short-sighted decision-making and an inability to adequately educate the public about the importance of natural areas protection. In an effort to promote a shift in land use priorities, Environment Canada’s Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS), in partnership with BC Ministry of Environment (MoE), has been working to raise awareness about sensitive ecosystems in areas of the province experiencing concentrated development pressure over the last 15 years. The pilot study for the SEI program, initiated in 1993, was carried out in East Coast Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands, Inventory results showed widespread fragmentation, degradation and loss of sensitive ecosystems. A sensitive ecosystems inventory provides the crucial first step in conservation planning: identification of sensitive and significant natural areas. The goal of this thesis is to determine the ways in which Sensitive Ecosystems lnventory data have been used - and where opportunities have been missed - to inform land use decisions made by local and regional governments in the East Vancouver Island/Gulf Islands region. The research identifies institutional barriers to strategic use of ecosystems inventory data, and considers the societal and political forces that hinder effective local and regional conservation planning today. In addition, it recommends ways in which the SEI might be modified and used differently in order to better facilitate local and regional conservation planning. Three primary methods were used: a review of the literature on local and regional conservation planning, a formal interview process, and a method of problem analysis called Problem Stratigraphy, used here in the analysis of barriers. Analysis of the interview results showed that while most local and regional governments within the study area are using SEI data, different jurisdictions are limited in their use in different ways. Certainly, the SEI is an imperfect tool, and one of limited use. Innovative municipalities and regional districts, however, have shown that with a small investment of time and resources, it is possible to build upon SEI data to create a local inventory at a finer scale that is very much of use. Coupled with stringent regulation of land use, such a tool has a great deal of potential in reversing the downward spiral of ecological destruction, and depicting the direct association between healthy ecosystems and healthy communities.

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