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Write to right the world

The Gulf Islands Alliance believes passionately in the power of ordinary people to do extraordinary things. With an enduring willingness to speak and write about our concerns and dreams, we know it’s possible to maintain our islands as a truly remarkable place in the world.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world, indeed it’s the only thing that ever has,” said renowned anthropologist Margaret Mead.

A well-written letter remains one of the most effective tools in constructing a better world.

Here are some ways to make your letters really count.

The more personal your letter is, the more influence it has. Say what’s on your mind and in your heart. Use your own words wherever possible, but don’t think you have to write like an expert to have influence.

Handwrite your letter if your handwriting is legible and this is easy for you. If you prefer to type a letter, make sure you sign it and then add a handwritten P.S. and hand write the address on the envelope.

It’s best to be brief, clear and specific. Keep your letter to one page if possible.

State your opinion and your specific request in the first few sentences.

Always ask the policy maker to state her or his position in a response to your letter or ask them a question that you say you would like them to answer.

Be courteous and reasonable. Show respect for the policy makers you contact, even when you know you disagree with them. We are all in this together and will have to work together to find the solutions.

Include your address on your letter as well as your envelope (an envelope can get lost) and the date.

Some options:

  • Enclose a published article on the subject issue.
  • Describe how the issue affects you and/or your community.
  • Write or call a second time. Once they have given you a reply, a follow-up can have a stronger impact on policymakers and their aides than the initial communication.
  • Thank the policy maker for taking a ‘correct’ stand or ask for clarification or question any of their unsatisfactory answers.
  • Always ask them to respond to your letter.
  • Keep a copy of your letter (if you type them) and responses. You never know when you might want to refer exactly to something you said before or that was said to you.

If the people lead, eventually the leaders will follow.

Put place before people, governance consultant says

Thoughts on the Islands Trust Governance Task Force

By Graham Brazier, Denman Island

The Islands Trust Governance Task Force may have gotten more than it bargained for when it requested an independent consultant examine its structure with a view to improving how it governs. The work of the Task Force on Governance began in March of 2006 and will conclude with a report to Trust Council in June 2007. However, no sooner had the Task Force determined that a larger Local Trust Committee for Salt Spring Island was warranted, than the independent consultant released his report with startlingly different conclusions. It’s evident that the Task Force and the consultant have fundamentally differing views of what the Islands Trust is, and what it ought to be.

The Task Force is made up of Trustees, all steeped in the ‘culture’ which views the Trust as a ‘local government’ and views us, the residents and landowners of the Trust Area, as the folks they ‘represent’. Trustees see their role as that of balancing the interests of their residents and landowners (those who elect them) against the interests of the environment. The best of them view themselves as ‘councillors with a mandated conscience’. Nevertheless, as time has passed, the interests of the electorate have continued to encroach on the interests of the environment. And, of course, there’s no reason to expect that to change in the future. Some islands will move slower than others, but all are likely to continue to expand human-based interests at the expense of other interests, much like other jurisdictions where local governments are responsible for land-use.

The Consultant, who suggests that he may also speak for the Province, sees the Trust quite differently. He sees it as an organization established to protect a ‘place’. That is its only function. Throughout the report the phrase ‘places’ before ‘people’ appears again and again and again. In his view, the Trust was not intended to be a local government, it was not intended to represent the interests of its residents. On the contrary, it was intended to protect the ‘place’ for the ‘people of British Columbia’ largely from Trust Area residents and landowners.

It is my impression that this view is closer to the original motivation for the formation of the Trust. This view identifies the ‘place’ as worthy of protection and sees ‘people’, particularly residents and landowners, as the main threat to that ‘place’. It was, and continues to be, residents and landowners that seek to intrude, to subdivide, to log, to pave. We, the residents, have great difficulty seeing ourselves as ‘the enemy’, but it is evident that from the inception of the Trust, we have managed to wrest power away from the appointed Trustees back to the local electorate and have presided over the all the negative environmental impacts that have occurred since 1978 when that power shift took place.

Islands can be loved to death

The Best and Worst Islands : A Scorecard

(This story appeared first in the Seattle Post Intelligencer on November 17, 2007)

It’s no secret that people love islands.

But sometimes, we can love them to death. When tourism overkill strikes, the end result is not such a nice place.

National Geographic Traveler and its National Geographic Center for Sustainable Destinations conducted the fourth annual Destination Scorecard survey, aided by George Washington University. A panel of 522 experts in sustainable tourism and destination stewardship donated time to review conditions in 111 selected islands and archipelagos. Whidbey Island wasn’t in the mix, but Washington’s San Juan Islands and British Columbia’s Salt Spring Island were included in the survey.

Guide to the Scores

0-25: Catastrophic: all criteria very negative, outlook grim.

26-49: In serious trouble.

50-65: In moderate trouble: all criteria medium-negative or a mix of negatives and positives.

66-85: Minor difficulties.

86-95: Authentic, unspoiled, and likely to remain so.

96-100: Enhanced.

Judges’ Comments

San Juan Islands, Washington State, Score: 70

“This pleasant archipelago retains its attraction due to limited access through a network of well-managed ferries. With a growing number of second homes and slight gentrification, the islands still retain a good balance between environment and infrastructure.”

“No big hotels, no big crowds, but the open spaces are under attack by nonnative invasive plants. And whale watching in the waters off the islands is completely out of hand, with the native orca pods chased and harassed all day every day from May to October by tour boats.”

“Varied experiences on the different islands. Good kayaking, whale watching, hiking, bicycling. However, islands could be more ‘bike friendly’ with dedicated bike lanes needed.”

“Over 100 islands, each with its own character and attributes. Perhaps the worst is overdevelopment of Roche Harbor to appeal to rich baby boomers and the imposition of urban values into a beautiful setting. However, buildout settlements on other islands have remained sustainable and tasteful.”

Salt Spring Island, Gulf Islands, British Columbia Score: 69

“Salt Spring Island offers tourism options, mainly centered on contemporary fine arts/music culture, creative organic cuisine, agritourism, and marine ecotourism, largely driven by strong-minded locals who scrutinize every new possibility with intense National Geographic criteria eyeglasses!”

“The population is becoming increasingly artsy, retired, wealthy second homes, etc. Skyrocketing housing prices.”

“Suffering from being too popular. Major conflict between locals who want tourism and those who moved there to hide from humanity.”

“As long as the Islands Trust exercises strong land-use policies, the potential exists for Salt Spring to remain as a delightful and memorable destination.”

Trust’s devotion to environmental protection needs a tune-up: GIA

(GIA letter, November 16, 2007, to Islands Trust Local Planning Committee, regarding its Local Planning Services Review)

LPSreview 2007 [PDF]

Dear Trustees:

The Gulf Islands Alliance is a non-profit, grassroots organization with members based on islands under the jurisdiction of the Islands Trust. Among our objectives is to increase the effectiveness of the Islands Trust in fulfilling its “preserve and protect” object.

This letter provides comments on behalf of our members and the public regarding the Local Planning Services Review. We have some suggestions for improving how planning services are being delivered to Local Trust Committees and island communities. We recognize that we may not be as well informed on this subject as we would like to be and we look forward to exchanging views and information with you on this subject.

We wish to emphasize our support for what we believe to be a very significant recommendation that was made in the Local Planning Services Review conducted by Stantec Consulting in March 2007. On page 6 of that report under item 5.12 appears the following recommendation.

“It appears that most people understand the mandate, but there are not many people that feel that the Islands Trust is doing anything different or better than other typical BC municipalities in protecting and preserving the environment. The Islands Trust has the same planning tools as regional districts.

“This should get a higher priority and attention by working it in as a key element in its current and long range planning – from recruitment through processes. As LPS is functionally reorganized and other effective planning systems get put in place, there should be more time for addressing the specific elements of this key mandate and getting the Islands Trust into a leadership edge position.”

On page one, the Stantec report states that a wide range of people were interviewed, including most trustees, Trust planning staff and outside stakeholders. This indicates that most trustees agreed with this sentiment. The Gulf Islands Alliance (GIA) also believes that pursuit of the Trust mandate should get a higher priority in the day-to-day actions of Trust staff. One way to do this would be to implement the suggestion that GIA made at the June 2007 Trust Council meeting, that the Trust Policy Manual be amended to require all staff reports to analyze whether a proposed action by a Local Trust Committee or by Trust Council would further or hinder the Trust Object. We would like to see a thoughtful analysis in staff reports rather than the simple checklist currently recommended in the Trust Policy Manual. For example, when a Local Trust Committee (LTC) considers a new bylaw, the Trust staff report should include an analysis as to whether the new bylaw provides stronger or weaker protection for that island’s environment and community character and why.

Additionally, trustees, especially new trustees, may not always be fully aware of the legal tools that can be used to protect their island communities. When LTCs express their desire to increase protection for their island community, they depend on Trust staff to tell them how to accomplish this. That they receive this information is critical.

It has been suggested that staff time could be used more efficiently if bylaws and OCPs were more standardized across the islands. Although standardization is certainly more efficient, we urge caution. A great deal of work and community sweat has been invested in each island’s OCP and bylaws. The Trust islands are very different from one another. The Trust Act created individual LTCs and gave them the power to write individual OCPs and bylaws in order to protect these very differences. Any changes for the sake of efficiency should be encouraged but not imposed, and adopted only with the support of local communities and their LTC. For example, when new bylaws are being written for the first time, staff should be encouraged to use the appropriate Trust model bylaw as a starting point. If there is something that doesn’t fit the island, that can be adjusted.

It has been suggested that some planning staff members be dedicated to working only on long- term planning. During two recent OCP reviews (Salt Spring and North Pender), much hostility has been directed at local trustees. Perhaps this could have been prevented if the public participation process had been designed differently. It would be of benefit to have at least one Trust staff member who is an expert in state-of-the-art public participation processes. This staff person could work with LTCs to create OCP review programs that meet the needs of individual islands and promote productive collaboration among the trustees and the community. The OCP resulting from such a process would likely enjoy greater public support.

In revising OCPs, communities need to be informed about possible strategies to accomplish their goals. It would be helpful to have model OCP language for communities to work from. This does not need to be created from scratch because excellent model language has already been developed by Deborah Curran in her new publication, the “Green Infrastructure Toolkit,” which will be released this month. We urge the Trust to review this document. The bylaw language in this document was developed specifically to protect environmental values. In addition to model language, it would be most helpful to have various language options with an explanation of what each example would accomplish.

There has been discussion about how best to meet the needs of the smaller islands which do not have planners in residence. We think that it is important to have planners who specialize in certain islands so they can become familiar with the personality and history of each island. This will reduce unnecessary mistakes that can take much time to fix. Towards this end, we would not favour removing the Trust office from Gabriola.

It has been suggested that planners visit the smaller islands regularly to meet with the community there. We believe this would have the advantage of helping build positive relationships between the community and their Trust planner. However, at this time when it seems that there is a scarcity of Trust planning staff, we do have concerns about so many hours of planners’ time being spent traveling to and from Victoria.

Many in our islands’ community fear that university planning programs do not prepare planners for protecting a community, but rather for developing it. Therefore, we urge the Trust to provide in-service training for its staff about best practices around the world for protecting the culture and environment of endangered communities. This would include courses about how to conduct public participation programs that empower people and allow all sides of an issue to be debated in an open and constructive manner. Money for such programs is available from several granting organizations.

In closing, we urge you to seek out ways that Trust staff resources can be extended by encouraging Trust staff to work collaboratively with community groups on each island. Our islands are most generously endowed with community members who are experts in a variety of fields, including community planning, grant writing, biology, ecology. For example, the Trust could collaborate with a community group to sponsor staff in-service training, explore ways to work together to conduct better public participation programs, or gather statistical or biological information needed by the Trust. Funding for such programs could be applied for jointly by the Trust and the community group.

We are most interested in your work and welcome any of you to call us to discuss any of these suggestions. I can be reached at 250/537-1577 or at .

Maxine Leichter, Trust Policy Project Chair, Gulf Islands Alliance

Trust planners must shed pro-development bias

The Gulf Islands Alliance endorses Islands Trust efforts to reverse the 13-year trend of dwindling support from the province.

But, in a letter in early 2007 to the Trust, the Alliance said that Trust planning staff proportionately spends too much time processing permits for development. The Alliance would rather see more tax dollars used for activities to assure that development does not harm the environment and local communities. It recommended that more funding and staff time be allocated to improving local planning services in the following areas:

Bylaw and Development Permit Area Enforcement – Islanders biggest demand is for better bylaw enforcement. The Alliance appreciates that enforcement is a complicated problem, one that might be solved, not in employing more enforcement officers, but in clarifying and strengthening bylaws and development permit area regulations, providing more information to the public, and/or addressing overlooked planning needs. Staff must have time to work with trustees and their communities to come up with the best strategies.

Long term planning – The Alliance is counting on the new Trust Area Services person to improve long term planning. The greatest need, however, is to boost planning services on each island. So, the Alliance supports, in the 2007 budget, $200,000 for ‘staff for Local Trust Committee work’; $10,000 for training; substantial funding for new mapping; and $224,000 for ‘implementation of the strategic plan’.

Planning for Rural Communities – The Alliance wants the Trust to give more planning emphases to sustaining the environment and rural communities. This can be achieved by hiring, promoting and training staff that show a keen interest in these vital areas. While it’s sometimes necessary to hire consultants, the Trust’s mandate will be better served by hiring and maintaining an adequate complement of staff planners who intimately understand the history and planning issues of each island.

It is difficult to allocate funds when resources are so sparse. One solution is for the Trust, as a policy, to insist that new development pay for itself. For example, the Alliance urges the Trust to set fees for development permits that cover their enforcement and administration costs.

Keep eye on Trust Act, GIA tells Trust Council

Following is the full text of the Gulf Islands Alliance presentation to Island Trust Council on June 14, 2007. It was delivered by Alliance Chair Christine Torgrimson and concerns the Alliance’s legal opininon on the role of the Trust and Islands Trust Act.

legal opinion for Gulf Islands Alliance June 6, 2007 [PDF]

To the Islands Trust Council:

I am Christine Torgrimson, resident of Salt Spring Island and Chair of the Gulf Islands Alliance. I have come here today to tell you about an intriguing legal opinion that has far-reaching and positive implications for your Islands Trust work. The opinion was sought by the Gulf Islands Alliance, a grassroots citizens’ organization launched recently, with 150 members now from throughout the Trust area and a board of directors representing eleven Trust areas.

We are islanders actively dedicated to the protection of the BC Gulf Islands, their natural environments, rural nature, and unique cultures, for now and for future generations. We support the Islands Trust federation in achieving its legislated Object. Our primary aim is to work collaboratively with the Trust to keep our fragile island environments intact and our communities small and diverse. We also work to influence other levels of government and to educate and activate the citizens of the Trust area to further the Trust Object.

The Islands Trust Act provided the Trust with strong powers to protect the islands through land use planning and regulation. Those powers were upheld by the 1995 MacMillan Bloedel v. Galiano Island Trust Committee decision by the BC Court of Appeal, which ruled in favour of the Local Trust Committee to enact bylaws that preserve and protect the Trust area and its unique amenities and environment.

To confirm that the Gulf Islands Alliance is on solid ground with our mission as well as our view that the Trust can and must do what the Trust Act says it should do, we recently sought a legal opinion about the Trust Object from Tim Howard of Mandell Pinder Barristers & Solicitors, a highly respected Vancouver law firm. Mr. Howard has considerable experience in the field of environmental law. The question we posed to him was:

“Are a Local Trust Committee (“LTC”), the Trust Council and/or the Executive Committee (the “Trust Bodies”) created under the Islands Trust Act R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 239 as amended (the “Islands Trust Act”) required to exercise their powers consistent with the trust objects stated in s. 3 of the Islands Trust Act?”

The first paragraph of the six-page legal opinion provides a summary, which I quote in part:

“…the Islands Trust Act places a positive legal obligation on Trust Bodies to act in furtherance of the trust objects, namely the preservation and protection of the trust area. A decision by a Trust Body that was made for a purpose other than the statutory purpose stated in s. 3 would arguably fall outside the Trust Body’s statutory power….”

Our lawyer takes the position that the Trust Act created the Islands Trust and provided it with strong powers for the primary purpose of preserving and protecting these islands. Unlike other local governments such as municipalities, for example, that allow trade-offs between competing community values such as environment and an expanded tax base, this opinion states that the Trust is mandated to place the preservation and protection of the Trust area and its unique amenities and environment uppermost in its considerations.

When you have an opportunity to study the legal opinion, we hope you will draw the same comfort and encouragement from it as we do, because it fully supports your right and obligation to implement and enforce the Trust Object. We also hope it will inspire your further ideas about ways in which the Trust can effectively accomplish this.

In that regard, we have a specific suggestion today. We request that you amend the Trust Policy Manual to require all staff reports to analyze whether a proposed action by a Local Trust Committee or by Trust Council would further or hinder the Trust Object. We would like to see a thoughtful analysis in staff reports rather than the simple checklist currently recommended in the Trust Policy Manual. For example, if a new bylaw is suggested, the staff report would evaluate whether the bylaw provides effective protection for the Trust area and if not, would describe how it could do so.

Such a policy would have many benefits. It would create a more focussed and effective partnership between staff and trustees as you work together to implement the Trust Object and Policy Statement. Keeping the Object and Policy Statement foremost in the minds of Trust staff would strengthen the Trust’s corporate culture of dedication to protecting the islands. Staff reports that explain how each new bylaw or policy implements the Object would also remind the public about the Trust Policy Statement and how the Trust protects these islands. We believe that this will also strengthen public support for the Trust. Adoption of this policy will support implementation of all aspects of Trust Council’s strategic objectives, complement the current review of local planning services, and help assure that all Trust-approved projects are focussed on achieving the Trust Object.

The Islands Trust is a rare and precious model for an extraordinary place. You Trustees, and we island stewards of this Trust area, have a serious responsibility to see that this unique archipelago is indeed preserved and protected. As Islands Trust Chair Kim Benson reminded us in a recent editorial, the challenges and complexity of delivering the Trust mandate are “escalating dramatically.” The Trust area population is growing at twice the BC and Canada rate, and at about 10 times the rate of other rural areas in Canada. The pressures to cut down the trees, demand more of the fresh waters, cater to more tourists, and provide more housing are growing exponentially, even before we face the greater pressures likely engendered by the 2010 Olympics.

We must all work together to protect this national treasure we are entrusted with and fully utilize the powers of one of the most unique governments in the world—the Islands Trust. The Gulf Islands Alliance formed for exactly this reason. We are not unrealistically against all growth and development, but we are serious about promoting a strong Islands Trust that supports the “preserve and protect” Object every day in word and deed. We have sought and now present this legal opinion to help ensure the full implementation of the Trust Object. We hope you will implement our proposal for Trust Object analyses in staff reports; we look forward to working with you on other measures to preserve and protect the Trust area, and we will continue our efforts to build a strong base of islanders who support the Trust Object and act responsibly as stewards of this Trust area.

Some BC bird species threatened by economic growth: ornithologists

At their Annual General Meeting in Lillooet on 26 May 2007, the BC Field Ornithologists (BCFO) adopted a position on the fundamental conflict between economic growth and biodiversity conservation. The BCFO addresses the study and enjoyment of wild birds in British Columbia through research and conservation efforts to preserve birds and their habitats.

The timing of the vote was opportune as Birdlife International announced the previous week that 22% of the planet’s birds are now at increased risk of extinction. A total of 1,221 bird species are presently considered threatened with extinction and an additional 812 species are considered Near Threatened, an increase of 28 species from last year. In British Columbia, 43 avian taxa are considered extirpated, endangered, or threatened and a further 48 species are of special concern.

Dr. James Ginns, BCFO President, noted that “Our position statement is precedent setting in that the BCFO is one of the first conservation organizations in British Columbia to focus attention on the causes of biodiversity declines rather than simply focusing on the symptoms as most environmental organizations are doing today. Unless the causes of the problem are addressed, biodiversity declines are likely to continue.”

One of the causes for these declines is economic growth. The economy grows by appropriating natural capital from the economy of nature (ecosystems) and using it for the human economy. As the human economy expands it removes resources, displaces healthy ecosystems, and degrades remaining ecosystems with waste.

Thus, economic growth reduces the quality and quantity of bird habitat when it’s converted as throughput to the human economy. It’s this growth that tends to swamp any gains made through conservation and policy efforts.

Similar positions on economic growth have been sanctioned by a number of professional scientific organizations in North America including The Society for Conservation Biology, The United States Society for Ecological Economics, The Wildlife Society, and The Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.

The BCFO position explains not only the fundamental conflict between economic growth and biodiversity conservation, but identifies an alternative: the steady state economy.

Population and tourism growth could undermine islands’ goals

The population of the Gulf Islands in the Trust area grew by 10 percent from 2001 to 2006, twice the BC and Canadian rates. Now at 25,366, the largest numerical increases occurred on Gabriola, Bowen and Salt Spring islands.

Since the Trust was launched in 1974, the population on its major islands by 2006 had more than doubled.

The most recent 5-year rate of change ranged from a 2.2 percent decrease in the Lasqueti Island Local Trust Area to a 48 percent increase in the South Pender Island Local Trust Area.

According to Statistics Canada, the number of private dwellings grew by 6.5 percent during the same time.

The impact of rapid population growth on our treasured natural and social environments, in particular from part-time residents and vacationers, is a priority issue for the Gulf Islands Alliance.

The Islands Trust Council is a federation of independent local governments responsible for managing development while preserving and protecting the unique environment of the Islands Trust Area. The area covers the islands and waters between the mainland and southern Vancouver Island. It includes 13 major and more than 450 smaller islands covering 5200 square kilometres.

The new Gulf Islands Alliance supports the declaration of leaders who created the Islands Trust: “We won’t let these precious jewels slip through our fingers.”

Haunted by too many examples of beautiful places in the world that have been ruined after being discovered and exploited, Alliance members know that their task is difficult and complex.

The Alliance is monitoring the increase in ‘second’ homes and vacation rentals. Permanent residents occupy fewer than 15 percent of the houses in the Gambier Trust area. On Thetis, only 37 percent of homes are occupied by permanent residents. Across all the islands in the Trust Area only 66.5 per cent of private dwellings are occupied by residents.

“We will understand more about the reasons for these changes once the demographic data are released,” says Kim Benson, chair of Islands Trust.

“They will show the distribution of age groups on the islands. We are also looking forward to additional future releases of Census information about housing affordability, mobility, and employment.”

In a mix of what some people perceive as ineffective bylaws and enforcement, many investors buy properties for high prices and build multi-suite homes and ‘guest’ cottages and then rent them short-term, often illegally, at commercial rates. The Alliance is concerned that this will pressure communities to become vacation destinations, and hollow out our neighbourhoods. Many existing and would-be residents will be sidelined by unaffordable property values and taxes. Property values on the islands almost doubled from 2001 to 2006.

On some islands, waterfront land assessments shot up 160 percent in 2007. Some shocked residents fought back by successfully appealing to the BC Property Assessment Appeal Board.

Once the erosion of communities begins, the displacement of caring people who voluntarily look after their neighbors and neighbourhoods may be very difficult to reverse.

“We seem to be bucking the national trend towards urbanization,” Benson said. “On average, Canada’s rural areas and small towns grew by only 1 per cent between 2001 and 2006. Fewer than 20 percent of Canadians lived in small towns and rural areas in 2006.

The Islands Trust contracts with Statistics Canada to provide it with customized data for each of the Local Trust Areas and Island Municipalities in the Islands Trust Area. The data are useful for a wide range of community planning purposes. Trends can be compared to those in British Columbia and Canada as a whole by viewing the Statistics Canada report Portrait of the Canadian Population in 2006.

But the Gulf Islands Alliance is optimistic because we know that many concerned islanders are ready to work with us and in their communities to help preserve and protect our islands.

Here are the populations of Trust Area islands, as of 2006, from Statistics Canada:

Bowen Island 3,362

Denman Trust Area (TA) 1,095

Gabriola TA 4,050

Galiano TA 1,258

Gambier TA 313

Hornby TA 1,074

Lasqueti TA 359

Mayne TA 1,112

North Pender TA 1,996

Saturna TA 359

Salt Spring TA 9780

South Pender TA 236

Thetis TA 372