Mitigating the Fragmentation and Development of BC's Grasslands : Problem Analysis and Strategic Plan
The fragmentation of large portions of rangeland and the development of grasslands without any thought given to long-term sustainability is denigrating the social, cultural and ecological aspects associated with grasslands. The complexities involved in this issue are closely interrelated. The necessity of a provincial analysis of these emerging concerns becomes apparent if we are to achieve the sustainable management and conservation of grasslands in British Columbia.
Over the course of a year, the Grasslands Conservation Council of British Columbia informally surveyed a broad range of parties with a vested interest in grasslands including government, environmental non-government organizations, the BC Cattlemen's Association, ranchers, the Agricultural Land Commission, and key experts to find that there is great uncertainty and confusion around the fragmentation and development issue. What are the issues? What are the solutions? What are the barriers to achieving these solutions?
This lack of knowledge and information is hindering the ability of non-government organizations, industry and government to strategically and collaboratively address key issues and threats to BC's grasslands. The GCC is initiating a provincial analysis based on the consensus amongst many interested parties that there is a need for clarification of information and a need to take action on this emerging and growing problem. The GCC is in a good position to facilitate the process and bring people together to solve the problem of fragmentation and development of BC's grasslands.
The loss of large, natural grassland areas is due largely to two main issues: Urban encroachment and development and fragmentation of rural landscapes. Fragmentation of rural landscapes is complex with problems ranging from entangled land use policies and regulations to socio-economic pressures to environmental issues.
From a socio-economic perspective, the ranching industry is a critical component of the fragmentation and development issue. Ninety five percent of the grasslands in BC are working rangelands, either through crown land leases and permits, Indian reserves or privately owned (BC Grasslands mapping project). However, the ranching industry is in transition. Throughout history, ranching has been a mainstay of our provincial economy, as well as an important lifestyle. It is part of our BC heritage, but young adults from ranching families are no longer electing to take up ranching.
More and more ranchers are nearing retirement. After investing significant time and resources for generations onto the land, and not passing the operation onto their children, they are forced to make a difficult decision. Retirement, in an increasing number of cases, means selling the land to development interests, and cashing in on the lucrative land values. As ranchers reach the age of retirement, ranches and grasslands are becoming more threatened by development, fragmentation, and increased recreational use.
Land values in central and southern BC are skyrocketing. The prices developers and recreational property owners are willing to pay for pristine and scenic parts of the province far exceed the agricultural production value of the land. It is estimated in the United States that land value for development exceeds agricultural value by 30 to 100 times. These exorbitant land values often prohibit younger generations from buying land to begin a ranching career. Furthermore, these increasing economic pressures are slowly shifting the ranching industry towards development, tourism and outdoor recreation. Ranch lands are increasingly being subdivided and developed for resorts, recreational developments, hobby farms and retirement homes.
Urban encroachment and development is the other aspect of the fragmentation and development threat and is occurring in cities surrounded by grasslands such as Vernon, Kamloops, Penticton, Invermere, Osoyoos and Oliver. These cities are continuing to see an influx of people moving there for work, life-style and opportunity. City boundaries are encroaching onto grasslands, causing an increase in recreation, housing and consequently an alteration of grassland ecosystems.
The provincial Liberal government has made several changes that impact the decision-making authority of each level of government pertaining to subdivision and zoning of land. Ministries have been entirely re-organized. This has resulted in new departments and downsizing of existing agencies: 30 percent to 50 percent reduction of staff in the Ministries of Forests; Water, Land, and Air Protection; Sustainable Resource Management; and Agriculture, Food and Fisheries. There have also been significant changes in Legislation.
Of particular interest are amendments to the Agricultural Land Reserve Act with new control being delegated from the provincial government to Regional Districts. Equally important is the introduction of the new Community Charter, designed to empower local governments (especially municipal governments) to have more autonomy in zoning and land-use decision-making. Regional districts and municipalities will be inheriting a much stronger role in land use planning. Some land use management tools and zoning policies are not fully understood and may have a negative or positive effect on the grasslands.
The fragmentation and development issue is complex. In order to be understood, we must examine how conservation issues, socio-economic aspects and land use planning and decision making processes interrelate. These issues must be grappled with, made clear, and applied to future land use and decision-making processes if we are to attain conservation and stewardship of BC's grasslands.
This project involved three phases:
Phase One: Stakeholder Workshop - "Shaping the Future: Mitigating the fragmentation and development of BC's grasslands"
Phase Two: Developing a problem analysis and strategic document
Phase Three: Implementation of strategy
Phase three was undertaken in 2005. The GCC held two separate workshops, one with various stakeholders and one with members of the GCC Board of Directors to prioritize the actions and objectives from the Strategic Plan. In both workshops, one of the top priorities were clear: the GCC needs to work more closely and proactively with government to ensure grassland values are taken into consideration when making land use decisions, and more education and tools are needed. From this final phase came the Planning for Change Initiative, which promises to be a very exciting and promising new direction for the GCC.
To read more about the Establishing Strategic Directions project, including project rationale, goals, objectives, outline of process, tasks and activities and timeline, download the project Backgrounder (PDF format)
Also, subdivision and development was also explored in-depth in the December 2001 issue of BC Grasslands Magazine.
Smart Growth BC is a provincial non-governmental organization devoted to fiscally, socially and environmentally responsible land use and development. Working with community groups, businesses, municipalities and the public, they advocate for the creation of more livable communities in British Columbia.
American Farmland Trust
AFT works to stop the loss of productive farmland and to promote farming practices that lead to a healthy environment. This site has excellent information on policy work and innovative ideas.
The Sonoran Institute works with communities to conserve and restore important natural landscapes in Western North America, including the wildlife and cultural values of these lands. The Institute's efforts create lasting benefits, including healthy landscapes and vibrant livable communities that embrace conservation as an integral element of their economies and quality of life.
Land Trust Alliance
Visit this website to view a research paper by Erika Knudsen that explores the "Protection of Land with Agricultural Uses."