Islands Trust Council: around the islands

Susan Yates, special to the Sounder

Part 1 of 4

Wednesday, January 27 2021

The Islands Trust quarterly Council meeting, held electronically December 1-3, was 15 hours including the evening public input session on December 1. Fifteen hours of communicating electronically is tiring for anyone, even over 3 days, and there were technical problems that delayed or obfuscated some of the Council discussions and voting procedures. 

There was a half hour of confusion over whether the electronic voting procedure was working, and some Trustees expressed dismay about not being able to tell who was voting for what. As an attendee and reporter I definitely miss important information by not being able to observe the interactions around the Council ‘table.’ Nor can I tell who else from the public is attending Council. Clarification of Trustees’ comments is also impossible except by e-mail or telephone after the meeting, which sometimes delays timely reporting. 

Technicalities and pandemic restrictions aside, the formal opening of December’s Council meeting was as dignified and uplifting as always, with Chair Peter Luckham (Thetis Island) acknowledging with sincerity the privilege of Trustees to meet and to live on land that has been stewarded for millennia by First Nations. There are 36 Tribal Councils and Treaty Groups in the Trust Area. 

My favourite part of every Council meeting is the Trustee Roundtable, following the opening remarks, during which Trustees give updates on what is happening on their Island. Traditionally this was strictly Trust-related business but the last few meetings have combined Trust updates with important community news which used to be the Island reports at the close of Council. The Roundtable often reveals the strengths of being a federation and the weaknesses of being a unique form of government with a mandate that sometimes seems impossible to fulfill. But often there is a feeling of mutual support and strength in solidarity, especially when it comes to promising environmental initiatives and creative problem-solving.

Chair Luckham randomly chose the Roundtable reports from each attending Trustee, and I have combined them to present one report from each of the 13 Trust Area islands. 

Starting with Saturna at the south-easterly end, Trustee Lee Middleton was pleased to report on the federal (DFO) hydrophone installed that is linked to several community-based marine research projects. His colleague Paul Brent reminded Council how different it is to live on an island that is 45% park; since 2003 42% has been part of the federal Gulf Island National Park Reserve. Trustee Brent noted that with development applications, they will be looking for more density transfers to preserve as much Coastal Douglas Fir (CDF) forest and other sensitive ecosystems as possible. 

Saturna’s big change over the past decade is more permanent residents, which has also changed the demographics to include younger families who can work at home, creating a more sustainable community in many ways. 

North Pender was next, with Trustee Deb Morrison reporting on the integration of climate change adjustments into their Official Community Plan (OCP). I could tell by watching her (even on zoom) that she had something exciting to announce, which she did: the acquisition of a 13 acre conservation property on North Pender via a partnership between the Pender Islands Conservancy Association and Raincoast Conservation Foundation. 

This initiative was launched in response to widespread ecological degradation throughout the islands in the Salish Sea, whose natural environment is part of the Coastal Douglas Fir (CDF) biogeoclimatic zone. It is the smallest, least-protected, and most threatened zone in B.C., due to development and human habitation. 

This land, now known as S,DA’YES Flycatcher Forest, has great ecological and cultural significance, and will be protected by a covenant and managed to preserve ecological integrity. The CDF forest is crucial nesting and migratory habitat for native songbirds, most notably the threatened olive-sided flycatchers whose nesting sites are limited to the fringes of forests bordering wetlands. The S,DA’YES forest surrounds a wetland rich in biodiversity, and it connects to a contiguous woodland, reducing fragmentation from development. 

The Pender Islands are part of the traditional territory of WSA’NEC’, historically referred to as ‘Salt Water People’. Their winters were largely spent on the Saanich peninsula, while summers were spent travelling throughout the islands in the Salish Sea. In SEN’COTEN, Pender Islands are known as S,DA’YES.

The delight in this happy announcement was shared by many of the Trustees around the table, at least the ones whose faces I could see. Roundtable reports sometimes seem like a roster of Shortages and Damages reports like the ones I used to compile almost 50 years ago when I worked for a large trucking firm. Overages and successful Salvages were seldom seen. News like the S,DA’YES acquisition is refreshingly positive enough to generate total Roundtable happiness.

Salt Spring was next on the list and Trustee Laura Patrick had more encouraging news, also related to threatened CDF forests. Salt Spring has begun a CDF and associated ecosystem project in order to find ways to minimize developmental impacts on the forests that support the natural environmental most of us see as essential to the Trust Area. Trustee Patrick was pleased to report also on community support for this project, from groups as diverse as Salt Spring Island Water Preservation Association and the local Fire Department.

 Fellow Salt Spring Trustee Peter Grove expressed his gratitude for the absence of the dreaded virus on most if not all of the Trust Islands, and for the positive spirit in keeping our communities safe throughout the Trust Area. Trustee Grove also mentioned that their Transition (to a greener economy) Group is focussing on protection of the CDF forests in their efforts to mitigate climate change.

Lasqueti Island was next, and here is a good example of one of the Shortages mentioned above: Trustee Timothy Peterson did not look happy to report that Transport Canada has suspended their main barge operator, effectively removing transportation to and from Lasqueti except for foot passengers who travel on the small privately-operated boat leaving from French Creek. I do recall the March 2015 sinking and abandonment of the self-propelled barge Lasqueti Daughters, which no doubt gave Transport Canada good reasons to investigate such matters.

Trustee Peter Johnston added a bit of Lasqueti irony to the Roundtable report by describing the new and much improved historical signs on the island noting that the First Nations people residing there centuries ago “were not really in need of discovery.” 

Galiano Island Trustee Tahirih Rockafella reported on the Trees for Tomorrow project that was introduced to the Trust a few months ago by Hornby Trustee Grant Scott; it has now spread to Galiano, Gabriola, and Denman Islands, and is a prime example of how the islands can work in solidarity on such positive projects. Galiano has so far planted 3,000 Douglas firs, which do well in areas that are prone to drought and longer dry spells.

Galiano is also working on Short Term Vacation Rental regulations in order to prevent the kind of community mayhem that occurs when long term rentals become short term (illegal) vacation destinations. Or mega-homes are built by absentee home-owners and end up as ‘party palaces” for visitors who have no clue about water conservation and other island limitations. 

Jane Wolverton, the other Galiano Trustee, gave a very sad account of two recent deaths on Galiano, related to the effects of the pandemic on the social fabric of communities. She wept while talking about this tragedy, and the cancellation of so many events that bring small communities together, helping to weave that social safety net most of us need for survival. “No ceremonies could be held for their deaths” was what did me in, and I observed total silence and stillness among Council members, if such can be said of zoom attendees.

Dan Rogers, Gambier/Keats Trustee (and Chair of the Gabriola Local Trust Committee), spoke optimistically about the proposed Development Permit Area for the shoreline and near shore area on Keats Island. It is a significant protection project for an island that has by far the most number of docks in the Trust Area. It will result in the protection of two Sensitive Ecosystems, one forested and one in the Sandy Beach area which also has support from the Trust Conservancy. Most notably, it is a very positive grand finale to the longest subdivision approval process in the history of the Islands Trust, and it will be co-managed with the Squamish Nation.

Kate-Louise Stamford from Gambier echoed Trustee Rogers’ concerns about docks and how important they are when your home island has marine access only. A proliferation of private docks is destructive to marine and foreshore ecology, and unsightly if you prefer a natural shoreline. But various government agencies are divesting themselves of responsibility for the building and maintenance of shared docks, leaving private interests to fill the gap. Pursuant to this, the Trust Executive has written to the Ministry of Transportation and Transport Canada, asking them to acquire the New Brighton dock from the Squamish Nation and/or assist in acquiring the dock by a public entity so that it remains a critical public port for the Gambier community.

Grant Scott from Hornby Island described the Trees for Tomorrow project he has helped to promote in the Trust Area (see Galiano above). The purpose is to plant trees that can adapt to climate change, especially the loss of year-round wet areas: Douglas fir, Garry oak, and redwoods such as Sequoia.

Hornby Trustee Alex Allen looked a bit testy when he talked about the new Hornby Island Resort, which “does not exactly have rural character.” And, “real estate is booming.” Which does not necessarily mean that island residents are actually being housed, as we all know.

South Pender Trustee Steve Wright reported that they are working with North Pender to strengthen the ‘preserve and protect’ aspects of their OCP; specifically limiting dwelling size, increasing setbacks, and using Development Permits more effectively.

Laura Busheiken from Denman Island described a 20-unit housing development that will be using rainwater catchment only, as not enough groundwater is present to support the complex otherwise. Along with Hornby Island, they are working on a Community to Community project with K’omoks Nation to learn more about the history and culture of Baynes Sound and Lambert Channel.

Gabriola was next on the Roundtable roundabout and Trustee Scott Colbourne echoed the enthusiasm for the Trees for Tomorrow initiative. Serendipitously a young graduate student of ecosystems conservation arrived on Gabriola last March to work on a farm for nine days. When Covid-19 hit, Simone Levesque ended up staying for the whole season and joining the T4T project.

Trustee Kees Langereis reported on Gabriola’s busy-despite-Covid ferries, due to construction on the island, resulting sometimes in our ferry being overweight before it is overloaded. Langereis was pleased to announce the Gabriola Museum’s recent purchase of the McRae property, 95% of which is a nature preserve with a NAPTEP covenant ensuring protection in perpetuity.

Sue Ellen Fast from Bowen Island (also a Municipality) talked about Bowen Island Conservancy’s recent acquisition of 32 acres of sensitive shoreline and upland property in a stunningly beautiful area called Cape Roger Curtis. When the entire 631 acres was bought by developers, Conservancy members knew they had to work fast – beginning in October 19 they were able to raise enough funds and negotiate with the new owners to purchase 3 lots comprising 32 acres in December 2020.

Bowen Trustee Michael Kaile remarked that he has lately noticed ‘a terrible parting of the ways between housing costs and availability/accessibility for all.’ No kidding.

David Maude from Mayne Island announced the Capital Regional District’s recent acquisition of 103 acres of forested and sensitive ecosystem areas on Mount Parke, enabling the CRD to expand the adjacent park land. Maude reported that despite Covid, the Mayne Island ferries were busier than ever, with overloads never before seen in December; a combination of city visitors (many of whom have vacation homes on Mayne) and construction vehicles. 

Concluding the Roundtable was Chair Peter Luckham from Thetis Island, whose colleague Doug Fenton had already announced that the long-awaited shoreline restoration work had finally begun on their island. Luckham echoed the reports of several Trustees unused to the ‘crazy amount of construction’ and overloaded ferries, even in the usually slow months. Like Gambier and Lasqueti, Thetis Island is also dependent on its public dock(s), and problems have arisen due to the Regional District (CVRD) restricting access (emergency only) to their commercial dock.

Chair Luckham’s last comment was to ask whether the Trustee Roundtable was important, noting that the actual business of Council often gets crammed into untenable time slots near the end of the meeting. From what I could tell by a few expressions and comments, it seems important to Council members, but the response wasn’t entirely clear in zoom-land. I will be sending my opinion to Chair Luckham directly after filing this report with the Sounder. Readers can probably tell by the length of this and previous Roundtable reports whether I feel it is important.