The Squamish-Lillooet Regional District is taking a new approach to land use planning in the Sea to Sky corridor with the launch of the Sea to Sky Sensitive Habitat Atlas. The final version will be presented next week at open house meetings in Squamish, Whistler and Pemberton, followed by question and answer periods.
Although the final document will always be considered a work in progress, the atlas represents almost two years of mapping by the local government, the Ministry of Water Land and Air Protection, the Ministry of Sustainable Resource Management and the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD).
Other stakeholders include the Whistler Fisheries Stewardship Group, the Squamish First Nation, the Mount Currie Band/Lilwat Nation, Creekside Resources Inc., the Lillooet Watershed Council, the Real Estate Foundation of B.C., the B.C. Conservation Foundation, the Community Mapping Network, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Environment Canada.
Every available map was included in the atlas, marking everything from wetlands and watersheds to old growth forests and known wildlife habitats.
Taken together, the maps that make up the atlas can change the way local governments address land use planning in the Sea to Sky corridor.
"The real key to making it work is to get local governments to introduce legislation to make what is mapped in the atlas somewhat binding," said Willie Macrae, a planner for the SLRD.
"That way if a developer comes along who wants to develop a wetland or something to create amenities, the local governments can refer to the atlas when they make their decision. It can even give a local government a basis for refusing projects, because parts fall into sensitive areas.
"At the same time the atlas will be available online so developers and resource industries will be able to consult it in advance, and kind of plan around it, which makes it easier for them as well. Theres not as many hoops to jump through."
Over time the atlas can be updated and amended as new sensitive habitat areas are discovered, developments occur, and the primary uses of areas change.
The atlas is not a binding planning document for the region, says Macrae, but rather was created to complement the Sea to Sky Land and Resource Management Plan and the SLRDs regional growth strategy.
Both of those documents direct what kinds of activities and developments can take place and where, while the atlas role is to merely highlight sensitive areas. The atlas goes into greater detail and covers areas that are not necessarily already protected in parks and special management areas.
"This is basically a tool for local governments and their constituents to see where habitats are, and for local planners. Not only does it show zoning, whats allowed and where, but (planners) can point developers to the atlas and say this is where the sensitive habitat is, which they can take into consideration.
"Theres a lot of potential uses for the atlas, which we hope to be able to show people at the open houses."
Some of the benefits of the atlas include:
Enhanced capacity within communities to collect and measure resource information;
A network of data servers to provide Internet access to resource information, base maps and imagery;
Common methods and standards for data collection;
Community-based mapping linked with government data bases such as the Canada/B.C. Fisheries Information Summary Systems and the Coastal Resource Information System;
Sharing of ideas and project information locally, provincially and internationally;
Information about watershed management, stream ecology, and fish and wildlife habitat restoration opportunities.
The Sea to Sky Sensitive Habitat Atlas also complements Whistlers own online habitat mapping project, the Community Habitat Resource Project or CHiRP, a comprehensive map-based inventory of Whistler Valley that was launched in the spring. Different interactive map layers show developments, waterways, trails, ecological and geological areas, habitats, and local stories areas that are of local interest because of their cultural, spiritual and natural values.
The Whistler open house for the Sea to Sky Sensitive Habitat Atlas takes place on Thursday, July 22 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. in the RMOW council chambers.
In Pemberton, the open house will take place on July 22 from 10 a.m. to noon at the SLRD board room.
The Squamish open house is on Wednesday, July 21 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the District of Squamish Council Chambers.
You check out the Atlas online at http://cmnbc.ca or www.shim.bc.ca/sea2sky/main.htm.