AWARE, WFSG push for environmental bylaw 

Senior governments downloading responsibility for environment on local governments

A tree here, a bush there, a couple of rocks – what’s the big deal?

For the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment (AWARE) and other environmental groups the big deal is that all the little things are adding up.

Best practices, laws and bylaws that exist to protect the environment are routinely being ignored, they claim, and the people responsible are almost never held accountable. Unless laws and best practices are recognized and enforced, says AWARE, you can’t deter these kinds of activities.

"Even thought the municipality (RMOW) has a tree protection bylaw in place, lots of trees are still coming down. People and companies are still in-filling lakes and streams, and clearing right up to the edge of creeks and things," said Wendy Horan, president of AWARE.

"We need a bylaw with more teeth. We want this stuff stopped."

AWARE has already started a campaign to lobby the RMOW for a Comprehensive Environmental Bylaw that would address environmental issues, spelling out legal obligations for homeowners and developers, and setting out a schedule of penalties for people who break the environmental bylaws.

"The (District of) North Vancouver (environmental) bylaw is pretty comprehensive for something like this. They’ve gone out and done all the legwork, and created a model that we could probably adapt for Whistler with very few changes," said Horan.

AWARE has already sent a letter to council asking them to support an environmental bylaw, and the Whistler Fisheries Stewardship Group (WFSG) and the Whistler Naturalists Society are following suit.

The Whistler Fisheries Stewardship Group believes that it’s time to implement this bylaw, as both the federal government and provincial government are pushing for more stewardship of resources at the community level.

In the WFSG’s letter to council, they also point to the status of development in Whistler, noting that "the current speed and extent of unregulated building pressure in Whistler has had negative impact and caused irreplaceable damage to our local habitat. Trees that have stood for over 200 years are being topped for views for just one homeowner, making them susceptible to disease and infestation.

"Riparian areas that border lakes and rivers provide the most productive habitat for the most diverse number of species. They are being destroyed, most times with no permits, to build docks, beaches, decks, lawns and landscaping with ornamental and non-native species that have little or no habitat value."

The goal, according to the WFSG, is for no-net-loss of habitat in Whistler, and for a bylaw that will encompass tree cutting and preservation zones throughout the entire municipality. Federal standards already exist in the form of the Water Act, Fisheries Act and Wildlife Act, but they are not applied locally.

AWARE is pushing for the environmental bylaw on the basis that if Whistler is to become sustainable, the natural environment must be protected. A bylaw is also needed to bring standards to protection and enforcement, says AWARE.

"A Comprehensive Environmental Bylaw can provide an inclusive, legitimate, transparent and enforceable means of addressing many environmental issues that are currently dealt with on an ad-hoc, situation-, and/or site-specific basis," they write.

Horan believes that there are enough concerned citizens in the community that will report infractions to make the bylaw worthwhile. AWARE, the WFSG and the Whistler Naturalists already receive regular phone calls from residents to inform them of infractions, she says.

"The fishery people are generally more active in dealing with the complaints than we have been, but there’s only so much they can do," said Horan. "Basically all I can do when I hear about something is to get angry, because we (AWARE) don’t have the time or the resources to fight everything that comes our way. And by the time we hear about it, it’s either too late or there’s nothing that can be done.

"That’s why we need a bylaw."

At least one member of Whistler Council is in agreement.

"I can’t speak for anyone else on council but I would definitely support this initiative," said Gordon McKeever. "Senior government has made funding cuts, and they would like communities to take matters into our own hands.

"It’s downloading in a sense, but I really believe it makes sense because the people on the ground are really in the best position to look at situations as they come up, and come up with solutions, so I think it’s great."

McKeever noted that more study has to be done to determine what burden and extra costs an environmental bylaw might have, but he is still looking forward to seeing the process through.

"Enforcement could be a challenge for us, no doubt," said McKeever. "We need to know what it’s going to cost us in resources, and if any extra resources are needed because we can’t make this change for free. We’ll have to see what comes out of this, but personally I’m looking forward to it."

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