North Cowichan councillor Christopher Justice wants to see rare habitats protected in the municipality. (File photo)

North Cowichan wants rare ecosystems to be a priority in OCP

Some council members want public input into decision

North Cowichan’s council wants the consultants currently working to update the municipality’s official community plan to know that rare ecosystems in the area are a priority item for its members.

Council voted at its meeting on Nov. 18 to have staff tell the consultants from MODUS planning, design and engagement that this should be a strong consideration in the ongoing formulation of North Cowichan’s OCP’s land-use policy.

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But some council members voted against the motion, stating that council made it clear when the review and updating of the OCP began that it wanted public input to be an integral part of the process.

Mayor Al Siebring, who voted against the motion along with Coun. Tek Manhas, said he’s not against having a biodiversity strategy in the OCP, but council would be short-cutting the process if the motion passed.

“We would be saying that we want the public to tell us what will be in the OCP but, oh, by the way, we want the consultants to put this in the plan,” Siebring said.

“That’s not to say that it won’t be put in there, but I don’t feel that this is the time in the process to shortcut that process.”

Manhas agreed and said the consultants should be left to do their jobs for now.

“The OCP is the plan of the community, but the final decisions do come down to council,” he said.

“They know our priorities, so we should let the consultants do their jobs and stay out of it until it comes to council.”

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Coun. Christopher Justice, who introduced the successful motion, said council had already decided to develop a biodiversity conservation strategy, which is a plan to enhance and protect the variety of native species and ecosystems in the municipality.

He said that, according to a recent publication of the World Wildlife Fund Foundation, in just the last 50 years two-thirds of the world’s wildlife has been lost.

Justice said that currently, North Cowichan is a biodiversity hot spot for richness and rarity of both species and habitats.

“However, many of these species and ecosystems are under significant pressure,” he said.

“Human activity, particularly land-use change and the loss of habitat has been identified as the main culprit, making our land-use decisions a key component of our biodiversity stewardship responsibilities. Almost all of North Cowichan’s ecosystems are considered either red or blue listed, meaning they are at risk of being lost or are of special concern.”

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Justice said he brought the motion forward at this time because the development of North Cowichan’s biodiversity strategy is not scheduled until after the completion of the OCP.

“This is a problem insofar as biodiversity protection involves land-use planning decisions including preservation of habitat areas and ensuring connectivity between habitat areas,” he said.

“This motion will simply communicate to our OCP consultants that the protection of biodiversity is an important consideration for us in land-use planning, and that we intend to develop a biodiversity protection strategy in order that the consultants can integrate that priority appropriately into their development of growth scenarios and other land-use policies and recommendations.”

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