What are Ecological Reserves?
Ecological reserves are areas selected to preserve representative and special natural ecosystems,
plant and animal species, features and phenomena. Scientific research
and educational purposes are the principal uses of ecological reserves.
Ecological reserves are established for the:
- preservation of representative examples of British Columbia's ecosystems;
- protection of rare and endangered plants and animals in their natural habitat;
- preservation of unique, rare or outstanding botanical, zoological or geological
- perpetuation of important genetic resources; and
- scientific research and educational uses associated with the natural environment.
How did they originate?
Between 1964 and 1974 Canada participated in a decade of research known
as the International Biological Program (IBP), a worldwide endeavour
involving 58 nations. A subcommittee for the Conservation of Terrestrial
Communities (IBP-CT) was created, aimed at the establishment of a system
of representative terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems around the world. In
Canada this was largely funded by the National Research Council, and involved
the description of biologically important sites on standard international
check-sheets. Nearly 1000 check-sheets were completed in Canada, placing
this country at the forefront of IBP-CT efforts, along with Australia and
the United States. Many such sites were identified in British Columbia,
and these became the nucleus of our present ecological reserves system.
The IBP check-sheets are still an important, and in some cases, the only
source of descriptive information for many British Columbia ecological reserves.
An effective conservation program, however, requires more than identification and description of
important ecosystems. The lands must be legally and permanently set aside
if they are to serve their intended long-term function. Since most public
lands in British Columbia are under provincial jurisdiction, provincial
government involvement became necessary to carry the program forward.
The Government of British Columbia, encouraged by the late Dr. Vladimir Krajina (former professor
at the University of British Columbia) and other scientists, agreed in
1968 to form an Ecological Reserves Committee to advise on the selection
of potential reserve sites. A year later, the government formally embarked
on setting aside ecological reserves under the Land Act. In 1971, the
Legislature gave unanimous approval to the Ecological
. With this act, British Columbia became the first province
in Canada to formalize and give permanent protected status to ecological
reserves. Quebec, the second to do so, established a similar act in 1974,
and New Brunswick in 1975. Other provinces have since enacted similar
legislation, or use other legislation such as Land, Park and Museum Acts
for designation of natural areas.
On May 4, 1971, British Columbia's first 29 reserves received protective status by Order-in-Council,
a conservation landmark for the province. A full-time ecological reserve
coordinator was hired in 1974, regulations related to use and protection
of the reserves were enacted in 1975, and a volunteer warden program put
into effect in 1980.
Ecological reserves are established for the maintenance of biological diversity. They assist
in developing and promoting an environmental consciousness and provide
outdoor laboratories and classrooms for studies concerned with the natural
environment. Ecological reserves are benchmarks against which environmental
changes can be measured.
As many ecological processes are as yet poorly understood, today's scientists cannot predict some of
the questions that will require research in unaltered ecosystems. Ecological
reserves keep our options open for the future. A system of ecological
reserves is a "genetic data bank" which may hold the key to
new discoveries in forestry, ecology, agriculture and medicine.
Ecological reserves contribute to the maintenance of biological diversity and the protection
of genetic materials. Appropriate research and educational functions are
the primary uses of ecological reserves. They are not created for outdoor
recreation and should not be confused with parks or other recreational
areas. Most ecological reserves, however, are open to the public for non-consumptive,
observational uses. Parks and ecological reserves, although serving somewhat
different purposes, complement one another. Together they provide a wide
range of opportunities for people to experience and learn from the natural
and Protecting Ecological Reserves
Ministry of Environment is responsible for the management and protection of ecological reserves.
Plans are developed to provide the protection and management to ensure
long-term maintenance of the ecological reserve values.
All consumptive resource uses, such as tree cutting, hunting, fishing, mining, domestic grazing,
camping, lighting of fires and removing materials, plants or animals,
and the use of motorized vehicles are prohibited in ecological reserves.
Most ecological reserves are open to the public for nondestructive observational
uses such as nature appreciation, wildlife viewing, bird watching and
photography. Visitors are asked to co-operate in caring for these areas.
Some sites, such as seabird nesting colonies, are so sensitive that access
is only allowed under ministerial order.
Ministry of Environment staff are assisted in the protection and management of ecological reserves
by volunteer wardens. Wardens contribute their knowledge, enthusiasm for
conservation and their natural history expertise to the protection of
specific ecological reserves. The wardens serve an invaluable role in
the long-term protection of British Columbia's ecological reserves. The Ecological
Reserve Warden Handbook [PDF 410KB]
a description of duties and responsibilities of volunteer wardens and
their status and functions in managing the reserves.
Volunteer Ecological Reserve Wardens
Visit the Friends of Ecological Reserves
to familiarize yourself with ERs that either need a warden or might be of interest. (Even in areas that have wardens, additional wardens help to increase attention to these ecologically special places). If you would like to become a volunteer ecological reserve warden, click here for more information.
Research and Education in Ecological Reserves
Scientific research is one of the principal functions of ecological reserves. Many types of
research, particularly in the ecological field, require the establishment
of permanent plots or observation stations to which the investigator can
return to over time. Such types of research and other basic research related
to the study of natural processes are encouraged in ecological reserves,
provided it is not detrimental to the values of the ecological reserve.
Researchers often prefer to use sites that already have an existing stock
of research data upon which to build. Past research has established a
foundation of data upon which new research activities can be built.
Ecological reserves also offer opportunities for a wide range of educational activities ranging
from simple observation and nature interpretation to the teaching of complex
ecological processes. Under permit
all levels and institutions of education may visit all but a few very
sensitive ecological reserves. As surrounding environments are progressively
altered by human activities, ecological reserves will assume an ever increasing
significance for the demonstration and study of original ecosystems.
How Are Ecological Reserves Established?
Prior to the 1990s, members of the public submitted proposals for ecological reserves to BC
Parks for review and consideration of the significance of the proposed
area under the Ecological Reserve program. Proposals were reviewed by
a number of government ministries and agencies to ensure conflicts were
not present. Where values were considered significant and land use conflicts
were resolved, the proposed area was designated by provincial order-in-council
under the Ecological Reserve Act
In the 1990s, the provincial government embarked on a province-wide program of land use planning. At
the regional and sub-regional level, round-tables were established of
government agencies, First Nations, public stakeholders, environmental
organizations and industry representatives. These tables worked to determine
land use designations over set geographical areas. Included in the decisions
were the selection and designation of protected areas and the type of
designation that they would receive (Park, Ecological Reserve or Protected
Area) in order to meet the goals of the Protected Areas Strategy.