Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations

Conservation Lands

Stellako River Wildlife Management Area

Purpose of the Conservation Lands

The primary purpose of conservation lands is to conserve and manage important habitat for the benefit of regionally or internationally significant fish and wildlife species. This includes habitat that is vital for:

  • Sensitive, vulnerable, or at-risk species.
  • Critical species life-cycle phases such as spawning, rearing, nesting, or winter feeding.
  • Species migration routes or other movement corridors.
  • Supporting unusually high species productivity or diversity.

Conservation lands often concurrently provide for a range of opportunities for public access, including day hiking, hunting and fishing, wildlife viewing, scientific research and education, and traditional activities of First Nations.

Types of Conservation Lands

Various legal tools and agreements are used to acquire or ‘secure’ conservation lands. These securement methods can generally be divided into the following two categories.

Administered conservation lands. These are lands over which legal administration and management authority have been acquired by way of:

  1. Wildlife Management Area designation under section 4 of the Wildlife Act.
  2. Fee Simple acquisition through direct purchase, land exchange, or donation of private land.
  3. Securement of privately owned land that is leased to the Province for a long-term duration (usually 99 years).
  4. Crown Transfer of Administration under section 106 of the Land Act, or similar legal mechanism.

Non-administered conservation lands. These are lands over which a recorded ‘interest’ has been secured for fish and wildlife, but not administration and management authority. The majority of these have been obtained through Land Act mechanisms that either limit certain uses of the land for a specified period of time, or require that the holder of the interest be contacted regarding proposed changes in land use. These legal mechanisms include:

  1. Land Act section 15 Order-in-Council reserve.
  2. Land Act section 17 Conditional Withdrawal.
  3. Land Act section 16 Withdrawal.
  4. Crown Land Notation of Interest.

Typically, these Land Act-related interests are requested by conservation lands staff through FrontCounter BC.

There are presently approximately 260,000 hectares of Wildlife Management Areas and other administered conservation lands across BC, and non-administered conservation lands comprising another 900,000 hectares. Habitat enhancement projects with Ducks Unlimited Canada outside those lands cover an additional 8,300 hectares.

Management Emphasis

The primary management focus for conservation lands is maintenance and management of fish and wildlife habitat, however, other compatible activities can sometimes be accommodated (e.g. agriculture, grazing, forestry, mining, utility rights of way, etc.). The ability to allow for a range of resource uses in conservation lands can provide important management flexibility on a site-by-site basis.

The activities which may or may not be permitted within a specific conservation land depend primarily upon the specific management objectives identified and agreed upon for each site. These management objectives may be outlined within an applicable legal agreement (e.g. a lease), in a strategic planning document (e.g. a Land and Resource Management Plan), or within a management plan developed in consultation with First Nations, partners, stakeholders, and the public. Certain regulations and orders may also be developed where required to reflect management objectives.

Typically, most sites have a strong conservation focus. In some instances, this may be primarily because the site is not suitable for resource extraction activities. In other cases, there may be an agreement between First Nations, local communities and stakeholders that the primary use of the area should be for conservation and low-impact public use. In still other cases, there may be a governing legal agreement that constrains uses to conservation purposes. For example, a standard long-term lease between the Ministry and a private landowner like The Nature Trust of BC generally allows for conservation-related activities, restoration, and compatible public uses, while disallowing land uses which conflict with the lease agreement or do not have consent of both the responsible ministry and the landowner.

Written consent from a ‘Regional Manager’ from the Ministry responsible under the Wildlife Act is generally required to authorize use of land or resources in a conservation land. Decisions of the Regional Manager regarding proposed activities are made with reference to the site management objectives.

Due to this management flexibility, conservation lands are not considered to be part of the formal “protected area” designation under Land Use Planning in BC, a designation which includes parks, protected areas, ecological reserves, recreation areas and conservancies. Conservation lands, however, still comprise part of a broader spectrum of ‘protected lands’ in the province which have been secured by other levels of government as well as non-government organizations.

Conservation lands also provide important buffer zones, corridors or linkages between core protected areas. Such linkages may be essential to enable movement of species during seasonal migrations or in response to short-term ecological variations and longer-term climatic and evolutionary changes. In some instances, conservation lands have been subsequently converted or ‘upgraded’ to park or protected area status as part of provincial land use planning processes.

Importance of Partnerships

In practice, the management of conservation lands relies less on specific legislative tools than on stakeholder consultations, partnerships with external agencies, and working agreements to facilitate habitat-sensitive resource use. For these reasons, one-on-one partnerships and multi-partner arrangements with non-governmental organizations, various levels of government, industry, and others involved in land acquisition and habitat protection play a central role in the conservation lands program.

Some of the ministry’s key conservation land partners include:

To take advantage of efficiencies between organizations with similar mandates and to avoid potentially costly competition, many of these long-standing partnerships have been formalized in regional, provincial or international multi-party initiatives focused on acquiring and managing conservation lands. These initiatives include, for example:

  • Conservation Partners of BC
  • Pacific Estuary Conservation Program
  • South Okanagan-Similkameen Conservation Program
  • East Kootenay Conservation Program
  • Crown Land Securement Partner Program
  • Vancouver Island Conservation Land Management Program
  • North American Waterfowl Management Plan (including Pacific Coast Joint Venture, Canadian Intermountain Joint Venture, and Prairie Habitat Joint Venture)

Conservation lands staff are also involved in more specialized habitat compensation initiatives designed to help offset the impacts of major development projects, such as the Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program, and the Peace/Williston Compensation Program with BC Hydro and Fisheries and Oceans Canada.