Ministry of Environment

Sensitive Ecosystems InventoriesSensitive Ecosystems Inventories

East Vancouver Island & Gulf Islands Management Recommendations for SEIs

Delineate Buffers around Sensitive Ecosystems

Wherever possible, the sensitive ecosystem would consist of a core area surrounded by a vegetated buffer designed to isolate the ecosystem from outside disturbance. Buffers would bear the brunt of edge effects such as windthrow, invasive species colonization, and increased access. They may also maintain microclimate conditions that are critical to some ecosystems. Site assessment and fieldwork by qualified professionals may be needed to determine appropriate buffers and the best way to achieve conservation measures.

Avoid Direct and Indirect Impacts

The following actions should minimize impacts to sensitive ecosystems.

  • Discourage development within or adjacent to sensitive ecosystems except where it can be shown that the proposed development will not result in significant negative impacts.
  • Manage both land and water access - Appropriate management tools may include fencing, trails, elevated boardwalks, railings, seasonal restrictions, signs and livestock restrictions.
  • Prevent disturbance of nesting of breeding areas. Specific information can be obtained from BC Environment's Fish and Wildlife staff or biologists from the Canadian Wildlife Service of Environment Canada.
  • Control invasive species including plants, feral animals and pet. Appropriate active control methods for invasive plant species include hand clearing, pruning, mowing, excavation, planting of appropriate native species and animal fencing. In some case a broad invasive species management zone can be established.

    Invasive species often spread from adjacent residential areas, roadsides, or clear-cuts. Instead of using species that may invade the sensitive ecosystem, homeowners and land developers should be encouraged to plant native tree and herb species to enhance or restore wildlife habitat and provide a buffer. Native plantings could be used to demonstrate the benefits of planting species adapted to local conditions. A conservation management fund should be required from developers, which would pay for active management to keep exotic species out of adjacent sensitive ecosystems.

  • Allow natural disturbances and successional functions and processes to occur - Natural ecological functions and processes that are critical to the creation or maintenance of a sensitive ecosystem must be maintained and protected. These may include: hydrologic and nutrient regimes, coastal erosion, sediment accretion, flooding, seasonal drawdown, groundwater recharge and discharge, stream channel movement, windthrow, tree death, fire and disease. A qualified professional may be required to assess the potential impact of a specific activity.

    For example, factors such as the source, velocity, renewal rate and timing of water entering a wetland affect the type and location of the wetland and the sediment nutrients which, in turn, affect the ecosystem characteristics such as species composition, primary productivity and nutrient cycles. Activities including ditching and draining, or the creation of large hardwood plantations adjacent to a wetland, such as the many poplar plantations springing up in the SEI study area, may have a profound effect on these wetland ecosystems.

  • Maintain water quality - In the SEI study area, marine waters, lakes, wetlands, creeks and rivers provide drinking water, agricultural capabilities, habitat for fish and other wildlife, recreational activities, and aesthetic enjoyment. Clean water is survival of resident and anadromous fish and a wide variety of other organisms, from aquatic insects, to molluscs, to the higher vertebrates such as the birds and mammals that feed on them.

Develop Carefully

In cases where land development activities cannot be excluded from sensitive ecosystems, those activities should be planned, designed and implemented in a manner that will not adversely affect the functions and values of the core ecosystem.

In order to determine the specific core ecosystem values of specific sites, a qualified professional should conduct an ecological inventory before any land development activities take place. Ideally, this inventory should take place through the seasons over a period of a year. Like a shopkeeper, the land manager has to know what is "on the shelves." Otherwise, for example, trails could be built over the only patch of rare orchids on the site or could pass close to an owl nesting tree and, in each of those cases, destroy or disturb the very values the land manager is attempting to maintain.

Local governments should require development proponents to fund and commission ecological inventories (by qualified professionals) in, near, or adjacent to sensitive ecosystem PRIOR to permitting or authorizing development. A qualified professional should also interpret the available inventory data and work together with the development proponent to incorporate designs that are sensitive to the natural ecosystem, clearly delineating sensitive areas prior to and during construction and minimizing impacts to the core ecosystem's

  • vegetation, including trees, snags and root systems,
  • endangered, threatened or vulnerable species and natural plant communities (and uncommon plant species) identified during the planning and inventory stages,
  • terrain features such as rock and soils,
  • adjacent wetlands, lakes, streams and foreshore and marine areas,
  • microhabitats and habitat niches and characteristic of the ecosystem, such as nesting and breeding areas.