Wetland Policy

.. ation or Panel Review by an independent entity is carried out, this assessment is generally the most intensive in order to provide clear and concise evidence as to the scope of current and future impacts. This type of assessment may be ordered by the Minister of the Environment or by the Minister of the Responsible Authority as a scapegoat to alleviate political pressure on the Government, a provision which is clearly to the governments benefit. There are other areas which are covered by the Act as well, section 10 of the Act states that before any funding is allocated to a First Nations group for a development an environmental impact assessment must first be completed. The CEAA provides formal legislation that sets out when and where an environmental impact assessment must be performed.

The Act has one provision of questionable validity in that it allows the Minister of the Responsible Authority to decide on whether or not there should be a hearing to poll public concern on the issue, which means that if there is little public concern there may only be a minimal assessment done, regardless of the severity of the impacts associated with the project. Other Federal Acts As is becoming apparent there are numerous Acts and Laws which pertain to wetland conservation. The Canadian Wildlife Act, provides land managers with the ability to create and administrate National Wildlife Areas which are a vital tool in the steps towards the effective preservation of habitat for endangered species. The Migratory Birds Convention Act, allowed the government to create bird sanctuaries under international support, which in turn preserved wetlands for all species under the umbrella of migratory bird habitat. Provincial Laws The Water Act In the regulation of bodies of freshwater the Water Act is the legislation that pertains to their use.

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In this, the Act regulates any activities that are around water or have to do with water withdrawal for export or otherwise. These regulations are enforced by the Water Management Branch, in that the branch must authorize all changes to natural watercourses, diversion, storage and the usage of freshwater from natural sources, through the issuance of licenses, permits and approvals. Section 7 of the Act sets out regulations for water quality and habitat preservation, as well as requiring that all parties involved in any actions which alter a water body abide by conditions placed upon these actions by Ministry of Environment or Department of Fisheries and Oceans Officers. As legislation the penalties that can be implemented under the Act are quite stringent; up to $200 000/day or 12 months in Prison maximum penalty. This allows for effective and influential prosecutions to occur. The Wildlife Act The Wildlife Act has a minimal effect in the conservation of wetlands, in that it is only effective when one or more of a limited number of designated endangered species is affected. Though, through provisions made in the Act there is the possibility for it to be an effective policy tool.

Section 3 of the Act allows the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks (MELP) to acquire and administer land as reserves or to enter into an agreement with an interest group who under guidance from MELP may administer the land. As well this section allows the Minister to designate lands under his/her control as Wildlife Management Areas, the primary function of this is to create sanctuaries for migratory birds. This protection for birds however does not encompass plants, invertebrates or fish; making it, in the absence of an endangered species act, somewhat futile. Sections 6 and 7 provide another conservation scapegoat for the government in that they use terms such as may to describe the designation of endangered species, as there is no formal Act; currently there are only 4 species which are legally designated as endangered in B.C., making the Act essentially useless except at the discretion of the Minister. With the infrequency that the Act is used to protect habitat there is very little that effective action that is taken under this act, surprising when one considers the fact that habitat loss is the single most significant factor affecting species loss (Nowlan and Jeffries, 1996). The Waste Management Act This Act is the main pollution control law in the province in that it contains broadly based legislation against the introduction of waste into any non-designated area without a permit.

In the Act, there are numerous offences and penalties which are clearly outlined in section 34; making prosecution under the Act relatively easy. Section 6 outlines an automatic penalty for littering which may be enforced by any Responsible Authority, section 7 contains an automatic offence for discharging waste from a recreational vehicle. This type of automatic offence provides laws which are aimed at stopping onetime point source pollution such as dumping and illegal black water discharge. Under sections 22 and 23 of the Act a Manager is able to pass a judgment as to whether a substance is causing pollution and on this judgment may order the parties involved to reduce or abate the pollution. When there is a competent Manager present this is an effective means of halting deleterious actions, however, section 26 allows for the appeal of any decision passed by a Manager to be proposed by any party involved. Through mandating the report of any spill or escape of deleterious substances the Act is effective in stopping pollution of wetlands. The Provincial Environmental Assessment Act The Provincial version of the Environmental Assessment Act was passed in 1995, making it newer and more streamlined that of the Federal government and applicable to provincial projects.

The Act provides benefits which the CEAA is lacking, in that it depends more on public input and provides a registry of projects for which assessments have been completed. The Act provides for public input when: applications for projects are received, drafts of project reports are being prepared, reports are filed, when the draft terms of reference for a public hearing are prepared, and during the public hearing itself (Nowlan and Jeffries, 1996). These opportunities for involvement allow the agency performing the assessment to gauge the public interest in a particular issue, which determines the need for prosecution and remediation should an environmental threat be detected. The project registry provided by the Act provides: a list of projects currently under review, an index of all the records for each project, and all important documents and decisions that were involved in the process. This acts much like a class screening in the CEAA, but is more comprehensive, in that it allows past cases to be admissible as evidence that due diligence was not provided in prosecutions.

Though wetlands are not specifically mentioned under the Act, it is implicit that wetlands are included, as the Act pertains to any project which is hazardous to the environment, making this an important piece of legislation in wetland cases. The British Columbia Forest Practices Code As the majority of space in B.C. is forested Crown land the Forest Practices Code provides essential protection for the wetlands that are contained within this area. By regulating the space allowances around wetlands the Code is able to provide a reasonable amount of protection for all wetlands in its jurisdiction, the width of this area varies with the classification of a given wetland according to its sensitivity. The Riparian Management Area guidebook states the objectives that the Code has as it pertains to Riparian areas; the main objectives of the riparian provisions in the Code are: to minimize or prevent impacts created by forest practices on aquatic ecosystems and to preserve any wetland wildlife habitat that is of high intrinsic value. As it is legislated that all Forest companies adhere to the Code, it is frequently used in prosecutions, though its enforcement is generally reactive rather than proactive.

Other Provincial Laws The Land Act regulates the distribution of Crown land; this is can be beneficial to wetland conservation if a responsible Minister is in office. Through careful distribution of lands to groups that are environmentally responsible a great deal of damaging environmental effects can be averted. The most beneficial Provincial legislation in outright protection of wetlands is the Park Act, by designating an area as a provincial park development is thwarted and any actions that occur on that land are subject to strict regulation, which essentially eliminates the possibility of intentional habitat loss, though no legislation can foresee accidents. Municipal Laws and Bylaws Through the provincial Municipal Act, municipalities are given the authority to deal with wetland loss on an individual case basis by the creation of appropriate bylaws and zoning regulations. Section 945 of the Act allows local government to make a community plan which designates areas for wetland conservation. This has grand implications for the conservation of local wetlands, under this section the municipality has the power to create buffer zones around fragile wetlands, as well they may create bylaws which pertain to tree cutting, flood prevention, drainage and soil removal, among others.

Section 963 allows for the creation of zoning to regulate land usage, this may be used to shift population densities away from sensitive areas. Conclusion Each of the Policies and Acts which pertain to wetlands at the three levels of government has positive and negative attributes which must be considered by Agencies when a prosecution is sought. At the Federal level the Federal Policy on Wetland Conservation can be described as a weak attempt at creating a solid legislation that pertains to wetlands. Though there is no wetland legislation currently in place, the culmination of the sections of Federal Acts which pertain to wetlands currently provide the strongest basis for pursuing prosecutions. The legislation at the provincial level is effective in providing for protection of Crown land or not located near an urban area.

Due to their flexibility, provisions made by municipalities under the Municipal Act could be the most effective in conserving wetlands, in that they are able to create zoning in sensitive areas to prevent development. The downfall of Municipal bylaws is that they are not legally forceful enough to be effective against large corporations. Currently the most effective means of preserving wetlands is either to have them designated a provincial park under the Park Act or to have private ownership granted to an interest group either by land allocation or through purchasing the land. It is evident through examining the wide range of policy tools involved in the control of damage to wetlands that there needs to be a Federal legislation enacted. If there were to be a complete legislation at the federal level that pertained to wetlands, it would eliminate any vagueness that exists with the current system of using many Acts when pursuing a prosecution. As well, within a short time there could be a large registry to be used as precedence in court cases for future prosecutions.

From the observations made herein it is clear that there is an imperative need for a cumulative Act on wetland conservation in order to preserve these areas for future generations. Bibliography References BC Environmental Assessment Act, (1994) BC Municipal Act, (1979) BC Park Act, (1996) BC Water Act, (1994) BC Wildlife Act, (1979) Federal Policy on Wetland Conservation, (1991) Federal Fisheries Act, (Updated, 1999) Nowlan, L. and B. Jeffries, 1996. Protecting British Columbias Wetlands: A Citizens Guide.

West Coast Environmental Law Research Foundation and British Columbia Wetlands Network, Vancouver. 144 pp. Schiller, E. and S. Flanagan. 1997.

Protecting Wetlands is good business for local governments. Public Management 79: 19-26 Zoltai, S.C. 1988. Wetland Environments and Classification. pp.

1-53 In: C.D.A. Rubec (ed.) Wetlands of Canada. Polyscience, Montreal. 452 pp. Science Essays.