South Okanagan and Similkameen Local Government Ecological Standards and Practices Capacity Building Initiative
Note to Readers:
The South Okanagan-Similkameen Conservation Program (SOSCP) was founded in 2000 by various groups concerned with the special environment and habitat of the South Okanagan-Similkameen area.
The SOSCP is a Partnership of non-governmental, government, and First Nations organizations working together to conserve biodiversity. SOSCP is a coordinator and facilitator of the Partners to help improve the effectiveness of their conservation efforts.
The SOSCP vision is to maintain “A healthy environment that sustains the diversity of indigenous plants and animals while enriching peoples lives”. The six broad strategic objectives that guide SOSCP activities are: Stewardship, Outreach, Ecologically Sustainable Land Use, Traditional Ecological Knowledge, Science and Habitat Securement.
Regional Team Approach
“The South Okanagan-Similkameen Conservation Program (SOSCP) and community partners (Keremeos, Oliver, Summerland, Regional District Okanagan Similkameen) have worked collaboratively to establish the South Okanagan and Similkameen Local Government Ecological Standards and Practices Capacity Building Initiative. Phase I is underway,” reports Bryn White, Coordinator.
Phase 1 Highlights
- The SOSCP is a collaboration of organizations including senior governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and local governments that has increased the partnership level and engagement of rural/non-metro communities over the past few years on land use planning and conservation;
- Local governments are a “high priority” partner to work with because they have great influence over land use and conservation;
- SOSCP created a regional environmental planning table that brings together planners and resource people to learn, identify priority issues and needs for support, and a forum from which to advance sustainable land use planning;
- The early research and partnership development clearly pointed to the fact that there wasn’t the capacity for communities to move forward on challenges around the use and conservation of land – including implementing and improving ecological standards and practices in their planning and land use decision making processes;
- SOSCP and communities agreed that it was imperative that capacity be addressed to be able to advance sustainable land use practices that protect wildlife, healthy ecosystems and the goods and services they provide human communities.
Collaborative Approach to Capacity Building
SOSCP and communities established a collaborative approach to capacity building – they pooled exisiting funding resources and worked together to apply for external funds from Real Estate Foundation of BC, as well as from other sources such as the federal Habitat Stewardship Program.
This enabled the establishment of a shared environmental planning contractor, that works within the communities to assist them in achieving their environmental planning objectives. In addition, there are other resource people and mentors that work to support that environmental planner. The SOSCP administers the contract and guides the workplan in concert with the communities according to their needs.
Role of Environmental Planner
- Create consistent baseline information across the region to address ecological values. This includes ecosystem mapping, identification of environmentally sensitive areas, and in some cases, recognition of special features and hotspots.
- Provide leading edge information pertinent to land use bylaw provisions (official community plans), development permit areas (derived from ecosystem mapping) or other suitable mechanisms to protect ecosystem values.
- Establish sources of ecological expertise for local governments engaged with the development community at the neighbourhood or site plan level, thus helping ensure recognition of sensitive ecosystems/ connective corridors in the planning approval process.
- This isn’t an approach widely applied – communities within regions rarely share resources;
- It is a challenging position for the environmental planner – three distinct communities with different needs and issues;
- Environmental planning is a skill set that is rare – it is imperative that there be a community of resource people/projects/examples from which to draw;
- Internal environmental planning expertise is absolutely necessary for communities – it is hoped that they will recognize this need and find a way to resource it in the future – hopefully collaboratively;
- It has increased the trust and strengthened the relationships between the conservation community (gov’t and non-govt) and local governments/development/private industry.