Bryn White, Program Manager for the South Okanagan Similkameen Conservation Program, spoke to Regional District Okanagan Similkameen Board of Directors at the May 8 meeting in Penticton.
White provided an update to the board regarding the biodiversity strategy (Keeping Nature in our Future), which was initiated between the SOSCP and the RDOS and other partners in 2010.
The board is not legally bound to the Keeping Nature in our Future document, as it is neither a plan nor a regulatory document, however, it is considered to be an informational guide of high priority, similar to the regional district’s Regional Growth Strategy.
The board accepted the Keeping Nature document in September 2013, instructing staff to work with the SOSCP to begin implementation of the plan.
Bryn told the board work was currently being undertaken to improve land use policy and regulations with RDOS staff through the inclusion of new information and mapping of environmentally sensitive areas. The information is being integrated into Official Community Plans in each electoral area. Biodiversity conservation strategies developed for each area are expected to protect environmental values using a common sense approach, at the same time providing flexibility and fairness to property owners and developers.
Bryn also told the board investigation was currently underway to explore possible funding options to establish a local conservation fund.
The intention of the fund would be to provide financial support for activities that would protect valuable natural areas, as part of restoring and sustaining a healthy local environment.
“Such a fund always has a sunset,” Bryn told the board, “at which time the board would make a decision whether or not to continue.
“We’re looking for board support to establish a local conservation fund.”
Regional districts and municipalities have the authority to establish and operate such funds as services, similar to fire protection or recreation. The fund could be financed through property, parcel local area service taxes or fees. Fund programs typically run 10 years.
In answer to a question from the board, Bryn expressed uncertainty as to how much funding would be required or what mechanism for funding would be used. She cited examples of East Kootenay and Columbia Shuswap Regional Districts, who had levies of $20 per parcel for a similar fund.
Cawston Director George Bush asked how the money would be used. Bryn said application of the funding was still open for discussion.
“It could be tailored to the municipality,” she replied, “we could gauge the environment, see what support is out there.”
Chief Administrative Officer Bill Newell recommended providing the board with an administrative report to establish benchmarks, describe what other municipalities were doing, and provide timelines.
A report to the Planning and Development Committe will be forthcoming on the issue for further future discussion.