Questionable Qualicum development in protected ecosystem
As an update, we have started a petition to stop the destruction of this protected land and have it restored. Sign here
For at least 20 years, every development request has been denied for the lot on the corner of Laburnum and the Island Highway. In upholding their commitment to protect our most sensitive ecosystems, the Town of Qualicum Beach designated this area an Aquatic Habitat Greenway and fiercely enforced those bylaws for decades. But times are changing…
In lieu of development, we have found precious moments, peace and thriving biodiversity. Many locals have fond memories of collecting blackberries with their grandchildren or sledding the slope with their families. Picnics and walks have offered respite from our busy lives. These easily accessible wetlands have allowed many residents the opportunity to forge bonds with our natural world, just steps from their doors.
Descending into the wetlands from the trail off Eagleridge Place offers the most encompassing views of this sensitive ecosystem. It is not uncommon to hear the songbirds in harmony and the owls bellow above, or spot a majestic bald eagle roosting through the windows of the canopy. Beams of sunlight stretch down through maple and spruce that hug the trail, dancing off the pools of water in the swampland below.
And there is no debate about the “wetness” of this fern strewn parcel, being that Environment Canada, Canadian Wildlife Service and the Provincial Ministry of Water Land and Air Protection classified it as a swamp (N0408) in the Sensitive Ecosystem Inventory for East Vancouver Island. It is arguably a fair bit damper and a fair bit more sensitive than the ecosystems the federal government forced Qualicum Beach to protect during the Laburnum Ring-Road construction in 2005 (N0409 & N0411).
Local ecosystems in the Town have been mapped to support effective management decisions, and the Town works with senior governments to maintain the Sensitive Ecosystems Inventory (OCP page 151)
Year-round standing water — a natural result of land located in the flood plain — provides the ideal habitat for large population of amphibians. In the evenings, the chorus of the frogs can reach a crescendo. Newts scurry about openly, bathing in pools along the trails. And with enough patience, one can spot the protected Northern Red-legged Frog and numerous salamanders among the swamp denizens.
All of the creatures of the swamplands are harboured by a protective layer of an older second growth forest. At the base of the towering spruce, we can find a rich carbon sink and diversity as far as the eye can see. There are very few places that can so quickly whisk you away into another world free of trouble, cleansing the weariness from the brow.
Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul — John Muir
Not only has the federal government recognized the significance of this wetland, but so has the community of Qualicum Beach. This sensitive ecosystem has been protected in our Official Community Plan for decades as zone G5.
The aquatic habitat greenway or upland habitat greenway shall be conserved in a vegetated state, free of development of structures or paving. In all ecological greenways, natural or planted vegetation shall be maintained. (OCP page 110)
The protections for Aquatic Habitat Greenways are so strong that trees cannot even be removed (unless they are hazardous).
So it is with great surprise and dismay that we happened upon this wetland— an area our community has collectively committed to protecting for future generations — and the scene looks nothing short of an apocalyptic movie. With the clearing still in progress, the damage done thus far will take decades to reverse if we were to follow our Official Community Plan bylaws and replant the trees.
Aghast, only two questions can come to the mind:
- What has gone wrong?
- What is going to be done about it?
And so, after months of investigation and digging deeply through the shallow hubris of the town, it is time to let sunshine be the best disinfectant. We hope that the fine citizens of this province can join us on this series that will explore the legal grounds (or lack thereof) that allowed this destruction to occur and what we can do about this development project before the rest of the ground is finished being cleared.
We will surely venture into a battle that will not only impact the besieged wetlands, but will have far reaching consequences on other protected ecosystems in Qualicum Beach; the development or protection of which will depend upon the precedence we struggle to create today.
Make no mistake: moving forward will require a movement of willing and able citizens ready to stand for the values codified in the Official Community Plan. For anyone who cannot walk away from destroyed wetlands and simply watch as our wetlands are destroyed, please share this article and reach out to us at email@example.com.