A longtime Saanich Resident and former Saanich Green Belt Association (SGBA) member, fondly remembers arriving in Saanich and the Blenkinsop Valley in the 60’s as a young bride. They found a small home nestled amongst the Garry Oak trees on a rocky outcropping; looking out over top what seemed like endless rolling hills and farmland. It was paradise but even at that time the ecological and agricultural legacy of rural Saanich was already threatened with development and urban sprawl.
Many developments like the driving range, Pearce Crescent and Les Meadows went in and represented the changing agricultural face of rural Saanich. In the case of the Mt. Doug Golf Course that went in pre-ALR, it represented such a loss of class 1 and class 2 soils that it actually stemmed off legislation about golf courses on farmland and it is said to even have helped to inspire the formation of the Agricultural Land Reserve. (Personal conversations with ALR founder, mentor and Richmond Councillor, Harold Steves).
Once a place so food secure a Tsartlip elder describes it as when the tide went out the dinner table was set.
BC is one of the most food insecure places in Canada. Vancouver Island is only equipped with 3- days of food. When 77% of our fruit and veggies are imported from the U.S. where a predicted mega-drought climate event with storms, flooding and fires is brewing.
Saanich has been aware of the need to protect/buffer our green spaces and farmland since the 50’s. This article documents and acknowledges some former inspiring municipal councils and residents, their contributions and what they advocated for: UCB-1968, ALR formed 1972-3, and Saanich Agricultural/Ecological Greenbelt Resolution and wildlife corridor, 1977.
The SGBA were a group of owner/conservationists who understood both the agricultural and ecological values of the land and their importance to native biodiversity, wildlife, habitat and future generations of Saanich residents.
We are grateful for their vision/stewardship in parks, and protecting special places. In some cases, financially contributing, via covenants and property donations. This legacy is also contained within our boundaries and is essential to protect. This is the foundation and Spirit of Saanich! One of these special places is the Doris Page park.
The Urban Containment Boundary (UCB) is a visionary land use planning tool that has been admired throughout the region and province. It is intended to manage growth, and to prevent urban sprawl from venturing into our parks/farmland/forested areas.
The boundary helps to limit urban sprawl, keep prices affordable for home buyers and hold property values for existing taxpayers.
Thanks to the legacy of the UCB, 50% of Saanich municipality is protected as a forest, park, and farmland soils. A carbon sink.
Developing lands outside the UCB is not how to keep land prices affordable. Distance to services such as school, work and transit add to overall cost.
Focusing development on the inside of the UCB, where community approved density was planned is most environmentally sustainable, climate logical, affordable and harmonious for people.
These community blueprints created with civic and stakeholder engagement are outlined in the founding documents.
Protecting the outside of the UCB for farming, forest and soils provides the habitat necessary for the species necessary for ecosystems functioning. Ecosystem services, and natural solutions, to infrastructure. Referred to as green infrastructure. Natures solutions.
We have 450 species of native bees in BC that are responsible for pollinating 35% of the foods most prominent in the human diet, and native pollinators are keystone species in most terrestrial ecosystems. 70% of bees nest on the ground while 30% live in trees. They can tell us a lot about the health of ecosystems.
Despite having the best soils, we are one of the most food insecure provinces in Canada.
The largest obstacle to food security is the price of farmland. Second to the industrialization of farmland, which also inflates the price of farmland. Industrial uses on farmland can also result in soil compaction, degradation/pollution to watersheds and set properties up for ALR exclusion.
Bylaw and business licenses help to regulate land use and non-permitted uses. However, governance of the municipality is based on a complaint driven bylaw system, where most complaints aren’t made.
Ensuring Saanich municipality monitors ecosystems and enforce bylaws proactively is important to Saving our UCB and sensitive areas in Saanich.
However, one of the biggest consequences of the non-permitted use of farmland is that it further inflates the price of farmland. Further denying farmers access to farmland and contributing to our widespread food insecurity.
Reviewing and monitoring our business licenses in areas outside the UCB to maintain our rural zones is recommended. Removing industrial uses on farmland and monitoring is recommended. This will help keep environmentally sensitive areas/farmland pristine plus mitigate price inflation. Thus, increasing best practices. We must also monitor rural roads for overweight trucks; soil removal and the addition of (potentially contaminated) fill in these sensitive areas.
Most important of all however is to restore the buffers to farmland that have been degraded and destroyed. Especially the endemic Garry Oak ecosystem, a culturally derived ecosystems and source of fertility on the Saanich Peninsula and vital to our food security. Soils 1-7 can be restored.
Not all farmland in rural Saanich is protected by the ALR and some of it is only protected by the UCB. Periodically there are changes made to the UCB and although they may be minor in context, they must be considered in relation to their impact on the rest of the surrounding area. A minor change can have a major impact. For example: putting a subdivision on the boundary of the UCB will inflate the rest of the farmland in that area and decrease buffering between zones. Further exposing the rural/urban conflict. This is a major impact and obstacle to food security.
Buffering (not a few trees but biological diversity corridors) is necessary to retain, create and expand for sustainable agriculture, whilst providing habitat for the myriad of species that also benefit from agriculture.
Changes to the UCB will place the highly speculated A-1 zoned lands not in ALR at extreme risk. Restricting house size in areas outside the UCB and in the ALR is important; although not reissuing Saanich business licenses when not in compliance will help.
Again, to re-emphasis, developing an affordable industrial park zone inside the UCB for industrial users would alleviate pressures outside the UCB and help to curb non-permitted illegal industrial use on farmland. This can help overcome price inflation associated with non-permitted industrial use on farmland and transcend some of the obstacles to food security, including neighborhood land use conflicts.
Saanich’s legacy of environmental protection is at risk, and with the recent rescinding of the EDPA (2018) we must ensure the UCB is not going to follow. At this time of climate change, rising sea levels, food insecurity, and endangered species we must update our best practices and be on a quest for the best. Biodiversity is necessary for sustainable agriculture.
Protecting the remaining farmland in Saanich will require that we reaffirm the protection of the UCB.
Placing density on the UCB is not a solution to the housing and affordability crisis, the habitat, ecological or food security crisis.
We must protect the remaining finite farmland soils. We must begin to restore biological diversity buffers, monitor business licenses and continue to work on the regional farmlands trust.
We must not allow the urban/rural conflict to gobble up the last fertile lands.
This is how we address food insecurity and address climate change.
Be the change you want to see in the world!