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11th February 2022

And South Island communities can’t bank on much support for federal money geared at increasing protected areas. Last year, Canada made a goal to conserve at least 30 per cent of land and water in the country by 2030.

It’s a big goal, one that makes it all the more likely that the government will focus on protecting large tracts of land, says Blake. On the South Island, the parcels are relatively small and expensive, and likely to be overlooked, despite their significant ecological importance.

“It’s less compelling to put a lot of money towards something where you can’t get a lot of land,” Blake says.

Until the political system changes, even big conservation wins are still just “small victories,” says Richard Habgood, a former director of the Sierra Club of B.C. and veteran environmental campaigner.

“I’m very cynical and the root issues aren’t being solved as long as big money is in control,” he says. “Conservation doesn’t change the system. Big money and government gives us these small victories but not any big ones.”

Systemic change is needed

Habgood suggests that in order to have true conservation in the province, a top-down overhaul of systems — from how we vote to who sits at the decision making table — is needed. For Habgood, that means changing our voting system to a proportional representation system in order to offer opportunities for a diversity of voices and viewpoints in top levels of government.

In a proportional representation system, the percentage of seats a party has in the legislature is a reflection of the percentage of people who voted for the party. In our current First Past The Post system, a party can have a majority of the seats in the legislature even without a majority of the vote.

“You have to have broad-scale change in order to protect conservation efforts and then they won’t be in vain,” Habgood says. “But as the system is right now, that’s not going to happen.”

He suggests that a good place to start when thinking about more impactful conservation is to consider how it is impacted by political processes. He says besides that, it’s tough for citizens to do much more than what they’ve been doing for years.

“I used to be a flaming environmentalist; I still am. But I just kept on hitting this brick wall,” Habgood says. “Me and so many others have put so much money, energy and all the rest of it into conservation and we keep on hitting these brick walls.”

Landowners need much stronger incentives to encourage conservation, Blake says. She suggests offering more property tax breaks for people to protect portions of their properties and discourage them from subdividing and selling or logging them. Municipal governments must be encouraged to make these policy changes, she adds.

Most importantly, though, Blake says anyone working in conservation needs to work with Indigenous communities to facilitate land-based reconciliation. She points to an invigorated push towards creating Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas in the conservation sector, where Indigenous governments have the primary role in creating management plans, governance structures, objectives and boundaries.

“Reconciliation and Indigenous land sovereignty and stewardship need to be part of conservation,” Blake says.

Habgood agreed that any decision-making about land needs to put First Nations at the forefront.

“This was stolen,” he says. “And it’s really the justice department in B.C. that’s responsible for giving the property back.”