Galiano Island, British Columbia
Margaret Griffiths

Tread gently in this fragile place

Galiano Island is welcoming. Close to the mainland shore of western Canada its beauty and peace beckon a growing population. But it is a fragile place of limited resources.
Tread gently.

The island is three miles at its widest and eighteen miles long. It has two main roads and side roads, all narrow. Requests for Government help in building a bicycle path along Porlier Pass Road did not succeed. There has already been one cycling fatality. Take care on the island roads.

Galiano lies within the Coastal Douglas Fir biogeoclimatic zone {click here for description of this zone, and the waters that surround it). Of fourteen British Columbia ecological systems the CDF, as it is known, is the smallest, and unique in Canada. It contains 50 rare species endemic to BC and is a zone seriously under threat from logging practices and development. Only a little of its recognizable ecosystems remain, along the south and southeast shores of Vancouver Island, in patches on the Gulf Islands, and in fringes on the mainland.

Half Galiano Island is designated Forest and lies in this zone, rare, and privately owned. The speculative development lobby of Government is heavy. The bylaws are protective.

Galiano is a Trust island.

In 1972 an all-party Standing Committee reported to the BC Legislature on the need to protect the islands off the mainland in the Gulf of Georgia and Howe Sound, because a development frenzy was following the introduction of a ferry service which offered easier access.

The Committee stated to the House "Our belief is that the islands are too important to the people of Canada to be left open to developers and speculators. This section of BC is dramatically affected by private and public activity which does not have the same impact on other parts of the Province. The Committee refers to the fragile nature of these coastal units."

A Provincial statute of 1974, the Islands Trust Act (click here for Islands Trust Act) protects over four hundred islands and islets under thirteen elected local trust committees on major islands. Under the umbrella of Trust Council each Committee is responsible for writing its own bylaws under the Act, following due process. Policy, expressed in the Official Community Plan, may state the hopes and wishes of a people but the only tool the Trust has to enforce protection of the rural amenities of the islands (its mandate under the Act) is land-use regulation. For every other form of protection the Act clearly expects the cooperation of different levels of Government.

With half its land base in a threatened forest ecosystem already damaged by logging and in need of rehabilitation Galiano's Official Community Plan gives direction for enlightened forest practices. But the Provincial Government is responsible for forest practices and permits the island's forest to be clear-cut. Some logging has been to such a low standard that it almost looks as though the destruction of something precious in its rarity was intended.

But forests can recuperate to some extent

Recently the Galiano Conservancy advertised a workshop in forest renewal and it attracted people from unexpected distances. One man travelled from Korea. There is a growing longing in some parts of the world for something better than destruction for short-term gain.

Galiano has no natural lakes. Its streams are mostly dry by June, (click on The Need for Water). The people, resident and visiting, rely on the winter rains that seep through any unimpacted soil, to permeate and flow round rock, down to the wells below the high watersheds. The elevated watersheds are particularly valued during the dry months of July to October. Galiano's bylaws endeavour to protect this precious water resource below the ground. But the people are not masters in their own house. The Provincial Government permits blasting of the rock without special concern for the water flow that supplies house wells. Water is the life-blood of any community. The latest bureaucratic suggestion is for a rock quarry to be blasted into the forested watershed, it is understood to supply gravel for Provincial roads. But when, on another Trust island, the Mining Act was found to be inconsistent with the Islands Trust Act, it was the Islands Trust Act that was upheld by the Courts, as the activity would destroy a landscape to be protected. Again, in a recent case involving the suit against the Galiano local trust committee brought by an international forest company regarding development of the Galiano forest which they held in Tree Farm, the Court of Appeal decision stated "The Islands Trust Act is no mere piety"

Is there perhaps confusion between the Provincial Government and the Courts on the standing of a Provincial statute?

Galiano's bylaws are strong. And they predate the Private Managed Forest Land Act with Regulations of 2004. These Regulations give development rights that bypass local government planning in land held as managed forest. Vancouver Island forests are more vulnerable to development into sprawl than Galiano's at this particular time.

Galiano's bylaws offer, in the Forest zone, a permitted residential use accessory to forestry use per approximately 50 acres.

As well, by request of the forest owners, a carefully placed subdivision of five- acre lots may be created to a higher density than the bylaw would otherwise permit, with the landowner who chooses such an option offering as an amenity the land left over from the subdivision. Under a tight covenant this land will be conserved for all time as a model forest. The forest is protected. The subdivision is enhanced by the surrounding forest (click).

Protection of the forest by planning and vision has so far been a thirty year struggle, some of it in the Courts. It is described here {click } Perhaps it is not yet over.

Those who come to the island to rest from the city's bustle, to hike, to kayak, to stay in resorts or bed and breakfast places, to bird-watch in the different seasons, to enjoy a place of butterflies where no toxic sprays are allowed, to see the eagle circle over Mount Galiano with primary feathers spread like fingers against the sky, those who come to cycle with care on country roads hedged in summer with wild roses, and blackberries in Fall, they say they feel a gentler breeze blowing politically. For the forest there is hope.

Make careful footprints for the next generation to walk in.

Tread gently in this fragile place.

To open section click on underlined headings.
Section I The Story of Galiano Island
across thirty important years
Section II

The Appeal Court Decision
Zip File of Complete Transcript

Section III Coastal Douglas Fir forest
and the waters around Galiano Island

Wild things
Birds, plants marine life
The Eagle on Galiano

The Need for Water

Section IV The Islands Trust Act,
Section V Legacies
Land preserved for all time
The Heritage Forest

Section VI Who named the points, hills, roads and bays on Galiano?
Remember those who borrowed the land for a season