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Biodiversity a work in progress

RMOW falls short of goal of preserving 2,010 hectares, but significant work still underway



In 2009, with Olympic developments substantially complete, the Cheakamus Community Forest becoming a reality and the Official Community Plan rewrite on the horizon, Whistler Council approved a plan called the Whistler Biodiversity Challenge 2010.

The timing coincided with the United Nations' International Year of Biodiversity program, which ran through 2010, as well as the 2010 Games.

The goal was to protect 2,010 hectares of land by the end of 2010, protecting local biodiversity through a number of different measures.

Now, the end of 2010 is near and the program will not reach its goal. But with a variety of other initiatives in the works, Whistler may actually exceed it.

From the outset, working with a team of six local biologists, the RMOW identified and mapped five types of ecosystems known to be biodiversity "hot spots" - old growth forest, old pine forest, wet rich sites, floodplain and riparian. That generated an area covering roughly 10,316 hectares, or more than a third of Whistler's total area of 27,114 hectares (up from 16.500 hectares following a boundary expansion approved in 2008).

They overlaid that map with property lines, including Crown land, and discovered that 502.8 hectares were already protected or protectively zoned. Of the remainder, the majority is Crown land and not available for any kind of permanent development, although some of the land will be managed as working forest by the Cheakamus Community Forest.

While the 502.8 hectares is only a quarter of the stated goal, there are a number of initiatives underway - including the Official Community Plan (OCP), Protected Areas Network (PAN) and biodiversity corridor planning, Cheakamus Community Forest planning and proposed ecological reserves - that will help the municipality protect additional lands in the next few years.

"This will continue on in time, despite the fact that it says '2010' in the name," explained Heather Beresford, environmental stewardship manager for the RMOW.

Beresford presented an update of the Whistler Biodiversity Challenge 2010 at the Dec. 7 regular council meeting, following an update from the Whistler Biodiversity project - a separate biodiversity inventory that is being managed by local ecologist Bob Brett. The project has increased the number of identified species of plants and animals to 2,553 from the 2004 total of 494, while also identifying 46 rare species and 152 non-native species.

The presentation listed some of the initiatives and opportunities that are currently on the table to increase the amount of protected area in Whistler:

• The analysis of land use identified two areas for ecological reserves - the Green Lake Ecological Reserve, which applies to a parcel of land between Whistler Secondary School and Edgewater, and the Alpha Creek Ecological Reserve between Millar's Pond and the Kadenwood Road.

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