It is 36.69 hectares (90.66 acres) of Squamish land that is protected — forever.
The Land Conservancy of British Columbia (TLC) — a non-profit charitable organization — and the District this week announced the creation of Garibaldi Springs Ecological Reserve — a conservation area near the Garibaldi Springs development on the former golf course property.
Polygon Developments Ltd. dedicated the land on its property to the District for conservation.
The company is also responsible for habitat restoration on the land under plans approved by the District, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) and provincial government for the next five years.
Under the conservation agreement, the District and TLC are joint signatories to a conservation covenant registered on land title to protect the Garibaldi Springs land.
While the announcement may surprise some in town, it has been in the works for 18 months, under the former mayor, through to the current mayor and council.
Cathy Armstrong, executive director of the TLC, told The Squamish Chief that the District first reached out to the organization about 18 months ago, to see if it would partner on this project.
After some analysis of the proposal, Armstrong and other TLC staff came out and walked the site with then-mayor Karen Elliott and a representative from Polygon, among others, she said.
"Then I took it to my board and got a motion to support — because the financial part was in place. We require support financially to take on this kind of a responsibility. And that was offered up and agreed to between ourselves, Polygon and the District. And so our board supported it," she said.
"This is really exciting for us. And it's also interesting, as a model, to show how a golf course can be put back to a natural state; I think it's really exciting to be part of that and see how that works. Because I think it could be used in other parts of the province, if not the country."
Including this one, TLC holds, monitors, and enforces more than 250 covenants in B.C., including one other in Squamish — 7.18 hectares located on the Squamish Mamquam Blind Channel.
These covenants are legal agreements between a landowner and an eligible conservation covenant holder such as the Land Conservancy of B.C.
The covenant remains with the land in perpetuity and protects against the destruction of natural features and habitat fragmentation.
Covenant holders enforce the terms of the covenant, forever more.
"We are the eyes and ears, meaning that the developer and any future owners have to abide by the original agreement," said Armstrong of the TLC's role.
"The protection is on title, meaning that any owner of that property, no matter what the future brings, and the owner of that property must abide by the restrictions placed."
It is a big commitment, Armstrong stressed.
Staff from the TLC will walk the property every year to ensure what was promised is happening.
"We're looking at a proactive way, not in a policing way, but we're looking to keep the process moving and ensure the community that there's somebody watching that process."
According to a news release, the Garibaldi Spring conservation area includes aquatic and riparian habitat and previously disturbed areas that will be restored to wetland, riparian, and forested upland habitat.
The conservation area also contains creeks and wetlands that feed into the salmon-bearing Meighan Creek and the Squamish River via Harris Slough.
"The centrally located conservation area protects and expands critical habitat for provincially red-listed species," the release states.
Another plus of the agreement, according to Armstrong, is that there will be one main perimeter trail, not trails cutting through the sensitive habitat.
Red-listed species are those that are at risk of being lost. Those protected on this property include:
- Peregrine falcon
- Roell's brotherella Moss
- Pacific water shrew
Coastal species found on the property include:
- Western redcedar
- Western hemlock
- Douglas fir
- Shore/lodgepole pine
- Bigleaf maple
- Red alder
"The Garibaldi Springs Ecological Reserve and Park will benefit the entire community of Squamish, and this covenant will ensure its protection for all to enjoy, for many generations to come,” said Mayor Armand Hurford in the release. “As the District works to balance a range of objectives from providing housing within our growth management boundary to protecting greenspace, this project exemplifies how this can be achieved. We are appreciative of The Land Conservancy of British Columbia, Polygon and all those involved for their work in supporting conservation efforts in our community."
But what about no development on the land at all?
Polygon is building a large neighbourhood on four parcels of the land.
The dedication of this land was one of the amenities promised in order to get it built.
So, some locals are sure to ask if it wouldn't have been better not to have any of the land converted to housing, in the TLC's eyes.
Armstrong says that is not how they look at these things.
"Here's our position on development. As a generality, as a province, we have to densify in all human-impacted areas, because the more that we keep extending into the fringe — going beyond — cutting down trees, paving wetlands, moving up into areas that are not currently occupied, the more that we spread, the more that we impact," she said.
"As a general rule, we support, as an organization, densification in urban already-disturbed areas. So [with] this project in particular, we thought it was brilliant because the golf course was up for sale; it was privately held land. Many things could have happened, but your mayor and council were so ecologically in tune, bringing on Polygon — who is also a company sensitive to climate change and protecting natural areas — and then bringing us in so that we're all together working on a very large piece."
She added that development is on the edges of the conservation area on land that was the golf course.
"But it saves all of that central core, which is critical," she said, adding that housing is also a critical need in our region.
"I think it's a win-win for the community."