Save Mary’s Lake

There’s a campaign doing the rounds on Twitter (@SaveMaryLake) to save the pristine Mary’s Lake on Vancouver Island from development. Over the past few days over $100,000 has been raised towards the $1million initial target, partly resulting from the power of social networking sites. This is fantastic news for the campaign but for me it raises a number of issues.

Firstly, how pristine is the property? It is less than 2 miles from the edge of town and, looking at Google maps below, the site is bounded to the south by an area of felled forest, cleared to construct and maintain power lines, to the east by Millstream Road and to the North by widely spaced, rather grand looking residential houses, so the site is not well connected to other untouched areas. Connection to the nearby Gowlland Tod Provincial Park would be along trails through existing housing developments. Further, the trail network in the property combined with the proximity to Victoria would lead me to suspect that there would be a lot of human activity on the property which would influence the behaviour of wildlife.

Secondly, at $10 per square metre it is very expensive (£50 (C$80) will pay for protection of 1 acre (4040 square metres) of tropical rainforest – that is 5000 times the cost! This is because the value of the site is determined by high end real estate values rather than logging value. If the property were to be developed in a similar manner as that to the north, perhaps 10-20% of the forested area would be lost, therefore a premium is being paid to save only a small percentage of forest. The money spent on conserving this area could benefit much larger areas further from the city and have a greater overall benefit, for example, residents of Knoydart in Scotland bought out the 17,000 acre estate for £750,000.

And finally, how many more Lake Mary’s are lost around the world every year? As cities around the world continue to grow, undeveloped wilderness is the first to go, but the pressure for development is so great that these local issues are lost. It is fantastic that the local people can get behind this scheme and make it happen but it is really a local issue. The old mantra of the green movement – “Think global, act local” is being turned on its head by the internet: “Think local, act global”.

In the case of Lake Mary, could a compromise solution not be found? One where the conservationists work with the planning authorities to restrict development in critical areas, for example by limiting further development along the lake shore, to ensure that the developments have minimal impact and to ensure that the established paths can be maintained for recreational use. I have seen this approach work successfully to force developers to manage, maintain and improve habitats as part of their development. If the Canadian planning system does not permit this type of regulation, then perhaps the developer could be engaged to implement these measures at a fraction of the cost of buying the whole site.

I do wish Mary Lake Conservancy every success in their efforts to save the forest and lake ecosystem, whether through buying out the lake or through negotiating other safeguards as suggested above.

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