Skip to content

Kitimat Valley naturalists renew call for district biologist

Councillor Martin developing new motion to address environmental initiatives after previous proposal was defeated
A humpback whale emerges from the Douglas Channel. The Kitimat Valley Naturalists are appealing to council to revisit the possibility of keeping a biologist on staff to help the district in planning and decision-making. (File photo)

The Kitimat Valley Naturalists are urging district council to reconsider a previously defeated motion for appointing a district biologist to assist with planning and development decisions. This appeal was made in a letter to council on June 3, emphasizing the need for local expertise in safeguarding the natural environment.

“Although Federal and Provincial Governments have what may appear to be stringent environmental protections when large and medium-sized industries are proposed and developed, it would be a mistake to assume that local governance should not play an important role in assisting broader governance bodies in understanding the local environment,” stated the letter.

On April 29, Councillor Martins had proposed the hiring of a biologist or similar specialist be added to the 2024 budget, through the Ecological Reserve Fund. Martins, who said she is pro industry, called it hypocritical that council routinely criticizes provincial and federal decision-making on local issues, but when it comes to the environment council steps back and allows higher government to call the shots. 

Councillor Gerry Leibel was the only other councillor supporting the motion.

Council had discussed the issue at length. Councillor Mario Feldhoff said, along with all other councillors against the motion, that he wasn't against the environment and believed this council does act in its interest, but felt it was ineffective for the district to micromanage industry when federal and provincial have systems in place to manage it much more effectively.

In their letter to council, KVN highlighted past instances where council decisions, such as a proposed development in the Goose Creek/Duck Creek wetlands area, lacked sufficient environmental insight. The presence of a district biologist could have provided valuable guidance in such sensitive areas, potentially avoiding detrimental impacts.

“While we recognize that local governments have a plethora of issues to manage, and satisfying competing stakeholder interests is not easy, today, one of the most important and challenging areas is managing land use decisions while protecting our environment,” the letter continued.

They pointed out in the letter that the Global Biodiversity Framework was adopted in 2022, and Canada has committed to stopping and reversing biodiversity loss. The Framework and Canada’s recognition of everyone’s right to a healthy environment highlight the importance of local actions in protecting nature. Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs), identified using international standards, are essential, they wrote, for preserving biodiversity and should be included in local planning decisions.

The group also noted that Kitimat's current strategies and plans already focus on protecting the environment, which should hypothetically support the inclusion of a staff biologist. They mentioned the Official Community Plan (OCP), the 10-year Leisure Plan, the Community Energy and Emissions Plan, and the Economic Development Strategy as examples.The KVN stressed that including a biologist in these plans would ensure ongoing monitoring and protection of vital ecosystems.

The naturalists urged council to reconsider Councillor Martin's motion. They also suggested the formation of an Environmental Planning Commission to assist in making informed recommendations on environmental matters.

Councillor Michelle Martin was the lone voice to address the letter at the June 3 regular council meeting. She thanked the Kitimat Valley Naturalists for supporting her motion and “the work they’ve tirelessly done for free,” adding that the workload is like holding a second full-time job without pay.

She informed council she was working with staff to bring forward another motion related to environmental initiatives and asked them to consider the ramifications of environmental inaction. “Again, I ask my colleagues to think about what it looks like to them to meet me in the middle. I am open to compromise because what I don't want to happen is inaction, or very little action, which is happening.”

“I implore everyone at this table to work with me towards a more balanced approach.

"I just want to say that I'm not trying to throw my weight around, but I do have considerable experience in the environmental sector. So if I, along with our local environmental groups, are reiterating that more action needs to occur, are we not obligated as municipal government to address these concerns?”

About the Author: Quinn Bender

Read more