Natural Environment

Chapter 7

What it’s about

Protecting, monitoring and restoring the natural environment in Whistler.

Whistler’s natural environment is one of the resort community’s greatest assets and residents and visitors continue to understand the need to protect its inherent values. A healthy natural environment in the Whistler valley not only provides a significant benefit for tourism, recreation and our quality of life, but supports local wildlife and ecosystems with its contiguous natural areas connecting all ecosystems within the broader landscape. Our residents are proud and passionate about the scenic beauty, clarity of the night sky and healthy environment in which we live and recognize the need for taking action to maintain it.

Whistler’s stewardship ethic drives land use policies and decisions that proactively consider climate change, and maintain connected, functioning ecosystems that provide high quality habitat for local wildlife species, beautiful landscapes and forested areas with reduced risk of wildfires. Sensitive ecosystems with high biodiversity values are protected through legal and policy tools. Native plants continue to thrive in the Whistler valley and invasive species are, wherever possible, eliminated and prevented.

As a result, the valley boasts clean water, good air quality, thriving wildlife and healthy, resilient forests in an interconnected and functioning landscape that also supports water filtration, stormwater management and flood protection.

Protecting Whistler’s natural beauty and environmental resources has been a priority since Whistler’s creation as a resort municipality. While Whistler’s natural areas and local biodiversity are challenged by land development, climate change, population and visitation increases, and the expanded area of recreational use by residents and visitors, the municipality is committed to mitigating the impacts and restoring habitats, where possible, by careful land management and better understanding of the species that live here.

To track trends and take action as necessary, the municipality monitors and manages environmental parameters in the Whistler valley, such as water quality, sensitive ecosystemsspecies at risk and other environmental issues. Monitoring results have led to actions such as the geese management program, which was introduced to reduce negative impacts on lake water quality, and the significant efforts initiated to minimize air quality impacts from increased transportation emissions. Bears still hold a special place in the Whistler community, so the municipality and partners continue to work together to reduce human-bear conflict.

Climate modelling for the Community Energy and Climate Action Plan (CECAP) clearly shows that the Sea to Sky corridor will experience longer, hotter, drier summers in the future and that among other effects, wildfire risk to both the built and natural environment will increase. The municipality prioritizes wildfire management and places significant resources into fuel management, private property owner outreach through the FireSmart® program, and administrative policy and process improvements.

Protecting the environment, while accommodating tourism, housing, recreation and infrastructure development, is a priority for the community. Careful planning and implementation are required to protect the natural environment that underpins the sense of place that makes Whistler such a special community to live in and visit.

Click the ‘Objectives & Policies’ to display additional content.

7.1. Goal Whistler’s sensitive ecosystems, wildlife, habitat and biodiversity are protected, managed and restored.

7.1.1. Objective

Implement land development approaches that minimize negative impacts on the natural environment. Policy

Strive to concentrate any new development or human activities to the least environmentally sensitive lands. Policy

Minimize habitat fragmentation, while focusing on maintaining the interconnected components, functions and processes of local ecosystems. Policy

Wherever possible, link sensitive ecosystems, such as aquatic habitats, to parks, greenways or other natural areas to minimize habitat fragmentation. Policy

The provision of sufficient buildable area, and accessible and usable outdoor open space outside of riparian and other sensitive ecosystems, must be demonstrated at subdivision. Policy

Locate trails outside sensitive ecosystems, including riparian areas, but allow for trails in these areas when this use can be shown to be compatible with OCP policies and development permit guidelines, the Riparian Areas Regulation, Qualified Environmental Professional (QEP) recommendations, other relevant legislation and best management practices. Policy

Protect and, where possible, restore the habitats, hydrologic pathways and connectivity that sustain biodiversity, including green spaces, sensitive ecosystems and species and ecosystems at risk. Policy

During development or significant redevelopment, the preferred outcome is avoidance of negative environmental impacts, followed by minimization or mitigation, thirdly, by restoration and, lastly, by compensation for impacts. Policy

When considering landscape alterations, assess the cumulative environmental effects of the proposal at the larger scale and over time and use that information to consider project suitability, minimize negative environmental impacts and identify required environmental management. Policy

Refer to provincial guidelines, Develop with Care: Environmental Guidelines for Urban and Rural Land Development in British Columbia, for best management practices. Policy

Apply monitoring and evaluation of relevant environmental indicators against targets established to maintain the integrity of the natural environment and to reverse negative environmental trends. Policy

To promote long-term ecosystem integrity and human health, land use decision-making shall apply the Precautionary Principle. Policy

Reduce the use of night-time lighting and contain glare to retain the quality of the night sky, while meeting safety needs. Policy

Eliminate or manage chemicals, as appropriate, that are harmful to human and environmental health.

Text Box: The municipality will clearly identify its preference for avoiding negative environmental impacts and require a QEP to conduct an assessment in all significant development or redevelopment proposals. In determining whether to grant permit approval, the municipality shall determine whether less intrusive methods have been adequately evaluated and shown not to be feasible.

7.1.2. Objective

Regularly update policies, processes and bylaws regarding protection of Whistler’s natural environment. Policy

Identify, map and restore sensitive ecosystems including species and ecosystems at risk habitat to protect sufficient natural landscapes and increase community and ecological resilience. Policy

Explore a Priority Habitat Management Strategy that prioritizes connectivity and protects and manages sensitive ecosystems. Policy

Update the municipal GIS as new information on species and ecosystems at risksensitive ecosystems, recovery strategies, wildlife and habitat becomes available, and incorporate it into municipal processes. Policy

Manage species and ecosystems at risk according to provincial and federal regulations. In the absence of such regulations, develop Whistler-specific management approaches that provide protection. Policy

Investigate the application and integration of natural capital and municipal natural assets into the municipality’s asset management program to recognize and assign value to the role of ecosystem services in the functioning of Whistler’s infrastructure. Policy

Identify and prioritize the acquisition, where possible, of environmentally sensitive areas, including drinking water source areas, for addition to municipal natural area parks. Policy

Continue to regulate the non-essential and cosmetic use of pesticides to promote and protect the environment and public health.

7.1.3. Objective

Partner with others to protect the environment and wildlife. Policy

Work with the Lil’wat Nation, Squamish Nation, regional and senior governments, agencies and community organizations in the protection and management of sensitive ecosystems and habitat. Policy

Use the Protocol Agreement’s Working Committee to enhance dialogue with the Squamish Nation and Lil’wat Nation to help inform initiatives for the protection of the natural environment and consideration of the land use policies of the Nations. Policy

Recognize the Lil’wat Nation’s and Squamish Nation’s cultural, spiritual and recreational values associated with the natural environment. Policy

Continue to be a partner with the Squamish Nation and Lil’wat Nation in the Cheakamus Community Forest (CCF). Policy

Support sustainable forest harvesting using ecosystem-based management (EBM) in the CCF. Policy

Promote a stewardship ethic and awareness of environmental issues through ongoing public education. Policy

Continue to partner with and support the Sea to Sky Invasive Species Council.

7.1.4. Objective

Minimize human-wildlife conflict. Policy

In landscape plans requiring municipal approval, do not approve the bear attractant plants identified in Procedure P-5. Policy

Prefer development approaches and activities that reduce the potential for negatively affecting wildlife and wildlife habitat. Policy

Ensure that the municipal solid waste management system is inaccessible to wildlife. Policy

Collaborate with community partners to continue minimizing human-bear conflicts.

7.2. Goal Natural areas are proactively managed for and resilient to climate change.

7.2.1. Objective

Ensure municipal wildfire management programs reduce risk to natural areas and private properties. Policy

Update the Community Wildfire Protection Plan and related wildfire plans periodically and implement the recommendations. Policy

Reduce wildfire risk in the Wildland Urban Interface areas. Policy

Partner with provincial agencies and Whistler Blackcomb regarding wildfire fuel management and evacuation planning. Policy

Support residents in reducing wildfire risk on private property in alignment with FireSmart® Canada guidelines and consistent with other municipal priorities. Policy

Develop landscape level fuel breaks to provide defensible space to fight wildfires. Policy

Continue to seek provincial support and funding for Whistler’s wildfire management programs.

7.2.2. Objective

Manage, protect and restore native species, habitat and biodiversity in response to climate change forecasts and impacts. Policy

Deliver the adaptation objectives of the CECAP. Policy

Enhance natural resilience to climate change by reducing threats such as habitat fragmentation, degradation and destruction, eutrophication, pollution and the introduction of invasive species. Policy

Encourage the use of native plant species that minimize the necessity for significant watering as a means of protecting local biodiversity and adapting to climate change. Policy

Prohibit the use of invasive plant species and support eradication of existing invasive plants. Policy

Provide information to the public to deter the use of invasive species and encourage the removal of such species on private property. Policy

Identify and protect natural areas to mitigate flooding using revised municipal flood hazard and risk mapping that incorporates the CECAP climate change modelling. Policy

Maintain connectivity of natural landscapes to allow species the opportunity to shift to more suitable habitats, as climate change impacts are experienced.

Text Box: An invasive plant has the potential to pose undesirable or detrimental impacts on humans, animals or ecosystems. Invasive plants have the capacity to establish quickly and easily on both disturbed and undisturbed sites, and can cause widespread negative economic, social and environmental impacts. Second to habitat loss, invasive species have been identified as the most significant threat to biodiversity and are expected to expand their range due to climate change. Controlling invasive plant species in Whistler assists in protecting the natural environment that is integral to the success of our community.

7.3. Goal Water quality and quantity in local water bodies, streams and groundwater are protected.

7.3.1. Objective

Maintain water quality in Whistler’s water bodies and groundwater to provincial standards or better. Policy

Continue to monitor Whistler streams and lakes, compare results to local lake water quality objectives and take action to improve trends when necessary. Policy

Continue to monitor and implement best management practices in conjunction with Vancouver Coastal Health to protect Whistler’s surface and groundwater supply zones.

7.3.2. Objective

Maintain overland and in-stream water flows after development and significant redevelopment. Policy

Maintain natural stream channel alignments and riparian areas, unless a significant environmental benefit can be gained through alteration. Policy

Maintain pre- and post-development groundwater recharge and stream base flow rates. Policy

Evaluate the use of the Water Balance Model or other appropriate model as a land use decision-making tool for assessing effects of development on streams and the watershed. Policy

Require a stormwater management plan for development and significant redevelopment that balances pre- and post-development surface flows. Policy

Manage access to watersheds used for municipal water supply, and seek cooperation from relevant agencies and stakeholders to comply with access restrictions.

7.4. Goal Air quality is protected.

7.4.1. Objective

Maintain Whistler’s air quality so that it exceeds provincial guidelines. Policy

Take actions to reduce particulates and other emissions from transportation, industry, building heating and other human-created sources. Policy

Continue to partner with Sea to Sky corridor communities, provincial agencies and other relevant bodies in planning and implementing the Sea-to-Sky Air Quality Management Plan and other air quality improvements. Policy

Provide regular air quality monitoring and take action if trends are moving away from targets, goals and objectives.

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