Sensitive Habitat Stewardship Strategies - A Comox Valley Perspective Comox Valley Project Watershed Society Don Chamberlain, Program Co-ordinator Ph: 250-703-2871, Fax: 250-703-2872,

British Columbia's coastal communities are undertaking their own sensitive habitat inventory and mapping projects at an unprecedented rate. Communities are gearing efforts toward salmon streams, wetlands and coastal areas. Standard methodologies for inventory and mapping have been developed for all three of these habitat types, although stream mapping has received the most attention. Pressure on coastal salmon stocks, wetlands, and rare ecosystems from habitat modifications in settled areas is the main driving force behind the inventory and mapping activities. Community groups, in partnership with municipal governments perform most of the habitat data collection and mapping in developed areas. Projects are conducted to ensure that the data can be available to meet the needs of municipal land-use planners and volunteer stewardship groups and be accessible to the community at large. The Comox Valley region, on the East Coast of Vancouver Island has been at the leading edge of participation in a series of Sensitive Habitat Stewardship projects that are engaging many sectors of the community.

Project Watershed Society’s Mandate:
Established in 1993 to operate in the watersheds of the Comox Valley, from Oyster River to Deep Bay Creek, the Project Watershed Society seeks to “encourage people of all ages and cultures to become involved in community stewardship of watersheds”. During its brief seven-year history, the society has been building numerous partnerships among community organizations, citizens, industry and all levels of government in an effort to address its mission statement of: “promoting community stewardship of Comox Valley watersheds through education, information and action”.

Comox Valley Bioregion


Project Watershed is recognized locally and internationally for its ability to provide technical expertise, its ability to create ‘watershed wisdom’ among community members, and for its ability to involve volunteers in a diverse array of stewardship programs. By promoting a community approach to watershed stewardship, Project Watershed is able to serve a population with a diversity of interests: resource industries and their workers, private landowners, concerned residents, conservationists, and many other special interest groups. We are non-partisan and seek to involve and include the broadest possible sector of the community in our projects.

Sensitive Habitat Stewardship Strategies:
Community Partnership Strategies
Local volunteers are involved in our project both at the project advisory level and as skilled Streamkeepers working side by side with qualified technicians and biologists. The databases, GIS, static maps and reports generated are also utilized in our Project Watershed’s own stewardship projects and by Streamkeepers groups for community awareness raising and for watershed restoration and protection planning. We help local groups promote stewardship in their watershed by creating public display materials and assisting with community meeting facilitation and group formation. Project Watershed provides accurate watercourse and wetland mapping data for regional planning purposes. Sensitive habitat data is presented in completed GIS formats to planners and engineers working in regional and municipal governments. The information has been used in some instances and is expected to be more in the future for development of Official Community Plan’s, Development Permit Area designations, Liquid Waste Management Plans, Greenways Plans, and Watershed Management Plans. Our project advisors consist of government agency representatives, GIS experts, biologists, naturalists and streamkeepers. These people assist us in priority setting for watershed mapping projects, partnership development, and information dissemination and provide professional advice and project evaluation information.

Mapping/Inventory Strategies
• • • • • • • Surveys are conducted in areas of past or future urban development pressure. Volunteers assist technical staff in field surveys and information dissemination. An Advisory Committee provides continual direction and priority setting advice. Strategic planning is conducted every six months. Data collection and products are tailored to meet individual project partners’ needs. Crews act as a team to allow mentoring of newcomers and sharing in problem solving. Provincially developed standard methods for generating GIS ready sensitive habitat data are used. "Sensitive Habitat Inventory and Mapping" (SHIM) procedures have been developed for community use through a partnership involving staff from Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Provincial Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks, and several community groups including Project Watershed Society. The accuracy of the linework generated from SHIM methods (using Trimble Pathfinder Pro GPS technology) is within 5m with a 95% confidence limit.

GIS / Database Management Strategies
• All technical staff utilize Microsoft Excel and Microsoft Access database entry tools and Arcview  GIS software to process and review their own field data. An internal Quality Assurance and Quality Control Program in place. Government partners operate separate QA/QC programs Survey crews, to document findings, generate static maps and narrative reports. A separate Landowner Contact Database is used for storing confidential and anecdotal information gathered.

• • • •

Landowner Stewardship Strategies
Building on the landowner contact process and data collected from the Mapping and Inventory field work, our Landowner Stewardship Program provides us with an opportunity to present detailed mapping and feature information collected during our surveys to landowners. At this time we also provide private land stewardship information and advice. This outreach approach facilitates streamkeeper group formation and growth, allows us to gather additional information (historical, anecdotal, etc.), and promotes stream networking among neighbours.

Sensitive Habitat Stewardship Products
Planning Maps
The Comox Valley Sensitive Habitat Atlas produced by regional, provincial and federal government for Development Permit Areas designation utilises sensitive habitat data generated in Project Watershed's community based GIS.

Liquid Waste Management Plans
The Village of Cumberland developed their Phase 1 Liquid Waste Management Plan using our GIS data. Flow data, watercourse and wetland locations, sensitive habitat classifications and channel configuration information was utilized.

Stream Survey Summary Reports and Maps
Project Watershed creates a special report and map for each stream surveyed. The map shows new stream and wetland location information, fish species distribution and annotations of special features. The report is a narrative summary of overview information describing: • watercourse locations, • general condition of each stream segment and wetland surveyed, • issues with landowner contact, • restoration/rehabilitation opportunities, • priority opportunities for local Streamkeepers, and, • additional mapping/inventory needs.

GIS Databases
Using readily updateable databases and an interactive GIS interface tool that our trained staff can operate, we are able to view, compile and analyse data spatially and produce map products tailored for the many and varied needs of our community partners.

GIS Database

Internet Maps with Orthophotos
• • • • • User-friendly access to geo-referenced data. It is dynamic in nature and can produce a product tailored by a user for their particular need. Potentially very useful as an Internet interface for public access to georeferenced community databases. Potential for Internet accesses with pan and zoom and ability to toggle on and off different layers as desired. Generates ‘living documents’ lifted from dynamic databases as needed. Data is readily accessible and free to the public.

Non-GIS Databases
We use dynamic, readily accessible databases, for data entry and management. It is difficult or impossible to visualize data spatially in this format. Information in these databases is georeferenced and imported to our GIS.

Project Watershed uses the information it gets from it's sensitive habitat surveys to launch a series of follow-up landowner contact projects. In these watershed specific projects we disseminate information gathered and work more closely with interested landowners on more detailed sensitive habitats inventory and provide stewardship advice. We produce a user-friendly, issueor area specific, brochure and map for promoting public awareness and generating dialogue on sensitive habitat stewardship principles and practices.

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