Eagle Credit Melanie Leeson

Good News Story #2: Public Access to Public Information and Preserving Sensitive Estuary Lands

Good News Stories: Celebrating Positive Changes in Environmental Law

As part of our 25th Anniversary celebration, we’re sharing a series of Good News Stories that were inspired by the 2021 Research-a-thon. The goal of Research-a-thon 2021 was to share stories of positive change in public interest environmental law. The exercise virtually brought together students with environmental leaders who shared stories about public interest environmental successes, many of them involving ELC work. The topic was inspired in part by Filipino lawyer Antonio Oposa Jr., who spearheaded the Good Stories Movement with the intent of providing hope and inspiration to those who sometimes feel like environmental changes are not happening quickly enough (or at all.)

When the time is right, we’ll meet in person to celebration 25+ years of training the next generation of public interest environmental lawyers and providing legal assistance to communities across BC. Until then, we hope you can share our celebratory spirit through these stories.

What is a Research-a-thon?

The Research-a-thon is a one-day event planned by law students in collaboration with the Law Library and the ELC. Student volunteers gather together for a short but intense period of time to generate high-quality research in support of a public interest environmental law issue in BC.




ELC client Denise Foster of Save Estuary Land Society shares how the ELC’s involvement in her group’s concern over a local estuary was the catalyst to community involvement and protection of a vital ecosystem.

When added to the existing five acres, it will conserve an incredibly rich, 23-acre nature preserve protecting three sensitive ecosystems, two salmon bearing creeks, wetlands and 19 identified species at risk.

Denise Foster, Save Estuary Land Society

Located on the east coast of Central Vancouver Island, within the UNESCO Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Region, the French Creek Estuary is a sensitive ecosystem with mature second growth Coastal Douglas fir forest, marshes, wetlands, ponds, habitat for numerous wildlife and plants, and two rivers, one with a significant salmon run.

Given its ecological significance, members of Save Estuary Land Society (SELS) were naturally concerned about potential impacts to the area when they learned about a proposed development on the estuary. But it was the local government’s refusal to release the plan’s environmental assessment that brought the group to the ELC for help in the spring of 2019.

“Today, we’re enjoying working cooperatively with the property owner,” says SELS spokesperson Denise Foster. “Back when we came to the ELC, we were concerned about a large, proposed development plan that would significantly impact the French Creek Estuary, marsh and wetlands.” 

On behalf of SELS (formerly known as Save French Creek Estuary Land before becoming a registered charity in 2020), the ELC drafted a letter to the Regional District of Nanaimo. The submission requested the immediate release of the assessment based on section 25 of Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. Under the Act, public bodies must release information where its disclosure is clearly in the public interest, a requirement the ELC had long pushed to be put into practice. When concerned citizens have access to public documents in order to offer informed opinions, better community decisions are often made.

After receiving the letter (and some spotlight from a local news source), the District reversed its decision and released the environmental assessment to the group. The information helped SELS contribute to the community conversation as the District considered its final decision about the development.

“When the ELC offered their expertise to help us obtain a copy of the Bio-physical assessment contracted by a developer for French Creek Estuary land it was a game changer,” says Denise. “This was the first time the Regional District of Nanaimo had publicly released such documents, and it was widely covered by the press bringing attention to the estuary land and its high conservation value.”

The released document proved important. When reviewed, it revealed under-reporting of the area’s biodiversity.

“Having the opportunity for experts to review the Bio-Physical assessment is proving invaluable to the success of the campaign and the protection of this ecologically important area. And the catalyst provided by ELC has led us to collaborations with several organizations including the Nanaimo and Area Land Trust, Vancouver Island University, Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Region Research Institute, the Hancock Wildlife Foundation and others.”

The landowner is gifting over 12 acres of land to the preserve’s current five acres, and a coalition of community groups has so far raised $187,000 towards the $500K needed to purchase the remaining five acres of land.

“When added to the existing five acres, it will conserve an incredibly rich, 23-acre nature preserve protecting three sensitive ecosystems, two salmon bearing creeks, wetlands and 19 identified species at risk,” says Denise. 

The Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN) has indicated the land, which they may own with partners, would become a nature park, and the Nanaimo and Area Land Trust has offered to hold covenants to help ensure it remains that way.

SELS is committed to protecting the French Creek Reserve lands and hope to establish a Bald eagle preserve in the area.

“Long term we hope to connect historical channels on the property to French Creek to restore salmon habitat,” says Denise. “We are truly grateful to the ELC for their support and expertise and for giving this conservation effort real traction.”