ELC to Draft Model Wetlands Law

Ducks Unlimited Canada has asked the Environmental Law Clinic to draft Model Local Government Legislation to protect wetlands. In a major initiative, students Linnsie Clark, Elisabeth Gronnestad and others will collaborate with Legal Director Calvin Sandborn and Municipal Law Professor Deborah Curran to produce the Model Legislation.

Wetlands are a critical component of our natural heritage. The World Conservation Strategy identifies wetlands as the third most important life support system on the planet, after agricultural lands and forests. Wetlands are important because:

  • They provide critical habitat for birds and other wildlife. At the interface of land and water, wetlands are among the most biologically productive types of habitats.
  • They provide critical fish habitat. More than half of BC’s commercial fish depend on wetlands at some stage of their lives.
  • Wetlands are Mother Nature’s kidneys — they filter pollutants out of the waters of lakes, rivers and streams.
  • They aid in flood control, and ease drought. Like giant sponges, wetlands soak up rain and snowmelt, and release water in drier seasons.
  • They provide educational and recreational opportunities to observe birds and other wildlife, and provide hunting and fishing opportunities.

Yet, wetlands in BC are disappearing. Seventy-five percent of the Fraser River Delta wetlands have already been lost, as have 70% of the wetlands in the Victoria region. The recent building boom is a major threat to the remaining wetlands in the province.

Local governments have a major role to play in protecting such wetlands, yet few BC local governments have addressed the issue comprehensively. The ELC project will produce a comprehensive package of materials that local governments can easily adapt and enact. It is anticipated that the Model Legislation will be a major step forward in protecting wetlands across BC.


In order to increase the likelihood of implementation of the Model Legislation, the ELC will be consulting extensively with key municipalities, the Union of British Columbia Municipalities, experts, and others regarding the optimum form of the legislation. These consultations will also be used to address concerns and identify any obstacles to implementation that wetlands legislation might encounter.

After the legislation has been prepared, it will be presented to local governments with an informative backgrounder that will explain how the legislation would work. The backgrounder will also identify the economic, social and environmental benefits of adopting the legislation. The ELC will formally present the Model Legislation and backgrounder to the Union of BC Municipalities at their convention in September. The package will also be presented to the Councils of key municipalities.

In recognition of the fact that public support is necessary in order to get local governments to adopt any legislation, the ELC will also do public education work on the issue — to inform British Columbia citizens of the economic, social and environmental benefits of protecting wetlands through legislation.

The Real Estate Foundation of BC has made a generous contribution to enable this conservation work to proceed.

Model Local Government Legislation to Protect Grasslands

The Grasslands Conservation Council of British Columbia has asked the Environmental Law Clinic to develop similar Model Local Government Legislation to protect grasslands. The ELC will be developing this grasslands legislation in concert with the wetlands project it is doing for Ducks Unlimited. Student Kate Hamm will be working with Professors Sandborn and Curran on this project.

Grasslands are rare, unique, life-sustaining ecosystems that house a great diversity of plants, animals and insects. More than 30% of British Columbia’s threatened or endangered species depend on grasslands for their survival. BC’s grasslands represent less than 1 percent of the provincial land base and are one of Canada’s most endangered ecosystems. In fact, “ancient” grasslands are even more endangered in BC than are old growth forests.