Tzeachten First Nation (Tzeachten) is a member of the Sto:lo Nation with a relatively small land base of 284 hectares, located within the bounds of the municipality of Chilliwack, British Columbia. A small community of 662 members, over 55% of Tzeachten members live off reserve due to the lack of available housing. In response to a housing crisis for community members, initial pre-development environmental assessments were undertaken in 2010 which identified the Schedule 1 endangered species, Oregon forestsnail.
Oregon forestsnail is a member of a large, diverse family of North American land snails, of which only 66 breeding sites are known to occur in British Columbia. This species has seen a significant decline, largely due to land development causing fragmentation of suitable habitat.
The federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) came into force in 2004 which applies to both federal lands and federal jurisdictions, including First Nation reserves. SARA makes it an offence to kill, harm, or harass individuals, damage or destroy residences, or destroy critical habitat for a listed species. As a known site for Oregon forestsnail, the lot identified for member housing was identified as critical habitat in the 2016 federal Recovery Strategy, legally protecting both the snails and their residences on the proposed development site.
After initially hitting a roadblock when applying for a SARA permit in 2010, Tzeachten and Dillon partnered in 2013, undertaking extensive studies on the snail population, working with federal and provincial regulators, community groups, and other stakeholders throughout the process. This project is both a conservation win for a critically imperilled species and a success story of a decade-long journey to help Tzeachten bring their members home.
Dillon was engaged in 2013 to undertake species at risk assessments, focusing on Oregon forestsnail to assist Tzeachten in navigating the SARA regulatory process. Since 2013, Dillon has completed the following environmental assessments to fully characterize and quantify habitat on the proposed development site:
- Habitat suitability modelling which included detailed stinging nettle stem counts, identification of mature bigleaf maple trees, leaf litter and soil characterization, and detailed vegetation plots;
- Presence / not detect surveys including a mark-recapture program to tag and translocate Oregon forestsnail;
- Population relative abundance surveys; and
- Critical Habitat mapping.
In August 2017, Tzeachten, Dillon, and Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) negotiated a Section 11 Conservation Agreement that addressed the land development issues while meeting the conservation needs of this endangered species. This is a significant feat considering there are only a handful of executed Conservation Agreements in Canada, all of which are for caribou! The Conservation Agreement contained a thoughtful, detailed plan to conserve a portion of the small lot which amounted to 7% of the developable area that would be set aside as an Ecologically Protected Area in perpetuity. Further, a detailed offsetting plan was prepared to counterbalance residual impacts of land clearing which included an extensive habitat enhancement plan for both on-reserve and at an off-site location. An enhancement site was identified at the Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve, a 130-hectare nature reserve along the Vedder River in Chilliwack. This provided an opportunity to connect existing Oregon forestsnail habitat with high potential habitat in an area that is also off-limits to the public.
After over five years of baseline studies, extensive consultation with ECCC, the Ministry of Environment, the City of Chilliwack, and other stakeholders, a Section 73 SARA permit to clear land and conduct a snail salvage and translocation program was granted for the project.
Highlights of the restoration and enhancement program:
- 7% (828 m2) of the developable area was set aside as an Ecologically Protected Area to be protected in perpetuity;
- Retention of mature bigleaf maple trees;
- No net loss of habitat as a result of the development;
- Off-site enhancement area created at the Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve;
- Removal of invasive plant species both within the on-site Conservation Area and the off-site enhancement area;
- Planting of over 8,000 stinging nettle plants and 30 bigleaf maple trees for gastropods to feast on for years to come; and
- Long-term monitoring to assess snail populations and the efficacy of habitat enhancement measures.
- Environmental Managers Association of British Columbia, Members Choice Award, 2019