Sunshine Coast Habitat Atlas

The Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD), in partnership with Fisheries and Oceans Canada (F&OC), has created a Habitat Atlas for the Sunshine Coast. The Habitat Atlas is a series of maps, covering the extent of the SCRD; from Langdale to Egmont and north past the top of Jervis Inlet. Each page of the Atlas contains a map illustrating a number of features, including: streams, roads, trails, land parcels, fish and wildlife habitat, parks and protected areas, watershed boundaries, and aerial photographs. Over 40 different categories, or “layers” of information have been collected. Each layer is stored on computer in a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) database at the SCRD office in Sechelt.

The database provides up-to-date information to planners, developers, government organizations, municipalities, First Nations, community organizations and local businesses, enabling them to make informed land use and stewardship decisions in support of the protection, enhancement, and restoration of fish habitat and sensitive ecosystems. This is an important initiative since fisheries are a significant economic and environmental resource for our community.

The Habitat Atlas is composed of a compilation of existing data and the collection of new data where gaps in information existed. These themes serve to identify the location of important habitat and it’s relation to other features.

The Atlas can help the organizations mentioned above by providing accurate mapping for enforcement of the Fish Protection Act (including the Streamside Protection Regulation), the Forest Practices Code, the Water Act, the Land Development Guidelines, and the Local Government Act. The Habitat Atlas also serves as an excellent tool for bringing community groups together by raising public awareness of important areas and generating support for their protection. Finally, the Habitat Atlas serves as a flagging device for identifying areas requiring enhancement and restoration.

Objectives

The primary objective of the Sunshine Coast Habitat Atlas initiative was:

• To publish and distribute an easy-to-use Habitat Atlas containing an up-to-date mapping and inventory     of aquatic and terrestrial habitat and fish species information for the Sunshine Coast.

In order to achieve this goal, the following secondary objectives were met:

• To develop, strengthen and maintain partnerships with government organizations, developers, First         Nations, community organizations and local businesses.
• To compile existing data, identify gaps in information, and collect new information to fill these gaps
• To engage in public outreach efforts to solicit input from interested parties, to generate project support     from the community and to foster data sharing.
• To provide a knowledge resource to assist preparation of local government regulations to protect and       maintain fish and wildlife habitat.

Process

The Sunshine Coast Habitat Atlas project resulted from a Smart Development Workshop held on the Sunshine Coast which provided a foundation for "next steps". Specifically, there was a requirement for more detailed, accurate and up-to-date information for use in the planning processes of the SCRD. These processes include:

• informing and educating the community about their natural resource assets,
• revising existing and developing new Official Community Plans,
• developing new Local Resource Management Plans,
• revising existing and developing new Watershed Management Plans,
• developing new FRBC Watershed Plans,
• conducting referrals, and
• implementing the Streamside Protection Regulation.

While the SCRD were considering methods for acquiring this information, there was an opportunity for a partnership with Fisheries & Oceans Canada (F&OC) Habitat Conservation & Stewardship Program (HCSP). F&OC provided examples of how other Regional Districts were fulfilling their data requirements with the creation of habitat atlases. The SCRD decided that creating a habitat atlas for the Sunshine Coast would provide a way to acquire, store and maintain the detailed and accurate information required for planning processes.

Actions

Many accomplishments have been made over the 3 year duration of the Sunshine Coast Habitat Atlas project. Highlights of these accomplishments are listed below.

• over 40 different categories or "layers" of information have been compiled;
• over 130 km's of streams have been surveyed with GPS Receivers by paid field crews;
• over 7 km's of streams and trails have been surveyed with GPS Receivers by volunteer field crews (21     volunteers participated);
• a Planning Sustainable Communities Workshop was held at Capilano College in April, 2002 and was     attended by 50 participants;
• a GPS training workshop was held at the SCRD office in August, 2002 and was attended by 22             participants;
• budget requirements were identified, funding sources were investigated, and applications were               submitted to 7 organizations, resulting in an additional $100,000 for the project;
• a project outreach strategy was created and implemented. Some of the key components of this             strategy were:
• partnerships were developed and maintained ,
• quarterly meetings of the Technical Steering Committee were held,
• numerous community presentations were made,
• newspaper articles were written and published,
• the project website was created and maintained,
• custom maps were created to meet the needs of the community,
• a project poster was created and distributed,
• a Habitat Atlas CD was created, and
• the Habitat Atlas Mapbook was created and distributed.

Challenges

One of the challenges faced by the project was obtaining existing digital information relevant to the Habitat Atlas. Once a dataset was located there were often many hurdles to be overcome before obtaining the information. Hurdles such as licensing issues, confidentiality, high costs, incomplete information, and a lack of resources to respond to and fill data requests.

Whenever possible, data sharing agreements were put in place to facilitate the sharing and/or exchange of information. Sometimes, data sharing agreements were not possible. This was the case with our first attempts to obtain TRIM maps data through a sharing agreement. However, during the second year of the project, TRIM was provided to the SCRD through a data sharing agreement as part of the Integrated Cadastral Initiative (ICI).

Results

At the end of the 3-year Habitat Atlas project, there are over 40 layers of information contained in the Habitat Atlas GIS database. The Habitat Atlas Mapbook has been published, the Mapbook CD is completed, and the project website is up and running. There are strong partnerships in place and many community groups have contributed spatial and anecdotal information to the Atlas. Data collection for over 130 km's of priority streams with a high-end Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver has been completed. Funding was generously supplied by F&OC, Fisheries Renewal BC (FsRBC), and the Urban Salmon Habitat Program (USHP). The field crew adhered to Resources Information Standards Committee (RISC) GPS data standards and followed the Sensitive Habitat Inventory and Mapping (SHIM) guidelines.

Next Steps

A long-term maintenance plan for the Habitat Atlas has been developed. The plan identifies the methods necessary to keep the information stored in the Habitat Atlas maintained and up-to-date. The long-term work requirements of the Sunshine Coast Habitat Atlas are:

• update and maintain the information stored in the Habitat Atlas GIS database,
• update Habitat Atlas Mapbook pages,
• update Habitat Atlas CD,
• update and maintain the Habitat Atlas Internet mapping website,
• conduct workshops for the Habitat Atlas Internet mapping website, and
• respond to information requests from the public.