“The purpose of land use planning is to guide land and resource management decision makers to regulate the use of land in consideration of the needs of communities, the economy, and the environment.”

Hemmera’s Social Sciences Practice Lead, Nina Barton, was asked to attend an expert elicitation workshop on changes to BC’s guidance for Socio-economic and Environmental Assessments (SEEA) for provincial land use plans. SEEA are conducted to assess how implementing a land use plan will affect people, communities, the economy, and ecosystems in the plan area. The workshop was hosted in Victoria by the BC Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD).

The updated SEAA guidance will address a range of critically important considerations including climate change, Indigenous interests and cumulative effects. Hemmera has the expertise to support clients with SEEA, whether for land use plans alone or for projects that require environmental impact assessment.

Land Use Planning in BC: A Brief History

The purpose of land use planning is to guide land and resource management decision makers to regulate the use of land in consideration of the needs of communities, the economy, and the environment. Most of BC’s land area (about 94%) is Crown or public land; however, before the 1990s, most resource management decisions in BC were on a valley-by-valley basis and were made to resolve specific land use conflicts. The Province initiated a comprehensive, large-scale planning process in the 1990s that used a consensus-driven model. The main goals of land use planning at the time were to increase protected areas across BC while maintaining the economic stability of resource industries. By the early 2000s, higher-level, regional Land and Resource Management Plans (LRMP) covered more than 90% of the provincial land base. Many sub-regional, component-based planning processes were also conducted for smaller areas or specific issues, such as management plans for community watersheds or establishment of wildlife habitat areas.

Modernized Land Use Planning

In 2017, FLNRORD and the Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation (MIRR) launched a revitalized approach to land use planning called Modernized Land Use Planning. They recognized that previous land use planning processes had generally lacked First Nation involvement, consistent monitoring programs, and mechanisms for legal enforcement. Other important issues identified included water sustainability, socio-economic stability for rural communities, and climate change implications for land use.

Since 2017, the Province has engaged with Indigenous groups to identify critical areas for updated planning, and several pilot projects to update LRMPs are now in progress. The new approach to land use planning is designed as a government-to-government approach between Indigenous groups, FLNRORD, and MIRR. There is also close communication between the two ministries and the BC Environmental Assessment Office – updated SEEA guidance will be aligned, where appropriate, with the approach to environmental assessments set out in the new BC Environmental Assessment Act (2018).

Revitalizing SEEA

The existing (2007) guidance for SEEA uses Multiple Accounts Analysis (MAA) to identify and characterize the effects of proposed land uses on selected economic, social, and environmental indicators that have been identified as relevant to the plan area. The MAA approach compares the outcomes of indicators under a base case scenario and as a result of plan implementation. Key indicators listed in the existing SEEA guidance focus mainly on economic activities and ecological risks.

The updated SEEA guidance will need to also fully consider new challenges, including:

  • The ever-increasing complexity of factors affecting the land and water, e.g., climate change effects and species-at-risk management
  • Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples: BC’s recent implementation of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act and adoption of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action
  • The role of Indigenous knowledge in land use plans
  • Increasing demand on resources, coupled with the need to balance various and sometimes conflicting social, economic, cultural and environmental objectives
  • How to facilitate the meaningful participation of communities and stakeholders
  • Differential effects for vulnerable sub-populations
  • Cumulative effects.

Implications of the Updated SEEA Guidance for Client Projects

It is no coincidence that the modern challenges of land use planning are also key areas of focus in the new BC and federal guidance for environmental impact assessment of major projects. The revitalized approach to the socio-economic assessment of land use planning is being designed to be responsive to people and communities, by providing more opportunities for meaningful engagement and increasing the transparency of the assessment and planning processes. Greater transparency and increased opportunities for meaningful engagement can lead to greater public trust in land use decisions and greater certainty for clients who may be planning projects.

At Hemmera, our team of socio-economic practitioners and land use specialists are participating directly with the Province to develop new guidance for socio-economic assessment under changing regulatory frameworks. We have the experience and expertise to lead SEEA of land use plans and to help our clients be aware of the implications of updates to land use plans as they consider new projects, including those that may require not only land use planning but also environmental impact assessment.

About the author
Nina Barton is a Practice Leader in Social Sciences with over 15 years of diverse experience working in natural resource management in western Canada.