Wetlands in British Columbia. A primer for Local Governments Summary AC

Introduction and Background

This report has been developed by the Wetland Stewardship Partnership (WSP), a mulch-agency group concerned for the conservation and protection of wetlands in BC. This report was created to educate and instruct on the reasons why wetlands should be protected and their use in the overall ecological system, as well as economical and social. The Primer also includes different legislation and policies that are put in place and used by BC for wetland conservation and protection. The Primer is related to WSP ‘s Green Bylaws Toolkit that incorporates the many ways local governments can do to serve and protect wetlands in their area.

Wetland protection and conservation is nothing new, 40 years ago several countries , 159 to this day, came together at The Ramsar Convention for the international commitment to the ecological protection of wetlands. Wetlands are defined as part of lands which are saturated in water ( either permanently or partially) long enough to form excess water and have low oxygen levels. Wetlands come in five different forms: fens, bogs,swamps, marshes and shallow open waters (e.g. Ponds). Wetlands play an important part in the water cycle. If destroyed or damaged the water cycle is broken and can cause serious damages on human and wildlife populations.

Governmental Protection and types of Jurisdiction

If we fail to protect forests and wetlands, if we do not manage soils with precaution, water will disappear. We can build all the water pipes and treatment plants we want; there will be nothing to drain or clean

Wetlands are an important economical and social source for the land and communities. As stated by the World Conservation Strategy wetlands are one of the three most important life system in the world. They play an important part for the community in providing quality drinking water, flood and erosion control, as well as providing wildlife habitat providing food for the local communities and wildlife. Additionally, during wet season they soak water up, avoiding floods, during the drier seasons they provide underwater/ groundwater reserve for the different plants across the area. The report refers to wetlands as “Mother Nature’s kidneys” as they filter toxin and waste, so that the downstream waters are high quality water. The study also argues that they remove bacterias such as coliform bacteria.

Retaining natural wetlands can avoid the ironic situation where, after decades of draining and filling wetlands, communities are having to build expensive artificial wetlands to fulfill the pollution-cleansing and hydrological functions of the original wetlands.

Wetlands are also home to wildlife species all year round, including migratory birds, besides food and shelter. Around 50% of North American wildlife species rely at least once in their lifetime on food and shelter provided by wetlands. 500 species of plants and animals are associated to BC’s wetlands and 70 of them are considered endangered. The majority of BC’s fish production is found in its wetlands, additionally,  estuaries and coastal wetlands provide a transition between fresh and salt water for fish. As stated before, wetlands are a major component for bird habitats and a good example for this is Robert Bank Wetland in which it is an obligatory migratory passage for Western Sandpipers from South Africa to Alaska; if anything would to happen to that wetland the result would be catastrophic for Sandpiper populations.

Wetlands have also gained influence in the recreational area and provide high income, with non-consumptive activities such as wildlife viewing, swimming, photography and bird-watching. They are also used for educational purposes for schools; with the recession in the last years, school trips have not be able to take place as much and as far as possible, so as an alternative outdoor classrooms like wetlands became popular. Therefore, wetlands are being constructed on or near school properties. Moreover, scientific research can be done to fill in the information gaps and study the plants that once remained in the wetlands, helping to understand climate change.

Wetlands are also helpful for agricultural purposes, such as cranberry cultivation or shellfish. Conservation agencies have been working for a few years with farmers to protect and conserve wetland in the agricultural landscape of BC.

Furthermore, wetlands are essential to help with climate change, with a potential to keep control of and manage it. Wetlands act as ‘carbon sinks’ and retain around  20-25% of the earth’s carbon, while only covering 3% of the earth’s water source. With the effect of climate change on weather, it would be essential to keep wetlands. In a dry and arid season it will provide water and humidity, and during storms or very wet season it will protect areas from flooding. Wetlands are not just important of the present but also for the future.

Wetlands are also extremely valuable areas for economical savings in the communities, by having wetlands the region can save money in the construction of dams and storm sewer structures.

Loss and Wetland Protection through Jurisdiction

Around half of the world’s wetlands have been destroyed, in BC many have been destroyed for industrial, agricultural and housing purposes, leaving approximately 5.6% of them remaining. The Federal Policy on Wetland Conservation was established in 1991 after the Ramsar Convention in order to help protect and conserve wetlands in Canada. BC has it’s own provincial water strategy released in 2008 called  Living Water Smart.  This strategy includes the rehabilitation and protection of all wetlands in BC as well as the enticement of the government in developing areas that can store greenhouse gases with the restoration of streams and wetlands.

Our streams, lakes, and wetlands must stay healthy and function as nature intended, if water is to continue providing its riches forever.

Living Water Smart

On a local level, many local communities have taken initiative to develop and implement wetland protection, such as development free areas near fish bearing wetlands. Development Permit Area (DPA) and guideline information were implemented. Many communities feel the need to participate in wetland protection and conservation helping the various wetland areas. Therefore the WSP has created and advertised the Green Bylaws Toolkit, to help many local government with planning and managing restoration, conservation and protection of wetlands.


To conclude, The Primer from the WSP is related to the Green Bylaws Toolkit and is focused on helping local governments fighting through implementations of regulations and policies, as well as laws concerning the protection of BC’s wetlands.

Fish and Riparian Habitat in:

  • Source Wetland Stewardship Partnership. 2010. Wetlands in British Columbia: A Primer for Local Governments. Wetland Stewardship Partnership. 19 p. Available at : https://bcwetlandsca.files.wordpress.com/2016/11/wetlandprimer_wsp_2010.pdf [Accessed 03/2021].