British Columbia’s Forgotten Gems, its Ecological Reserves

Posted May 28, 2020 | Categories : 300,400,500,BC Parks,ER Proposals,First Nations,History,News,Reports |

By Jenny L. Feick, PhD

On May 4, 1971, the Government of British Columbia became the first jurisdiction in Canada to pass legislation to protect ecological reserves. May 2021 marks the 50th anniversary of the Ecological Reserves Act and regulations and the establishment of B.C.’s first ecological reserves. Ecological reserves are permanent sanctuaries, located throughout B.C., selected to preserve representative and special natural ecosystems, plant and animal species, features and phenomena. The principal uses of ecological reserves are for scientific research and educational purposes. Despite their small size[1], they protect exceptionally important features. They truly are the rare gems of B.C.’s protected areas system. Several ecological reserves protect examples of mountain ecosystems, and rare and endangered mountain-dwelling plant and animal species. Some of the ERs include parts of Mounts Derby, Elliott, Griffin, Maxwell, Sabine, Tinsdale, Tuam and Tzuhalem.

In the first two decades following the passage of the 1971 Act, the BC government established 84% of its 154 ecological reserves (ERs). The last ER to be set aside was Det San ER near Smithers, which was designated in 2009 to protect rare old growth juniper. No new reserves have been established since then and five have been transferred to other levels of government[2]. A 2005 assessment of the condition of existing reserves raised “concerns that the ecological values of many individual reserves are at significant risk and a more proactive approach to managing the reserves is required to reverse this trend.” [3].

[1] The 147 ERs still under provincial jurisdiction comprise 166,918 ha, which equals 0.008% of the entire BC Parks Protected Area System.

[2] Five ERs were transferred to Gulf Islands and Gwaii Haanas national park reserves, becoming part of the Canadian national park system, and one ER (UBC Endowment Lands) was reassigned to Metro Vancouver Regional Parks.

[3] State of British Columbia’s Ecological Reserves, Report for 2005. November 2006. Sponsored by the Friends of Ecological Reserves With help from the Ministry of Environment and the University of Victoria Co-op Program, unpublished report (see



The Friends of Ecological Reserves (FER) had hoped to entice the BC government to establish a few new ecological reserves by the anniversary year of 2021 and to make a concerted effort to improve the stewardship of the existing reserves. Despite FER’s periodic communications over the past seven years with BC government agencies about worthy candidates, no new ecological reserves have been added and from the reports of volunteer wardens in the past year, the state of existing reserves continues to deteriorate due to cumulative and inter-related internal and external threats.

At their November 2019 meeting, the Board of the Friends of Ecological Reserves (FER) decided to make a renewed and concerted effort to encourage BC government officials to establish several new ecological reserves and to address management, conservation and stewardship issues in existing ecological reserves in time for the 50th anniversary of the Ecological Reserves Act. Unfortunately, at a meeting on May 26 with FER, government officials explained that no mandate exists to add any new protected areas in B.C. unless the proposal is brought forward by a politician or a First Nation. The new modernized land use planning process has no mandate to seek, assess or add new protected areas. B.C. has already exceeded its international commitments for the amount of land it was to have set aside for biodiversity conservation by


[1] State of British Columbia’s Ecological Reserves, Report for 2005. November 2006. Sponsored by the Friends of Ecological Reserves With help from the Ministry of Environment and the University of Victoria Co-op Program, unpublished report (see




2020[1]. Nevertheless, local people proposed an ecological reserve on Pink Mountain during the current land use planning process in the Fort St John area.

FER proposed seven new candidate ERs to the B C provincial government starting in 2014 (for the list, see Three of the candidate ecological reserves that FER nominated include the rare alpine plant assemblage at Pink Mountain (see, and two headwater areas on the Sunshine Coast — a small stand of huge ancient Pacific yew trees at Roberts Creek, and an old-growth Douglas fir forest containing a rare and endangered plant species (Rubus nivalis) at Clack Creek.

The Friends of Ecological Reserves recognizes and respects the First Nations within whose traditional territories ecological reserves exist. FER acknowledges that much of British Columbia remains unceded land and appreciates the graciousness of the Indigenous hosts in areas containing ecological reserves. Even though the B.C. Ecological Reserves Act does not explicitly address traditional Indigenous use of ecological reserves, FER supports this as long as the activities do not permanently destroy the values for which the reserve was established. Reconciliation may provide opportunities for additional ecological reserves identified by traditional Indigenous knowledge keepers for their Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) values.

[1] The commitment was to protect 17% and by 2020, B.C. had set aside 20% of its land base in some form of protection.



FER would appreciate the support of ACC VI members in helping them encourage the provincial government to add worthy new ERs like Pink Mountain as well as to maintain the health of existing ERs, promote the use of ERs for science and monitoring, and support the volunteer ER wardens in their efforts to care for these gems of B.C. s protected areas system. Express your support for a revitalized ER system in B.C. by contacting your MLA (see  as well as George Heyman, the Minister of Environment & Climate Change Strategy at and Doug Donaldson, the Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development at

About the Friends of Ecological Reserves (FER) This volunteer-based, not-for-profit charitable organization raises awareness and promotes the interests of ecological reserves in British Columbia (B.C.). FER works to promote and support scientific research, monitoring and reporting in and around ecological reserves, volunteer wardens and the stewardship function within existing ecological reserves, and the nomination, assessment and establishment of worthy new ecological reserves. FER educates the public and government agencies regarding the significance of ecological reserves, the values they contain, and the threats they face. FER welcomes new members. Find more information at the FER website (see ) and in issues of the FER newsletter, the Log (see ).