BC's Howe Sound given biosphere status by UNESCO

UNESCO status awarded

A five-year-long quest has finally paid off.

The Howe Sound area has been given worldwide recognition as an area of importance by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

The region has been recognized as Canada’s 19th biosphere region by UNESCO, according to a news release from the Howe Sound Biosphere Region Initiative.

This means that the international organization has deemed the place a zone of global ecological significance.

“It’s really gratifying and it’s almost surreal,” said biosphere spokesperson Ruth Simons.

“Certainly, when we looked at the nomination documents, the blank template, it was quite daunting. And so it’s just really satisfying to know that all the great work that everybody collectively put in towards this project has been recognized by this prestigious international body.”

While the title does not create a park or grant any legal authority, the international designation does carry prestige and can be a point of leverage for environmental advocates.

Simons added that some people are under the impression that the UNESCO designation will mean another layer of bureaucracy in decision-making. This, she said, is not true.

“It’s not a mechanism to stop development — it is a framework under which all the authorities come together and have a holistic plan,” said Simons.

The hope is that this designation will encourage sustainable development, she said.

“The biosphere regions actually are places for learning, for science, for research and restoration. And the more we know, the more we make better decisions,” Simons said.

“So I think for developers coming into the region that hopefully with the tools and more data and more information, then we make better decisions.”

This newfound title is not a given — it will have to be maintained. Locals must demonstrate to the organization every 10 years that the location is living up to the standards of a UNESCO biosphere, or Howe Sound will lose its status.

“I think the ultimate game plan is ... healthy clean air, healthy waters, healthy soil,” said Simons.

The biosphere region covers 218,723 hectares of land and sea, encompassing the entire Howe Sound watershed. Its boundaries begin near Point Atkinson in West Vancouver, running north to Black Tusk near Whistler, and as far west as Gower Point on the Sunshine Coast.

The core protected area traverses five B.C. provincial parks, one B.C. provincial conservancy, and several marine refuges.

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