Our environment defines our community in many ways

By The Integrated Community Sustainability Plan Team

Revelstoke’s identity is tightly bound to the spectacular mountains, glaciers, forests, rivers and wetlands of the North Columbia Mountains. As a mountain town, Revelstoke’s economy is dependent on local ecosystems for forestry products and tourism, and  the well-being of local residents is closely related to the wonderfully diverse ecosystems at our doorstep.

Forest ecosystems dominate our landscape, with cottonwoods and other deciduous trees in the important riparian corridors along rivers and streams in the valley bottoms. Western red cedar, hemlock, Douglas fir and white pine forests occupy the lower slopes of the mountains, with Engelmann spruce and sub-alpine fir (balsam) in the forests near treeline. Alpine meadows cap the mountain tops, with glaciers and rock pinnacles above.

Although they are within the reservoir drawdown zone with its annually fluctuating water levels, the valley bottom grassland and shrub habitats near Machete Island and the Revelstoke Airport, the Downie Marsh ponds and the wetlands surrounding the airstrip support a diversity of plant and animal species including migrating waterfowl and songbirds. These ecosystems are especially important because the reservoirs in the Columbia valley have greatly reduced the area of these wetland, grassland and shrub ecosystems.

Many residents and newcomers call Revelstoke home because of this amazingly diverse and spectacular environmental setting. The Integrated Community Sustainability Plan (ICSP) includes mapping of local habitat types and updating our environmental action plan to support the ongoing health of local ecosystems.

These community gems are not lost on Revelstoke’s residents, businesses and the City.

Residents have repeatedly stated their commitment to the local environment – in 2001 and 2007 the majority of Community Survey respondents — by far — deemed the condition of the natural environment around the community to be “very important” to our quality of life, and the state of our economy. Watch for the 2012 survey results in the next few weeks to see how we feel about our environment today.

The North Columbia Environmental Society has taken leadership in encouraging environmental stewardship through education, the community garden and other activities. The Friends of Mt. Revelstoke and Glacier National Parks also promote environmental care through their programs. Businesses are paying attention as well. Our local Chamber of Commerce recognized Sangha Bean in 2011 with the Environmentally Friendly Award and the Coast Hillside Hotel has taken actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which also reduced energy costs.

Our global ecosystems are facing threats

Population increases, ongoing development and carbon heavy lifestyles are creating significant environmental stressors across the planet. If unchecked, these stressors are expected to lead to massive changes in global and local weather patterns, ecosystem health and the survivability of plant and animal species the world over.  Of greatest concern today and for the foreseeable future are increasing concentrations of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions that are leading to both local and global climate change.  The consequences of climate change for Revelstoke are not trivial.  The Columbia Basin Trust has identified the following trends of concern in our bioregion.

  • Temperature changes: In the last century the average temperature in the Basin has increased by 1.5 degrees; most of this warming has happened in the last 30 to 50 years. Warming during all seasons is projected to continue over the next century, with the average annual temperature in the Basin projected to be 1.6° to 3.2° warmer by the 2050s compared to the average temperature for 1961 to 1990. One or two degrees of warming may not seem like much – until you consider that there is about a one degree difference in the average annual temperatures in Revelstoke and Salmon Arm.
  • Melting glaciers: Glaciers have shrunk on average 16 per cent based on a 15-year period ending in 2000. Most of BC’s glaciers are continuing to lose mass and many may disappear within the next 100 years.
  • More rain, more snow, more extreme events: Results from five Basin weather stations indicate an increased rainfall of up to 45 per cent from 1913 to 2002 and reduced snowpack at lower elevations. Research has shown that between 1950 and 1997, snowpack declined by 20 to 40 per cent in the entire Columbia Basin. Future projections are for reduced summer rain and increased winter precipitation. Extreme precipitation events are projected to occur two to three times more frequently by the 2050s.
  • Changing stream and river flows: We have experienced lower water levels in streams during the summer and higher levels in the winter. Between 1984 and 1995, spring runoff occurred 20 days earlier than it did between 1970 and 1983. These changes are likely to continue into the future, along with earlier spring peak flows and lower late-summer flows that continue into the fall.

Revelstoke is taking action

In the face of these changes, Revelstoke has not been a passive bystander.  The City understands that these changes put our community’s infrastructure and social, environmental and economic health at risk.

In 2010 the City contracted an Environmental Coordinator who has been working with City staff to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from City operations and educate citizens about energy efficiency. A City Environment Advisory Committee has also been created to guide the City in its environment related initiatives. The City has been working to reduce waste and increase water conservation through citizen education and new programs.

The City’s recently adopted Corporate Energy Action and Community Energy & Emissions Plans are focusing on actions that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  Our OCP and the Unified Development Bylaw and Transportation Master Plan that are underway, are setting the stage for a more compact and connected community.  Over time, the pattern of development will shift in our community to more mixed use development and the distances between homes and common destinations, such as workplaces, parks and shops, will be reduced.  Increasingly, these destinations will be connected with more sidewalks and bike routes.  These changes mean that in the future more residents will be able to drive less and walk, cycle, and take transit more, all contributing to lower per capita greenhouse gas emissions. Already, about 20% of residents walk in the winter and 30% walk/20% cycle in summer, and not surprisingly, there is a desire for more walking and biking facilities.

The City’s recently launched curbside recycling program, and expected yard composting facility are leading to greater recycling participation levels, thus reducing environmental impact. The City continues to assess ways to reduce water consumption, which would also cut treatment costs.

There is more to do in Revelstoke – get informed and get involved!

These initiatives are important contributors to local environmental health but there is a lot more that needs to happen.  Broader community awareness and participation, in many areas, is needed to achieve positive and sustainable environmental change in Revelstoke.

Find out more about the ICSP, and the results of the community survey, and share your ideas about how to improve our local economy and social conditions at the upcoming Community Sustainability Fair. Mark your calendar for November 27 at the Community Centre and plan to join us to learn about what is already happening in Revelstoke to take care of our environment, share information about what you know about environmental issues in Revelstoke and learn about broader sustainability issues facing the community.

To learn more about the Integrated Sustainable Community Plan please go their website at http://www.cityofrevelstoke.com/index.aspx?nid=322 or contact the project team at ICSP@revelstoke.ca . You can also contact  Alan Mason, director of Community Economic Development at 250 837-5345, amason@revelstoke.ca or John Guenther, director of Planning at 250 837-3637,  jguenther@revelstoke.ca.