Climate change is challenging the ability of ecosystems to adapt throughout British Columbia. Extreme weather, including intense precipitation events, coastal storms and long, hot, dry summers, is testing the resilience of species as they are forced to move northwards and higher on slopes, often colliding with human habitation just as they are similarly challenged by fragmentation and loss of habitat due to human development and resource extraction patterns. Healthy ecosystems assist with flood absorption and passive cooling for built infrastructure, while improving air quality, adding to recreational space, contributing to human physical and mental well being, and augmenting property prices. Ecosystems are therefore increasingly recognized as a significant factor in adaptation to climate change and are emerging as city priorities under the heading of “blue-green infrastructure,” and “Green Shores” approaches in the coastal context. However, many ecosystems span two or more municipalities and may become fragmented due to different or conflicting management approaches in neighbouring cities. This project examines three urban ecosystem case studies in Metro Vancouver in order to explore municipal-level challenges and best practices for transboundary ecosystem governance in a changing climate. The influence of municipal decision making was clear in the Still Creek context, and this case study therefore became the project’s main focus. In order to assess the outcomes of transboundary decision-making, indicators and values associated with ecosystem health were selected and monitored. Changes in each indicator were tracked over time by mapping historical archival materials and reviewing the region’s policy and management history.
This case study of Still Creek from the Adaptation to Climate Change Team (ACT) at Simon Fraser University’s Pacific Water Research Centre illustrates successful collaboration between the cities of Vancouver and Burnaby in Metro Vancouver, the outcome of which led to many ecosystem health improvements and community benefits in the creek corridor, including the return of spawning salmon, after decades of neglect. Partnership, creative governance, community engagement, and innovative funding approaches were all essential components that helped the two cities come together to invest in ecosystem health and initiate restoration in Still Creek, one of only two day-lit streams in the City of Vancouver. Although ecosystem-based ‘green infrastructure’ projects can help municipalities adapt to climate change impacts such as flooding and extreme heat, while also offering other co-benefits, local governments are not currently valuing the full range of benefits and services provided by ecosystems, which undermines the importance of green infrastructure in decision- and policy-making contexts.