Updated article coming in 2020

Despite consensus that Howe Sound needs a comprehensive plan to direct stewardship and growth, efforts to establish such a strategy continue to be hampered by competing jurisdictions, a fragmented regulatory framework and the absence of agreement on the process and leadership. Howe Sound remains vulnerable without coordinated action.

Authors: Ruth Simons, Future of Howe Sound Society

Stephen Foster, David Suzuki Foundation

Reviewer: Susan Abs, Eclipse Environmental Consulting Ltd.

Banner Photo Credit: Lisa Wilcox

What’s happening?


A comprehensive planning process for Howe Sound is needed to take a holistic view of the region, including the marine environment, and bring all governments and stakeholders together to work towards a common vision. While no one body is taking the lead to develop a comprehensive plan for Howe Sound, there has been some progress on coordinating actions to address priority topics as well as jurisdictional and planning gaps and overlaps such as derelict vessels.


Howe Sound Community Forum participants, Camp Fircom, Gambier Island, Spring 2016

In the past, the Provincial Government took the lead in conducting multi-stakeholder sub-regional Land and Resource Management Plans (LRMPs) across much of B.C. However, it is no longer developing plans for areas not covered by LRMPs, such as most of Howe Sound. In 2015, in response to a request from the Howe Sound Community Forum for a “comprehensive marine and land use plan for Howe Sound” and to an expressed concern over cumulative impacts from proposed industrial and residential developments, the province agreed to conduct a Cumulative Effects Assessment (CEA) for the Sound.

Additional activities that can contribute to the information base needed for a comprehensive plan include:

  • Squamish Nation commenced background work for a Marine Plan for Howe Sound in 2015. A consultant has been hired and the process is ongoing.
  • In March 2015, the Coastal Ocean Research Institute at the Vancouver Aquarium, Squamish Nation, and the David Suzuki Foundation (DSF) co-hosted a Howe Sound Science and Knowledge Holders Forum. Participants shared data and agreed on the need for a report on the state of the Howe Sound marine environment, which led to this new Ocean Watch report. In May 2016, these same parties co-hosted the Howe Sound Socio-Economic Knowledge Workshop, a first-of-its-kind gathering of businesses and other stakeholders from the tourism, recreation, development, transport and sport fishing sectors.
  • In 2015, DSF published Sound Investment – Howe Sound Ecosystem Assets, a report on the economic value of natural capital and ecosystem services in Howe Sound, followed by the Socio-Economic Baseline Study of the Howe Sound Area in 2016. DSF is also engaging the public through its Great Howe Sound Recovery initiative. This includes evening events with videos of First Nation elders and their stories, videos profiling scientists and citizen scientists who do remarkable work in the region, panel discussions, and the gathering of participant responses on a vision for a sustainable future for Howe Sound.
  • Several local governments and Regional Districts around Howe Sound are updating their Official Community Plans (OCPs) or Regional Plans. An OCP is a local government bylaw that provides objectives and policies to guide decisions on planning and land use management within the area covered by the plan.

Why is it important?


A comprehensive land and marine plan would establish a clear set of objectives – based on a common vision – that would aim to protect long term social, economic, environmental and heritage values for the Howe Sound region. Such a plan could provide guidance to decision-makers for planning and management within their specific jurisdictions and reduce the chance of harm caused by the cumulative impacts of uncoordinated changes.

Effective management of Howe Sound suffers from complex and fragmented governance arrangements. The watershed falls within multiple jurisdictions and administrative areas, including three regional districts, the Islands Trust, five municipalities, two provincial ridings, three provincial forest districts and is subject to several areas of federal jurisdiction related to fisheries, environmental protection and transportation in marine waters. While Howe Sound is in the traditional territory of Squamish Nation, the Tsleil-Waututh and Musqueam Nations also have claims in the area. A Sea to Sky Land and Resource Management Plan completed by the Province in 2008 and Xay Temíxw, Squamish Nation’s land use plan, cover the northern Howe Sound watersheds, leaving the southern portion of the Sound without overall planning guidance, open to competing interests by municipalities, the regions, the Provincial Crown and First Nations.

Howe Sound’s fragmented jurisdiction makes it difficult to ensure effective planning and management of development pressures in the region as a whole. The Sea to Sky corridor along the east side of the sound was significantly transformed in preparation for the 2010 Winter Olympics. The expansion of Highway 99 has resulted in a surge of residential and commercial development along the corridor and greatly increased the number of visitors to the area. As well, there have been a spate of major new industrial proposals, including woodlot logging on Gambier Island, the McNab Creek gravel mine proposal, and the Woodfibre LNG plant, which, if it proceeds, will introduce very large LNG carriers into the busy waters of the sound. To further complicate Howe Sound’s future scenarios, the B.C. government initiated a feasibility study in 2015 for a possible road or bridge link across Howe Sound to connect the Sunshine Coast and Highway 99. This would have significant impacts on development patterns in the Sound. These proposals are being evaluated by different levels of government, with different priorities and jurisdictions. Among the levels, the Squamish Nation is the one government mandated to consider the whole region and the potential impacts of all the pressures taken together.

What is the current status?


Since the late 1990s, there have been public demands for comprehensive planning for Howe Sound. In 1996 the Howe Sound Round Table on environment, economic and social sustainability produced a report entitled Howe Sound 2020. The report was a call to action, and the result of two years of public forums and community consultations. The Round Table heard consistently that there was a need to establish a watershed-wide perspective for Howe Sound and coordinate activities at the government and community levels. The Howe Sound Community Forum (HSCF), consisting of all local and regional governments and Squamish Nation, was formed in 2000, and in 2002 its Principles for Cooperation were signed. Elected officials from local, regional, provincial, federal and Squamish Nation governments meet twice annually and share information about activities in the sound, based on a common set of values. In recent years, the HSCF has accomplished important foundational work in support of a vision and planning for Howe Sound.

At least 10 different governing bodies make decisions that affect Howe Sound. 

In 2012, every municipality and regional district in the Sound passed a motion calling for a “comprehensive land and marine use planning for the region.” This call received province-wide support when a supporting resolution was passed by the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) in 2013. Since 2013, participation in the HSCF has continued to grow and the meetings provide a critical venue for discussions about key issues, from large-scale industrial and residential projects to environmental best practices and initiatives (Figure 1).


Figure 1. Visual notes, Howe Sound Community Forum, Fall 2015. Notes by Erin Stewart.

In addition, several workshops and forums during this time, including the Howe Sound Aquatic Forum in 2014, have brought together elected officials, First Nations, NGOs, business leaders, members of the public and stakeholders to discuss Howe Sound issues. Common values and themes continue to emerge from these meetings. A major advance in planning for Howe Sound was the announcement that Squamish Nation would initiate a marine plan for Howe Sound, beginning in 2016.

Many of the organizers of these initiatives aim to move the mindset of governing bodies towards more consultative and collective care for Howe Sound, with decision-making considering the whole ecosystem, from mountain-top to sea bottom. A recurring theme emerging from workshop and meetings is that local governments and non-profits are ready to cooperate as a “community of communities” to develop plans and agreements to guide conservation and development in the region as a whole. These collaborations have also helped the often physically separated communities across the Sound better know their neighbours, including First Nations communities.

What can you do?



Individual and Organization Actions:

  • Engage and contribute to your Regional Plans and Official Community Plans; they always include public input!
  • Encourage your OCP to consider how impacts of growth, development and zoning relate to the whole of Howe Sound. (Transportation is a perfect example. Moving from Squamish to Vancouver on transit means passing between BC Transit authority and Translink’s authority. Efficient services suffer because neither authority is focused on the Squamish to Vancouver commuter.)
  • Work to make Howe Sound live up to your own vision for the area. You can, for example, join and follow one of the many non-profit organizations focused on Howe Sound conservation and protection. Volunteer for restoration programs, such as the wetland work on the Squamish foreshore, or work with local conservancies to improve trails. Give your time to marine groups who are looking to citizen vigilance to monitor illegal fishing or trapping. Attend events and learn about the diverse communities around the sound, starting with First Nations and their history and culture (see other articles in this report).
  • Experience the awesomeness that is Howe Sound! Get on a boat and experience the sound from the water. Hike a ridge or kayak the new Sea to Sky Marine Trail.


Government Actions and Policy:


  • Undertake/collaborate on comprehensive marine and land use planning for Howe Sound.
  • Participate in the Howe Sound Community Forum meetings.
  • Recognize the value of ecosystem services in Howe Sound when considering the best allocation, use and regulation of Crown Land, foreshore and marine areas.

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