A developer building a housing development in East Sooke has taken the unusual step of dedicating more than 20 per cent of the land for use as a wildlife corridor.
“This is a sensitive area, and when I bought the property and started walking it to get a sense of what it was all about, it became immediately obvious that there was a wildlife corridor that ran through the middle of the property,” Wally Vowels said.
“I hired a biologist and he came back with a report that was pretty much what I thought.”
Intent on preserving the corridor, which provides wildlife a route between two park lands on either side of his property, Vowels decided to dedicate land to that purpose but when he took his plan to the Capital Regional District, the parks department wanted to see the land used as a hiking trail connector.
“That wasn’t what I wanted at all. You don’t preserve a wildlife trail by introducing a bunch of human activity,” Vowels said.
Although Vowels was eventually able to enshrine the land as a wildlife corridor, the move didn’t come without a price.
“Because there is no human activity, it doesn’t qualify as parkland so after an advisory planning commission meeting in East Sooke it was decided that I would still have to pay the mandatory five per cent cash dedication in lieu of parkland,” Vowels said.
“So saving this corridor for the wildlife ended up costing me an additional $27,000.”
Vowels has a long history of working to preserve Sooke’s natural world. He’s been an active advocate for salmon restoration and is on the vanguard of the construction efforts at the new Charters River hatchery.
It’s not the first time that Vowels has put nature before pure profit and at the forefront of his work as a developer.
About 10 years ago he bought land along Otter Point Road that contained two salmon streams.
He hired a lawyer and worked to establish covenants on the land that would forever protect those streams from future development and even established a trust fund to help ensure that those covenants were respected in perpetuity.
“Preserving and restoring salmon streams has always been my hobby, so this was a perfect fit. The funny thing was that my lawyer said that it was a new one on him. He’d been hired in the past by developers trying to remove covenants; never to impose them.”
But Vowels isn’t your average developer, said Dana Livingston, who is working with a fledgling group of environmental activists to promote precisely the sort of initiatives that Vowels has undertaken on his own.
“He’s amazing, really. What Wally has done is a gift to the region’s wildlife and to the people of East Sooke,” Livingston said.
“We’re working on trying to educate people and discourage developments that create these fragmented landscapes with fences all over. You do that and end up with deer and bears in your backyard and it doesn’t need to happen that way.”
Livingston said that the regulations need to change so that doing the right thing, enviornmentally, doesn’t penalize developers with extra charges.
“For me, a devvelopment isn’t about what the area is going to look like today,” said Vowels when asked why he is so passionate about preserving nature.
” You have to look 50, 100, even 200 years from now and ask yourself how what you’ve done is going to impact the area. I like to think that corridors like this will mean that our wildlife will still have a chance of surviving and won’t just disappear.”