Perhaps, I should have said that the Islands Trust may be what the Friends of the San Juans aspires to be as it labors in league with the Puget Sound Partnership, Stewardship Network, and Northwest Straits Commission ... to be a formal governmental body with genuine clout. In the hope of getting my facts straight on the Islands Trust, I'd like to provide a description of them per the viewpoint and research of one of their constituents, Elizabeth Nickson, a Salt Spring Island resident and the former European Bureau Chief of Life. This is what Nickson has to say about Islands Trust in her most recent book.
Salt Spring and its four hundred sister islands big and small are run, for the most part, by a land-use outfit called the Islands Trust, the much quoted mandate of which is "to preserve and protect." Founded in a summer graduate seminar at a local university in 1974 out of a fear that the pastoral islands scattered between Vancouver and Vancouver Island were about to be overrun by developers, the proposal for it was rushed through a session of the provincial legislature and its structure codified. The trust practices what is called fortress conservation, the typical form of conservation everywhere, which involves locking down as much land as possible and practicing "natural regulation," meaning no one touches it. Ever. Even "disturbing vegetation" is disallowed. For most of recorded history, humans have practiced adaptive management of resources --- when a problem crops up, we solve it. If we want a landscape, we create one; a working forest, ditto. Rangeland, farmland, townscapes --- all can be managed for bounty and health of resources and people. Natural regulation cropped up in the 1960s in almost all land-use agencies in the world and swiftly became the preferred method by which all resources and land were to be managed. Over the past five decades, natural regulation has been adopted almost everywhere. Nature knows best. Man is a virus and a despoiler and must be controlled.
The Islands Trust went on to serve as a template for many similar organizations all over the world, including the California Coastal Commission and the Cape Cod Commission. The trust claims it is unique, but it is not, at least not anymore, and like its fellows, it differs from typical democratic government principally by subverting the normal processes of democracy in the name of good green land use.
There are thirteen larger islands in the trust area, to which the smaller ones are attached for administrative purposes, and those larger islands elect two trustees each. When I say big, it's relative. Most of the twelve other islands have a population between four hundred and one thousand, but they each have two trustees. An off-island trustee comes in for the monthly town meeting to vote, breaking any tie. All land-use decisions are first voted on on the island and then considered at a quarterly meeting of all twenty-six trustees, called the Trust Council, which moves with all the glacial formality of the League of Nations. There is, you have no doubt gathered, no proportional representation at the trust. Salt Spring has only 8 percent of the final vote on the way any of its land is used, and in rural areas, land use is just about everything.
The trust is a blue-chip organization; it is expensive, head-quartered in British Columbia's capital city, with forty-five full-time employees and a steady flow of consultants. From its offices streams an unending flood of glossy propaganda about ecosystems saved and dangers advancing that require more land to be saved and more regulations placed on private land, and of course on all waters, whether runoff ditch or ocean.
Every few years, each island puts itself through a revision of its Official Community Plan. Carefully selected islanders serve on committees examining each "problem" within the trust region: affordable housing, tourism, economic development, water. Environmental movement goals are codified and tested during these thrash-tests of "participatory democracy" --- goals like limiting house sizes to less than three thousand square feet, for instance. Or requiring a permit and the consultation of a registered environmental professional ($2,500 fee to be borne by the applicant) to plant a garden within 100 feet of any body of water, man-made or natural. Or requiring a 150-foot setback from the ocean for any house, and if a house already within that 150 feet burns, it cannot be rebuilt in the same place --- well, tough luck for the stinking-rich oceanfront homeowner who just met Nemesis.
The outcome of a year or so of such meetings, displays, and "community consultation" is an astonishing maze of regulation, the result of which is stasis and worse. Despite living within easy reach of three gleaming modern cities filled with active wealthy-ish men and women, with the exception of Salt Spring, which is graying rapidly, every island's population is in steady decline, losing young families every month. On the smaller islands, as the young leave and the economy deflates faster, even the elderly, deprived of the services that the young provide and fund, leave too.
While the trust is supposed to deal only with land use, in typical bureaucratic mission creep it calls itself a local government. But in fact, all the other multiplying details of actual government are handled by a regional director, who spends his life dashing from committee to committee, all staffed by volunteers. ... Salt Spring is typically described as an argument surrounded by water, as, I was to find, is every other community into which the movement has inserted its brand of land-use management.Does any of this "democracy" sound familiar? And we send Councillors to meet with these people every year?