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Mt. Arrowsmith biosphere struggles to define itself

City of Parksville, RDN willing to help - but not run - the area's biosphere reserve organization.
Mt. Arrowsmith is the dominant feature in the Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Reserve.

UPDATED Thurs., Aug. 16: Added new information from City of Parksville

After a presentation from Karen Hunter, Parksville council asked staff to look into how the city might be able to help the struggling Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Reserve (MABR).

"We've begun discussions with UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), the university (VIU) and other partners," mayor Chris Burger updated The News on Thursday.

Formed in 2000, the reserve is one of over 500 UNESCO designated sites in the world, but one of only two in B.C.

Hunter, former coordinator and current board member, gave council basically the same presentation she recently gave to the Regional District of Nanaimo highlighting the work the MABR has done and asking for help.

The RDN turned down taking over MABR completely, but is looking into how they can help.

The local MABR foundation has struggled with governance issues for years and failed a periodic review in 2010 for "not meeting the statutory framework criteria."

They were given two years to fix it or face losing the UN designation — which would be a first in Canada.

But Hunter said "the past is the past and the future is bright," stressing that they have a lot to offer in terms of scientific research, sustainability initiatives and public recognition.

When pressed for details, Hunter struggled to define the reserve.

"It's about model regions trying to come up with innovative solutions for sustainability," she said pointing to some of the climate and invasive species monitoring they are involved in.

"I don't want to put a boundary on what a biosphere reserve is," she said explaining they are all different, shaped by the local people and geography.

Each councillor who spoke said they supported the reserve, but several did talk about the past.

"As a resident of this area, the past has tainted a lot of things," said coun. Marc Lefebvre, asking what the reserve can do to guard against similar problems in the future.

Hunter admitted they don't have anything in their current bylaws to stop similar problems with "rouge elements" in the future, but that was one of the things they were looking to the city for.

"We are asking local governments to provide expertise," she said. "This region is not shy of progressive sustainability initiatives," and are experts in governance.

She said local governments are already doing a lot of the biosphere work but are not getting the credit and she sees big opportunities, including tourism.

She summed up that they are not asking for anything specifically, just for Parksville to be more involved.

"The key to moving forward is to establish the right governance structure," agreed Burger, who others praised for his work on the issue.

"The biosphere reserve is near and dear to my heart," he said agreeing that "it comes with a lot of international recognition" and the city could take better advantage of the opportunities.

To that end the city and VIU are "having great discussions and looking at different model that would have longevity," he said.

"The university is very interested, but it's still early."

They are also looking at options like private sector involvement and coordinating with Clayoquot Sound on the west side of the Island, the province's only other UNESCO biosphere.

Council passed a motion asking staff to report back on what the city could do to help. Coun. Al Greir was the only one to vote against it, saying he can see some of the benefits but they haven't been successful enough on their own and it would be extra work for Parksville staff.

For more on the reserve check

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