ColumbiYEA wants new environmental planner position to place more focus on issue

By Steve Hubrech
[email protected]

Local residents concerned about climate change continue to prod Invermere council on its approach on the issue, with the latest concern centring around the district’s recent climate change actions priorities report, its planned environmental planner position, and where climate change fits into the district strategic priorities.

ColumbiYEA (Columbia Youth Environmental Action), a local youth group dedicated to environmental issues, recently wrote a letter to Invermere council asking the district to improve the climate change actions priorities report by giving examples of what measures and actions were taken to meet the many commitments and plans outlined in the report, and by providing quantitative information about the district’s baseline climate resilience to help create a municipal climate change adaptation profile.

“For example, what are the current annual emissions, and what is the community’s current susceptibility to climate change related disasters? Determining such factors will allow the district to benchmark progress and determine high-impact next-steps,” wrote the group.

ColumbiYEA also suggested that the job description for the environmental planner position be updated to require experience in climate change and sustainability, and that the position should include identifying climate change risks and opportunities and starting work on high-impact climate projects among its primary duties. 

“As it stands, the job posting does not meaningfully support climate action,” wrote ColumbiYEA.

Invermere Mayor Al Miller said, at the Invermere council meeting at which the ColumbiYEA letter was received, that Invermere has been working “reasonably diligently” on climate change, and that having an environmental planner on staff “will take us a long way down that road (to improving Invermere’s approach to climate change).”

At the same meeting, Invermere received a letter from East Kootenay environmental group Wildsight, in which the Wildsight board of directors wrote, “We were alarmed to hear a motion raised at the [Jan. 14 Invermere council meeting] to remove climate change from the strategic priorities list – and thereby, in effect, to consider the issue ‘resolved.’ The issue is in no way resolved. To remove the climate change action report from council’s strategic priorities so precipitously suggests that council and administration have taken action – or, at least, charted a meaningful path forward. Again, this is not the case.”

Invermere councillors were quick to point out that Wildsight’s board was mistaken.

“No motion was made. I don’t know where that came from,” said Councillor Greg Anderson. “I don’t know where they came up with that, but that’s wrong. There was no motion at that meeting to remove climate change from that (strategic priorities) list.”

“Some individuals may have misconstrued or misunderstood what was presented,” said Invermere Chief Administrative Officer Andrew Young.

At the Jan. 14 meeting, Young had outlined how several of the district’s strategic priorities had been accomplished throughout the fall, and had also presented a list of possible future strategic priorities. None of these new possible priorities related to climate change.

Councillor Gerry Taft then suggested that that’s where the confusion may have arisen, saying that typically the district’s strategic priorities have included short-term or medium-term actionable items, such as a specific report or a specific bylaw (short-term) or projects such as the concept planning the for Lake Windermere Resort (LWR) lands undertaken last year (medium term), rather than long term items such climate change and sustainability.

“I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding,” said Taft.

He suggested, to avoid such confusion, that the district may want to consider developing a list of overarching long-term priorities, such as climate change or affordable housing, which would be separate from, although ideally complementary to, the short-term and medium-term priorities in the district’s strategic priorities list.