Columbia Wetlands Complex Receives Long Awaited Protection

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After 16 years of tireless effort from a broad spectrum of stakeholders, the final part of a three-part boating regulation, created to minimize threats to the Columbia Wetland ecosystem and enhance public safety, was enacted today.

This precedent setting federal regulation, jointly requested by the BC Ministry of the Environment and local environmental organization Wildsight, restricts boats over 20 hp on the main channel of the upper Columbia River and its tributaries, from Fairmont Hot Springs to Donald (excluding Lake Windermere). The first two parts of the regulation were passed in 2009, banning motor vessels from the the wetland portion of the Columbia Wetland Wildlife Management Area and eliminating waterskiing and wake-boarding from the main channel of the upper Columbia River.

“This is a day for true celebration. Not only does today’s announcement recognize the ecological importance of the Columbia Wetlands, the longest intact wetland in interior North America, but it also recognizes our communities’ perseverance and achievement,” said Robyn Duncan, Executive Director of Wildsight. “What started out as a jurisdictional question resulted in a groundswell of public engagement and support to protect the legacy of the Columbia Wetlands for wildlife and clean water for future generations.”

The Columbia Wetlands are the source of the largest river flowing into the Pacific Ocean in North America—the mighty Columbia. Internationally recognized as a wetland of importance, its rich ecosystem forms the life support system for hundreds of thousands of birds, fish, reptiles, amphibians and mammals, and freshwater to surrounding communities. This important regulation will help prevent habitat degradation and negative impacts on nesting waterbirds, like the great blue heron, species extremely sensitive to even minor disturbance.

“This is a gratifying and positive conclusion to over sixteen years of work. The best science along with the support of the vast majority of Canadians has led to long term protection for wildlife in the Columbia Wetland ecosystem. It’s also the first time that the Canada Shipping Act has been used for ecological protection, making it an example of how additional protections could be achieved for important waterways across Canada,” said Ellen Zimmerman, Wildsight lead on the Columbia Wetlands campaign.

Wildsight would like to thank all of our partners, funders and sponsors as well as everyone who wrote to the Minister of Transportation in support of the regulation in the spring.


1996 Columbia wetlands designated a Wildlife Management Area

1997 Provincial regulation under the BC wildlife act—no conveyances over 10HP. This is challenged in court.

2002 BC Court of Appeals rules that the Province cannot legislate where it concerns navigation, only the federal government can under the Canada shipping act.

After this, Wildsight, together with the Province of BC, becomes a co-applicant for federal regulation. It takes the next seven years, until August 2009, when the first two undisputed parts become law.

2009 Wildsight in conjunction with the Columbia Wetlands Stewardship Partners proposes a 20 hp restriction, the increase in engine size is supposed to accommodate the need for more power in the north portion where the river is faster flowing.  A compromise.

2016 Regulation brought into force limiting boats to 20 hp on the upper Columbia River from Fairmont to Donald (excluding Lake Windermere).