Bulkley Valley Research Centre - Science in the Public Interest

Planning for the Crown-Settlement Interface Lands

Project Reference Number: 2010-03

Project Status: Complete

Led by: Dr. Ray Chipeniuk, Adjunct Professor, School of Environmental Planning, UNBC

Steve Osborn, Nexus Forest Solutions

Funder: Real Estate Foundation, Driftwood Foundation, Bulkley Valley Credit Union, UNBC


Across Canada, hundreds of settlements are bordered by Crown land – lands held by governments, especially provincial governments, in the name of the Queen. Typically there is a continuous line of contact between the Crown lands on one side and farms or residential subdivisions on the other. Even for households and communities set well back from the line, however, the proximity of Crown land dominates daily life, culture, and economic development. Collectively, these belts or zones of land on either side of the line of contact constitute the Crown-Settlement Interface. In the United States, where the federal government is the principal owner of forest, range, designated wilderness, and park lands, the equivalent term is “private-wildland interface.”

In British Columbia, as well as other jurisdictions such as Alaska, planning for the lands on either side of the interface boundary appears to have entered a period of crisis. Some of the characteristics or at least manifestations of this crisis are:

  • Widespread public dissatisfaction with technocratic planning processes in which “stakeholders” are assumed to represent the public interest and “public participation” is the last step;
  • Senior government tendencies to vacate the field of strategic planning for public lands;
  • Research indicating that planning for public lands omits comprehensive consideration of community economic development options;
  • Rural citizen disenfranchisement in planning by interface regional governments;
  • The eagerness of rural residents to use new technologies to bring local knowledge to bear on government planning and to conduct their own bottom-up planning.

Is there a crisis in planning for the interface, a crisis sufficient to warrant paradigm change? If there is, what is wrong with the old paradigm of rational-comprehensive and incremental planning, and out of what building blocks should the new paradigm be constructed? These are the kinds of questions Planning for the Crown-Settlement Interface Lands is meant to address. The principal themes of the conference are Research and State of the Art in Interface Planning; Public Participation in Interface Planning; and the Relationship between Interface Planning and Community Development.

Interface is being organized by the School of Environmental Planning of the University of Northern British Columbia in association with the Bulkley Valley Research Centre, with the advice of an organizational committee including a representative of the Office of the Wet’suwet’en, Crown and local government planners, academic and NGO researchers with expertise in interface planning, and others.

Interface will be held in Smithers, during June 16-18. Sometimes characterized as “the intellectual capital of northwest British Columbia,” Smithers is a town of about 5,500 people at the heart of the Bulkley Valley, whose total population is about 15,000. Agricultural and residential settlement in the Bulkley Valley is completely surrounded by high mountains and forest claimed by the Crown (though never surrendered by the traditional owners, the Wet’suwet’en). For this reason and because the local community has developed a high degree of sophistication concerning land use planning, the Valley is an ideal location for discussing case histories of interface planning.

Smithers has an excellent regional airport, with several flights a day connecting with Vancouver; a fine regional hospital; several modern hotels and motels; many restaurants; and an abundance of opportunities for outdoor recreation, cultural tourism, and research.

It is expected that most registrants for Interface will be urban and regional planners working for local governments, especially in British Columbia; professionals doing planning for provincial ministries, again mainly in B.C.; academic researchers from as far away as New Zealand, Scotland, and the U.S.; planners working for First Nations; and people who are involved in bottom-up interface planning on behalf of citizen groups. Anticipated attendance is 60-100 people.