Course:FRST370/2022/Ecospiritual Forestry: A Community Forest model on Bowen Island, B.C., Canada

From UBC Wiki

Summary of Case Study

A portion of land on Cape Roger Curtis ("The Cape" or "CRC"), Bowen Island (Squamish: Nex̱wlélex̱wm)[1], is in the process of being developed into a Vancouver Municipal Park for recreation. Spirit Holding Land is an organizing collective of community members and others that aims to promote ecospiritual ideas and values in relationship to land. Ecospiritual means being connected with and listening to the land and trees before planning or building infrastructure on the land. Spirit Holding Land (SHL), is proposing a new vision for these times, one where land for the park be given back to Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) Nation. But whether or not the land is given back, co-planning and co-management of the new park would be with the Nation, if they choose, and with the residents of Nex̱wlélex̱wm in collaboration with Metro Vancouver Parks Board. It would demonstrate eco-spiritual forestry principles. The educational and recreational focus aspect of the Park would be on learning how to minimize our own impact on forests and participating in regenerating old-growth forests.

Regional park goals focus on ecosystem preservation, climate change mitigation, and creating a stronger connection between urban areas and nature; however, they fall short of the holistic set of values. ​​An eco-spiritual forestry model of the park is a different approach to managing this land, one that envisions humans learning and helping with the re-creation and regeneration of old-growth forests using both traditional indigenous methods of forest stewardship as well as other ecospiritual stewardship methods. In this process, the forest would be “selectively thinned” as you would in a garden creating optimum conditions for trees to grow and regenerate healthy old growth. The wood from these trees would be used in the community for construction, furniture making, and by artists, etc. demonstrating a deeper respect for the forest and larger ecosystem and establishing an ecospiritual model of forestry that can be passed down to future generations.


  • Eco-spiritual forestry
  • Old-Growth Forests
  • Conservation
  • Community Management
  • Nex̱wlélex̱wm


CRC spans an area of approximately 590 acres. Of this area, 240 acres is owned by Metro Vancouver, and is in the planning phase for a regional park. 320 acres are divided into 32 10-acre private lots (of which 30 have been sold) and the remaining 32 acres comprise a nature reserve managed by the Bowen Island conservancy[2]

For the past several years, the Cape was owned by private developers. After initial developments were made for the 32 10-acre lots, plans were made to turn these lots into about 430 residential units (housing around 750 to 850 people). These plans were withdrawn in 2021 after a community survey showed a lack of support for the plans. A major point of contention in the development plans was the risk of high population density to the surrounding ecosystems[3]. The Cape is home to a relatively large area of sensitive and rare ecosystems, including areas of primary mature forests (located both on private lots and the park area)[4]. Concerns were raised that such high population density and associated traffic would endanger conservation objectives[3].

On April 29, 2022 The Metro Vancouver Board approved the inclusion of Cape Roger Curtis property in its land acquisition[5]. The land was purchased for approximately 40 million CAD in May of 2023[6]. The proposed park would feature approximately 100 overnight camp sites: 50 walk-in/bike-in sites; 35 drive-in sites; and 10 tent cabins[7].

Bowen Island, where Cape Roger Curtis is located, is traditionally Squamish Territory, however the land was used by many communities as a hunting and resting place during travel[8]. Metro Vancouver's purpose in developing this land is to give urban communities easier access to nature. Spending more time in nature has been proven to decrease stress, improve mental health, and improve physical health [9].

Spirit Holding Land

Spirit Holding Land is an eco-spiritual educational organization aimed at promoting eco-spiritual tourism and eco-spiritual community living (E. Hayakawa, personal communication, 8 December 2022). One possible vision is to feature CRC as an exemplary case study in the benefits of an Eco-spiritual model, supporting a network of other communities based on the same framework of values around the world[10]. SHL points out the patriarchal and colonial nature of the existing governmental and industrial frameworks, including the existing land ownership model. They advocate strongly for a paradigm shift in the conceptualization of what it means to live with the land and invite us to reevaluate the language we use as a basis for our societal structures (such as "ownership" and "rights"). They believe in the equitable sharing of land and resources for all present and future beings and wish to set a global example of the possibility for harmonious interdependence of human and non-human entities. (E. Hayakawa, personal communication, 8 December 2022).

While SHL holds a number of values in common with Metro Vancouver Regional Parks pertaining to ecological conservation and opening land for public access, they expressed the view that there is already an abundance of parks of a similar (proposed) function in and around Vancouver; they emphasise that CRC in particular represents an opportunity for a new model for Metro Vancouver Parks that could revolutionize people's relationship with the natural environment and offer opportunities for engagement, education, and sustainable economies. (E. Hayakawa, K. Braathen, W. Crosby, personal communication, 7 December 2022)

The Eco-spiritual model shares some values and methodologies with ecoforestry, a model with merits proven through Merv Wilkinson's Wildwood forest on Vancouver Island[11], inspired by Arne Naess's Deep Ecology[12]. Eco-spiritual forestry was first modeled by indigenous nations around the world and reinstating this model incorporates a deeper spiritual connection to the land, integrating humanity into the natural system by aligning with nature. The Eco-spiritual model, as envisioned by Ellen Hayakawa, takes the framework further to incorporate deeper spiritual connection to the land, integrating humanity into the natural system in a profound manner based on indigenous wisdom. (E. Hayakawa, personal communication, 7 December 2022)

Spirit Holding Land's goals are best summarized as:

  • Regenerating old-growth forest over the next 500-1000 years
  • Creating a system where people are more profoundly connected to the trees and the environment (each generation building upon the work of those that have gone before them)
  • Creating a local circular economy where forest products are harvested, used, discarded of, and recycled on the island
  • Selective tree thinning where harvesting does not exceed the 10% per year growth rate
  • Protecting and cultivating healthy soils by minimizing disturbance and utilizing biodynamic agro-forestry principles
  • Allowing natural regeneration of forests (no planting)
  • Encouraging biodiversity through leaving wildlife trees


Tenure arrangements

Cape Roger Curtis on Bowen Island is traditional, unceded Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) Nation land, however, there is not currently a presence of the Skwxwú7mesh community on the land. The tenure arrangements currently vary on CRC: the 32 private freehold lots[2] and the 240 acres[5] of regional park.

Institutional/Administrative arrangements

The 240 acre lot is owned and managed by Metro Vancouver Regional Parks. Metro Vancouver is a federation of 21 municipalities (including Bowen Island Municipality), an Electoral Area, and a Treaty First Nation and has its own set of internal policies and regulations. The federation is regulated by its Board of Governors, comprised of elected officials from each local authority, and is subject to the general laws and regulations outlined by the Canadian Government [13].

Social actors

Interested stakeholders

Metro Vancouver is an interested stakeholder as it owns the land[6] but has no deep ties to the land itself, as it is a governmental organization. MVRP will have final say over decision made over the 240 acres of park land as the sole owner. Its goals include ecological conservation and sustainable tourism[14]. Residents of nearby urban areas as well as (eco)tourists from within and outside Canada also interested stakeholders, as they will want access to this land for recreational and potentially educational use.

Affected Stakeholders

Squamish Nation is an affected stakeholder. Bowen Island is the traditional territory of Squamish Nation. It is unclear to what extent Squamish Nation is involved (E. Hayakawa, personal communication, 8 December 2022) though a Squamish representative has expressed that they are looking forward to collaborating with Metro Vancouver Regional Parks and Bowen Island Municipality in incorporating the Squamish language and culture in the planning process[15].

The Bowen Island residents are affected stakeholders who will immediately be impacted by management decisions for the forest and parks[7].

An argument may be presented that Metro Vancouver is also an affected stakeholder as its Board of Governors is comprised of elected representatives of local communities. However, this angle is weak seeing as there is only one Bowen Island representative on the board[16].

Indigenous History of Bowen Island


Communication and cooperation seem to be the key elements moving forward according to John Dowler, consultant to the Cape on Bowen. A major learning point from the contention from 2019 to 2021 was the necessity for community engagement and consultation in development plans: "The more the public can participate before anything is submitted, the better use there is of municipal time, so you don’t put highly contentious projects through the whole process". He also expressed the need for constructive discussion and cooperation between "environmentalists" and developers[3]. On a hopeful note, when asked whether they would be open to discussion and collaboration with the Metro Vancouver Parks, Squamish Nation and the island community and Municipal Council, the response from the SHL team was a resounding "Yes!" (E. Hayakawa, K. Braathen & W. Crosby, personal communication, 7 Dec 2022).

Recreational parks: pros

Recreational parks provide a safe and easy avenue for people that live in urban areas to integrate within nature and participate in outdoor activities. Urban areas can have a deficit of natural features and systems and create a disconnect between humans and the environment. Spending time within nature is very healthy for humans, and has been found to improve both mental and physical health[9]. It's important for local governments to create these spaces as they also have environmental benefits. Recreational parks play a role a role in mitigating climate change and conserving ecosystems[9]. The parks mark an area that is not allowed to be logged, trespassed on, or hunted on. Bowen Island may also experience economic growth due to the rise in tourism, so local businesses may receive more business than before the park development.

Recreational parks: cons

Government-mandated parks have a deep-rooted history with colonialism: the purchase of the land grants authority over the land [17]. Parks have been used to displace Indigenous communities in the past by building them on traditional land, and setting restrictions in the name of environmentalism and conservation[17]. However, Canadian government parks have made efforts in recent times to consult with Indigenous people and create parks with reconciliation in mind.

The addition of the park may result in a substantial increase in tourists from outside the island. Bowen Island is only accessible by ferry, so there will be a significant increase in passengers. The Bowen Island to Horseshoe Bay ferry route already has capacity issues, and the current infrastructure may not be enough to accommodate residents and tourists (Bowen Island Facebook Page, personal communication, 7 December 2022).

Foot traffic can also harm plant species; if park users are free to roam among the grounds, fauna and other organisms may be stepped on. The risk of fires on Bowen Island may increase if the park is built as not every park user is trained on building safe and contained fires (Bowen Island Facebook Page, personal communication, 7 December 2022); although Metro Van has expressed that they are aware of this issue, and will provide fire and emergency planning and resources[5].

Spirit Holding Land Philosophy

Spirit Holding Land’s philosophy follows very closely with Merv Wilkinson and his forest, which is based on the Scandinavian model of ecoforestry[11]. Wildwood is an eco-spiritual forest bought by Merv Wilkinson that differs from common forestry practices in BC. Rather than harvesting every year, they harvest every five years, biodiversity is encouraged and birds are the natural seed planters for the forest. The forest also contains zero pesticides, as the natural balance of the ecosystem serves as pest control. Along with the harvesting of timber, Wildwood serves as an educational programming and opportunities center[11].

Merv Wilkinson managed this forest following the ethics of biocentrism; the point of view that extends inherent value to all living things[18]. The central claim of biocentrism is that living things can be harmed by or benefit from human actions and that it places moral constraints on how humans are permitted to treat them[18]. Spirit Holding Land and Merv Wilkinson view individual species of plants and animals as integral parts of the living biosphere, and all species depend on the biosphere for health[5]. SHL takes inspiration from this philosophy and project in their own framework.

The foundation for Spirit Holding Land is teachings from Indigenous cultures of the natural/spirit law (E. Hayakawa, personal communication, 7 December 2022). Ellen Hayakawa, the founder of Spirit Holding Land, reiterates a phrase many Indigenous people of British Columbia humbly share, “We belong to the land, the land does not belong to us. We are stewards of the land and waters. Share with others and don’t take more than you need for your basic survival.” (E. Hayakawa, personal communication, 7 December 2022). Not only does SHL want to apply these principles to Cape Roger Curtis, but they want to offer this land as a place for education and teaching of these principles. Spirit Holding Land wants to teach people eco-spiritual practices and principles, so they can bring them home to their families and communities.

Spirit Holding Land goals and integration

SHL aims to bring people in closer connection to nature through models of ecospiritual education. The Cape would be ideally situated for such an enterprise. "We at Spirit Holding Land propose that rather than a regular old style “recreational park, the land for the proposed Metro Vancouver Regional Park be given back to Squamish Nation. If the Nation are open to it, then it can be co-stewarded , co planned with the community here on the island as an experimental leading edge ecospiritual educational peace park where Elders can give their traditional teachings and for example demonstrate and teach their traditional forestry practices." (E. Hayakawa, personal communication, 8 December 2022)

SHL has set out the following list of steps towards creating the eco-spiritual model:

"1. Change our beliefs and perspectives about humans being the most intelligent species on the planet and that we manage Nature. [...] Notable is that many trees in the BC forest had/have potential lifespans that are 10-12 centuries longer than humans and thus carry both a different kind of design and intelligence that humans lack. Thus all beings are in communication through our spirit/energy connection [...]

2. Teach people how to develop a relationship as a friend to the trees and the forest community. Invite people of all ages through experiential educational workshops to spend time in the forest, with plants, mushrooms, trees and other life in the forest. Listen to them, learning their name and learn about the magic of their lives and life cycles. Teach how to responsibly forage, and and help with the regeneration.

3.Education about what ecospiritual forestry. Teaching people what ecospiritual forestry is [...].

4.Helping people from young to elderly conscious of their ecological footprint on forests by their consumption and use of forest products to minimize that consumption.

5. Access to land that has been damaged, deforested or doesn’t have healthy old growth to both teach ecospiritual forestry and demonstrate and research the impact of ecospiritual forestry practices over time, beginning with the collection of baseline data

6.Give people in the community who all live in the forest, backyard assessments and provide the information and practical tools (what you can do today!) for them to help regenerate old-growth forests.

7. Work with all levels of government esp. provincial and federal to encourage the designation of ecospiritual forestry as a cutting edge approach to forests such that there is a change policies regulations and laws to support small community based ecospiritual forestry"

(E. Hayakawa, personal communication, 8 December 2022)


The history of the land has been rife with conflict and hurt for the last several years as plans have been made and changed and scrapped and changed again[3]. As it stands, the private lots of land have been mostly purchased[2] but some remain largely undeveloped, leaving much potential for a collaborative approach should the private landowners be interested.

Cape on Bowen CEO Candy Ho expressed in an interview with the Bowen Island Undercurrent (the local newspaper) in March of 2021 that they wish "to do better with the land" and avoid future discontent with the planning and use of the land[3]. And to this end, the developers sold the remaining parcel of land to Metro Vancouver.

MVRP also seems committed to bringing people closer to nature and has expressed the intention to involve Bowen Island and First Nations community members[5]. MVRP has a good history of responsibly managing land for public recreation, on Bowen Island, which is part of the reason why the next steps in this process are so crucial to maintain that trust between the community and the federation (E. Hayakawa, K. Braathen, personal communication, 7 December 2022).


"We at Spirit Holding Land propose that rather than an old style 'recreational park', the land for the proposed Metro Vancouver Regional Park be given back to Squamish Nation. If the Nation are open to it, then it can be co-stewarded , co-planned with the community here on the island as an experimental leading edge Eco-spiritual educational peace park where Elders can give their traditional teachings and for example demonstrate and teach their traditional forestry practices. The design and planning of the park would be by Squamish Nation and the community on the island with Metro Vancouver planners providing information and technical support. Metro Vancouver as a co-steward/manager could provide the infrastructure and management needed to co-create the Eco-spiritual education peace park. Metro Vancouver as a co-steward can supply the finances and the infrastructure needed to co-create the Eco-spiritual education peace park. The community on this island as well as others locally and internationally can give talks support, participate, and teach Eco-spiritual/peace workshops." (E. Hayakawa, personal communication, 8 December 2022)

Ecoforestry has been implemented with success at Wildwood for decades, utilizing principles of biodynamic agro-forestry, ecocentrism, and conservation[11]. Its success is promising for a model of similar nature.

Furthermore, collaborative models of community forest governance between community members and federal/local governments have also been executed with success in other case studies, for example in the Weaverville Community Forest[19]. In Weaverville, the management decisions over the forest were made by community members while the government bodies provided a legal framework and technical support. This model was shown to benefit all involved parties and common goals were established and collaboratively worked towards[19].

The consensus seems to be that communication and cooperation is the most efficient and constructive way forward. We recommend that and interested and/or affected parties take initiative in creating a conversation around the best possible use of the land. In this way, informed decisions can be made for planning, community members may have a say in the future of the island, and the discussion can open as to new, collaborative ways to move forward.


  1. Le Bel, Pauline (5 June 2020). "Bowen's original name will soon greet those arriving on the island: Nexwlélexwm". Bowen Island Undercurrent. Retrieved 19 December 2022.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 "The Cape on Bowen". Retrieved 3 December 2022.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Beairsto, Bronwyn (5 April 2021). "One Cape on Bowen chapter closes, so what comes next?". The Bowen Island Undercurrent. Retrieved 19 December 2022.
  4. "Bowen Island Sensitive Ecosystem Mapping Airphoto - 2005". Islands Trust BC. Retrieved 10 December 2022.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 "Regional Parks Land Acquisition at Cape Roger Curtis". Retrieved 19 December 2022.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Kurial, Alex (17 May 2023). "Metro Vancouver closes land purchase at Cape Roger Curtis". Bowen Island Undercurrent. Retrieved 17 February 2024.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Kurial, Alex (August 10, 2022). "Metro Van proposes sweeping new regional park for Bowen Island". Vancouver Is Awesome.
  8. Bowen Island Museum & Archives. "Indigenous History of Bowen".
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Fitzpatrick, Jack. "Jeff Fitzpatrick - Metro Vancouver Regional Parks". The Bowen Island Podcast.
  10. Hayakawa, Ellen. "Spirit Holding Land Network". Retrieved 10 December 2022.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 "Ecoforestry Institute Society". Retrieved 20 December 2022.
  12. Naess, Arne (2016). Williston, Byron (ed.). Environmental Ethics for Canadians (2 ed.). Don Mills, Ontario: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-901449-1.
  13. "Metro Vancouver Shared Responsibilities". Retrieved 19 December 2022.
  14. "Metro Vancouver Board Strategic Plan".
  15. Kurial, Alex (10 August 2022). "Metro Van proposes sweeping new regional park for Bowen Island". Retrieved 20 December 2022.
  16. "Board Members". Retrieved 20 December 2022.
  17. 17.0 17.1 Finegan, Chance (2021). "How Can Urban Parks Support Urban Indigenous Peoples? Exploratory Cases from Saskatoon and Portland". Aboriginal Policy Studies. 9(2).
  18. 18.0 18.1 Williston (Ed.), B (2016). Environmental ethics for Canadians (Second edition). Oxford University Press. pp. 49–54.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  19. 19.0 19.1 Frost, Pat; Sheen, Kelly (2022). "The Weaverville Community Forest: Putting community in the forest". In Bulkan, Janette; et al. (eds.). Handbook of Community Forestry. Routledge. pp. 182–199. Explicit use of et al. in: |editor-last= (help)

Country: Canada

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