Course:FRST370/Collaborative Management of Community Forest Resources in the Capilano Watershed in British Columbia, Canada

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Collaborative Management of Community Forest Resources in the Capilano Watershed in British Columbia, Canada

This case study examines the Capilano Watershed in British Columbia, Canada. It examines the collaborative management of community forest resources in the watershed while providing historical information for context. The watershed is managed by the Greater Vancouver Regional District, who is a major stakeholder as it has a certain degree of influence over the decisions. It discusses the goals of the watershed management strategy and provides a concise assessment of relative successes or failures. Furthermore, it evaluates the various benefits that the watershed brings to the greater Vancouver Region. It discusses the controversies with the management techniques as some reports claim that the ban on logging in the watershed might increase the risks of fire in the watershed because of accumulating biomass. Lastly, recommendations are provided, including amendments that could be made to the existing regulations.


The Three Watersheds of the Greater Vancouver Regional District[1]

The Capilano Watershed is one of three watersheds that supply potable water to the Greater Vancouver Regional District (GMVR), Canada - a region of 21 municipalities with a population of over 2 million people[2]. The FRPA (Forest and Range Practices Act) defines a watershed as “all or part of the drainage area that is upslope of the lowest point from which water is diverted for human consumption by a licensed waterworks[3].” The Capilano is one of 466 community designated watersheds in British Columbia[3]. The primary purpose of the Capilano Watershed is to ensure clean and safe water for the Greater Vancouver Regional District, hereafter as GVRD. The total area of the Capilano Watershed is 19,535 hectares and is a drainage basin with 11 main tributary streams that originated from Capilano Mountain, which combine with the waters of the Capilano River [2]. The Capilano River collects into Capilano Lake, a reservoir behind the Cleveland Dam, which was constructed in 1954 by the Greater Vancouver Water District to store water, hereafter as GVWD[4]. The reservoir accounts for 40% of Vancouver’s water supply - it is able to store 57.9 billion liters of water[4]. This enormous storage capacity of the reservoir can be attributed to its physical dimension: it is 5.8 kilometers long, 800 meters wide, and 75 meters deep[4]. The Palisade Reservoir, a secondary dam was built in 1928 that is further upstream in the Capilano watershed, serves as a secondary reservoir to regulate the flow in the Capilano River and improve water quality in the Capilano Reservoir during the dry season[2].


The Capilano River in the watershed lands were associated with two Indians tribes, the Squamish and the Musqueam, prior to white contact[5]. The Squamish tribe lived along the Fraser River while the Musqueam occupied the Howe Sound Area[5]. The Musqueam previously settled the current watershed lands; however, the influx of the Squamish had caused a shift in the balance. Furthermore, it is evident that the First Nations had established a village, but they were not able to travel upstream beyond the mouth of the river[5].

Aerial Photo of the Cleveland Dam and Reservoir[6]

On the other hand, logging on the current watershed lands had been prevalent since the 1900s. The Capilano Watershed was established in 1905 by the provincial government on all Crown Lands[2]. The Capilano Timber Company had logged an estimate of 7900 acres of land from 1918-1931[2]. In 1931, the provincial government concluded that logging was harming their water supply based on several investigations performed[2]. The Capilano Timber Company left the scarred and damaged land in that same year in the hope that it will restore itself. This was not the case, as the terrains are still showing signs of instability. Ultimately, logging in the watershed land did not wholly cease until 1999. The most recent logging occurred from 1964-1994, where an estimate of 1250 hectares of land was cleared, including the 100km of roads that were built[2]. On November 10, 1999, the GVWD Administration Board passed a five-point resolution to further protect the watershed and ban logging completely[2].

Tenure arrangements

The Greater Vancouver Water District currently holds a forest management agreement for the Capilano Watershed, giving them complete control over the area and management. This was not an easy feat as it took the municipality of Vancouver two decades to secure this lease to protect the watershed. In 1887, the Vancouver Water Works company was chosen by the citizens of Vancouver as the one to build a water system for the city [7]. The Vancouver Water Works company was elected over competing companies because they were able to construct a water system with no immediate cost to the citizens[7]. The complete system was considered an engineering marvel at the time, and the company provided a future option to purchase. On April 3, 1905, city solicitor Arthur McEvoy and Alderman George Halse went to the provincial capital in an attempt to secure a 999-year lease for the source of the water system, the Capilano watershed[7]. The two men were denied in Victoria, and the provincial government subsequently placed the land in reserve. However, Vancouver Mayor Buscombe, in the same year, managed to negotiate a 50-year lease for a small quantity of the watershed for $2400 per year[7]. This short lease provided a temporary solution for the water supply problem in Vancouver.

The BC Provincial government finally leased the watershed lands to the GVWD in 1927 for $1 per year[2]. Effectively immediately, under a specific provision in the land act, the GVWD obtain the tenure for the whole area for 999 years. In 1971, the GVWD became a part of the GWRD[8]. The sole purpose of this tenure agreement is to provide safe, clean water to the residents of Metro Vancouver[9]. As a result, the management of trees in the watershed lands is not as prioritized as the provision of water. The leaseholders have exclusive rights to restrict any activity and land use - such as logging - that they deem inappropriate[9]. The Capilano watershed, along with Seymour and Coquitlam watersheds, is not available for public access. The GVWD states that it is crucial to take all necessary measures to reduce the risk of water contamination. The registered bus tours in the summer are the only way an individual would gain access to the watershed lands.

Administrative arrangements

As the leaseholders of the Capilano watershed, the GVWD naturally has complete control over the governance and management of the area. The GVWD was established in February of 1926 with a mandate to end all logging and to purchase all the private lands to prevent further logging[2]. The GVWD functioned as a wholesaler of water; it supplies water to municipalities and cities at no profit[7]. The work of the GVWD has been overseen by a commission since its establishment[8]. The primary objective of the GVWD as it pertains to the watershed land is to supply clean, safe water and to ensure that the watershed is managed and protected as natural assets of the highest importance to the Greater Vancouver region[10]. In 1967, an amendment to the lease was made in which the GVWD was allowed to log in the watershed lands if given permission by the Ministry of Forestry[2]. This was done to permit the systematic roading and liquidation of its old-growth forest. It is important to note that all of this was done without public knowledge. The rationale and arrangement of the logging decisions are unknown. Finally, annual reports will be created by the GVRD to describe the state of the watersheds and provide documentation of the results.

The current management strategies that have been passed by the administration board are listed[10]:

  • Adaptive management: watersheds will be managed through an adaptive approach, in which small steps will be taken and constantly assessed.
  • Restoration of natural systems: the GVRD will look to re-establish the natural regimes that existed in the watershed prior to human disturbance.
  • Support for natural processes consistent with water quality, safety, and environmental quality: natural processes including forest succession, interaction of plants and animals, wildfires, and erosion will be permitted to take place without intervention as long as water quality is not threatened.
  • Stewardship guided by research, monitoring, and public involvement: the GVRD will continually develop and disseminate the body of knowledge about the watershed and will engage the public in understanding the implications.
  • Cost-effective management: management and program strategies will be implemented in a cost-effective manner.
  • Coordinate with the Provincial strategies and policies: legislation and policy will be taken into consideration in its planning and operations.

The managing authority strives to achieve its management strategy with minimal intervention and an ecologically sensitive approach when it comes to the watershed lands. The following 5 principles were endorsed by the GVRD in November 1999[10]:

  • The watersheds will provide clean, safe water.
  • The watersheds will be managed to reflect and advance the region’s commitment to environmental stewardship and protection of those lands and their biological diversity.
  • The region’s Management Plan will be based upon the minimum intervention absolutely necessary to achieve the Board’s objectives.
  • The Management Plan will contain policies to return areas disturbed by human activities as close as possible to the pre-disturbance state consistent with the primary goal of protecting water quality.
  • The decision-making process will be transparent and open to the public.

Affected Stakeholders

The GVRD is an affected stakeholder with the most significant power and management authority, as it holds the 999-year lease for the tenure of the entire Capilano Watershed. The GVRD represents the residents of Metro Vancouver in terms of taking the required course of action to ensure safe and clean drinking water. In addition, public advocacy groups, including the Society Promoting Environmental Conservation, the Burke Mountain Naturalists, the Friends of the Watersheds, and the BC Tap Water Alliance have previously made active cases for halting logging activities to protect the drinking water. In 1988, the Western Canada Wilderness Committee raised attention to the logging issues through the use of a public campaign[11]. The aforementioned public advocacy groups also contributed to the cause as they individually produced strong cases for halting logging activities — consequently, this forced the GWRD to conduct a public inquiry in 1991[2]. In 1999, the GVRD resolved to end all logging activities in the Greater Vancouver watersheds[2]. The 1967 Amending Indenture was also canceled on February 8, 2002[2].

The affected stakeholders and their main relevant objectives, as well as relative power, are summarized in a table below.

Affected Stakeholders
Social Actor or User GroupRelative Power and Role
The Greater Vancouver Regional District High power; To ensure clean and safe drinking water for the Greater Vancouver Region and also the future water quality.
Residents of the Greater Vancouver Area Low power; Want clean and safe drinking water.
Backcountry Hikers Low power; Want access to the watershed for hiking as well as peak bagging activities to reach famous peaks such as the East Lion that are within the Capilano Watershed.

Interested Outside Stakeholders

The BC Ministry of Transportation and the Howe Sound Highway Committee wanted to construct a public motor highway passing through the Capilano Watershed, connecting North Vancouver to Squamish and Garibaldi Park. J.W. Weart first suggested this in 1929[12]. Both of these parties have medium power, given the fact that they are only interested stakeholders as they are not affected by the Capilano watershed. The idea has been turned down by the GVRD, even after the death of their leader Ernest Cleveland in 1952[12]. The GVRD strongly maintained its position that the watershed must be protected by isolation. The advocacy groups are interested in the protection and preservation of the watershed, but have limited power due to the nature of the organization and how governance is structured. They can only invite public attention to specific issues as well as create campaigns to emphasize the problem further. On the other hand, the Capilano Timber Company held medium power as another interested stakeholder. This is because they have harvested timber on the watershed lands since its establishment. Their objective is to maximize its economic profit.

The interested outside stakeholders and their main relevant objectives, as well as relative power, are summarized in a table below.

Interested Stakeholders
Social Actor or User GroupRelative Power and Role
BC Ministry of Transportation Medium power; Wanted to construct a highway through the Capilano Watershed from the North Shore to Squamish.
Howe Sound Highway Committee Medium Power; Campaigned for the highway through the Capilano Watershed.
Capilano Timber Company (1918-1931) Medium power; Harvested timber from the Capilano Watershed.
The Burke Mountain Naturalists Low power; Promoting nature awareness and appreciation.
The Friends of the Watersheds Low power; Protecting and Preserving the Watershed.
BC Tap Water Alliance Medium-low power; Advocates and Defends British Columbia's Drinking Watershed Reserves and Community Watersheds.
Western Canada Wilderness Committee Medium-low power; Protect life-giving biological diversity in Canada through strategic research and grassroots public education.


Relative Successes

The management strategies by the GVRD can be considered a success because the region has one the best quality tap waters in the world[13]. Furthermore, The GVRD aims to provide residents with the cleanest drinking water of any city in the world by 2020[14]. The Watershed Management Plan is a comprehensive plan that aims to ensure current and future drinking water quality. The GVRD has taken many measures, including upgrades to infrastructure, to ensure the quality of tap water in the region. The actions that are taken, including the ban on logging and restricted access, have proven to be relatively successful. Furthermore, the 999-year lease grants the GVRD full power over other social actors to the watershed, which eliminated conflicts in how the Capilano Water is managed. The 999-year lease is a clear tenure, which also removes conflicts over tenure, as seen in other community watersheds such as the the Creston Valley Watershed case study[15].


The GVRD has full control over the watershed, meaning that policies can be implemented efficiently without conflict; however, having one social actor with complete control means that it is a top-down management type. It may be hard for other social actors with different interests to voice their say on the policy making process.


One of the controversies surrounding the Capilano watershed is the restriction of all logging activities. A study was done to prove that a halt to logging in the Capilano Watershed would increase the risk of forest fires and tree disease outbreaks over the next century in the 60000 hectares of mountain wilderness covered by the Capilano, Seymour, and Coquitlam Watersheds[16]. A major forest fire will cause more fine sediment to leach into the reservoirs because scorched or diseased areas are more susceptible to erosion. Furthermore, the study reveals that the risk of a looper infestation, fire hazard, or a leaf-munching green caterpillar will double in 120 years if some of the trees are not removed over time[16].


The Greater Vancouver Regional District is the leaseholder and governing body of the Capilano watersheds. The board is fully responsible for all the decision-making as it pertains to the watershed lands, forests, and the provision of water. It has the highest power in this group of affected stakeholders because it acts as an authoritative figure in this situation. Their objective is to ensure the provision of healthy and pure drinking water as well as maintaining water quality for the future[10]. As the rights holder of the Capilano watershed, the GVRD has rejected the idea of constructing a highway multiple times. Before the amending indenture was banned, the GVRD had the power to log on its watershed lands with the permission of the Ministry of Forestry. With the amount of power that the GVRD holds, transparency in their rationale and action has been lacking. However, they have improved in this aspect as evident by the 5 principles that they have created in relation to the management strategies for the watershed.

The Residents of the Greater Vancouver Region refers to the users that get their water from the Capilano watershed. As a collective, their power in this stakeholder group is relatively low. Ironically, they are the most affected group as they potentially have the most to gain or lose. The health and wellbeing of the residents can be significantly affected by a contaminated water source. They could develop various water-borne diseases and consequently endanger their lives.

Meanwhile, the backcountry hikers also hold relatively low power. Their objective is to gain access to the watershed for hiking and peak bragging activities to reach peaks such as the East Lion that are located within the watershed. They are in the affected stakeholder group because they have been able to use the watershed lands for hiking in the past. They are restricted from entering the area in order to diminish the risk of chemicals and other sources of pollution. In addition, hikers have proven to increase fire risks. However, the Capilano watershed is currently closed to public access, resulting in a dispute between the two parties. It is important to note that the only and final decision-maker is the GVRD; thus, they cannot regain their access without the GVRD’s approval.

The Ministry of Transportation, the Howe Sound Highway Committee, the Capilano Timber Company, and all of the advocacy groups involved can only propose specific ideas and changes that they wish to see in regards to the watersheds but have no power to realize them. Whether it is logging, the construction of a highway, or any other future matters, the GVRD will continue to have absolute control over these suggested recommendations until the end of its 999-year lease.

Analysis of Level of Care vs. Interested/Affected

Level of Care


The Greater Vancouver Regional District
BC Tap Water Alliance BC Ministry of Transportation Residents of the Greater Vancouver Area
Western Canada Wilderness Committee;

The Friends of the Watersheds;

The Burke Mountain Naturalists

Howe Sound Highway Committee
Backcountry Hikers
Capilano Timber Company (1918-1931)
(less) ←Interested→(more) (more) ←Affected→ (less)


The first recommendation is integrating bottom-up management into the decision-making and planning process of the GVRD. This can be achieved by adding a Public Advisory Board or a stakeholder advisory committees. The Public Advisory Board can be used to increase public participation and influence policy-making. The Public Advisory Board is advantageous because an advisory board can represent and communicate the ideas and values of a community throughout the decision-making process of a proposal.

The second recommendation addresses the controversy around the increase in fire risk from the logging ban in the Capilano Watershed. This recommendation is to log out firebreaks in the forest within the Capilano Watershed. The purpose of the firebreaks to prevent catastrophic impact in case of a severe crown forest fire, as huge fires pose a serious threat to the water quality in the watershed.

The last recommendation is to address the current issue of hikers illegally entering the watershed by stricter enforcement and patrol of the watershed. Although this recommendation is expensive, it may be a necessary measure to reduce the risk of fire or water contamination.


  1. Metro Vancouver. (n.d.). [Metro Vancouver Maps of Vancouver Water Services]. Retrieved November 20, 2019 from
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 BC Tap Water Alliance. (n.d.). About the Greater Vancouver Watersheds. Retrieved from
  3. 3.0 3.1 Government of British Columbia. (n.d.). Community Watersheds. Retrieved from
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Metro Vancouver. (n.d.). Cleveland Dam. Retrieved from
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 O’Donnell, B. (n.d.). Indian and Non-Native Use of The Capilano River. Retrieved from
  6. "Google Maps". 2019. Retrieved November 8, 2019.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 Hill, C. (2006). Two models of multi-level governance, one model of multi-level accountability : drinking water protection in Canada and the United States. Retrieved from
  8. 8.0 8.1 City of Vancouver. (n.d.). Greater Vancouver Water District. OFfice of the Commissioner (B.C.). Retrieved from
  9. 9.0 9.1 BC Forest Practices Board. (2014). Community Watersheds: From Objectives to Results on the Ground.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 Greater Vancouver District Region. (2002). Watershed Management Plan. Retrieved from
  11. Wilderness Committee. (1988). Carmanah - Protect this ancient forest forever. Retrieved from
  12. 12.0 12.1 Bohn, G. (2002, September 09). Watershed highway 'a non-starter': Mayor: North vancouver district's don bell says such a road would be an ugly mountain scar: Final C edition]. The Vancouver Sun. Retrieved from
  13. Baker, M. (n.d.). Why You Should Drink More Tap Water. The University of British Columbia. Retrieved from
  14. Water Tapp. (2019.) Can you drink Vancouver tap water? Retrieved from
  15. Bullock, R.C.L. and K.S. Hanna. (2012). A “watershed” case for community forestry in British Columbia’s interior: the Creston Valley Forest Corporation, Community Forestry: local values, conflict and forest governance, pp.82-99. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  16. 16.0 16.1 Munro, H. (1999, April 21). Logging in watersheds fails to affect quality, report say. The Vancouver Sun. Retrieved from
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