Supporting BC’s Cumulative Effects Assessment and Management Framework

ESSA is helping BC resource agencies develop standardized environmental “values” and associated indicators/benchmarks of concern for assessing status of these values so as to inform authorizations and decision making related to environmental mitigation and provincial cumulative effects policy.

Project Details

British Columbia, Canada; N 53° 59′ 59”; W 125° 0′ 11”
BC Ministry of Environment
2012 – 2014 –
Team Member(s):
Marc Porter, Darcy Pickard, Carol Murray, Alex, Hall, Marc Nelitz, Lorne Greig
Practice Area(s):
Cumulative Effects Assessment, Fisheries & Aquatic Sciences
Services Employed:
GIS Analysis and Information Systems, Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, Statistical Design and Analysis, Environmental Management & Monitoring, Facilitation & Stakeholder Engagement, Monitoring Design & Evaluation

The Challenge:

Making decisions for public resources requires understanding environmental values and the effects of alternative decisions on those values. For example, freshwater aquatic ecosystems are one of several “values” identified as important to the people of British Columbia (BC). Risk to such values is defined as the likelihood of impacts to ecosystem structures and functions or the organisms and processes they support. Resource management professionals and decision-makers need reliable information on current and potential risks to ecosystems, and key components thereof, to inform land and resource management. A provincially consistent assessment of risks from individual development projects or cumulatively across multiple projects requires quantitative support in interpreting ecological risk to legal or policy objectives set for ecosystems, their components, or the indicators used to assess impact risk.

The Work:

To support the province’s evolving Cumulative Effects (CE) Assessment and Management Framework ESSA helped collaboratively develop a comprehensive literature-review based summary of information on components, indicators, and benchmarks for environmental values in BC, covering the higher-level provincial Values Framework categories of: Biodiversity, Wildlife, Fish and Water. Within each category coarse and/or fine filter values were summarized, comprising regional priorities, red-listed species, or values otherwise specified in regulations, as well as associated components, indicators, and benchmarks of concern. Within the Fish and Water categories ESSA supported the CE framework by developing refinements to indicator derivation/quantification and better defined benchmarks of concern for use in provincial-scale evaluations.

The Results:

The comprehensive summary of provincial “values” information completed by ESSA and collaborators has been assembled within an Environmental Values and Components Manual produced for the BC Ministry of Environment. The Manual is intended to support provincial environmental assessment, mitigation, and follow-up monitoring of individual projects by providing guidance on components, indicators and benchmarks for both fine and coarse filter values at project-level scales, as well as supporting cumulative effects assessments by providing guidance on components, indicators and benchmarks for coarse filter values at regional scales (see Figure 1). This work is intended to support authorizations and natural resource decision-making related to environmental mitigation and cumulative effects policy by providing a standardized suite of values and associated parameters and metrics.


Figure 1.Intended role of ESSA’s Values and Components Manual within the province’s evolving Cumulative Effects Assessment and Management Framework.

Examples of ESSA’s additional work with the province to improve Aquatic Values indicators and developing defensible benchmarks of concern is represented in roll-outs of provincial-scale “risk” maps for key indicators of landscape-scale pressures (see examples in Figure 2).


Figure 2. Examples of BC provincial-scale maps of indicator-specific risk levels to aquatic values (i.e. the perceived ability of watersheds to sustain water quality, water quality, and riparian systems, and the organisms and processes they support).