Environmentally Sensitive Areas

Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESAs) are areas that have special environmental attributes requiring retention. These attributes contribute to the retention and/or creation of wildlife habitat, soil stability, water retention or recharge, vegetative cover and similar vital ecological functions. ESAs are critical to the maintenance of productive and diverse plant and wildlife populations. Examples include rare ecosystems, habitats for species at risk and areas that are easily disturbed by human activities. ESAs can range in size from small patches to extensive landscape features. A complex of factors may contribute to an areas environmental sensitivity rating.

ESA Criteria

During the preparation of an Environmental Assessment (EA), at a minimum, communities/polygons will be stratified and evaluated in terms of habitat/ecosystem rarity, wildlife habitat suitability, rare and endangered species’ occurrence potential, functional condition (ie., ecological connectivity, level of disturbance, seral stage, structural stage etc.) and fragility. Stratifying ESAs will be completed from a primarily objective approach relying on existing information and a professional understanding about the functional requisites for respective wildlife, communities, and ecosystems. The specific criteria/rating systems developed and used in the evaluation will be appended to EA reports. Where ESA evaluations require a more subjective approach, a clearly articulated discussion/rationale will be provided (in the report).

Rating System

The following four-class rating system has been adopted by the RDCO and shall be applied to all ESA evaluations. 




ESA -1

Very Significant

These areas contain significant vegetation and wildlife characteristics representing a diverse range of sensitive habitat. These features contribute significantly to the overall connectivity of the habitat and ecosystems. Avoidance and conservation of ESA-1 designations should be the primary objective. If development should occur within these areas (Only after it proves impossible or impractical to maintain the same level of ecological function) compensation will promote no net loss to the habitat (typically with a 3:1 replacement of equivalent functioning habitat).


Moderate Significance

These areas contribute toward the overall diversity and contiguous nature of the surrounding natural features. If development is pursued in these areas portions of the habitat should be retained and integrated to maintain the contiguous nature of the landscape. Some loss to these ESAs can be offset by habitat improvements to the remaining natural areas found on property.


Low Significance

These areas contribute to the diversity to the landscape, although based on the condition and adjacency of each habitat the significant function within the landscape is limited. If development is pursued in these areas the impacts should be offset by habitat improvements in other more sensitive natural areas found on property.


Little or No Significance

These areas contribute little or no value to the overall diversity or vegetation, soils, terrain and wildlife characteristics of the area. Development is encouraged to be focused to these sites before consideration developing higher rated sites of the area. These areas shall not be considered as areas for restoration and enhancement or as recruitment as higher value ESA in offsetting development in other areas.

Are you developing?

If you are developing a property, which is considered to be within an Environmentally Sensitive Area, or is located near property which has been identified as having significant environmental value, you may be required to mitigate the impacts of proposed development and address the environment through Development Permit. For more information, call Planning Services at 250-469-6227 or email planning@cord.bc.ca.

Regional District of Central Okanagan | 1450 KLO Road | Kelowna, BC V1W 3Z4
Ph: 250-763-4918 | Fax: 250-763-0606 | Email: info@rdco.com
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