Provincial Crown Land

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94% of land British Columbia in is “Provincial Crown Land” – land owned by the province. In addition, the beds of lakes and rivers, as well as areas of sea-bed falling within inlets or bays, are owned by the provincial government.

Many First Nations claim aboriginal title to large areas of this “publicly owned” land, pointing out that they owned it prior to the British Colonial government claiming title to it. However, for the time being the provincial government continues to act as if it owns these lands, subject to an obligation to consult the First Nations about use of their territory.

Who Manages Provincial Crown Land

Several provincial government Ministries are given responsibility for managing different aspects of Crown Land:

Other government ministries may have a role to play – but the above are the big ones.

Some uses of Crown Land by their nature exclude some or all others. For example, mining cannot take place in a park or ecological reserve. However, in many cases several different activities can take place on the same piece of Crown Land, with each ministry regulating in their respective areas. For example, a lease of an area for back-country skiing by MSRM may overlap with logging rights and/or with mining exploration.

Provincial Crown Land cannot be regulated by municipal governments.

How Crown Land is Managed

While there are different laws governing different types of resource use on Crown Land, the general law governing the use of provincially owned land is the Land Act. As noted, it is administered by Land and Water, B.C Inc.

There are several different ways in which different laws allow government to say what its priorities are for a certain area of Crown land. These include:

  • “land-use designations” – Land-use designations allow government to say what a certain area is to be used for. For example, a park is a land-use designation.
  • Grants – Government can turn public crown land over to a private owner, through a “grant” of land. This is done under the Land Act.
  • Leases – Government can lease public crown land (under the Land Act) to a private individual or company. The private individual or company will then have the power to use the crown land according to the terms of a lease agreement. Depending upon the terms of the lease the holder of the lease may be able to exclude others from the area, use resources in the area and/or exercise other rights of a private land-owner.
  • Resource licences/grants – Certain resource acts (e.g. the Forest Act, Mineral Tenure Act, Water Act) give private interests a guaranteed right to use or extract resources on public lands, often called licences. The individual Act determines how strong these rights are – whether others can be excluded, whether they can be cancelled and under what circumstances, etc.
  • Land-Use Planning Objectives – The Ministry of Sustainable Resource Management develops plans for crown land. Strategic Land Use Planning sets general objectives for an area, while a process called Sustainable Resource Management Planning sets more specific and enforceable objectives. These objectives will either be requirements that resource users must meet (for some industries, such as forestry) or will be considered by government in approving plans for other industries.
  • Permission/approval – There are some activities that it is illegal to carry out on Crown Land without approval from the provincial government.

Through resource licences, and to a lesser extent leases, private business interests can have significant control over what happens on provincial crown land. Various laws aimed at regulating resource extraction set standards and/or planning requirements that industry must meet. Read about the laws and planning processes for the industry that you are interested in for more information.

Public Access

As a general rule, a member of the public may access provincial crown land. Some land-use designations, grants, leases and even licences may exclude the public from an area, but this is the exception rather than the rule, and would need to be clearly authorized in the legislation under which the exclusion was made. Land-use designations, grants, leases and licences that give private rights priority over public rights or First Nations rights to crown lands, and the government’s ability to control crown lands, have been opposed environmental, recreational and other communities.

For more information about Provincial Crown Land:

  • Integrated Land Management Bureau – A branch of the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands responsible for collecting data and coordinating planning in relation to Crown lands.
  • Dogwood Initiative – A BC environmental organization that wants to change how crown lands and resources are allocated.