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Briony Penn

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  1. Or was the battle fought over an invented crisis? IN THE KEYNOTE SPEECH at a recent conference on the value of nature in urban areas, Don Luymes, director of strategic initiatives in Surrey, cited a refrain that had many of the participants, like Saanich resident Carmel Thomson, nodding. “The battle for sustainability will be won or lost in the suburbs,” said Luymes. The suburbs of Saanich have become one of the most watched of these battlegrounds, because the stakes have never been so high: one of the hottest high-end real estate markets in the world vs. one of the most endangered ecosystems in the country. Emotions run high on both sides. Nowhere in Canada is there a place so rare and ecologically-important pitted against a global luxury housing market so aggressive. A new house under construction in Saanich amidst a Garry oak ecosystem, the kind of property subject to Saanich's EDPA bylaw Just as Premiers Notley and Horgan face off over a fundamental disagreement on what constitutes the national interest and constitutional rights (protecting oil investments or the coastal environment), Saanich residents engage in similar clashes over what is more important: protecting their property rights, or nature. Some, like Mayor Richard Atwell, are asserting that there is agreement that nature is valued, but disagreement on the best way to protect it on private property (or if, in fact, it can be protected on private land at all). Others are arguing that the biggest problem is leadership—a failure to listen and bring opposing groups together to work out a less polarized solution. For people like Carmel Thomson, a local landowner who has been at the forefront of sustainability initiatives in Saanich and is one of the members of SAFE (Saanich Action for the Environment), the 33-year battle for Saanich’s “rare ecosystems and vital habitat” lost a lot of ground it couldn’t afford to lose on November 6, 2017. That night, Mayor Atwell, and councillors Susan Brice, Karen Harper, Fred Haynes and Lief Wergeland, voted to rescind a bylaw and planning tool called the Environmental Development Permit Area (EDPA). Their one-vote majority was the result of the September by-election to fill Vic Derman’s seat (Derman died suddenly last year). Carmel Thomson and Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell Adopted by Saanich Council in 2012, the EDPA bylaw identified environmentally sensitive areas like Garry oak ecosystems in the municipality, putting them under a special set of guidelines, and requiring a permit before you could alter them (for example the construction of a new building or dock). The areas—representing about five percent of the 40,000 private properties in Saanich (and 52 percent of public lands)—were determined by various inventories of sensitive ecosystems, wildlife trees, and conservation data. Though a permit for alteration was required, numerous exemptions were allowed, for everything from hazardous trees to existing gardens and landscaping to small outbuildings and slope stabilization. If a permit was required, certain guidelines were to be employed. While proponents saw it as inoffensive and helpful, critics claimed it was heavy-handed and an invasion of privacy. Thomson traces Atwell’s decision to rescind the EDPA back to a pledge he made publicly to represent a group of anti-EDPA landowners called SCRES (Saanich Citizens for a Responsible EDPA) who were successful in convincing the mayor, at the start of his mayoral career in April of 2015, with their claims that an EDPA designation “places an undue burden on homeowners while not protecting the environment.” Atwell defends his loyalty to the anti-EDPA side: “I pledged to give a voice to the issue at the council table. This is what we do as elected representatives.” According to Thomson, this loyalty has led to a “failure” in public process that might have brought some clarification to these claims, and the bylaw itself. The issue has certainly attracted a more-than-average amount of controversy. The biologist who supported SCRES’ claims is now facing disciplinary hearings from his professional association over possible conflict of interest. With regard to public participation, the $50,000 independent review of Saanich’s EDPA (called the Diamond Head Report) described the process as “an acrimonious social discourse” and pointed to “confusion and misunderstandings about the bylaw and its implementation.” The acrimony and confusion seeped into town halls, open houses and the by-election to replace Derman, who had been pro-EDPA. Rather than clear up the misunderstandings or implement the recommendations of the Diamond Head Report, Mayor Atwell and council passed a motion to rescind the bylaw on November 6, 2017. The toxicity of the process pushed one frustrated citizen, Dr Lynn Husted (in support of the EDPA) to file a legal petition through the Canadian Charter for Rights and Freedoms, just for the right to express her concerns without interruption from Atwell and some members of council. According to Chris Tollefson, who is the executive director for the Pacific Centre for Environmental Law and Litigation and who took Husted’s petition forward, his rationale for supporting this case is “to stand up for due process and the rule of law when we see things going so sideways.” What he means by “sideways” can be seen on a video of that November 6 meeting, available on the Saanich Council website. What viewers will see is Husted trying to deliver her arguments for why Saanich should have waited before passing a motion to rescind the EDPA, pending results of the disciplinary hearing of the biologist. After being cut off on several occasions by the mayor and Councillor Haynes on what they perceived as a point of order, Husted was ordered to stop. Atwell apologized in a settlement out of court, but is not initiating any changes in the chilly climate of debate around EDPAs. According to Atwell, “The rules that currently exist have been in place since we began webcasting council meetings and remain in place unchanged.” When asked why he didn’t implement the recommendations of the Diamond Head Report (which was commissioned by Saanich) instead of rescinding the bylaw, Atwell stated: “The overwhelming response is that the EDPA is not working as intended, is burdensome and achieving little in the way of measurable results.” Thomson argues that Atwell’s position is inconsistent with the findings of the report which “confirmed the high level of interest, knowledge and passion Saanich residents have towards environmental protection in their municipality…there is support in the community for protecting the natural environment using the EDPA, but that improvement in the Bylaw is required.” The 77-page Diamond Head Report provides ample evidence that the EDPA is supported by the public, along with 15 recommendations on how to improve it. The consultation was extensive, and included a review of all public feedback from open houses, town halls, questionnaires, and interviews with landowners, staff members and council—as well as a review of economic impacts of the bylaw, and best practices in other local governments. Atwell’s reference to “measureable results” seems unclear, as the only measureable data available is what staff collected for 2016 on 20 permits for restoration. Those permits resulted in the successful planting of native trees and shrubs in all 20 cases, and removal of invasive species in half of them. AT THE HEART OF THE ISSUE is whether the battle for sustainability is losing ground because of the limited tools available, or the deteriorating state of public discourse—with real estate prices skewing the debate further. EDPAs are one of the few legal tools that a municipality has to influence how natural areas on private land are protected. It is the same kind of tool that has worked reasonably well for stream and tree protection, flood control, and hazardous slopes where the development permit designation provides restrictions, but also some flexibility to negotiate development design through the permit process. The tool has been available under the Local Government Act and Municipal Act since 1985, but it took Saanich Council 27 years—after a lot of lobbying from citizen groups and people like Thomson—to add ecologically-sensitive areas like Garry oak ecosystems to more conventional stream and slope protection measures. The Province kick-started the process in the early 1990s in the Capital region by leading the Sensitive Ecosystems Inventory Mapping project—a necessary first step to establishing this bylaw, and following on BC’s international commitment to biodiversity. The municipal role of protecting ecological values has only slowly been embraced, because the development industry has influenced, perhaps unduly, local government agendas. Understandably, those who had fought for this hard-won planning tool are not happy with the reversal, especially in light of the fact that the independent consultants found the majority of the public was in support of it. Part of the problem, Thomson suggests, is the misinformation that was generated by “well-lawyered landowners.” Much of the recruiting for SCRES appears to have emanated from Ten Mile Point. Eight properties that applied for removal from EDPA and were identified in the disciplinary hearing for the biologist’s “failure to undertake proper due diligence and ground work with respect to the preparation of reports” all came from two streets: Tudor and Seaview. Residents on both sides of the issue declined to comment, due to the toxic nature of the conflict. When trying to find a spokesperson for SCRES, Focus was directed to the biologist named in the hearings. On the SCRES website, a key resource listed is the Fraser Institute’s Stealth Confiscation: How Governments Regulate, Freeze and Devalue Private Property without Compensation, which claims that property values are lowered by these types of designations. SCRES’ campaign was launched in 2015 on that assumption. Leaflets were distributed stating “it punishes thousands of homeowners without compensation” and “Not only does it impact true property development or subdivision but it also impacts the enjoyment, use AND the resale value of thousands of private properties whose owners just want to plant gardens, add patios and build fences.” Yet a BC Assessment Authority report of January 2016 (obtained through a freedom of information request) stated there was no evidence that an EDPA designation devalued property in Saanich. Was this report ignored by those opposed to the EDPA? A January 2017 report conducted by Rollo and Associates concluded that in only a few extreme cases would the EDPA guidelines impact property values. These impacts could be eliminated by Saanich relaxing the EDPA guidelines for these very few properties. The authors noted that there was “quite a bit of confusion, uncertainty and misunderstanding regarding the impact of EDPA guidelines on land use and property development.” Again, we have to wonder whether this report, too, was ignored by EDPA opponents. Thomson doesn’t buy the idea that this is an unworkable bylaw. The Diamond Head Report points out that “similar EDPAs are implemented in many other BC municipalities without incident.” This includes North Vancouver, West Vancouver, Kelowna, Nanaimo, Campbell River and Surrey. Though “broadly comparable…none had the degree of protest seen in Saanich.” The consultants reviewed the use of EDPAs in nine other local governments and identified key elements that Saanich might want to adopt and improve on. Some of those strategies (outside of the EDPA), Saanich council is already endorsing. When mayor and council passed a motion to explore rescinding the bylaw on October 28, they also requested their staff “report as soon as possible on the potential of developing a Saanich program which includes the topics of Climate Adaptation, a Biodiversity Conservation Strategy, and Stewardship Program to serve as a policy framework for other Saanich environmental policies and programs and a new Environmental Development Permit Area be considered part of this program; and the Diamond Head Report recommendations be considered as a component of this report.” But by November 6, a resolution was moved by Karen Harper to rescind the EDPA. Dozens of citizens spoke forcefully on the matter—on both sides—and councillors opposed (Brownoff, Murdock, Plant and Sanders) made the point that it was imprudent to ignore the consultants’ recommendations, throw aside a bylaw that had been years in the making, and act contrary to the goal of a sustainable Saanich. Throwing the baby out with the bathwater doesn’t make a lot of sense to Lynn Husted either. “How can a close vote be able to overturn a bylaw that various reports found to be at least as good or better than others studied, that has been in place for six-plus years, and where most of the recommendations for improvements could be implemented within a year.” Atwell, on the other hand, seems attached to his voluntary approach to stewardship: “The municipality cannot police private property in any practical way. To accomplish that, it needs an incentive-based approach towards stewardship that gains social license and can be easily understood by residents. The EDPA took the opposite approach, and failed for that reason.” Stewardship programs have been underway in Saanich for years, with an Environmental Education Officer who administers programs like Naturescape; Our Backyard quarterly newsletter; the Garry Oak Restoration Project that showcases best practices; workshops; control of invasive species; and a native plant salvage program. Saanich has been leading the pack provincially in this regard, but voluntary measures have not halted the downward decline of this vital ecosystem. The Sensitive Ecosystem Mapping Inventory was completed over 20 years ago, and at that time, less than five percent of Garry oak ecosystems still existed, with over a third of these remnants in Saanich (of which roughly half were on private land, and half in Saanich’s parks). One thing almost all municipal planners will agree on is that tracking the success of policy is essential, and that voluntary measures only go so far before laws need to kick in at a critical level—and Garry oak ecosystems are at a critical level. Thomson and Husted are hoping that there will be some changes in the process: more education, more use of data about the current state of the environment, and building on the information and ideas generated through earlier consultation (i.e. research and reports like Diamond Head). “We could be engaging the wider community in identifying issues, generating ideas and, together, developing workable solutions that could include notions such as tax incentives for those who have natural areas.” In the Gulf Islands, for instance, the Natural Area Protection Tax Exemption Program (NAPTEP) provides a tax rebate of 65 percent of a landowner’s annual property tax on the portion of their land protected by a NAPTEP convenant. There are lessons to be learned from the wider community. According to Thomson, “the battle for sustainability can be won if Saanich shows true leadership, and lives up to its Official Community Plan’s commitment to being ‘a sustainable community where a healthy natural environment is recognized as paramount for ensuring social well-being and economic vibrancy for current and future generations.’ Preservation of our fragile ecosystems depends on it—and our children and grandchildren are depending on us.” Briony Penn’s most recent book, The Real Thing: The Natural History of Ian McTaggart Cowan, won the Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize and the inaugural Mack Laing Literary Prize. She now lives on Salt Spring Island, but she grew up in Saanich and worked on mapping Garry oak ecosystems in the Sensitive Ecosystem Inventory over two decades ago.
  2. One man’s graphic video evidence spawns new awareness of fish farming dangers—and a government review. IT IS MIDNIGHT ON BARANOF ISLAND, off the coast of southeast Alaska. Tavish Campbell, captain of the schooner Maple Leaf, has woken all of us up—crew and guests—to witness a mysterious phenomenon: the mass migration of small opalescent squid to spawn. The water is shimmering with millions of squid that have made their way up from deep on the continental shelf to spawn in the shallow bay in which we are anchored. Few people other than fishermen witness this summer spectacle, and it takes a certain passionate eye with experience to anticipate this kind of event. Campbell has shared many of these types of moments with people around the world, whether it is the lucky guests aboard the ecotourism boats he captains, or the followers of his powerful videography blog. His latest video has gone viral, but it isn’t about squid or the extraordinary diversity of life on our coast—it is about blood…diseased blood, and lots of it. Tavish Campbell On November 27, Campbell released his mini-doc Blood Water, documenting an underwater pipe spewing out blood and guts from a fish processing plant at Brown’s Bay, right on the edge of Discovery Passage, through which one-third of BC’s wild salmon migrate. The video points to the poorly-regulated and under-monitored treatment of waste from processing Atlantic salmon from open net fish farms. These farmed salmon threaten the native species, first when they are alive, and then when they are dead, by exposing them to viruses in the offal and blood. Blood Water is a visceral video, and was linked to and reported on by many news organizations. Campbell was busy responding to calls about the video when I reached him where he lives in the Discovery Islands, near where the fish farms in the video operate. The response was international, and is finally getting the attention of the people that can change the narrative once and for all—Dominic Le Blanc, federal minister of fisheries and oceans; and George Heyman, BC minister of environment. On December 20, Heyman announced a review of fish farm processing plants to ensure that contaminated effluent does not endanger wild salmon stocks. What has been most gratifying for Campbell is how the Blood Water video told the story of disease and viruses in a way that other attempts to raise public awareness of fish farming have failed over the years. “I was surprised at how far the video went and is still going. When we captured these images, we knew it was going to be an incredible opportunity to tell a story. Viruses are difficult things to show visually, and then suddenly the image was there to show viruses being released. What we have to do now is to direct the conversation, that even if the effluent is cleaned up, the fish are still infected by virus, and there is still the spread of disease to wild salmon.” The release of the video coincided with the 100th day of the occupation of two fish farms in the Broughton Archipelago by the Musgamagw Dzawada’enuxw, a cause which Campbell supports and hopes people will connect to the Blood Water issue. “We are all coastal people who care about salmon and want open net fish farming to stop.” Campbell has been working on environmental issues as long as he has held a camera and sailed a boat, which has been most of his life. He was described by CBC’s The Current as a naturalist and underwater videographer, which he was pleased with. “Sure beats being called an activist!” he laughs. “An activist is someone who wants change. I just want the systems that have been around for thousands of years to stay the same. I think the radical activists are the corporations wanting to change everything.” Campbell is also a captain aboard various ecotourism boats like Maple Leaf, research vessels for organizations like Pacific Wild, and his own family mothership, Columbia III, which takes kayakers around the coast. A captain since he was 19, he has had the opportunity to explore a lot of the coast since his voyages on his first boat, which he and his twin sister, Farlan (also a captain), got at the age of 12. “We were allowed to sail anywhere on multi-day adventures as long as we could reach our parents on VHF radio. The only thing that limited us was the range of the radio.” Today, there are few places at which Campbell and his extended family haven’t aimed their cameras. They still keep in touch from their respective boats by VHF. “Anytime we go out and poke around and ask questions, we find things that are surprising and unexpected.” In his travels, Campbell has worked with the Heiltsuk nation documenting the impacts of the commercial herring kill industry—largely owned by Jimmy Pattison—that included filming the incredible herring spawns of Spiller Channel. That fishery has now been stopped in Heiltsuk territory. Some of his footage has been used in CBC’s “Wild Canada” and BBC natural history productions. He also captured the ill-fated tug Nathan E. Stewart when it grounded and leaked over 100,000 litres of diesel into the pristine waters near Bella Bella. “While my colleague April Bencze and I were documenting the damage, a hurricane-force storm came in. We spent the night out in Gale Pass where the boat ran aground, and got footage of the big storm and the tug being bashed out by the storm.” It’s worth noting: No one else was out there from the “world-class” oil-spill team at that point. Campbell’s biggest passion has been documenting the clearcutting of old growth around his home in the Discovery Islands. The government has failed to live up to the spirit and intent of the Great Bear Rainforest Agreement, leaving decisions to industry. He attributes the problem to the BC Liberals’ “professional reliance” system, currently under review, where government sets the management objectives to be achieved, and professionals hired by corporations decide how those objectives will be met. Critics call it the “fox guarding the hens.” Professional reliance coupled with deregulation, leaves the public interest high and dry. Campbell has recorded the details of the clearcuts, the stumps of old growth, the trashed wetlands, and riparian areas that even the companies’ foresters haven’t walked. He says, “The trouble is that no one is out on the land anymore, and the people who are, are involved in industry. That means people can get away with whatever they want because no one is watching. If a company’s sole motive is making profit, they are going to do surprising things. We are always able to find something that shocks people.” For Campbell, the bigger story he wants to tell is that issues are related—from bloodwater to oilspills to clearcutting old growth. He also aims to encourage people to support a better regulatory system with rigorous, independent monitoring and oversight, instead of citizens having to monitor their own water and wildlife. When Blood Water went viral, he was accused of having some bias. “People asked, ‘Why are you doing these films, what is in it for you?’ I was fortunate enough to grow up in the islands with a connection to the natural environment. If you see something you love getting hurt, you go to help, not because it benefits you, but because you care, and it hurts not to do something. It isn’t theoretical or academic; I genuinely care about the area, and that is what drives me to do what I do.” Campbell fits his thoughtful documentations of coastal life into his work and spare time. It’s a labour of love, like getting up at midnight to witness the opalescent squid migration. To get a sense of this labour, go to his other viral video, This is Why I Care, and celebrate our wild beautiful place and the citizens who have tried to stop its destruction for the last 17 years. If you are a community member who has seen land use practices that you don’t feel are in the public interest, you can submit your comments to the Engage BC professional reliance input process available until January 19: www.engage.gov.bc.ca/professionalreliance/ Briony Penn’s most recent book, The Real Thing: The Natural History of Ian McTaggart Cowan, won the Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize and the inaugural Mack Laing Literary Prize.
  3. A ceremonial trip into grizzly territory with the Kitlope’s elder watchmen. IT'S 6 AM AT THE DOCK IN KITAMAAT VILLAGE. The spiders are busy weaving their last webs around the dock lights before the winter storms catch up with them. It’s drizzling and the morning light is just beginning to creep under the blanket of cloud. Cecil Paul, Waxaid, a Xenaksiala elder, clambers aboard the fish boat despite his recent broken foot and an illness that has reduced his solid frame to a lean one. He looks more like a young grizzly in March than the grandfather bear that he should be at the end of salmon season. Next to board is Gerald Amos, Haisla elder, who also shows a surprising agility, given his recent cardiac arrest from extreme sepsis that robbed him of much of his mobility and his famous oration skills. The two men, with family and friends, are taking their friend, Bruce Hill, back to the Kitlope where their work together on a coastal grizzly moratorium first began over 25 years ago. The voyage was originally planned to unite the three of them in a last trip to Qos Lake. Bruce Hill’s cancer overtook him, so they are taking their friend’s ashes in a glass jar to Qos to be watched over by Paul’s ancestors. Otherwise known as Kitlope Lake, Qos translates to sanctuary, or cathedral, in Paul’s Xenaksiala language. Bruce Hill, telling a story Hill died on September 18, 2017, one month after the grizzly bear trophy hunt was banned in the Great Bear Rainforest. It’s a fitting tribute to a man who, to quote Paul, “put his power saw away and came aboard the canoe.” Paul is referring to what he calls the supernatural canoe that he launched with Amos and his sister, Louisa Smith, in 1990 to guide the protection of the largest intact temperate rainforest in the world—the Kitlope or Huchsduwachsdu. The metaphor of the supernatural canoe captured the idea that no matter who came to save the Kitlope, there was always room for them. Bruce Hill, a one-time logger, sawmill operator and sport fisher guide was one of the first non-native people to turn up to help the Haisla—an unlikely ally being a “hippy ex-logger,” as Hill described himself. The Kitlope Agreement that established the Huchsduwachsdu Nuyem Jees/Kitlope Heritage Conservancy was eventually forged with the provincial government in 1996, the genesis for the later Great Bear Rainforest Agreement. It followed a ban on grizzly bear trophy-hunting, which was the forerunner to the ban in the whole Great Bear that is in place today. In the late 1980s, the impetus for the grizzly bear moratorium started with the elders, people like the late hereditary Chief Kenny Hall, coming to the Kitamaat Village Council with reports that the grizzlies of the Kitlope were disappearing due to trophy-hunting and poaching. Grizzlies are considered the guardians of the forest, so the Haisla started training band members as guardian watchmen to monitor and enforce the protection and stewardship of their Kitlope territory. They also started a children’s rediscovery camp, introducing a new generation to culture and science and providing hope for a community in crisis. The programs were run under the banner of the Nanakila Institute, which was the brainchild of the Haisla, along with Ecotrust, a group that joined the magic canoe early on. Nanakila Institute invited Hill to be its first executive director. A tipping point came very early on when Paul was with a group of children from the rediscovery camp. A grizzly-hunting guide, angered at the presence of children in prime grizzly area, threatened to shoot through the kids if a grizzly was there. Hill brought a deep understanding of how the trophy-hunting lobby and resource industries thought and worked. He helped point out that the Wildlife Branch had no capacity to accurately count the grizzlies in this huge remote watershed, monitor for poaching, or enforce regulations. Hill and the Haisla argued that, given so many unknowns, the grizzly quota, according to their scientific habitat modelling, should be brought down to zero. The next strategic step of the Nanakila Institute was to generate its own data by hiring independent wildlife biologists to do an inventory, with the Haisla watchmen to help. The inventory was the final bit of evidence that convinced the government to ban trophy hunting in the Kitlope, which met with international support on one hand, and threats of litigation from the trophy hunting lobby on the other. The Kitlope was one of the first places in BC to have trophy-hunting banned, and it helped precipitate the first-ever provincial grizzly management strategy. Hill, Amos and Paul continued to work for the protection of indigenous culture and the land, welcoming a growing community of British Columbians who stepped into the canoe to join them. The fledgling watchmen program has since spread to the Coastal Guardian Watchmen Network, an alliance of the coastal First Nations, one of the big success stories of the coast. Bruce Hill went on to help in every major campaign in northwestern BC from the Sacred Headwaters of the Skeena (the river he lived beside), the Nass and the Stikine, to Lelu Island. His obituary describes his ability to “foster unstoppable alliances between First Nations and non-indigenous conservationists.” Those alliances were formed in the magic canoe that Paul attributes to the teachings of his granny and matriarch of the Xenaksiala people, Annie Paul, born in the Kitlope in 1870. She lived to the age of 96 and weathered every arrow that came her way, from influenza to tuberculosis, and her grandchildren being taken away to residential school. IT'S AT THE VERY PLACE WHERE ANNIE'S GRANDSON CECIL PAUL was abducted in 1941 by government representatives that Amos, Paul and I arrive in our boat at dusk: the old village of M’skusa, at the mouth of the Kitlope River. At M’skusa is a replica of the Gps’golox pole, from which a supernatural grizzly bear looks over us as we load everyone into a smaller boat to get up the river to the watchman cabin before dark. The original pole was carved when Chief Gps’golox lost all his children and many members of his clan to smallpox, which was brought by white traders in 1863. Cecil Paul’s great grandfather was one of the carvers. As we trade boats, a real grizzly stands up close to the pole to see who has arrived in the estuary, and his well-beaten stomp trail around the pole marks his territory in the estuary. Diggings for rice root and browsed sedges are everywhere. The next morning, we travel the rest of the way up the Kitlope River in the smaller boat, layered up in wool and rubber raingear. Getting to the lake, Qos, is never guaranteed; the channels shift and get blocked with huge spruce trees and debris during seasonal floods. In Xenaksiala there is a word for the person who steers the canoe, dla laxii layewy. To be a true steersman requires skill and judgement. We come round the huge granite cliffs, cloaked in mist, that form a portal where the vista opens up to a lake flanked by ice-capped mountains that plunge into the milky blue water. We get to one of the old village sites that has a fine golden sand beach and unload the precious cargo. A fire and lunch are prepared, and then Paul begins the ceremony to ask his ancestors to welcome his brother, Bruce Hill, back to the Kitlope and watch over him. Paul is the last male fluent speaker of his language; his two sisters and a cousin are the last three fluent matriarchs. His beautiful language floats out over the lake like birdsong. Paul asked his ancestors for a sign that they will welcome a non-Xenaksiala man to the valley, and at that moment the skies parted, a beam of light lit up the group, and a rainbow appeared. A red-necked grebe swam by too, the last little joke from Bruce Hill that there is room for everyone, even rednecks, in this canoe. The ban on the grizzly trophy hunt will generate much more than many of us will ever understand. It is part of the process of reconciliation for culture, nature, the survival of humanity and rich ideas—beautiful ideas that will continue to help us all get in the canoe and paddle together with skill and judgement through the troubled waters of our time. Donations can be made in Bruce Hill’s honour to the SkeenaWild Conservation Trust for a bursary that will be used to provide leadership training to young conservation activists in the community. SkeenaWild.org. The new grizzly ban in the rest of BC excludes grizzlies hunted for meat. Consultations are being carried out with the Haisla, other First Nations and other stakeholders like Raincoast Conservation Foundation, which bought up coastal guide outfitting licenses to stop the hunt. Briony Penn’s most recent book The Real Thing: The Natural History of Ian McTaggart Cowan won the Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize and the inaugural Mack Laing Literary Prize.
  4. The practice may have played a leading role in creating some of BC’s most high-profile environmental blunders. FIFTEEN YEARS AGO, as a reporter for CHUM TV (aka The New VI), I got a call from a professional wildlife biologist in Port Alberni called Mike Stini. He’s an Island guy to the core—understated, drives a pickup, knows the bush like the back of his hand and, more than anything, loves this place and isn’t afraid to share his knowledge. He was clearly upset. The BC Liberals had changed all the rules on forest management, and suddenly wildlife experts like him, who were hired by government prior to harvest plans to identify the old growth where elk and deer overwintered, or find and map the bear dens and the goshawk nests, were being shoved out the door. His concern wasn’t about losing the work; he could always go back full-time to taxidermy. It was about what was going to happen to his habitat on McLaughlin Ridge, the forested mountains that were about to be levelled by industry. But the government seemed to reason that biologists like him were dispensable. If what was standing between a company and profit margins was a bear den, an ungulate winter range, or a goshawk nest, then the best thing to do was to get rid of the people who have that knowledge. My reporting crew travelled all over McLauglin Ridge to do the story, looking at the hard-won designations of old-growth management areas, riparian zones, wildlife trees, and habitat for species at risk. We even crawled right up to one bear den that Stini had been monitoring for years, to check out the condition of the bear who looked out at us in a torpid state from the old-growth tree that served as his home for six months. Stini had data stretching back decades on the bear dens that he had found in the region. Up on the south-facing slopes of the ridge, under the big old Douglas-firs laden with arboreal lichens, he pointed out the signs of the deer and elk that overwintered there, surviving on lichens that blew down from their canopies in each winter storm. All these areas, under the old designations, were about to be put under the control of logging company biologists—in a system that was referred to as “professional reliance.” The Forest Practices Code had been gutted, and the discretion to manage 45 million hectares of our public forests for the public’s interest, which included the protection of wildlife, water, recreational opportunities, cultural sites, subsistence hunting and so on, was now in the hands of industry. Under the new regime, there was no legal requirement to have the forest surveyed for ecological or cultural values prior to logging; it was up to the professionals hired by industry to judge. If the public wasn’t happy with “the results” in this “results-based system,” they could take issue. But what use would taking issue be after the fact? And how did one assess results when the evidence for what had been there was gone? Especially when no one had been mandated to collect it. Stini forecast that all the places that we visited would be logged under the new system. In 2015, I revisited those sites and he was right—everything was levelled, from the bear den to the winter range. Even worse, under the current designation of working forest, there is no chance the forest can even recover. In an industry-led cutting cycle of under 50 years, the trees will never mature long enough to produce a tree with a suitable diameter for a bear den, goshawk nest, or arboreal lichen to grow. Logging on McLauglin Ridge As Stini said in 2002 for the TV show, “Basically the wildlife is being punished by changing the rules all of a sudden. We are removing the checks and balances and turning it over to industry that is in the business of making money. All the habitat biologists feel strongly that this is backwards; they need to review the plans prior to logging, because once an area is logged, the habitat is gone forever. The real big danger is we are going to lose so much and no one will know. This legislation is so far-reaching that it will make it difficult for future generations to rebuild wildlife habitat. It is going to be a major problem. This legislation is wrong. It shouldn’t be happening.” The government extended the practice of relying on resource extractors’ own professionals to evaluate the environmental aspects of mining and other projects. “SILENT BUT DEADLY,” is how Green MLA Sonia Furstenau describes professional reliance. “Most people have no idea what it is. It’s only when you encounter it that you recognize it for what it is.” What is professional reliance for those who haven’t encountered the beast? After 17 years in the media following this slippery, seemingly innocuous monster that couldn’t make a headline if it drove itself off a cliff, I describe professional reliance, at best, as an elegant euphemism for deregulation and privatization. At its most egregious, it is this century’s master weapon for white-collar crime. Those who utilize these weapons—knowingly putting the public interest at risk—are referred to by David O. Friedrichs, a Distinguished Professor of Criminal Justice, as “trusted criminals.” Wendell Berry, land reformer and activist, calls them “professional vandals.” How do the proponents of professional reliance define it and defend it? And why is reviewing it one of the top four priorities in the 2017 Confidence and Supply agreement between the BC Green and NDP caucuses? With all the issues they could have picked, why did it push its way to the top? Forest Practices Board legal counsel Mark Haddock, who was with the UVic Environmental Law Centre in 2015 when he did a lengthy analysis of the failures of the professional reliance “experiment,” says it is a grey term and has multiple interpretations that can easily mislead. His definition is “the substitution of professional opinion from experts inside of government for that of professionals in the employ of the [resource development] proponents.” He suggests renaming it “decision-making reliance.” Furstenau thinks it should be rebranded for what it is—conflict of interest. British Columbians are not unfamiliar with how deregulation, with a loosening of standards around conflict of interest, can spiral into corporate white-collar crime. The Mount Polley disaster is a case in point of how badly it can go wrong with no third party oversight. The fact that the company, Imperial Metals, can continue to operate with no penalties, after destroying a lake for generations, clearly pushes citizens to the edge. Citizen groups are pursuing private prosecutions, and Premier Horgan has now committed to determine why a deadline was missed by the BC Liberals to lay charges against the company. Furstenau feels the blame should lie in the failure of government to protect the public interest by handing over the responsibility to industry. Over the years, corporate spin-doctors have found devious new ways to shed rules and government oversight, but professional reliance was a stroke of pure genius. Many were lulled into thinking that handing the management and oversight of our public lands and interest to a coterie of smiling, reliable professionals, with their reputations and professional associations hovering above to keep them in line, was a grand solution. After all, it was expensive to fund government-hired professionals. MLA Sonia Furstenau Furstenau’s close encounter with professional reliance was over the issue of South Island Aggregates and Cobble Hill Holdings filling an active quarry in the Shawnigan watershed with contaminated soil. She realized that not only could industry legitimately hire people who had a personal stake in that business (as employees, business partners or shareholders) to assess the environmental impacts of their activities, but there was no way to stop harm as long as those people were “up front” about their relationships. If the case hadn’t found a “deliberate concealment” of the discussion of ownership with the company hired to conduct the environmental assessment, South Island Aggregates might still be shovelling dioxins, hydrocarbons and furans onto what an independent hydrogeologist warned was fractured limestone “that provides no natural protection for the established drinking water sources in the region.” In the last 17 years, virtually every news story about damage to public forests, lakes, rivers and oceans, affecting wildlife, water, air, soil, climate, and First Nations rights, with repercussions on every aspect of our health, can be traced to flaws in professional reliance. The big issues like Mount Polley, the Testalinden Creek landslide, and Shawnigan Lake are what catch the headlines, but they represent a fraction of the damage to our forests, communities and wildlife that Mike Stini predicted. Citizens’ only recourse is to take the matter into their own hands, which is what they did in Shawnigan Lake. Haddock summarizes this state of affairs this way: “The deregulation takes government out of the picture and leaves health, safety and environmental protection outcomes to the ‘social license’ to operate for a given proponent or industry.” Removing that “social license” at Shawnigan Lake cost local citizens $2 million in legal fees and thousands of volunteer hours with the very real possibility, still, of a contaminated watershed. As Furstenau says, “I want to be able to live my life without having to monitor and watchdog every aspect of my life from the water I drink, to the bridges I drive over. This is the main reason I got into provincial politics—to build trust in government again to protect its citizens.” The lack of trust pervades not just government, but the professional associations themselves. As Furstenau points out, it isn’t their job to look after the public interest. And in a deregulated environment, with narrow terms of reference, there are virtually no laws to break, therefore no disciplinary actions to be taken. The whole thing is a Machiavellian bag of worms. Haddock, along with a recent report by Evidence for Democracy, both revealed the level of concern that many professionals themselves have with provincial decision-making on natural resources. Few professionals are willing to talk openly. But, under protection of anonymity, they told Haddock of the many problems: “expert shopping”; clear conflicts of interest, but no way to address it; lack of checks and balances; loss of expertise in government; lack of confidence in government monitoring; problems with independent monitoring; lack of confidence in the disciplinary process of professional associations; reduced formal public involvement; greater user conflicts; no one out in the field who knows what is going on; filtering of information by proponents; too many grey areas; inexperienced crews operating; cavalier approach to risk…and the list goes on. With the professional reliance model no longer being tied to the public interest, many professionals found it intolerable to work in an environment in which the term “stewardship” has largely been stripped out of their duties. And now, at least one has resorted to legal action: Professional forester Martin Watts has accused the Province of blacklisting foresters for raising concerns over the quality of inventory data. Watts is spending his retirement savings to fund a case he might not win, but which will certainly lose him clients. Furstenau, now overseeing the professional reliance file for the Green caucus, is at the information-gathering stage, helping Minister of Environment and Climate Change George Heyman set out a direction for the review. For her, citizen involvement is essential. It is important to hear from everyone who has been impacted by professional reliance, both within the professions and as citizens who have fought these issues. As she says, “this needs to be a robust review.” As for predicting the outcome of the review, she can’t speculate, but one thing is certain: She wants an outcome in which she can return to her community and not feel as if all the responsibility for safeguarding the environment is in the hands of volunteers like herself on the Shawnigan Lake issue. It is a powerful motivator, and biologists like Stini will be cheering from the sidelines. Briony Penn has been reporting on regional environmental issues for over 20 years. In the 2000s, she hosted the TV show “Enviro/Mental” which was nominated one of the top three magazine shows in Canada. She lives on Salt Spring Island.
  5. Can a swimmer, First Nations and Thomas Berger, QC, turn the tide on Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline? AS RAMA DELAROSA emerged from the water after her week-long, 86-kilometre swim to “Save the Salish Sea,” she was sparkling. She had completed her mission—to swim around Salt Spring Island to raise awareness and money for RAVEN’s Pull Together Campaign aimed at stopping Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline. As she waded ashore at her final destination of Xwaaqwum (Burgoyne Bay), nearly $12,000 had already been raised. Her swim also brought in a circle of volunteers to accompany her on the swim—the most notable of which was an orca who joined her one evening around Beaver Point. A group of islanders scattered flowers in her path and DelaRosa sat down on solid ground to dig into a potluck feast after spending up to ten hours a day over the last seven days in the sea, snatching meals and sleep when she could. The inevitable question of “What are you going to do first?” elicited a big smile: “I’m really looking forward to dinner and then resting in my garden that overlooks the sea.” Rama DelaRosa (far left) with a flotilla of supporters off Salt Spring Island DelaRosa is just one of many creative and passionate people who have swum into this cause. Andrea Palframan from RAVEN (a non-profit whose mission is to raise legal defence funds for Indigenous peoples in Canada to defend their treaty rights and the integrity of their traditional lands and cultures) was there to greet DelaRosa at the shoreline. Palframan shared more examples of these “incredible people inspired to do small actions”: A group of burlesque actors put on “a dirty show for a clean coast” called “Strip Tide.” A group of cyclists rode “the rising tide” of concern from Montreal to Vancouver. There was the summer “Walk 4 the Salish Sea” in which several pods of islanders and puppet orca, hosted by Tsawout and other First Nation villages along the way, joined forces and marched or swam to the Kinder Morgan facilities in Burnaby from Mile O. Over 90 islanders took to their kayaks and canoes around the Salish Sea for five days with the Turning the Tide paddling initiative. Across the border, San Juan Islanders and mainlander friends raised over $100,000 to help the alliance of First Nations bringing their legal cases to a federal court. Leading the charge spiritually is Grand Chief Stewart Philip and his wife Joan. The court date is October 2; the First Nations bringing the court challenges are Tsleil-Waututh, Coldwater, Squamish, and Stk’emlúpsemc te Secwépemc. They are challenging both the National Energy Board report and the decision by government through their Judicial Reviews. At press time, over $500,000 had been raised of the $650,000 target. Palframan, an artist and RAVEN’s social media coordinator, said, “We are using our culture on the islands—that is threatened—to fight oil culture. It is a great way to counteract those forces.” DelaRosa’s achievement is no “small action.” The waters around Salt Spring range between 10 to 14 degrees Celsius, only occasionally reaching a balmy 16 in the slower-circulating bays in the north. Except for two instances, she swam without a wetsuit. Starting her cold water training in 2015, she told her welcoming committee that continuous immersion was necessary to “build up the brown fat that insulates my body.” DelaRosa has indigenous roots in Guatemala, though she was raised in Port Alberni. Part of her swim was “to deepen my relationship with this land and First Nations people so that I can be at home.” That relationship was strengthened working with the nuances of the strong currents and tides of the island. “I could feel every turn of the tide, the cold flows and warm ebbs twining like ribbons against my skin.” Her average speed was 2.2 kilometres an hour, but each leg of the trip was dependent on sea conditions. “One day it took me 13 hours to go just 10 kilometres,” she said. She had to be helped twice when the current overpowered her. One of those times was at Cape Keppel when she couldn’t make any headway into Sansum Narrows. Mariner Guy Gamache, in his boat Earth Sea, gave her a brief tow out of an impossible eddy and back into the mainstream. He described DelaRosa as “intrepid and inspiring.” Having regained her health after a bad concussion, DelaRosa, a singer, composer and educator, is no shrinking violet when it comes to challenges. A huge supporter of community events, she founded an activist choir called Sisters of Mercy. The Sisters formed a relationship with the Unity Drummers, founded by Bradley Dick at the Native Friendship Centre, as part of her choir’s commitment to decolonization. But it was during her participation in another event, Turning the Tide People’s Paddle for the Salish Sea, that she came up with the idea of the swim to express her political activism in a joyful way: “I am in love with the Salish Sea!” she readily proclaims. Unlike other notable open water swims, this was a grassroots initiative. Six local organic farms donated food for the team. Accompanying her each day was a rotating list of community volunteers in their kayaks, many of whom were first-time paddlers, new to the complex logistics of a major swim. DelaRosa managed the lists of volunteers and logistics each night after a full day’s swim. “I’d do it differently next time,” she admitted. Alistair Dell, Molly Murphy and Lisa Small took the lion’s share of the paddling through the wilder parts, even swimming with her at times. Her other favourite companions were the wild sea life. Harbour seals escorted her out of the bay at the start of her swim and into Xwaaqwum at the end. She was also joined by harbour porpoises and, most memorably, an orca that dove down underneath her and swam briefly with her one evening. On that day she hadn’t planned to be swimming so late, but was trying to position herself well for the next day’s leg and a very early low tide. “I was fighting the current and that was when the orca appeared,” she said. She was prepared for the adrenalin surge of running into an orca, having practiced with the seals: “I didn’t flail like bait!” But DelaRosa also feels a special affinity with orca: “It was the first animal I ever dreamt of, growing up in Port Alberni and,” pointing to her left calf, “my first tattoo was this Nuu-chah-nulth [orca] design.” Joe Maillet, who was accompanying her at the time, said, “Rama was singing a whale song [given to her by Bradley Dick] and then we heard their vocalization. I was half expecting her to grab hold of the dorsal fin and be a whale rider.” THE DAY AFTER RAMA DELAROSA came ashore at Xwaaqwum, the BC government announced their appointment of the legendary Thomas Berger, QC, OC, OBC as external counsel for government legal action related to Kinder Morgan. Berger has been retained to determine the best judicial course. By the end of August the Government of BC was granted status to intervene in the court cases by First Nations challenging the National Energy Board’s approval of the pipeline—despite Kinder Morgan and the Province of Alberta fighting against such participation. BC is going to do its homework regarding its duties as set out in the environmental assessment certificate process. New Attorney General David Eby stated: “Until these consultations are completed in a way that meets the Province’s legal obligations, work on the project on public lands cannot proceed.” This is a powerful turn of the tide for those wanting to see other voices being represented. And the selection of Tom Berger is a symbolic and strategic move to rebuild public confidence in a process that is very broken. Justice Berger oversaw the enquiry for the proposed Mackenzie Valley pipeline project back in 1974. At the time, it was the biggest private development proposal in history. The arguments against the development were that there were already severe impacts to the north and on native people, due to the decimation of wildlife populations, pollution, and mineral exploration with its destructive infrastructure. The first discussion by scientists in Canada about cumulative impacts took place at that time. Two years earlier, the oil and gas companies had commissioned and funded their own environmental assessment panel, but it was criticized on many grounds, mostly by the scientists they hired. The scientists argued that there needed to be an independent board that took into account cumulative impacts and indigenous voices. They also stated that the review panels had to be “insulated politically and economically from the project developers.” They recommended a larger interdisciplinary team to consider the broad questions of energy, transportation, and development in the north. These recommendations resonated with the earlier Trudeau government and Justice Thomas Berger was appointed to conduct the government’s own inquiry into the Mackenzie pipeline. He brought in many innovations: funding for First Nations, environmental organizations and health authorities to bring in their own witnesses, and providing a year to get ready for the hearings. They held hearings in a public space, which were broadcast in four languages over the CBC; school children were invited to the formal hearings of the experts. The Berger Inquiry shook the nation. As Berger points out, “Once the hearings got started Canadians were interested. No one had ever heard aboriginal people speak.” The Berger Inquiry set a new international standard for energy hearings that considered the larger global energy context; the local impacts to aboriginal subsistence; and the impact of not just a pipeline but an expanded concept of energy corridors, complete with roads, platforms and infrastructure. The ability to secure funding for First Nations and environmental groups captured the interest of the international community and was copied around the world. This was Canada in 1974. How ironic that 43 years later, the federal environmental impact assessment process, now under the watch of Trudeau Junior, failed to meet any of the standards set by Berger. Trudeau has greenlighted a project that wouldn’t have passed in 1974. How encouraging that Berger will now be heading up a legal review of this flawed process in a federal court. Berger is providing a beacon of hope to people like Rama DelaRosa. As she said: “We are turning the tide in so many ways—with each other and with the land. It is really easy to engage with people in a positive way when you are doing something you love, in a place that you love.” Briony Penn’s most recent book The Real Thing: The Natural History of Ian McTaggart Cowan won the Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize and the inaugural Mack Laing Literary Prize.
  6. Management of public forests by the forest industry isn’t in the public interest. BC’s forests have become a vast patchwork of roads, clearcuts and mainly young trees. Of the latter, critics say, there has been no reliable inventory. As well, the Province has relied less on its own scientists and more on forest industry professionals to conduct management of public forests, blurring the distinction between public and private interest. FORMER GOVERNMENT FOREST SCIENTIST Andy MacKinnon’s battle cry, as he knocks on doors as a Green Party candidate in the upcomming provincial election, is: “Wake up British Columbians!” He’s one of an increasing number of scientists who are getting into politics to raise the alarm about what happens when proper government oversight is put at risk through budget cuts and political interference. MacKinnon believes the threat to BC’s greatest public asset—tens of millions of hectares of forests—should be one of the election’s foremost issues. “We have rapidly disposed of it for too few jobs and too little money,” MacKinnon says, “and this is all happening within our provincial model of ‘professional reliance,’ as the BC government sheds scientists of all sorts—professional foresters, biologists, engineers—and hands responsibility to professionals employed by the forest companies. Some have called this ‘the fox guarding the henhouse’ model.” This apparent loss of ability to properly manage BC’s forests isn’t just Green Party rhetoric. “We were hearing this from scientist after scientist,” says Katie Gibbs, one of the co-authors of an April 2017 report, Oversight at Risk: The State of Government Science in British Columbia. The report, commissioned by Evidence for Democracy, an Ottawa-based watchdog for promoting the transparent use of evidence in government decision-making, interviewed scientists across BC ministries. The aim was to assess their independence and capacity to produce and communicate reliable data. Highlighted in this review was the scientists’ response to the BC Liberals’ Orwellian term “professional reliance,” which is described in the report as “outsourcing both research oversight and decision-making activities that were formerly done by government.” Evidence for Democracy chose the BC situation for its first provincial review, says Gibbs, “because there had been lots of rumours that BC’s public sector was particularly dysfunctional in Canada and badly in need of an independent review.” When she and her co-author started interviewing, she says, “I couldn’t believe what I was hearing from these scientists: That monitoring was outsourced to the professionals who were contracted by the very companies that they were monitoring? Was this for real?” It appears to be. The 64-question survey was circulated to 1159 government scientists this past November, with most of the responses coming from the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (FLNRO). The report provides the historical context for the survey, which includes the dramatic reduction of provincial staff-scientists starting in 2001. BC now has the smallest public sector per capita of all Canadian provinces, despite its wealth of natural resources. Of those government scientists still working for the Province who were allowed to participate in the survey (and not all were), around half “believe that political interference is compromising their ministry’s ability to develop laws, policies and programs based on scientific evidence.” One FLNRO scientist wrote, “The reduction in staff and financial resources has caused us to not be able to conduct the scientific work that would best support changes in policy. Instead, policy is most often developed as a result of political pressure from select interest groups, in particular forest industry stakeholders.” The survey didn’t include scientists who are members of the BC Government Employees Union which, according to Gibbs, denied a request to distribute the survey to their members because “it was not in line with their priorities at the time.” IN A BRISTLING REPORT delivered to the Coastal Silviculture Committee this spring, authors Anthony Britneff and Martin Watts, non-partisan forest professionals, dug deep into the structural details of how “professional reliance” without independent third-party oversight has set off a domino effect of poor policy decisions affecting everything from stumpage rates, tree planting and water quality to the health of moose and grizzly populations. Britneff describes the resulting and ongoing grab of timber as “the rape of the land.” A 40-year career forester with the provincial government, Britneff says that during his last ten years in government, “[I experienced] radical budget cuts and changes in policy that I saw as being detrimental to the forests and to the life within them.” Katie Gibbs Anthony Britneff Diane Nicholls Andy MacKinnon The biggest problem, according to Britneff, is the corrupt data and unreliable models for determining the inventory of the forests—known as the “Timber Supply Review”—that’s used by the Chief Forester to determine how much forest can be cut each year, the “Annual Allowable Cut” (AAC). “If this information is wrong, which it is,” Britneff says, “then we put whole communities at risk. Job losses, mill closures, community hardships, very little stumpage [royalties] flowing back to the community, have all resulted because there is no reliable inventory or analysis to determine [appropriate] rates of cut.” One of the clearest indicators that there is a problem is the discrepancy between the allocation of timber in the AAC and what is actually cut. As Britneff puts it, “Industry can’t even find the wood allocated to them for the cut because the Timber Supply Review is an economic fiction, supported and informed by unvalidated computer models. Companies are pushing further and further into previously protected areas like the wildlife habitat areas and right up to the edge of provincial parks. They are making no provisions for climate change, and have used beetle kill to escalate the cut. To add insult to injury they are giving it away at 25 cents for a telephone pole.” In response to Britneff’s allegations, Chief Forester Diane Nicholls told Focus: “The people of BC can have complete confidence in Allowable Annual Cut (AAC) determinations as they are based on robust complex analysis of many factors that pertain to timber supply and other forest values. The process that supports my AAC determinations is open to public and First Nations for review and comment. All documents generated, including a detailed description of how I arrived at my decision, are available online.” Nicholls also noted, “The uncertainties in the analysis and data are managed through sensitivity analyses that allow me to assess the impact of these uncertainties on my decision. We continuously improve and update our data and analysis based on field audits and assessments and new or additional information.” But Britneff takes issue with Nicholls’ defence. He notes that “uncertainty” is a technical term used in the international accounting world when measurements “are based on estimates, judgments, and models rather than on exact depictions.” The absence of independent auditors to verify the data means there is no sound basis upon which to trust Nicholls’ numbers. Britneff and Watts also believe that the sensitivity analyses to which Nicholls refers are incorrectly applied. Remarkably, there is no legal requirement for Nicholls to conduct an actual inventory of provincial forests. That used to be a statutory responsibility of the chief forester, but changes to the Forest Act in 2002 transferred the inventory function to what was then called the Ministry of Sustainable Resource Management. When that ministry was disbanded, inventory staff returned to the Ministry of Forests and Range but the legal requirement to conduct inventories didn’t. It simply disappeared. Both Oversight at Risk and Britneff point to problems beyond the uncertain timber supply, including insufficient capacity and budget within the Ministry to do an inventory. There is also no legal requirement for foresters working outside of government to maintain their data and records. There is also evidence that a political agenda at least partially determines the Annual Allowable Cut. This is perhaps best illustrated by an historic directive issued in 2006 by then Minister of Forests Rich Coleman to “maintain and enhance” the timber supply. This directive is still in force and, in effect, means that the AAC would never go down. This approach has left towns like Merritt with no timber and a long wait until the trees grow back. As Britneff notes: “It isn’t AAC that’s ‘maintained and enhanced,’ it is forests!” Foresters on the ground are the only ones who can determine whether what grows—or doesn’t grow—lines up with what the models predict. As Britneff argues, “When one has a centralized high priesthood of timber supply analysts, inventory gatekeepers and ivory-tower computer modellers, most of whom are out of touch with what the forestry staff on the ground are observing, then, by convenient omission, timber supply estimates and AAC determinations become economic fiction and AACs are maintained fraudulently high to align with Coleman’s directive—to keep raising the cut.” While Gibbs and her co-authors don’t use the word “fraud” to describe what they found, they do note, “The results from our survey show that around half (49 percent) of government scientists surveyed across ministries believe that political interference is compromising their ministry’s ability to develop laws, policies and programs based on scientific evidence.” As Gibbs states, “This ‘professional reliance’ system is a huge public interest issue but it hasn’t received the attention it should because it is a difficult thing to communicate precisely. It sounds all fine, and people think that qualified professionals are looking after their interests.” But the growing record of scrutiny of professional reliance—by bodies including the Centre for Public Policy Alternatives, the Environmental Law Centre, and the Auditor General in his scathing 2016 report—suggests otherwise. Professionals aren’t able to look after the public’s interests when they have no legal requirement to do so; they are employed by the companies they are expected to monitor; and their professional organizations are not at arm’s length from the forest companies that employ them. Last year, only one disciplinary case was brought to the Association of BC Forest Professionals—and it was thrown out. The year before, five cases were brought forward; three were thrown out and two are still in play. The findings of Oversight at Risk suggest that the professional reliance experiment has not only failed but should be scrutinized for fraud. Industry and government remain complicit and unaccountable to the public. Fifty-seven percent of BC government scientists are concerned that government’s reliance on external professionals compromises the ability of their Ministry to use the best evidence or information in decision-making. One forester wrote: “Decisions and objectives are fettered to the industry interests due to government/industry working groups. The industry-sympathetic administration does not always permit us to assess evidence, and even when we have evidence it does not easily accommodate providing direction to industry or changes in policy that may negatively impact (even in a small way) existing mainstream industry and their interests.” Another scientist working in FLNRO reported, “government rarely or perhaps never suppresses scientific findings. They do, however, by way of lack of funding, suppress research and data collection which are necessary for proper science based management.” Cases like the Mount Polley disaster, the green-lighting of the Site C project through exemptions of the Wildlife Act, and Elk River selenium risks are cited in the report as the most egregious examples of the failure of professional reliance, so the problem extends well beyond forest management. On the issue of being free to communicate their concerns to media, only 3 percent of scientists stated they could do so without approval from their bosses; 32 percent said that they were not able to communicate at all with media; 42 percent had to seek approval; the rest didn’t know. During my own 16 years of writing on the subject, no permissions have ever been granted to speak to a government scientist without public relations approval, even for data as seemingly apolitical as the population of black bears. COURT CHALLENGES—at both federal and provincial levels—are tackling the issue of scientific muzzling. A recent court case initiated by Martin Watts against the Province of BC is over “blacklisting” professional foresters for raising concerns with the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations over the quality of inventory data, and being excluded from contract opportunities and given only limited access to information. On May 11, a judge in the Supreme Court of BC will decide if the civil claim will proceed. As Britneff states: “Couple this apparent negligence with the fact that the chief forester is operating without a statutory mandate to maintain an inventory of the lands of the province, and one has a pernicious boondoggle of proportions sufficient in seriousness to cut rural jobs, close mills and harm forest-dependent communities, which is exactly what has been happening over the last 15 years.” Another insider scientist, who spoke to Focus on condition of anonymity due to fear of being fired or blacklisted, makes even stronger allegations: “Industry and government are inextricably bound, providing the conditions and potential for monkey business at every level. This failure has gone unseen for 16 years by bullying the civil servants who found problems with this model. Untouchable teams moved, fired and ignored people who did not support this model. Some districts simply suspended all staff meetings for years to hide this fact. One need only look as far as the way that volumes used for cutting permits are calculated. The Province uses outdated tables, ‘Loss Factors,’ which date back to the sixties. The more precise ‘Call Grade Net Factor’ volumes are also collected, but not used to assess stumpage volumes because business prefers lower taxes. This speaks to the influence that business has over government policy.” WITH LITTLE ABILITY TO GET EVIDENCE, no jurisdictional oversight to even enforce against fraudulent activity, and little confidence that the current government wants to change the status quo, some scientists like Andy MacKinnon are turning to the political sphere. Yet, strangely, the management of public lands (94 percent of this province) is not a big election issue. Raw log exports have grabbed more attention, but their revenue impacts are small compared to the scale of the economic problems created by the diminishment of proper government oversight. NDP leader John Horgan, who comes from a forestry background on the island, released his party’s forestry platform in April. Aimed more at top-of-mind issues like curbing log exports and job creation, it doesn’t mention reforming the professional reliance system, raising stumpage, or bringing back the scientific research branch—not surprising because it is hard policy to explain. MacKinnon admits the communications challenge of this issue. “What I have found works, though, is that if you tell someone that our vast provincial forests and wildlife are being looked after by just a handful of foresters who work for the companies that cut them down, they get that there is a problem.” Katie Gibbs, a scientist herself, feels a better job needs to be done in connecting the dots for people. “Public science affects all of us—from clean drinking water to making sure bridges and roads are safe—it’s in all of our best interest to ensure that government science is independent, robust and openly communicated.” Briony Penn’s most recent book, The Real Thing: The Natural History of Ian McTaggart Cowan, won the Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize and the inaugural Mack Laing Literary Prize.
  7. Despite all the noise, pollution and overfishing—the orca are still here. IT IS A COLD, WINDY MORNING in the new year at Deception Pass, a spectacular narrow channel between Whidbey Island and the mainland at the US end of the Salish Sea. Around 70 people are gathered to mourn the death of 10 members of the Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW) in 2016 alone. Amongst the deaths are Granny, J2, believed to be over 100 years old, and nine other members of this endangered orca population—three of them newborns. The Samish people (relatives of Saanich First Nations) are holding the ceremony, sending cedar planks graced with chinook salmon and boughs of cedar out to sea as an offering to the whale families—J, K and L pods. Samish elder, Rose James, a granny herself, wraps the witnesses in blankets; drummers accompany the singers as they push the fish out on the makeshift boats. For the Samish, the whales are their family. The stories and songs have been composed from thousands of years of co-habiting these waters. James thanks S’ila (Granny) for showing herself to people and making them happy. Loons, scoters and buffleheads bob offshore and bald eagles, gulls and some wily crows eye up the salmon. The human witnesses are from all around the Salish Sea: whale scientists, ecotourism operators, members of orca-related non-profits, journalists and people who just love whales. With the population of resident orca now down to 78 individuals, our little human group mirrors the whales in more ways than just numbers and range of ages. Like us, these orca have complex cultures and diverse languages. They care for their families and are led by matriarchs, long after their reproductive years. They have rituals for sharing territory. They sing, share their food, play, court, nurse their babies and, like us, grieve at loss. I look around at the faces and reflect on what it would be like if this was all that was left of my community. I imagine the decimation is not unlike what the Samish and other indigenous groups endured through colonization. What would it be like to lose 10 percent of this clan in one year? Losing three of the babies to accumulated toxins in mother’s milk would be devastating. Young adults are dying from accidents with ships and starvation. For the orca, the prime food (80 percent) is chinook salmon, which have been overfished, their spawning rivers dammed and polluted. One of the Samish speakers notes that when matriarchs like Granny die, a century of knowledge is lost for the families. The genealogical history of Granny carries not only orca and Samish history, but our western environmental history. Moby Doll, the young L-pod male who was captured in 1964, launched international awareness of orca societies, but also led to their popularity in aquariums. Moby Doll was likely Granny’s son. Lolita (Tokitae), who has been incarcerated for 46 years in a Miami aquarium, galvanized an international community around her release. She too is an offspring of Granny. Both were captured within sound range of where we are standing. Every five minutes, the ceremony is interrupted by fighter jets—flying barely 100 metres above us. They are so loud that everyone immediately puts their hands over their ears. The speakers, singers and drummers stop and wait until the jets have descended to the naval airbase at nearby Oak Harbour, and then resume. The orca likely have a similar reaction to the noise of ship traffic. In order to catch chinook, orca need to echolocate, but if the equivalent of a fighter jet flies by every five minutes, they have no choice but to go silent and wait out the noise like we do. Earlier, I had asked a local walking her dog how she and her pet coped with this ear-shattering noise. She looked at me suspiciously and said: “It’s the sound of freedom.” At the ceremony, however, a young woman tells me she left Texas where she was born and raised, the offspring of a petrochemical engineer, to find a culture for whom whale calls were the sound of freedom. And I’m reminded of how whales draw people from all cultures to a greater awareness and connection to the natural world. For those who have been raised to believe humans are separate from the rest of the natural world, often their first inkling that we are all connected comes from these animals. Through the story of the Southern Resident Killer Whales, people see how orca survival is intrinsically linked to their own. MANY OF THE PEOPLE AT THE CEREMONY have made the pilgrimage there after attending a full-day research workshop hosted by the Orca Network. Howard Garrett, the co-founder of Orca Network, started working for the Centre for Whale Research in 1981. He and his partner Susan Berta have been tireless educators and activists ever since. The workshop raised the question: Is there hope for reversing the orca population decline? The answer, according to researchers, is yes, but it will require cooperation throughout the watershed in both countries. From the American side, they are working against the ecological clock to get permits to breach four dams on the Lower Snake River and restore key historic chinook spawning grounds. Jim Waddell, retired US Army Corps of Engineers who leads the charge, told me Obama had given the OK but they got stalled at the state level. Now with President Trump, they are back at square one, though no less determined. On the noise issue, acoustic researchers Val and Scott Veirs have documented the range of acoustical noise of large ships in US waters, measuring the noise-output of 1600 vessels in all. The Veirs team have narrowed down the offenders to specific bulk carriers, tankers and container ships. Since the 1960s, the growth of commercial fishing has resulted in a 10-fold increase in low-frequency noise. Reducing the traffic, both in terms of number and noise frequency is part of the solution. A traffic reduction or limit in terms of area would also help to reduce ship strikes, which was what killed J-34, Doublestuff, this December. Canadians have also started their own acoustic research project, ECHO, with Port Metro Vancouver setting up a hydrophone listening station to monitor underwater vessel noise. At the research workshop, attendees also heard about Raincoast Conservation Foundation’s Population Viability Analysis which ranks the various threats to the Southern Resident Killer Whales, and determines the ability of the population to recover. The analysis shows that by increasing chinook populations and quieting the sea, we can almost eliminate the risk of them going extinct within the next century. As a result of its analysis, Raincoast has launched a lawsuit challenging the federal government’s approval of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Expansion. The judicial review is requested on the basis that legal protections for marine species at risk were not applied. Raincoast wasn’t the only one stating that the Southern Resident Killer Whales would have a high chance of extinction with the project. Kinder Morgan and the National Energy Board came to the same conclusion, with NEB acknowledging there would be “significant adverse effects.” Despite that, the project was greenlighted by both federal and provincial governments in their determination to expand ports to get bitumen to market. As for increasing their food supply, according to a 2010 DFO scientists’ study on chinook salmon, the Southern Resident Killer Whales need 67,000-81,000 chinook over the peak summer feeding period. The conclusion was that chinook fisheries management plans should take the orca’s needs into account “in order to ensure adequate chinook availability for the whales in their Critical Habitats.” Not surprisingly, the federal government under Stephen Harper in 2015 ignored its own scientists and drew up an Action Plan for the Southern Residents that would only “investigate” fisheries closures as a “possible” tool in poor chinook return years. Fishing levels of chinook are pretty high these days, sometimes at 40 percent or more of stock assessments. This is in a population where spawners have declined in rivers by more than 50 percent over the last 15 years. A 2015 study by Lacey et al showed that just a 20 percent increase in chinook consumption would reverse the decline of the Southern Resident Killer Whales and provide a 1.9 percent growth rate of the pods. But the forces are stacked against that happening. In 2015, the US and Canadian fishing industries caught close to 2 million chinook. About 80 percent of the salmon caught in BC waters is harvested by Jimmy Pattison Group’s Canadian Fishing Company (Canfisco), and there seems little appetite to let a pesky pod of orca get between the corporate fishing industry and its profits. Another division of the Pattison Group, Westshore Terminals, is Canada’s busiest coal-export terminal, catering to those noisy coal bulk carriers at Robert’s Bank. Pattison has been a big supporter of the BC Liberals; in total, Pattison-related corporations have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Liberals over the past decade. IT WASN'T ALL BAD NEWS at the Orca Network’s research workshop. Veteran whale researcher John Calambokidis brought some good news about the other whale populations of the Salish Sea. Since 1990, researchers have noticed growing numbers of what constitutes a Salish Sea resident grey whale pod, affectionately known as Sounders. With grey whales returning to historic levels and reaching a carrying capacity on the feeding grounds off the outer coast, a group of greys have moved into the Salish Sea where they spend their spring. Using amazing footage from suction cup video tags, Calambokidis’ research shows that these whales forage on ghost shrimps in the mudflats of the Snohomish Estuary. As their numbers rise, they could well return to the mudflats of the Fraser Estuary. Calambokidis has found these animals equally as sociable and complex as orca. Unfortunately, they are subject to the same threats of oil spills, ship strikes, and habitat destruction from shipping ports that orcas are. Humpbacks are also returning to their historic numbers with a population that has levelled off after increasing at 7-8 percent a year. Humpbacks are recolonizing the Salish Sea not just seasonally but overwinter, providing frequent sightings on ferries for visitors. Likewise, fin whales are increasing at 3-5 percent a year and were spotted in the Juan de Fuca Strait last summer for the first time in a century. Fins are the second-largest whales in the world and forage after krill (small crustaceans). Prior to the voluntary arrival of the fins, the only time you would see these whales around here was dead, wrapped around the bow of a ship. The US banned krill fishing in 2009 to provide for marine mammal foraging and the well-being of other species; Canada wouldn’t follow suit. BACK AT DECEPTION PASS, the ceremony ends with a feast for the humans. We retreat into a little park hut to get out of the cold wind and reduce the jet noise. There we find a welcoming table of bannock, smoked salmon and hot drinks. The Samish ceremony left me with a lot of hope. The whales are still here, despite everything thrown at them. They are strong, determined, and have kept their language even with a century of suppression. They are reminding us all what the real sound of freedom is. Briony Penn’s most recent book The Real Thing: The Natural History of Ian McTaggart Cowan won the Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize and the inaugural Mack Laing Literary Prize.
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