Jump to content
  • Earthrise

    Stories of Earth stewardship
    Beatrice Olivastri
    A little girl launches a big campaign to get rid of those little stickers on fruits and vegetables.
    By Beatrice Olivastri and John Bennett
    T EN-YEAR-OLD MAYA THIRU, who lives in the Greater Toronto area (GTA), has turned a visit to the grocery store with her mom into a Friends of the Earth Canada environmental campaign. Maya’s Plastic Pollution Campaign hopes to mobilize kids, parents and teachers across Canada in the struggle to rid the planet of plastic pollution. 
    Maya is supporting Friends of the Earth’s call to Environment and Climate Change Minister, Stephen Guilbeault to expand the single use plastic ban to include stickers on fruits and vegetables. 
    “They are just little bits of plastic but they are on everything and cause lots of problems for the environment,” said Maya. 
    Maya is inviting kids and schools—and everybody—to join her over March and April to learn about plastic pollution from Price Look Up stickers and make their own album of PLU stickers by removing the stickers from their produce. 

    Maya Thiru with a sheet of plastic stickers off produce.
    Her campaign goal is to get lots of kids and families to collect and make their own album of PLU stickers to send to their Member of Parliament asking for their support to ban plastic PLU stickers. You can watch Maya’s campaign video at https://foecanada.org/water-and-plastics/mayas-plastic-pollution-campaign/.
     “Maya is part of the upcoming generation of environmental activists dedicated to protecting people and the planet. All of us here at Friends of the Earth Canada are inspired and excited to be working with such a bright and dynamic young woman,” said Beatrice Olivastri, CEO of Friends of the Earth Canada.
    When Maya and her mother went shopping, they didn’t dash through the store to get grocery shopping done. They took the time to examine the attractive displays of fruit and vegetables. They were shocked to notice, for the first time, that rows upon rows of produce carried these little oval stickers with code numbers. These are called Produce Look Up stickers or PLUs. 
    Produce stickers carry a price look-up code (PLUs) to help grocery stores track their inventory and, at checkout counters, identify the product and its cost. The problem is they’re made out of plastic or paper coated with plastic. Plastic PLUs don’t break down. They become plastic pollution in our soil and water.
    Susan Antler, the Executive Director of the Compost Council of Canada, says that these stickers present a major issue when they show up in their compost facilities across Canada. If PLUs are put in the compost bin, they will end up at the municipality’s composting or anaerobic digestion facility where sorting them out is time-consuming and expensive. 
    The stickers are extremely thin and pliable so they can pass through screens designed to catch them and other non-compostable items. When a load of organic material from green bins and other sources contains many plastic PLUs, as well as other non-compostable items, it can get sent to a landfill site instead of the composting facility.
    In a landfill, the organic matter will break down creating methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate damage. 
    Barry Orr, a member of the Canadian Water and Wastewater Association, says that if PLUs go down your sink when you’re washing fruit or vegetables, they can help to create “fatbergs” in the sewer lines. A “fatberg” is a wad of waste matter in a sewer line formed by a combination of non-biodegradable solids from sinks, tubs and toilets. This can include fat, oil and grease as well as PLUs, supposedly “flushable” wet wipes and non-flushable wipes plus paper towels and many other items that should never be put down drains. 
    Also, PLUs are thin and flexible so they can pass through the wastewater plant’s screens ending up in rivers and lakes. Fish and wildlife can mistake the plastic PLUs for food and eat them. 

    A poster from Friends of the Earth’s campaign
    Maya went looking for an environmental group that would help her make a difference to stop pollution that harms wildlife. Maya is 10 years old and the conservation and environmental groups she approached said that’s too young. Friends of the Earth Canada took a different approach and assembled a team of staff and volunteers to work with Maya on a serious and growing environmental crisis—plastic pollution.  
    You can read about how to join Maya’s Plastic Pollution Campaign at foecanada.org.
    Beatrice Olivastri is the Chief Executive Officer of Friends of the Earth Canada. John Bennett is the Senior Policy Advisor to Friends of the Earth Canada. This story is under a Creative Commons licence via QUOI Media Group.

    Maleea Acker
    It’s time to be proactive when it comes to saving urban wetlands and natural areas.
    EMILY THIESSEN AND I meet for coffee at Little June, the cafe on the corner of Gladstone and Fernwood, to talk about the path of Bowker Creek, and an adjacent seasonal wetland in the Shelbourne Valley that was once ringed with black cottonwood trees near her parents’ house. “They’re cutting [the trees] down today,” says Thiessen, an artist and activist, and tears spring from her eyes. She continues to weep intermittently for the next hour, as we sift through the contentious story of a Saanich-approved rezoning and development permit at 1554 Christmas Avenue, as well as her work as a muralist and printer, and her desire to see people mobilize in advance of future developments on land with ecological potential. 

    Emily Thiessen

    1554 Christmas Avenue, showing removal of black cottonwood trees to make way for development. (Photo by Maleea Acker)
    The Christmas Avenue development and rezoning permit was approved by Saanich Council in August 2021, despite strenuous objections from local residents, groups including the Mount Tolmie Community Association and the Friends of Bowker Creek Society (FOBC), and Councillor Nathalie Chambers. Councillors Judy Brownoff and Ned Taylor opposed the rezoning and development in the Council vote (Chambers was absent). Thiessen’s tears aren’t just for the loss of a parcel of land that provided habitat; “I should have done more,” she says. 
    Under the soil of 1554 Christmas Ave runs a culverted portion of Bowker Creek, an urban stream I wrote about for this magazine when FOBC volunteers were working towards reintroduction of Chum salmon into the lower portion of the urban creek. 
    Bowker Creek runs from its headwaters at the University of Victoria down through the Shelbourne Valley, crossing the municipalities of Saanich, Victoria and Oak Bay before exiting into Oak Bay proper. In Fall 2021, FOBC volunteers placed 28,000 chum salmon eggs into the creek’s gravel; they have since hatched and the fry successfully entered the sea. It is hoped they will return in 2024 for the first successful salmon spawning event in Bowker in over 100 years. 
    Bowker Creek passes just east of the cut poplar trees at 1554 Christmas Avenue, at the edge of the property, which makes the rest of the property an important buffer area for the creek. The bulk of the property was what Thiessen and many residents identified as a seasonal wetland, where ducks would overwinter and into which the yellowing leaves of the black poplars would fall each autumn. 
    In Saanich’s 2012 “Shelbourne Valley Land Use and Urban Design Study” report, consultants recommended that three areas in the Shelbourne Valley, including 1554 Christmas Ave, be included as future park space in a growing neighbourhood. The parcel was included in the draft Shelbourne Valley plan, until 2017, when the “intended park space” label was quietly removed. Thiessen remembers that her parents (and many others, including Mei Ang of Louise Place) questioned the planners, who assured them that a commitment remained to acquire the property as parkland. But a year later, it was sold and the new developer owner proposed a 25-unit condominium, with no designated affordable units. 
    When Saanich approved the rezoning and development, on August 17, 2021, it was under advice from a biologist who stated that the property did not meet the definition of a wetland, and lacked any wetland species. The cottonwood trees (which some might define as a wetland species themselves) were deemed an unsuitable species in an urban context and slated for removal.
    “My parents went to the council meetings,” says Thiessen, and her parents’ words are recorded in the Sooke News Mirror on August 12, 2021, arguing that Saanich, in approving the development, would be failing to consider “the need for green space.” 
    Until the Christmas Avenue development proposal, Thiessen’s work had been more focused on global social justice issues. During her undergrad, she joined Divest UVic (a group striving for divestment of UVic’s investments from fossil fuel and other climate damaging companies), then Rise and Resist, ending up on the RCMP’s Community-Industry Response Group watchlist. In 2019, Thiessen helped found Climate Justice Victoria, and was involved in the Wet’suwet’en and Global Climate Strike protests. She painted murals and designed posters for the protests during her Anthropology degree, first as a volunteer, then as a paid artist, illustrating reports for non-profits and screenprinting banners for marches. 

    Mural by Emily Thiessen at corner of Gladstone and Stanley in Fernwood area. (Photo by Maleea Acker)
    “It can’t all be depressing.” she says, “You have to inspire people, too.” She quotes Toni Cade Bambara’s famous dictim: “the role of the artist is to make revolution irresistible,” and smiles. 
    In the last few years, Thiessen has begun completing commissions for murals around the Capital Region. She painted one for the Victoria Event Centre, another for the Oaklands community, focusing on endangered Garry oak meadow ecosystems. This summer, she’s working on a mural of Rock Bay Creek, at the corner of Stanley and Gladstone. Rock Bay Creek is a buried but not forgotten stream that winds its way from Fernwood into Rock Bay. She has also worked with First Nations W̱SÁNEĆ artist Sarah Jim through the Victoria Art Gallery. Art, says Thiessen, helps her communicate, “it defines things. It brings people together. It builds movements in a more joyful way.”
    AS THE POPLARS FALL on 1554 Christmas Avenue, it seems to Thiessen that Bowker Creek gets no closer to being truly respected—as a waterway that needs more space, with more wetlands and shaded corridors through which to meander. Thiessen wants people to learn from her experience. For others who live near an ecologically promising parcel, she advises, “before the development happens, get the neighbours together and start doing restoration. You need people who are actively interested, starting to build a community, who can not only write letters but talk to media, even do guerrilla planting.” 
    She wishes her community had taken note of the Christmas Avenue property earlier and started restoring it on their own, adding species that could have contributed to its status as a remnant wetland. “We should start mapping other areas of the creek,” she muses, “telling neighbours to pick up garbage, have a block party.” Essentially, she wants people to gather and care for a place before it gets noticed by developers, even if it’s on what’s currently called private property. 
    Recently, Thiessen relocated to the Comox Valley, where she’s begun an apprenticeship as an art printer. She’s noticed that the Comox Valley still has functioning creeks, that even in residential areas, wild areas seem to co-exist with development. “If we could have more of that here [in Greater Victoria], that would be good,” she muses. Thiessen is also changing her activism to include not just larger political work but also local ecosystems. “If you’re just doing the bigger things, you miss the small ecosystems.” The lesson of trying and failing to save the Christmas Avenue property isn’t lost on her, “When I was involved in trying to save it, [the work] was all new to me. If I had been working small the whole time, I might have had more influence.” 
    Maleea Acker’s post-doctoral fellowship focuses on Nature-Based Solutions for water and climate. She is currently working with several local communities and Nations to encourage private landowners to protect and steward ecosystems. Her new book of poems, Hesitating Once to Feel Glory, is available at Munro’s Books.

    Maleea Acker
    A biomimicry professional, who looks to nature’s brilliance to guide design and solve problems, is leading the charge for social and ecosystem mapping of the CRD. 
    FIVE YEARS AGO, Anne-Marie Daniel woke up from a dream about the region’s languishing environmental health. “I thought, ‘we need to get the cards on the table, to know what we’re dealing with,’” she tells me from her home in North Saanich. The forest near her home was suffering from drought and an influx of invasive ivy. Climate change, even before this year’s heat wave and atmospheric river pummelled the BC coast, was already making itself known. “I wanted resilient mapping in record time. I wanted answers to opportunities and gaps, and to know it yesterday.” The urgency of the region’s increasing fragility—in the face of longer summers, decreasing natural areas and a complex tangle of politics—seemed to call for action. Now all her idea needs is funding.

    Anne-Marie Daniel: “I wanted to focus on what nature needs.”
    Daniel approached her friend and colleague, architect Christine Lintott, and they began to talk, plan, “mess around trying to find the levers,” and eventually settled on the Resilience Urban Systems and Habitat (RUSH) Initiative. Since then, she’s been planning its 2022 launch off the side of her desk, collaborating with place-makers, academics, students, developers and government in the region to tackle some of its most wicked problems.
    One of the key gaps the RUSH initiative hopes to fill is that of a one-stop shop for social and ecosystem mapping, data sets, participatory modelling, citizen science, and community-based research. The CRD’s Natural Areas Atlas provides some ecosystem mapping, but not all; and it’s missing citizen science and place-making features, which allow residents to contribute their own sense of connection to land and an accounting of its important features. The UVic Mapping Collaboratory once filled that community mapping piece, but lack of steady funding has meant some of the site is no longer updated or accessible. Other projects in the region, like the Little Free Library map, are great tools but represent one of many individual sites that must be visited. 
    A mediator and conflict resolution specialist, Daniel is a founding member of The Roy Group, a leadership development firm. She is also one of only a small number of certified biomimicry professionals that uses nature’s brilliance to guide design and solve problems. Daniel has lived throughout the USA, Canada and in Scotland, where she ran a retreat centre for youth from difficult backgrounds on the Isle of Skye until 2005. When she and her family left, she was looking to recharge and to try a new chapter: “I wanted to focus on what nature needs.” The family landed in Saskatchewan and drove to the Island. “Very quickly, the land and the water took hold of my spirit and it felt so good. It’s such a place of innovation and talent,” Daniel says. 
    Daniel, who is an amazing listener and a lively pleasure to work with, is currently paired with six of my Community Mapping students, as well as students from Crystal Tremblay’s Community-Based Participatory Research class, both in the Geography department. This term, students created two videos: one on the importance of pollinators in the region, and one on the key supports that Mother Trees provide in forest ecosystems, whether large or small.
    “More trees have come down in North Saanich in the last six months than in the last six years,” says Daniel. With Saanich about to rejig its tree protection bylaw, it’s the perfect time to bring current research to bear on urban forests, which Daniel says operate like an electrical grid, connected by a microbiome. Fewer trees mean fewer connections, more droughts, and more flooding. The students spoke to local activists and academics in the region, including lawyer Mike Large, who drafted the City of Victoria’s boulevard gardening bylaw, Raincoast Conservation Foundation project coordinator Shauna Doll, and James Clowater, who has mapped Victoria’s significant trees.
    In Tremblay’s class students conducted outreach and research in the North Park neighbourhood, looking at last summer’s heat wave through the lens of tree cover and permeable surfaces. “Students are ground-truthing by going out to people in the community,” explains Daniel, by asking about their experience last summer, and what they’d like to see happen to support health during future heat events. Jessica Neal’s GIS students are currently completing spatial analysis of the neighbourhood based on this lens. 
    RUSH’s collaborators also include the Capital Regional District’s Community Health Network, the University of Victoria and its Geography department Map Shop, Island Health, Christine Lintott Architects, the Greater Victoria Placemaking Network, Peninsula Streams Society, SeaChange Marine Conservation Society and NatuR&D, Daniel’s biomimicry design firm.

    All of the students’ research will serve as background for a larger mapping and data set project set to start early next year. “The work now is like an evolutionary path,” says Daniel. The videos will live on the mapping platform as part of its engagement pieces, serving as an introduction to the project. Spring 2022 will see outreach to communities kick off with mapping events, field trips, online conversations, and opportunities for residents to define what is most important to them in the region.
    For student Griffin Stever, the work is an opportunity to question deeply ingrained ways of living on unceded territory. After conducting interviews for the videos, he writes, “How do we credit Indigenous ideology and learn from it without taking? As a settler how can I better treat the world using this knowledge?” 
    Indigenous voices are also key to Daniel’s vision for RUSH; First Nations can provide an understanding of how ecological systems worked before colonization, helping to guide restoration and connect more deeply to the land. “Reconciliation is at the heart of the RUSH initiative,” Daniels writes in a project briefing note, “Settlement across the region marginalizes local First Nations and their way of life.” Solutions lie in restoration of natural habitats, pollution control, and the search for a shared respect for nature.
    Daniel hopes to join forces to tackle larger problems and support community connections in the mapping and data platform she’s proposing. Residents will be able to plot their pollinator gardens on the ArcGIS map. She wants people to be able to see where parking lots could be converted to patios and parks, or where tree cover needs to be retained during densification projects. The year-long engagement in 2022 will help shape what will be mapped and how the platform will develop. 

    RUSH will look for funding through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) and other government bodies, but it’s also looking for support from investors. One key part of RUSH is to engage and galvanize local developers, bringing those with power and money onside through showing the efficacy of good choices. “In the face of good information, leaders [and developers] will make good decisions. They’ll know how to protect themselves and their communities.”
    In our conversation, our laughter has a note of tiredness; Daniel knows information doesn’t always bring good decisions; recent failures at COP 26 and BC’s flood disasters show this. But she believes data can leverage conversation and action. I hope she’s right. 
    Maleea Acker, PhD, completed her doctorate in Human Geography (Geopoetics) in September. She teaches at the University of Victoria; part of her dissertation will appear as the poetry book Hesitating Once to Feel Glory with Nightwood Editions in Spring 2022.

    Maleea Acker
    “Pollinators can’t see that layer of ownership we put over the land.” We need to support them.
    “I LOVE THE IDEA of something that can gradually get bigger, and be a beautifying thing in the neighbourhood,” Laurie Jones tells me, as we sip tea in my living room. This fall, Jones is shepherding and cultivating beauty and sustainability in the Saanich neighbourhood of Gorge-Tillicum, aiming to make it a better place for pollinators and pollinator-supporting habitats. 
    Pollinators, like bees, butterflies, wasps, moths, beetles, birds, and bats enable the fruit to set in our gardens. About one out of every three bites of food exists because of their work. One native pollinator, like a leaf-cutter bee, can do the work of 20 non-native bees. Many populations of native bees (and honey bees) are declining precipitously because of parasites, habitat loss, insecticides, and climate change.
    Jones and a small group of my UVic Community Mapping students (Geography 380) are engaged in a community-university partnership. Together, they are aiming to improve the Gorge-Tillicum neighbourhood as habitat for pollinating species, creating a map that will show where pollinators and pollinator-supporting gardens reside, and where gaps exist that need to be filled as development in the area booms. 
    Jones, a former librarian, artist and community volunteer, moved to the Gorge Tillicum neighbourhood in 2000. She’s a sprite; her eyes dance as she describes her garden, her connections with community, students, and art, and as she imagines what might be possible in a pollinator project. “What about an annual pollinator walk?” she muses. “A wildlife space, green roofs on every new development, pollinator signs that people can display in their gardens!”

    Laurie Jones aims to make the Gorge Tillicum neighbourhood more pollinator-friendly
    Community thrives when connections are made. Wanting to foster greater attachment to the neighbourhood she’d moved to, Jones joined the Gorge Tillicum Urban Farmers collective (GTUF), a group that formed around 2010. Members grow food and other plants in the Saanich neighbourhood. 
    “When I hear people talking about how dull their neighbourhoods are, I think, you need this!” GTUF has taught Jones how to naturalize her garden—she doesn’t cut anything down in fall anymore, leaving habitat for bees and other insects to nest, lay eggs, and survive the winter. “I grew up with this idea of control, and I’m glad I’m not there anymore.”
    Within GTUF, members share harvests, seeds, recipes, support and information, and hold celebrations and garden tours (I’m a member, too). “I like to say that GTUF is where all things began,” says Jones. “Before that, I didn’t know anyone here.” GTUF will be one of the primary audiences for the pollinator project.
    A couple of years ago, Jones also joined the Gorge Tillicum Community Association’s Natural Areas Working Group (NAWG), a subcommittee of the association’s board. The working group has several projects, including installing fish symbols on stormwater drains, restoring Walter Park as a natural area, and working to remove invasive species throughout the neighbourhood. 
    As part of her work with the NAWG, Jones decided to spearhead a pollinator corridor project in the area. “I nudge; little bit by little bit. Anyone can do something where they are.” 
    “Pollinators can’t see that layer of ownership we put over the land,” she explains. They fly through neighbourhoods and land where there are ecosystems to support them. “As a property owner, it’s going from rights to responsibilities.” If a bee flies along Obed or Orelia Street, she wants it to have places to feed, nest, and hibernate.  
    In partnership with Jones, her cohort of students is creating materials to educate the public on pollinators and pollinator-supporting plants, as well as doing co-envisioned outreach and community mapping. The map they’re asking residents to contribute to will show where pollinators have been seen, where plants grow that support them, and can also serve as an indication of where habitat is missing. Jones would eventually like to see the map used to direct development and encourage native plantings, green roofs and other amenities to support native species as the area densifies. 
    Three other student groups from my class are helping communities to map aspects of place that they find important. The Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea is creating a map of places children can find marine life in the region. The Saanich Peninsula Environmental Coalition is working to build support for its bioregional framework, and students are doing outreach in local high schools and collating a map and descriptions of local social and environmental organizations in the area. NatuR&D is working with students as they create short educational videos on pollinators and mother trees in the region, in advance of a year long mapping blitz in the region to support climate change mitigation. The projects the students work on often continue for a year or more. Each cohort hands their work off to the incoming class. 
    Instead of writing essays that end up at the bottom of a drawer, students thus complete projects that actually make a positive difference in the region. But perhaps most importantly, a map created by a community is a democratizing force; it eschews the top-down power structures of most official maps, instead recognizing the individual contributions and sense of place that each participant carries. Story reigns in a community map; stories identify and celebrate connection to place, even as they also serve as a form of citizen science.
    Jones is interested in pollinators because she feels keenly the ecological disasters that climate change portends. She is also a fabric artist, and is currently creating a three-metre-square fabric quilt. Each square is a story she brings with her into this new climate-changing world. “I visualize it as a way to open conversations. It says, ‘here’s my story. What’s yours?’” Speaking of climate change, she says, “It’s going to be dark, but we can help one another, or at least have community.” The squares are made of painstakingly cut slices of colour, first tacked, then sewn into place to form collages of incredible intricacy. 

    A detail, portraying Tod Inlet, in Laurie Jone’s quilt
    “I was inspired by Dahr Jamail’s The End of Ice,” Jones says. “And I took that metaphor. How do we process this?” One square is the story of a braided bridge constructed by a South American community; another is a story she heard from Nikki Wright, who heads marine restoration for SeaChange. Wright’s story was a realization that the restoration of SṈIDȻEȽ, or Tod Inlet will take generations. In Jones’ depiction, the forests’ green reflects in a swirl of blue and white inlet, while the century old pilings left from the area’s cement factory ring the moonscape of the ocean bottom. “How lovely it was to hear someone weighted down by the scope of the work required [and] finding that weight lifted by the epiphany that change requires a community,” Jones wrote when sending me the images. 
    While we are chatting, fellow GTUF member Olivia Anderson shows up at my door with a loaf of bread still warm from the oven. “Thank you again for the tomatillos and the quince,” she says. “This has spelt, red fife and rye.” The bread was amazing. Anderson, also a retired librarian, has transformed her entire front yard (a block away) into an oasis of food and flowers. Laurie laughs. This is what she means by community. 
    On November 6, from 11:30am – 3:30pm, the GTCA group students and Laurie will hold an event at the Gorge Park Community Gardens (Gorge Road just south of Tillicum Road), celebrating pollinators, pollinating plants, educating on how to create better pollinator corridors, and helping the public to create a map of pollinator-friendly areas in the neighbourhood. Come join the fun. There will be native seeds for giveaway from Satinflower Nurseries, educational resources, activities for kids, and an opportunity to tell your story about pollinators and plants on a map.
    Maleea Acker, PhD, completed her doctorate in Human Geography (Geopoetics) in September. She teaches at the University of Victoria; part of her dissertation will appear as the poetry book Hesitating Once to Feel Glory with Nightwood Editions in Spring 2022.

    Maleea Acker
    Turning the negative of invasive species into the positive of art.
    IF YOU’VE WALKED along the forested paths of Beacon Hill, near the end of Cook Street, or through Gorge Park’s groves, near the reversing falls at Tillicum Bridge, you may have seen Tori McLaverty’s sculptures. Spheres in the trees, hanging by woven rope. Some twisted into flowers, some a series of interlocking circles, like the rings of Saturn. Some are small, only inches wide. Others span six feet or more, suspended from branches in clusters, as mobiles, or singular, an organic nest of curves against the forest’s straight trunks. Occasionally, there is a heart or a peace sign woven into the sphere. The hanging sculptures can be found as far from Downtown as Elk Lake, the Interurban rail trail, and the Galloping Goose.

    Sculpture by Tori McLaverty
    The spheres and weavings are made of organic materials, but not native species. “I was talking to a Victoria Parks worker about ivy and invasives,” McLaverty tells me during our meeting at Gorge Park Community Gardens. He had volunteered to remove ivy and blackberry from Beacon Hill. When he learned how destructive invasives can be to local ecosystems, he decided to keep pulling, but start using the remnants as his primary materials. “I started with peace signs. Then spiderwebs. Then Valentine’s day hearts. That was all in Beacon Hill Park,” he pauses for breath, “A hater kept tearing them down and throwing them off the cliff.” After removing the invasives, he twists the ivy vines, dethorns and loops the canes, and thus restores the forest.
    Art in the region’s parks is usually a more formally arranged production. Saanich hosted the Gorge on Art festival prior to COVID-19; in early 2021, Kaitlin McManus created seven mindful interventions along the waterway called “Sense of Belonging: A Creative Mindfulness Walk in Nature.” The Sooke to Sidney Rock Hunt encourages residents to paint a rock and hide it for others to find. The City of Victoria, however, discourages unsanctioned art, instead providing steps for community or business-led mural projects. 
    McLaverty tells me that he is a retired drag queen and sex worker from Winnipeg. His mother is a Dënédeh First Nation from Northern Manitoba; his father is Irish. In 2012, McLaverty moved to Victoria to join his mother, a retired art teacher, and his sister. He wanted a fresh start: a close friend had died in Winnipeg; a ten-year relationship had finished. Six days after he arrived on the island, his mother died. 
    “I did art before, but it was my face and my clothing,” he tells me, laughing. He won “Entertainer of the Year” in 2000 at the Lucky Stars Drag club, where he played “Vanna Not So White.” He pauses to point out a Great Blue Heron flying over us, then continues. “Whenever I’m with my art work, people don’t hesitate to talk to me,” and so when he feels bad, he goes to a park to weave. 
    His work has attracted attention. “I knew someone would notice,” he says, “but I didn’t think past that. The response has been unreal,” with write-ups in local papers, offers of money for whatever he happens to be working on, and commissions for people’s own properties. When he’s not working at his art, he also collects bottles. He lived briefly with the homeless community that took up residence in Regina Park, and now lives in an apartment on the Gorge. “My work is about doing good, and being good.”
    McLaverty’s work seems to occupy a realm closer to many landscape artists in Canada, such as Peter Von Tiesenhausen or Marlene Creates, who use natural materials to build installations and interventions in their local environments. To halt pipeline development, Von Tiesenhausen took out copyright on his 800 acres of land in Alberta in 1996, claiming it as a work of art. His work is characterized by the pursuit of ecological sustainability, as well as examination of large forces—birth, death, nature, growth, and decay. He has launched charred boats filled with earth into the Bow River; he has woven sculptures from willow and left them to slowly sink into the prairie; each year he constructs another panel of a white picket fence he has been building and painting for over 25 years. The previous years stretch behind the most recent, slowly weathering and decaying. 
    Marlene Creates, a Newfoundland artist, explores the imprint humans make on landscape. One photo series documents outdoor sleeping places—and the flattened grasses her body creates—during a multi-day walk around the island. She assembles stones as sculptures, photographs her hand on rocks and tree trunks, and is slowly altering her own acreage through installations of poems in situ. Art as installation in landscape can be a way of marking presence, creating place, and collaborating with the natural world rather than thinking oneself separate from it.
    After we sit for a while, McLaverty takes me to the forest overlooking the Gorge Waterway, where we can see the tide rushing in. “I climb up this one to hang out with the owls,” he says, pointing to a mature alder tree. “And here,” he says, pointing to a log, “I like to sit and make the sculptures. It’s quiet.” The ground is littered with old ivy whips and dead branches. Two of his sculptures—spheres inside spheres, twined together—dangle from the branch of a Douglas-fir. The forest looks archetypal; freed from invasive ivy the trunks soar. 
    Artists create what they see, even if it can’t yet be seen by others. “I noticed in the trees things that weren’t there yet. I saw shapes in the trees. I chose the trees because they’re the ones that speak to me.” He stops to whistle at a hummingbird that zooms by us in the forest, and then we continue walking through his work of art, arriving back to the parking lot, where he gives me the six-foot blackberry sphere with an intricate ivy flower interior that he’s been carrying. It’s now hanging from a tree in my yard.
    Maleea Acker, PhD, completed her doctorate in Human Geography (Geopoetics) in September. She teaches at the University of Victoria; part of her dissertation will appear as the poetry book Hesitating Once to Feel Glory with Nightwood Editions in Spring 2022.

    Stephen Hume
    Greater conservations measure are needed if the fish—and fishing the river is known for—are to survive.
    FIFTY YEARS AGO, just as pale green catkins dusted with yellow pollen began to emerge on alders that scant weeks earlier had been merely a bleak, grey rattle in the wind, serious anglers like Art Webster would be getting out their split cane rods.
    We now inhabit the age of technical fishing, of mass-produced fibreglass, unbreakable alloys and the science of powerful, super-light carbon graphite rods. Anglers download coordinates from satellites to pinpoint favoured fishing holes and deploy digitized maps on hand-held computer screens to get there.
    A time in which anglers would walk three days to get to a good stretch of river and their prized rods were hand-assembled from bamboo strips—and not just any bamboo, either, not Tonkin or Calcutta, it had to be from Malacca cane—then hand-glued, hand-varnished, hand-rubbed to a luminous gloss, the blued steel and agate-lined guides hand-whipped to the rod with silk wrapping thread, well, that time can seem impossibly quaint today. 
    So can the unwritten rules and occasionally stuffy conservation etiquette that proscribed certain unsporting and unmentionable conduct—one didn’t use “hardware,” one didn’t fish on spawning stocks, one didn’t bounce bait along the bottom and so on.
    But when the snowy summits had already begun shedding melt water from the glittering drifts and cornices more than a kilometre above, anglers still governed by a courtly Edwardian sensibility would check their floating fly lines for cracks and run them—metre by painstaking metre—through a basin of soapy water to wash off the winter grit. Screws would be tightened, leaders coiled, and the drag mechanisms checked and adjusted on their simple single-action reels.
    I know the routine because I once used to follow it myself, although my own rods have been in the rafters for years now and I doubt they’ll ever come out again.

    Photo from the Cowichan Bay archives of an angler with a chinook. The Cowichan once had runs of 25,000 of these very large salmon.
    Veteran fishing guides like Joe Saysell, who has lived on the Cowichan River for more than 70 years, would watch the resident belted kingfishers flashing in the spring sun, get their drift boats shipshape for the coming season and keep an eye peeled for signs of that first insect hatch dimpling the emerald current, signalled by the shimmering clouds of gossamer-winged flies drifting upstream on the invisible river of air that always runs counter to the flow of the water.
    “The thing is, we’d wait until April 16 for the upper part of the river to open and when the opening came, it always felt like winning the lottery,” Webster recalls.
    Lacrosse fans will better know Webster as the professional lacrosse star who came west from Ontario, won two Mann Cup titles playing for Victoria, and then won a fistful more as a coach. But spend a few minutes chatting about fishing and it’s clear his passion for the river runs as deep as his passion for lacrosse.
    “I’ve been fishing the Cowichan since the Victoria Shamrocks brought me out here [from Brampton] in 1978,” he says, and he fell in love with what’s long been considered one of British Columbia’s blue ribbon angling destinations with its long, slow pools, fast-moving riffles, deep holes and canyons and thundering waterfalls as it hurries from Cowichan Lake to its estuary on Cowichan Bay, 30 kilometres to the southeast, itself once a saltwater angler’s Eden for the vast run of huge slab-sided Chinook and aggressive coho salmon that would hold in the salt water awaiting the fall freshet before returning to the upper river to spawn. 
    These days Webster and Saysell, a pair of icons from the halcyon days of fly fishing on the Cowichan, are part of a movement that’s lobbying the provincial government to put a stop to some of the most popular angling on Vancouver Island.
    They want the magical upper stretches of the river closed to angling from the end of October to mid-April. It’s difficult to argue their logic. Angling pressure on the extremely sensitive habitat is now so great, our knowledge of what’s happening so limited, the technology so efficient, and the possible consequences so dire that these wise old anglers say not to invoke the precautionary principle is irresponsible and, worse, profoundly unethical.
    “Look,” Webster says, “we don’t hunt grouse in the spring; we don’t hunt ducks or geese in the spring; we don’t hunt pregnant does; or elk, or moose. What would be left if we did that? Why is fishing on the upper Cowichan River any different?” 
    Unprecedented pressure on vulnerable habitat
    It’s sure to be a controversial quest. October through March are the months when there’s the most intensive recreational angling on the 10-kilometre stretch of water from what’s called the 70.2 mile trestle, an old logging railway bridge, and the weir at Lake Cowichan, which holds back water for release in the increasingly arid summer months that are shaping into the new normal of global warming. 
    But Saysell says winter fishing has simply got to stop or anglers’ love of the designated heritage river may wind up extirpating the very abundance and diversity that’s been bringing elite anglers from around the world for well over a century.
    Anglers come for prized but increasingly rare winter run steelhead, for rainbow, cutthroat and brown trout. Once-large but now much-diminished chinook and coho runs also return to the river each year, although a rebuilding program for chinook has been encouraging. Conservative observers like Saysell note, however, that while a couple of improved chinook returns may be hopeful cause for celebration they hardly represent a recovery at a time when stocks around the Georgia Basin are endangered or threatened, and steelhead returning to most other streams on the east coast of Vancouver Island are virtually on life-support. 

    Veteran fishing guide Joe Saysell has lived on the Cowichan River for more than 70 years.
    “The Cowichan River has some of the finest trout fishing anywhere from late October to December,” announces one website still promoting the winter angling there. 
    But that’s precisely the problem say Saysell, Webster and the Friends of the Cowichan, a local conservation group that shares broader environmental concerns.
    Because so many Island streams are in trouble, the enthusiastic marketing of recreational fishing simply channels more and more anglers and their professional guides to the upper Cowichan where they can still catch fish and where the experience provides an historic cachet that reaches back to that Golden Age when trophy catches were posted outside London’s exclusive Victorian clubs and were reported by the New York Times. 
    That’s putting unprecedented pressure on vulnerable habitat precisely when the fish stocks are themselves most vulnerable.
    Letter urges more data collection and closure of critical spawning habitat 
    In a letter from Friends of the Cowichan to Katrine Conroy, the provincial minister responsible for forests, lands and natural resources, Saysell points out that the opening on the upper river takes place right in the middle of critical spawning habitat for steelhead, chinook, coho and rainbow trout. Even worse, the heaviest fishing pressure takes place at exactly the time that already imperilled game fish are actually spawning the next generation of trout and salmon.
    Anglers in chest waders tramp through spawning beds where fish have just deposited their eggs; drift boats drop anchors that churn and drag through the redds where eggs wait to hatch; and the fishing pressure is both utterly relentless and intensifying.
    How much pressure is there? Nobody, apparently, really knows. It’s just open season. Anybody can fish there and seemingly without limit; whatever traffic the river will bear.   
    “The upper river from the 70.2-mile trestle to the weir is where the vast majority of the chinook spawn. It is also where a large percent of the coho and steelhead spawn. And we also know that this area is where 95 percent of the rainbow trout spawn.

    The upper Cowichan River, below the weir at Lake Cowichan.
    “This area is one continual spawning redd at this particular time,” the letter says, “and is considered the ‘delivery room’ and ‘nursery room’ of the Cowichan River. Yet it is open for angling during the fall, winter and early spring, when fish are very vulnerable.”
    “People are getting out of their boats and walking through the redds,” Webster concurs. “People are just marching through. We have no idea how much damage is being done.”
    The Friends of the Cowichan letter raises that same question for the Province and for the minister in charge of managing what seems more like a bizarre mis-management policy.
    “How much damage to the redds are all the anglers doing by wading or anchoring on this fragile area, or how much damage is being done to fish that are in spawning mode (dark and laden with eggs)?” the letter asks.“We cannot say because there have not been any studies done on this subject.”
    Regulations haven’t caught up with technology
    Chris Morley, a fisheries consultant who has lived on the river for 29 of the 35 years he’s worked across BC and the Yukon, says he supports the concerns in the letter.
    Over the past decade, Morley says, he’s observed a steady increase in angling pressure on the upper river from both drift boats and shore anglers.
    “Based on my work experience and my observations on the Cowichan River, I believe that the upper river should be closed to angling during the winter months to protect spawning trout and salmon and their redds,” he says. “The Province should regulate the fishery appropriately to protect this resource.”
    There are some restrictions in place already. Fishing is permitted only with artificial flies on the upper stretch of river and it’s strictly catch-and-release. Yet Morley is doubtful about even that.
    There’s ongoing discussion and debate about mortality rates from catch-and-release angling, he notes, “however, there have been no studies done on the Cowichan to quantify these mortalities.
    “The Province should provide studies that can show some supportive data either for or against regulation changes. Until there are studies, we should err on the side of caution before it’s too late,” says Morley.
    Those concerns are echoed in the letter to the minister. It argues that technological advances in equipment call into question whether the current regulations restricting the upper Cowichan only to fly fishing are even relevant any more.
    “They are using extremely heavy lines, sinking leaders and extremely heavily weighted flies, which actually makes this angling bottom bouncing,” the letter says. It points out that the gear restrictions on the upper Cowichan were established in 1975 precisely to eliminate the practice of bottom bouncing which was then considered a factor in the collapse of trout and salmon populations there.
    “Technology has come so far today with the new weighted lines and new weights for flies that the method of fishing in the fall and winter in this area can no longer be described as fly fishing. The regulations and ministry are way behind the times and need to catch up.”
    Bob Hooton, one of BC’s leading steelhead experts until he retired from the provincial government, says a case can be made that wading anglers can have an impact on eggs and frequently hatched alevins, particularly if the foot traffic is concentrated in a small area at a vulnerable time.
    “Anglers, of course, will never be able to get on the same page with respect to an upper river closure. The typical demand is for science-driven decisions but no one is ever prepared to down tools long enough to facilitate the collection of the science demanded.
    “I’d be in favour of some thorough baseline data collection/assimilation on where, when and how much angling traffic of different types is occurring in areas alleged to be affected, assessing the juvenile salmon and steelhead abundance in those areas, closing the fishery for a year or two and repeating the same data collection. What are the chances?
    “There aren’t any clean answers here,” Hooton says. “If there were, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”
    It’s just more traffic, more traffic, more traffic
    Ironically, Webster points out, when he first began fishing on the Cowichan River more than 40 years ago, there was then a complete winter closure for angling on the upper river between October and mid-April—to protect spawning fish.
    That closure was removed in 1988 under the government of Premier Bill Vander Zalm.
    “I was totally against them opening the river even at that time,” Webster says. “Now, with so much more pressure on the river than ever before—it’s just more traffic, more traffic, more traffic. I’m just glad there are no jet boats!”
    He says that at 68 he’s noticed one major change. Many younger anglers, some of them guides, appear to have never been schooled in some of the time-honoured etiquette of angling with the fly, the principal one being the duty to a deep and abiding respect for the river and its at-risk inhabitants.
    That, too, echoes a point made in the letter to Conroy.
    “In the past, anglers were considered conservationists as they did everything possible to protect fish, especially spawners. But today that does not describe the anglers who are fishing this area during December, January, February and March because real conservationists do not fish in spawning areas or over spawning fish. It is unethical to do so, yet this is exactly what is happening.”
    At very least, the letter urges the minister, current regulations should be amended to impose restrictions banning all but floating fly lines, banning use of weighted flies, and setting strict catch-and-release quotas that limit anglers to a single steelhead and four trout, although it acknowledges that with presently available resources, effective enforcement is not feasible.
    Rules that aren’t or can’t be enforced simply invite flouting of the rules. A far more effective protection for spawning fish on the upper Cowichan River would be a simple winter closure.
    “Since we do not have the science to justify keeping this section open during these four critical months, we believe that the ministry should close it until it is scientifically proven that no harm is being done to the fish and redds,” the letter says. “Err on the side of caution and conservation rather than angler opportunity.”
    Indeed, such a closure would leave almost 90 percent of the river still open to angling during the winter months, the letter argues, and it would represent both the right ethical and and the sound biological decision.
    All rivers need a sanctuary where fish can spawn undisturbed. Provincial fishing regulations recognize that for most other rivers in the province where there are seasonal and area closures to protect spawning fish when they are at their most vulnerable.
    ”Why not the Cowichan?” Saysell asks. It’s a fair question and it’s one the minister should answer. Promptly.
    Stephen Hume has spent half a century as a journalist writing about Western Canada, the Far North, BC and the Island. 

    Maleea Acker
    Langford has been scraping away its native ecosystems at a furious pace in the last year—but change may be afoot.
    ON A SMALL TRIANGLE OF LAND bordered by McCallum Road, Leigh Road and the Island Highway, piles of slash line a dirt entrance road. Stumps of Garry oak, cedar and Douglas-fir trees lie upended. Bulldozer tracks criss-cross the higher areas, but when I visit on May 9 there are still unbroken areas, where mossy bedrock gives way to clusters of shooting stars, fawn lilies, and flowering camas—the traditional carbohydrate food source of Coast Salish peoples—a lily that has been cultivated for thousands of years. A patch of licorice fern just clipped by a bulldozer’s cat tracks lies exposed and spattered with upturned soil.
    The undisturbed patches look like they could be from Thetis Lake Park, and in actuality, the park is just down the road. But outside of the park border, it seems every inch of the municipality of Langford is up for grabs by developers. And native species are quickly disappearing.
    It’s in this few-acre parcel, named as part of the 1100/1130 McCallum Road Development, that residents of the region are mobilizing to salvage native species. When I arrive, Adam Birch and his wife Katie, with their infant daughter, are already at the site. A post on Facebook, written by Jodie Densmore, advised members of the Saanich Native Plants Restoration Group that the site had been logged but that many native species remained unmolested. “It’s heartbreaking to see the excavators plow over the camas,” she writes, “Next step is for them to scrape the top soil off so no guarantee [the plants] will be there next week.” Over 60 comments resulted from the post; one musing whether this was the last intact Garry oak meadow in Langford. 

    Rescuing native plants in Langford. Photograph by Kylie Buday
    The McCallum site was offered for sale as part of a 50-acre land assembly by Colliers in 2019. The land was rezoned for mixed-use Employment Zone 3 in 2020 for KeyCorp Consulting Ltd, on behalf of owner Leanne Kramer. Rezoning and approval occurred even though a First Nations midden was identified on part of the property in 2000. The midden was likely near Florence Lake’s shores, which means that the upland site, where I and others harvested, was likely a camas production meadow, cultivated and maintained by First Nations for millennia. 
    While Katie holds their child, Adam and I teeter over the freshly plowed soil, searching for patches of intact native plants. I focus on the rocky fringes, where, using a pitchfork or a hari-hari knife, I can fulcrum entire chunks of soil off the rock, including native grasses, camas bulbs, liquorice fern, and mosses. The feeling is sickening. I am used to treading lightly in these ecosystems, not forcing 10,000 years of post-glacial accumulations of biomass off the bedrock. “I feel a bit horrible doing this,” Adam concurs. Even though we are rescuing plants that would otherwise be scraped away or buried, there’s something sacriligious about the act of stabbing down to find an intact camas bulb, then pushing its neighbouring species out of the way while the flowering top of the bulb waves tenderly above.
    It’s difficult to see how this development site could become an inviting place to live or work, given its proximity to the highway. It’s even more difficult to see how identification of archaeological remains could warrant this sentence in the February 10, 2020 staff report to Langford’s Planning, Zoning and Affordable Housing Committee: “Council may wish to have a covenant registered to require a qualified archaeologist to assess the site, prior to site disturbance, and have the applicant complete the recommendations of the archeologist’s report as a condition of development.” Nowhere in the report is development not recommended. Basically, staff urge the committee to check the boxes, then continue on with the destruction. 
    Langford has been destroying and scraping away its native ecosystems at a furious pace in the last year, and now these remnant sites are some of the last left to develop. One need only look at the face of Skirt Mountain, where a grey rocky moonscape now looms over Costco and Millstream road. But the pace of development, which won Langford “Best City” award from Maclean’s Magazine and an economic development award, isn’t appreciated by everyone. 
    A new Facebook group, “Langford Voters for Change,” has gained over 1100 members in the last four months. On it, residents of the municipality complain about the breakneck pace of development, the clearcutting of forests they used to walk through, the viewscapes obliterated, the noise from blasting, the fake green astroturf Langford uses instead of living grass on boulevards, and the loss of biodiversity. The group’s aim is to “coordinate, motivate, and facilitate positive change in Langford’s policies and decision making” and to address “the deep-seated systematic problems underlying our rapid growth.” 
    READERS MAY BE FAMILIAR with my endless battle to naturescape my own front yard. Recently, I’ve moved on to the boulevard (Saanich issues boulevard gardening permits if you provide a drawing and a plan; in Victoria no permit is needed). Road work left the patch in front of my house bare and I’ve started a project to restore it into a native plant meadow, adding to the camas seeds I’ve been scattering for the last few years around the boulevard Garry oak tree. It’s been a long process. In February, Saanich’s contractors mistakenly reseeded the boulevard with invasive grasses, covering up over $200 in native plants and seed I had just added. 
    But Saanich isn’t Langford. Kristen and James Miskelly of Saanich Native Plants donated a new spring wildflower seed mix and Saanich refunded me the cost of my first flat of seedlings. I purchased another couple of flats and planted and seeded the meadow again in April. 
    After my visits to McCallum road, the camas, fawn lilies, shooting stars, Pacific sanicle and nodding onion I rescue also make their way into the meadow. Spring is the worst time to transplant native bulbs, but many seem to weather the trip. I also gave camas to friends, and donate more to PEPÁḴEṈ HÁUTW̱ (The Blossoming Place, a native plant nursery in W̱SÁNEĆ territory). 

    Maleea Acker's boulevard, replanted with native plants, some from Langford.
    Many know the statistics of Garry oak meadows: less than 4 percent remain in BC; many of the species within their ecosystems are red- and yellow-listed by the BC Conservation Status Rank and COSEWIC (the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada). 
    The Coastal Douglas-fir ecosystem is also highly endangered, with less than one percent still existing in its natural state. 
    Langford used to contain vast swaths of both of these. Now, not so much. Many in the Langford Voters for Change group ask why there aren’t protections for these species and habitats. It’s because there is no tree protection bylaw in Langford, and because zoning is a municipal issue, not a provincial one. 
    Could Langford residents fight for a tree bylaw? Yes, if there was enough support. The CRD’s urban containment boundary also encompasses the entirety of Langford, meaning there is no curb to urban development within the municipality’s boundaries. 
    I MEET A FRIEND, Kylie Buday, at the Langford site a few days later, when I come back for more plants. She takes a picture of her daughter carefully removing an Oregon grape shrub from the rubble. Around her, the heaved meadow soil glints dry in the late afternoon light. One might ask how a species like the Garry oak (Quercus garryanus), which is red-listed, or the pink fawn lily (Erythronium revolutum), which is yellow-listed, could end up being destroyed by the thousands if they are part of an endangered ecosystem. 
    That’s a good question. Maybe it’s time for us to stand up for what’s left, rather than dragging the remnants all over the region and hoping they’ll survive.
    Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast, which is in its second printing. She is still a PhD student. She’s also a lecturer in Geography, Canadian Studies, and Literature, at UVic and Camosun.

    Stephen Hume
    Humans celebrate birds—bird-watching is now more popular than golf and even gardening—but North American buildings may kill close to a billion each year.
    PLANS BY TELUS TO TRANSFORM Victoria’s downtown with “an iconic architectural landmark” featuring a massive, 11-storey high wall of glass on lower Douglas Street are generating a robust conversation about environmentally sustainable development.
    On the face of it, the planners set out admirable objectives: the structure is to bolster biodiversity with “lush tree canopies,” “pollinator eco-systems,” and a slew of other concepts from the green mission statement word hoard—low carbon compliance, rainwater harvesting, carbon sequestration, deep operational carbon emission control, renewable power generation through solar panels and so on.
    Of course, it’s not the only new building coming to Victoria. There’s been discussion about plans for a dramatic 20-storey flatiron structure at Fort and Blanshard which, as envisioned, would need a variance to exceed height restrictions by six metres. 
    I’m all for imaginative iconic architecture. I’m certainly not obsessive about preserving stodgy, pervasive colonial symbols that emulate and evoke historic connections to Victoria’s unsavoury past as the seat of power for imposing systematic, anti-democratic, cultural oppression. But some aspects of the proposed projects do give pause. 

    Can the planned Telus Ocean be bird-friendly?
    There’s that enthusiastically endorsed “wall of glass,” for one thing. Architects have been mesmerized by the aesthetic possibilities of transparency and reflective cladding surfaces for half a century now, ever since a revolution in the properties of building envelope materials made immense glass towers a reality. Our embrace of glass is understandable: it’s beauty, however, poses profound problems for birds. 
    Many years ago, in a distant city, I’d walk silent streets in the predawn gloom, passing among the nondescript brick walkups and grimy business low-rise business fronts until I crested a slight rise. Suddenly before me, on the other side of the deep river valley that bisected that city—just as the earliest birds greeted the world with their dawn chorus—I’d see the recently arisen, luminous, 40-storey pillars of glass that comprised the urban core. 
    I loved the sound of the early birds calling from gardens and from the forested parklands of the valley and I loved the stunning visual impact in that first sight of the city erupting from the still-dark northern horizon. 
    Stacked against the black heavens, those skyscrapers rising above the commercial district at their base never failed to make me pause in their eerie glow and to stare at the stark, unpardonable beauty of that manufactured landscape. Some towers were suffused with a warm, golden incandescence; some glittered with internal light as hard as diamonds; yet others were pillars of pale emerald or a faint aquamarine. Red warning lights blinked above them. Neon signs splashed colour. Traffic lights blipped through their endless cycles of amber, red, green. Headlights from the occasional taxi jittered through the windy canyons of steel, glass and concrete.
    I always felt a bit special at the sight, as though I’d been allowed in for a private, personal viewing of some vast kinetic art installation. 
    Never once did it cross my mind that I was also looking at a gigantic, mindless killing machine that threatened the existence of my other source of beauty in that moment—the untutored, spontaneous symphony of wild birdsong.

    A hawk colliding with a building. Photograph by Deborah Allen
    But a killing machine that built urban landscape was and still remains. An annihilation machine, ruthlessly efficient, entirely heedless, constructed for our convenience at the immense expense of the feathered species that we celebrate as spiritual envoys from nature and as symbols of freedom unfettered by, as the poet once put it, “the surly bonds of earth.”   
    The billions of windows in millions of residential buildings in Canada and the United States, the display glass of commercial buildings, the aesthetically-pleasing glass towers whose possibilities inspire architectural imaginations, are estimated by some scientists to kill close to a billion birds a year. Attracted into the urban landscape by the habitation glow that encompasses every human settlement in developed economies, birds in flight collide with glass that’s invisible to them. The meeting is almost always fatal.
    Bird-friendly design not top of mind in Victoria
    “Unlike humans, birds cannot perceive images reflected in glass as reflections and will fly into windows that appear to be trees or sky,” observes a report for the Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP) in Toronto, a city-wide initiative which has been grappling with the problem.
    “Clear glass also poses a danger as birds have no natural ability to perceive clear glass as a solid object. Birds will strike clear glass while attempting to reach habitat and sky seen through corridors, windows positioned opposite each other in a room, ground floor lobbies, glass balconies or glass corners. The impact of striking a reflective or clear window in full flight often results in death.
    “Experiments suggest that bird collisions with windows are indiscriminate. They can occur anywhere, at any time, day or night, year-round, across urban and rural landscapes, affecting migratory, resident, young, old, large, small, male and female birds.”

    Flat glass panels are especially dangerous for birds. Photograph by John McHugh, Creative Commons via Wikimedia Commons

    FLAP hosts an annual dead bird layout to raise awareness about the dangers birds face in our built environment. Photo by Leighton Jones
    The concerned municipal planners and building envelope experts in Toronto point out in the report that the amount of glass in a building is the single strongest predictor of how dangerous it is to birds. As changes in production and construction techniques facilitated the greater use of glass, they note, cities have become ever-more dangerous for birds to navigate.
    “Today it is now common to see buildings with the appearance of complete glass exteriors. The increase of curtain wall and window wall glazing, as well as picture windows on private homes, has in turn increased the incidence of bird collisions. Today, the vast majority of Toronto’s new mid-to-high rise buildings contain more than 60 percent glass.”
    Developers of the Telus Ocean building appear to have committed from the outset to active exploration of mitigation strategies ranging from glass cladding modified to make it visible to birds, to the use of screens, latticework and louvres.
    Glass adjacent to vegetation is to be treated with elements that are visible only to birds, says a revised design submitted to the City late last year.
    And exterior and interior plantings are to be given “careful consideration” regarding location to reduce both the appeal of interior spaces to birds and possible confusion about available perches for birds in flight.  There are also plans to reduce nighttime illumination that might prove hazardous to migrating birds.
    Although mitigation strategies like those outlined in the Telus Ocean application are both commendable and welcomed by environmentalists concerned about urban bird strikes, the overall magnitude of the problem remains immense.
    One concerned group, the Victoria Bird Strike Initiative wrote last November to regional municipalities urging them to pass bylaws mandating design to mitigate bird strikes as a required part of the application process for new buildings. The letter claimed North America has lost almost one-third of its bird population since 1970.
    Erin Dlabola, a former employee of the University of Victoria who said over a hundred dead birds had been found around only a few buildings on the campus, asked regional governments to get proactive about mandating design features that can substantially reduce fatal bird collisions.
    “When bird-friendly design is incorporated at the planning stage, it can be cost neutral, and complement other design goals like energy efficiency,” wrote Dlabola and co-campaigner Willow English. “In addition, there are ways to make existing buildings safer for birds using visual markers and other products and techniques.”
    “Those [municipalities] who responded were mostly positive,” Dlabola says. “A few municipalities we heard back from already had plans to implement bird-friendly design guidelines in upcoming community plans and or bylaws and it was good to see there was already awareness on this issue.
    “Next we would like to see bird-friendly guidelines mandated by municipalities because it is the most effective solution based on guidelines that have been implemented in other cities.”
    English said that in the City of Victoria, however, “the current wording of the design guidelines is not stringent enough to ensure that new buildings are bird friendly.
    “Of particular concern is the text encouraging large areas of transparent glass at ground level, and only asking for bird collisions to be considered on higher storeys. Most bird collisions occur within the first four storeys of a building, making this area the most important for bird-friendly design.”  
    Ploughing through the City’s design plan guidelines, official community plans and other documents, however, doesn’t yield much in the way of easily discernible or rigorously expressed policy vision about what needs to be done to assertively address the problem.
    Search city websites in Toronto, Calgary, Ottawa or Vancouver and the issue is clearly top-of-the-mind for urban planners and developers alike. Search Victoria’s documents and bird-friendly design prescriptions are extraordinarily difficult to find—that’s a clear statement of priorities in itself.
    Indeed, do a web search for urban bicycle policy in Victoria and you are inundated with hits. Do the same thing for bird-friendly design, nothing, at least not in the first five search pages—another statement of priorities that seems odd in a city that often bills itself as one of the greenest in Canada.  
    And yet, we love birds more than ever
    Let’s extend that mind-boggling billion bird collision fatalities a bit. 
    The highest estimate would mean that since the turn of this century, in Canada and the US alone, about 20 billion birds have perished crashing into the entirely passive threat of windows they can’t see. To that colossal number, you can add another 10 billion killed by domestic and feral cats. Then there are the 3.5 billion birds killed by high tension electrical wires, the 1.5 billion killed by pesticides and rodent poisons and the 1.2 billion killed by cars. Add it all up and so far this century you get 36.5 billion birds killed by unwitting and unintentional human activity. More than half of those fatalities are caused by windows.
    Other numbers suggest that quite contrary to the dolorous reality of human-caused bird fatalities, most of us—ironically—appear to love the birds we destroy by the billion. 
    Business and market statistics show that since the pandemic began, householders trapped at home by lockdowns have turned to the winged wildlife just outside their death-dealing windows for personal solace. 
    Even before the pandemic, wild bird products comprised a $20 billion a year sector of the entangled Canadian and US economies. Since COVID’s arrival, sales of birdseed, birdhouses and feeders have leaped. Add the spending of bird watchers and their activities and one study estimates it exceeds $80 billion a year. 
    There are 57.2 million birdwatchers in the US and another 7.5 million in Canada. Recreational surveys by various government and marketing agencies report that we now spend more time at birding than most other recreational activities.
    Canadians, for example, spent an average of 133 days a year watching, monitoring, feeding, filming or photographing birds compared to an average of 70 days we spent gardening.  

    Bird-watching is more popular than golf these days
    When you start to crunch the numbers, it becomes a mystery why so many municipal governments and developers invest so much effort obsessing over golf courses when the real public need on the basis of interest alone, is for bird sanctuaries and for more undomesticated parkland that provides habitat for the birds that people are so eager to watch.
    Think about it. There are about 64 million birders in Canada and the US. That’s almost three times the number of golfers (24 million) in both countries. It’s almost three times the number of the total attendance for every National Hockey League team. It’s three times the total attendance of the National Basketball Association and almost four times the total attendance of the National Football League. And 17 million more people watch birds each year than attend theatrical performances in both countries.
    Bird watchers spend big money on their pastime. One economic study of birders in the US, before the pandemic, reported they spent $15 billion just travelling to birdwatching sites and spent another $26 billion on equipment.
    The 57,000 birdwatchers who visit the famous sanctuary at Point Pelee, Ontario, spend an average of $549—just to watch the migratory birds that will later perish crashing into the towers of Toronto flying north, and Detroit flying south. 
    Out of sight, out of mind
    In the face of our appreciation of the aesthetic, spiritual and economic value of birds, one wonders why we don’t put a great deal more effort into rendering the urban landscapes that attract them less lethal.
    As far as I can determine, no diligent data-obsessive researcher has yet actually counted the number of glass windows or how many hectares of glass wall are created by our architectural fetish for cladding commercial high rise towers, up-market condominiums and apartment blocks in transparent and reflective materials.
    As noted above, the amount of glass in a building is the strongest predictor of how dangerous it is to birds. So not knowing how much glass there actually is remains a curious absence. 
    About 56 percent of bird fatalities from collisions involve commercial glass—lower buildings are far more dangerous than skyscrapers simply because most birds do most of their flying close to the ground. The other 44 percent die colliding with residential glass. 
    A simple, anecdotal check with window cleaners online suggests that the average home of 192 square metres has about 25 windows, (although about 25 percent of British Columbians live in larger houses with considerably more glass). Calculated another way, construction guidelines generally aim for a window or glass door in every room on the building’s external perimeter. The glass should be equal to at least 10 percent of the floor area of the room at a minimum. Most of us prefer more natural daylight and therefore more glass. 
    In the Capital Region, according to census data, there were 172,559 private dwellings reported in 2016. A simple extrapolation from that—acknowledging that this is a conservative guesstimate because it doesn’t account for cladding and windows on commercial office, institutional and residential towers—projects at least 4.4 million windows across the near 700 square kilometres of Greater Victoria.
    Every one of those windows is a potential death trap for flying birds. Few are the householders who haven’t heard the thump of a bird colliding with a window, patio or other door. Sometimes we are left with the sad disposal of a dead bird, often we just hear the noise and never find the feathered corpse. We like to reassure ourselves that the bird survived the collision and flew away, but researchers at the American Bird Conservancy say that’s unlikely.

    A too common occurrence near buildings, though often hidden in the bushes
    “Birds suffer internal hemorrhages, concussions  or damage to their bills, wings eyes or skulls,” they observe. “While they may be able to fly away temporarily, birds with even moderate injuries are much more vulnerable to predators and other environmental dangers.”
    The reason we aren’t presented with a constant litter of dead and dying birds, the researchers point out, is because they usually strike the glass at high speed, bounce off and land some distance away, often obscured by plants or other objects. And scavengers like rats, raccoons, crows and house cats will quickly carry off dead and injured birds.
    In fact, the scientists say, smart scavengers may actually check several times a day at a window where there are frequent bird strikes. 
    Out of sight, out of mind, so we remain largely oblivious to the magnitude of the carnage, which Oklahoma State University researcher Scott Loss has characterized as “death by a million nicks.”  
    All of which gives me pause whenever I read of striking architectural plans which feature more vast walls of glass surrounded by both external vegetation at the perimeter, rooftop gardens designed to attract pollinating insects and plants inside glass atriums.
    What’s the environmental ethic of designing structures that are aesthetically appealing to humans but may be lethal to the birds they attract? 
    What to do?
    This isn’t to scapegoat architects or developers or householders, city planners or municipal politicians, it’s just to say we all need to start thinking differently about how we modify our urban environments. 
    There are indeed ways to substantially reduce bird kill from window collisions but they demand that we rethink the balance between our aesthetic demands and the impact of those demands upon avian wildlife.
    Windows with clear glass are invisible to birds while reflective glass creates illusions of vegetation and sky into which birds will seek to fly at high speed. Changing the type and use of glass, angling windows to reduce reflection, minimizing the appearance of space as a pass-through, all work in different degrees and applications. So collaboratively designing buildings to mitigate risk should, in my opinion at any rate, be at or near the top of the agenda when municipal governments discuss development proposals.
    At the University of British Columbia, where an estimated 10,000 birds a year crash into windows and glass panels—a campus survey of just 45 buildings tabulated collisions averaging from 45 to 72 a day—researchers developed a strategy for mitigating bird fatalities.
    Among the solutions: increasing the visibility of new glass by acid-etching it with patterns; using ultraviolet patterned glass which birds can see; retrofitting existing glass with transparent film that’s invisible to us but visible to birds. Some are temporary and inexpensive, some permanent.

    UBC bookstore’s bird-friendly windows
    At UBC’s bookstore, for example, a large expanse of external windows is etched with the sentences from the favourite books of professors. The windows still allow light into the building and patrons can see out, but the dense pattern of text creates both an artistic feature appropriate to the building and a wall of visual noise that provide highly visible cues to approaching birds.
    The university’s forward-thinking Green Action Building Plan, adopted by the board of governors in 2018, incorporates a requirement for all new structures on the campus to have 100 percent compliance with bird-friendly design elements by 2025.  
    Some of the fixes are low tech and low cost. Researchers at UBC and elsewhere report that, reducing vegetation near windows seems to reduce bird collisions with glass. So does certain structural angling of windows to reduce reflections that create an illusion of three-dimensional space. Both high-rise and low-rise buildings reduce bird collisions when they reduce or eliminate light emission at night from interior illumination.
    Meanwhile, there remains a great deal we still don’t know about the phenomenon: 
    Interior illumination is associated with birds that migrate at night flying into the glass of commercial buildings at fatally high speeds—but is this also true for the many more residential buildings? There’s little data. 
    Residential buildings outnumber skyscrapers—perhaps by a factor of almost 6,000 to one—so rethinking suburbia is as important a challenge as trying to reduce bird kill in downtown cores. And rural residences may be even more of a threat than suburban ones simply because they intrude more into bird habitats.
    Faced with choices between increased vertical density and broader urban sprawl, it seems clear that local municipal planners who talk a great deal about sustainability and biodiversity should, like their colleagues in other major Canadian cities, be engaging the public in a far broader, more vigorous conversation about what it means for the birds that surround us and bring so much pleasure and value into our lives.
    For more information see flap.org and UBC’s bird-friendly design guide.
    Stephen Hume has spent half a century as a journalist writing about Western Canada, the Far North, BC and the Island. 

    Maleea Acker
    Litman has a passion for bringing people together and fostering conversation around creative solutions to environmental problems.
    LIKE MANY OF US, FRANCES LITMAN receives a lot of emails—about saving salmon streams and protecting water rights or forests; from environmental and human health organizations looking for support. 
    As a photographer, she is used to seeing the world through many lenses. She thinks a great deal about the relationships between the arts, the environment, health, even the disappearing old-growth forests in BC. To Litman, it all seems connected—all facets of planetary health. But by 2012,  with so many organizations asking for support, Litman’s despair was beginning to grow. The problems seemed insurmountable. “I [felt I had] to do something,’” she tells me over a Zoom call this spring, while Indian plum was beginning to bloom in gardens and parks between my house in Saanich and hers in Esquimalt. “What can I do?”  
    A communications and arts professional with a glowing personality and a large network of friends and community members, Litman also has a tonne of drive. “I want to be a good human and a good ancestor,” she says, her eyes shining at me through the screen. Litman wants us to stop feeling smug about our position here on the west coast of Canada, enjoying the Indian plum blossoms and luxuriating in the relative peace in our part of the world, while many other regions go up in flames or disappear under massive floods. “We need to recognize our privilege, put our energy into creating a future that’s livable for everyone.”
    Recognizing that climate change and ecosystem protections don’t happen unless people feel inspired, Litman decided to build an annual event—tied in with Earth Day in April—that would allow the public to meet and interact with people she calls the “hero workers”: artists, environmentalists, activists, musicians. She called it “Creatively United for the Planet (CUP)”; the festival’s first year in 2012 provided concurrent entertainment and education—inspiring people with good music while teaching people about climate change, biodiversity and a whole host of other environmental issues. “We had Daniel Lapp, The Getting Higher Choir, Paul Horn, and films, music, exhibits. It was the first opportunity for new food trucks in the region. And the whole thing was zero waste.” The event drew thousands; they had only “a bag and a half of garbage” by the end, she proudly tells me. 

    Frances Litman at the 2012 Creatively United for the Planet Festival. Photo by Daniel Etiene
    Litman held eight more years of CUP festivals, helping to bring visibility to non-profits and provide an outlet for positive action in the region. Then in 2020, a familiar refrain: COVID hit, and along with the rest of the world, she had to pivot to an online event using her website [creativelyunited.org]. She held a week-long free festival that included First Nations Elders, youth panels, a webinar series and a whole new website to connect residents and celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. The pivot, however, took its toll. Now, she needs help to continue her mission.
    CUP’s website features a variety of solutions to today’s complex environmental and social issues, including food, housing, nature, arts, conservation, transportation, zero waste, energy and climate. Many topics contain tips and fact sheets, articles and documentaries. She has led initiatives on environmental stewardship with Rock Heights School and the Esquimalt Climate Organizers. The CUP site also hosts several standalone organizations within its pages: the Ecoforestry Institute Society, the new iteration of Merv Wilkinson’s Wildwood forest in Yellowpoint; Project Drawdown, a collaboration to reverse global warming; and Conversations for a One Planet region, UVic Professor Trevor Hancock’s informal network of citizens. 
    Litman wants the site to function as a community resource, where organizations can post upcoming events and contribute to the community blogs. “A lot of people maybe think this is an ego thing for me; but someone has to be the spokesperson,” she emphasizes. Her climate partners include organizations like the Sierra Club but also groups of her own devising, like the Community Trees Matter Network which advocates for respectful development and urban tree preservation and protection in the Capital Region. No one who volunteers with Trees Matter had the money to create a stand-alone site, so she folded it into CUP. Litman smiles: she admits she has a habit of picking up on what needs doing in the region and just doing it if no one else comes forward. “We need to recognize that solutions for a better world are possible. We need to let go of the fear of change.” 
    This spring, CUP is also featuring a Climate and Artists webinar series, which will continue every Wednesday from 11am-noon until May 19th. 
    The breadth and depth of Litman’s site is prodigious. It also provides an environmental events calendar on which non-profits can post their events. She says, “I’d truly like to see [the site] become a community solutions hub, where everyone wins. It’s meant to lift everyone up.” But Litman doesn’t have staff. Other than the webmaster, volunteers keep the site running, but what she really needs is an expert in coding, someone who could set up automatic curation and display of events from websites across the region, and someone who could organize, streamline and clarify the site’s pages. “We really need people with the ability to get this [information] out. But when you’re on a limited budget, it’s hard.” 
    The festivals, the website and the outreach are all labours of love, done off the side of her desk while she continues as a photographer and communications professional. She laughs, her enthusiasm bubbling through the computer screen, “I thought, ‘I’m going to kill myself if I keep doing this.’” 
    Last spring, Litman was diagnosed with breast cancer. Since surgery, she has taken a step back from the work of Creatively United, and tried to find balance in her life. “It was too much work and too little self care,” she admits. “I find this work so energizing and encouraging, and a positive lift, but I’ve been totally out of my comfort zone. COVID has made me realize I’m an introvert. I can’t do everything. I can’t do it all.” 
    Still, Litman appeared in Saanich News just this week, miming pulling the winners for a draw for the Mountain Road Forest fundraiser. CUP partnered with three artists to enhance the fundraising efforts led by Habitat Acquisition Trust for the protection of a 49-acre forest in Saanich. (Go and donate if you haven’t already; the forest is beautiful and the fundraiser ends at the end of April.) Litman’s next episode of the Climate and Artists Series, on energy, climate and transportation, airs on Wednesday, April 7 from 11am-noon. Registration is free.
    “I feel that people need to wake up,” she tells me, her hand to her chest and her curls shaking. She smiles again, “We don’t sense [the urgency] on this beautiful island, but climate change is going to wreak havoc in ways we can’t even imagine. I feel it’s a moral obligation to help people recognize that solutions exist.” 
    There’s an exhaustion hovering over many of us after after a full year of pandemic stress and uncertainty. We’re all tired. But somehow, Litman is still egging us on toward a liveable future. “This is the perfect opportunity for us to pivot.”
    Explore Frances Litman’s labour of love at https://creativelyunited.org/
    Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast, which is in its second printing. She is still a PhD student. She’s also a lecturer in Geography, Canadian Studies, and Literature, at UVic and Camosun.

    Stephen Hume
    The old whaling industry may be largely gone, but modern industry has polluted their habitat and massively increased shipping by larger vessels that kills them outright.
    WE’D CLAMBERED, SLIPPED and butt-skidded down-slope through mossy old growth, getting drenched in the chest-high salal where the littoral flattened abruptly. Just as we broke from the forest edge, the curtains of rain lifted and the breeze hissed through the canopy. A shoreline of rocky shelves punctuated by time-polished pebble beaches spread before us.
    The winter overcast shrouded the Strait of Juan de Fuca in battleship grey. We had paused to watch the sea slurping past slick ledges like a current of unpolished aluminum, when our momentary reverie was interrupted. A vast sigh. Then another. And another. Surging toward us along the shoreline, riding a current, breathing as rhythmically as a distance runner in performance mode, came a whale. 
    I haven’t seen that many great whales in my life, at least not close enough to count myself skilled in identifying them. Orcas in their distinctive black and white I’ve seen in surprisingly close encounters, to be sure, and even, from my years in the Arctic, white belugas and mottled narwhals with their astonishing tusks—teeth tightly twisted into a single unicorn-like ivory spiral. But for me even the ubiquitous grey whales had been mostly faint columns of vapour spouting in the hazy distance off Tofino. The other blue water leviathans not at all.
    Logic said this one was probably a grey whale because of its proximity to the shore. Yet to my untutored eye it seemed far too big. It had an enormously long, dark grey back with a big spinal knob about two-thirds of the way to the flukes. Might it have been a sperm whale venturing into the Strait of Juan de Fuca for some unknown reason? Was it lost or disoriented? Was it on some mission into danger known only to whale kind? 
    Probably not, but who knows? The sea is full of mysteries even as we explore it, chart it, traverse it, plumb its lightless depths, cruise it, commercially exploit it, and trash it with bilge pumpouts, oil spills, garbage, sewage and industrial pollutants. Walk even the most remote beach on the West Coast and you’ll find plastic. We’ve now been defined—or so we like to think—as lords of the anthropocene, the terraforming species that is changing the whole planet into a grid of linked urban nodes surrounded by vast modified hinterlands.
    Every living species now encounters the industrial reach of humanity. This wildlife ranges from checkerspot butterflies whose habitat has vanished because it conflicts with high value agricultural land to High Arctic polar bears stressed by bioaccumulating factory contaminants carried there on the jet stream from China. And from shamelessly over-harvested abalone that were once a mainstay food source for British Columbia’s coastal First Nations to Salish Sea orcas. Orcas so laden with industrial chemicals flushed out of the adjacent Cascadian megalopolis that they qualify as toxic waste when they die.
    A gray whale, photograph by Merrill Gosho, NOAA, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
    Masters of pollution
    Once, standing on a steep bluff during a visit to les Îsles-de-la-Madeleine—the Magdalen Islands to anglophones—a tiny, remote, erosion-prone archipelago where sands and sediments lodge upon an ancient salt dome that bulges up from below the Gulf of St Lawrence, I was struck by the beach below and its gorgeous iridescent shimmer. I scrambled down the crumbling bluff to get a closer look. It wasn’t the beauty of shells shining in the wan sunlight. It was a vast layer of plastic tampon tubes. They were flushed by the tonne into sewers far up the river and cast up on the ocean strand, just like the drifting sediment that made the place. 
    Walk the beaches on the outer coast of Vancouver Island and you can’t cover a hundred metres without encountering amid the driftwood the yellow flash of plastic oil containers, the orange of detergent bottles, the white of styrofoam, transparent water bottles, blue nylon rope, tangles of monofilament. Nature, acting on its own imperatives, is indifferent to the materials with which it works. 
    We tell ourselves we’ve mastered the ocean with our bottom-sounding radars, GPS navigation systems and space-based meteorological forecasts. We certainly seem to have mastered it with pollution, whether it’s tampon tubes on the Magdalen Islands or bottled water containers bobbing in the Sargasso Sea gyre in mid-Pacific. 
    And yet, for all our illusions of command, every shipping season, we lose an average of 70 or more huge freighters carrying cargos of wheat, livestock, consumer goods, oil and chemicals, iron ore and coal. Some simply vanish without a trace, perhaps snapped in half by a rogue wave or suddenly breaking up due to some unforeseen structural defect; perhaps looted by modern day pirates then sold off to be broken up or repainted and reflagged—the industrial maritime version of the urban “chop shop.” 
    The Salish Sea
    Whatever the species of that whale which burst so dramatically into our awareness, it certainly seemed to be going somewhere at a determined pace. We watched, mesmerized, as its wake dwindled on its eastward journey into the Salish Sea.
    The Salish Sea is perceived by the people who live within it and on its surrounding shores, as a pristine natural landscape that’s endangered by growth. A large segment of it is now a national park reserve. But, of course, we, and the national park itself, represent the very growth that endangers the wild world.  Contrary to our magical thinking about ourselves, we’ve already turned much of nature into a kind of urban, industrial landscape. New satellite research published recently in the science journal Nature finds that human-controlled reservoirs now represent an astonishing 57 percent of all surface water variability on Earth—more than half of all the ebb and flow in freshwater systems on our planet from immense dams on the Nile River to our own water-poor Gulf Islands with their myriad wells tapping precious groundwater and their myriad household septic systems discharging effluent. There are 90,000 septic fields in Puget Sound, maybe as many—or more—in and around the Canadian part of the Georgia Basin. On the American side, only 48 percent of septic fields were up-to-date with inspections.
    There’s concern that septic fields are a major source of what the experts call non-point pollution, that is, a kind of generalized seepage of contaminants. In 2017, over 1,400 square kilometres of shellfish beds were closed for both commercial and public harvesting in the Georgia Basin and Puget Sound, two-thirds of them in the BC portion of the maritime region.
    The primary cause of these closures—a combination of urban runoff carrying, for example, the unmanaged feces from Metro Vancouver’s estimated 350,000 dogs; uncontrolled sewage that gets flushed through storm drains when sewerage systems are overwhelmed by malfunction or high magnitude rainfall events; and failing septic fields.
    In 2018, an outbreak of norovirus sickened 79 people and appeared to be linked to consumption of BC oysters. Faced with a serious threat to confidence in the province’s $60 million-a-year farmed shellfish industry, authorities struck an environmental working group to investigate. It reported that “up to 80 percent of septic systems in coastal BC are in ‘performance malfunction’—meaning there is potential for human sewage to leach into the environment.” 
    “The full extent of septic failure is unknown,” the team concluded. “Consensus from the working group was that improperly maintained septic systems are most likely another source of human sewage and norovirus into the marine environment and into oyster beds….”
    So the Salish Sea, for which that whale we observed was bound, is already a remarkable example of what appears to be a natural marine environment but which, in fact, has already undergone enormous industrial modification to the extent that separating the urban from the wild becomes a difficult task. 
    An Eden became a ghost camp for whales
    Just over 230 years ago, Captain George Vancouver went on deck to take the morning air just south of Quadra Island. He was bound south out of Desolation Sound, so-called because of the dearth of good anchorages, the prevailing weather and an apparent absence of inhabitants—his visit came less than a decade after the first known major smallpox epidemic to devastate coastal communities and he’d already witnessed the aftermath elsewhere. But his spirits lifted at an amazing sight. “Numberless whales enjoying the season were playing about the ship in every direction.” The number and types of whales he reported in the Strait of Georgia were more, he said, than all the whales he’d previously observed on his great voyage of exploration. 
    Since that remarkable morning we’ve mostly extirpated the whales for whom the Salish Sea was once a playground of abundance and plenty. In less than a century we turned a cetacean Garden of Eden into a ghost camp for whales.
    The abundance Vancouver observed is the more remarkable considering earlier log entries on his voyage North from California.
    On April 10, 1792, he reported large numbers of whales of “the anvil-headed or spermaceti kind” were cavorting around his ship. On April 19, he’d witnessed “immense numbers” around the vessel, most of them “finners” as he called them using Greenland whaling parlance. To us they are fin whales, the second largest of the whale species.

    A fin whale, once found in “immense numbers” in the Salish Sea ( Photograph by Cephas, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)
    Two days later, after weathering an alarming gale and enduring torrential overnight rain, Vancouver’s crowsnest lookouts excitedly reported “strange vessels under sail” along the hazy eastern horizon. Only later did he discern that what they were watching weren’t ships at all, but whales so large that their spouts had been mistaken for billowing sails. 
    These were likely blue whales, the largest animal known to have existed, a creature so big its heart is the size of a compact car. And if Vancouver’s “deception” seems unusual, on average, one of these whales would be about the same size has his 10-gun warship, Discovery.
    His ship was about 23-metres long on the keel, a blue whale averages 24 metres.

    Blue whale (NOAA Photo Library, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons) 
    Yet between 1908 and 1967, a span shorter than my own lifetime, all the great whales observed in such abundance by Captain Vancouver had been eradicated from the Salish Sea.
    The records are both sad and stunning. In 59 years, whalers in BC waters killed 1,380 blue whales, 7,716 fin whales, 4,180 sei whales, 5,621 humpback whales and 6,514 sperm whales.
    Whaling had begun earlier, of course, but not until the 20th Century was it established on an industrial scale with fast steam-powered “whale catchers,” harpoon guns and explosive warheads designed to detonate inside the animal.  
    Whales were butchered and their blubber rendered into oil—a sperm whale yielded about 40 barrels—at whaling stations on Texada Island, Hornby Island and Cortes. Uses ranged from industrial lubricants to soap to making margarine. Ironically, the frenzy of killing whales in BC waters reached its peak as the whole enterprise was failing globally—markets had superior quality substitutes and there was a rising tide of public distaste. Yet the residue of this bloody business is with us yet, found in the place names we now consider quaint and a lure for the tourists who expect the amenities that further urbanize the landscape we tirelessly market as an opportunity to experience the pristine—Blubber Bay, Whaletown, Whaling Station, Whaler’s Bay.
    As the Salish Sea’s whale population was exhausted, the industrial killing machine moved offshore. Other marine abattoirs were established on the West Coast of Vancouver Island and on Haida Gwaii. Historian Kate Humble pointed out in a 2015 article, for example, that one whaling station established on Piper’s Lagoon near Nanaimo was able to operate for only two years before the entire regional population of 95 humpback whales had been completely liquidated.
    BC’s whaling fleet was ruthlessly efficient. Humble estimates that the carcasses of approximately 25,000 whales of all species were processed at Sechart in Barkley Sound, Coal Harbour in Quatsino Sound, at Kyuquot and at Rose Harbour and Naden Harbour on Haida Gwaii. Look at a colour-coded map locating recorded kills off Vancouver Island and it resembles a sea of red, similar to that infamous Sea of Slaughter that writer Farley Mowat made a metaphor for heedless carnage on the Atlantic coast. 
    Whaling in BC waters stopped in 1968 but not before many whale populations had been pushed to the brink of extirpation and even, in come cases, to outright regional extinction. 
    More than half a century later, 19 of the 33 whale species that frequent Canadian waters are still officially listed as endangered, threatened or of special concern under the Species at Risk Act or by the federal government’s Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. 
    Blue whales, for example, are listed as an endangered species. There are likely fewer than 250 surviving in Canadian waters. The Pacific fin whale that Vancouver observed in such numbers is endangered. The Northern Pacific Right whale is endangered. The Pacific sei whale is endangered. 
    While the migratory grey whale population is recovering on the West Coast after almost a century of rebuilding efforts, the small, distinct sub-population that stays to feed in waters off Vancouver Island while most of the migrants continue on to Alaska and the Aleutian Islands is still of special concern. 
    The humpback whale has edged back slightly from the abyss of extinction—but even on the rebound from its population low of 1,400, it remains at only about a quarter of the population observed by Vancouver. 
    Of BC’s orcas, one sub-population, the southern residents of the Salish Sea, is considered endangered. The other three populations—northern residents, a group that stays off-shore and a transient group—are all considered threatened.
    Shipping plays a leading role
    All these whales are at growing risk from the industrialization of their living space. There’s the constant din of ship traffic, amplified in enclosed waters with multiple vessels, which both disrupts whales’ communication with each other and the echolocation that enables them to locate food. There’s the risk of fatal entanglement with ocean fishing gear. And as with other urban wildlife and motor vehicles, there’s a constant conflict between wild whale populations and increasing volumes of marine traffic.
    The world’s shipping fleet has doubled in size just since 2005. There are now about 90,000 large vessels and at any given moment about 50,000 of them are at sea travelling the marine corridors charted for most efficient fuel use and for time management. Unfortunately, these corridors frequently intersect with the migration routes, feeding, breeding and social congregation areas of whales. Larger ship engines are required to propel larger vessels with greater payloads. Research indicates that there’s been a doubling of disorienting background noise in every decade for the last 50 years.
    The journal of Edward Bell, clerk of Captain Vancouver’s ship Chatham, records his fright on the night of October 23, 1791, while at sea off the coast of what’s now Tasmania. He was awakened in terror by “a violent shock as if the vessel had struck upon a rock.” But on rushing above decks to investigate, he discovered the 24-metre sloop-of-war had just collided with a large whale in the darkness.
    The species and fate of the whale with which Chatham collided isn’t recorded, but it was certainly at the beginning of a long, and dolorous record of accidental encounters between big ships and great whales, usually fatal for the whale. 
    Fast, modern steel hulls with the momentum of hundreds of thousands of tonnes shatter whale skulls and break their spines; the huge propellors inflict lacerations and amputate fins and flukes. 
    In 1951, the last of the endangered right whales ever to be seen in BC waters was killed when it was accidentally run over —the irony is monumental—by a whaling ship pursuing other prey. And then, on June 25, 2009, to the distress of walkers at the Port of Vancouver, the cruise ship Sapphire Princess berthed at Canada Place with a dead 16-metre fin whale jammed between the hull and its bulbous bow. Another dead fin whale came in to Vancouver harbour on the bow of another cruise ship, the Seven Seas Navigator, returning from a voyage to Alaska in 2015.
    And the problem increases. As the global fleet increases, so does traffic. Marine shipping grew by 300 percent between 1992 and 2013. In the warming Arctic, where there’s concern about the exposure of highly endangered bowhead whales to greater risk of collision, shipping along the already busy Siberian coastal sea lane increased 58 percent between 2016 and 2019. In less than a decade, estimates the International Whaling Commission, 21 blue whales were killed in shipping collisions off the coast of California. The number seems small compared, say, to collisions between deer and drivers in Victoria—until you realize that there may only be 2,000 blue whales in existence. 
    In 2018 alone, there were 10 whale deaths due to shipping collisions off the West Coast, a 300 per increase. And as John Calambokidis, a biologist working with the Cascadia Research Collective in Olympia, Washington, told a Washington Post reporter in 2019, what’s recorded is likely far less than what occurs.
    “One doesn’t mean one,” he said, “one probably means 10 or 20 are occurring. So when you have 10, that’s a pretty big multiplier.”
    Something to consider the next time you look out over the “pristine” Salish Sea with its 500,000 marine transits a year by everything from ferries to container ships to oil tankers to aircraft carriers. You are seeing a mirage, an illusion, a dream of a world that has fled, driven off by you and me and our insatiable appetites for convenience.
    Stephen Hume has spent half a century as a journalist writing about Western Canada, the Far North, BC and the Island. 

    Stephen Hume
    Stephen Hume tells his own story of backyard deer, and asks some hard questions about our attitudes toward wildlife. We want your stories—and photos—too.
    CARVED FROM A CORNER OF OUR GARAGE is a tiny office. It’s monastic in its austerity. Writing table, chair, nothing else. I retreat there when a deadline presses and when I want to evade the incessant 21st-century distractions of e-mail pinging, phone ringing, Twitter tweeting, Flipboard flipping or the CBC and the New York Times urging me to some news item to which I must pay immediate attention.
    The first attraction of this small space is simple—silence. The only sound is the papery rustle of the breeze through a stand of reed-thin bamboo. This settler-society immigrant provides a light-filtering privacy screen for the large south-facing window. Beyond it is a dense, glossy, knee-deep tangle of native Oregon grape that’s now reclaimed half the garden beneath the canopy of dry-belt Douglas fir and arbutus.
    I long ago came to the conclusion that beating back what wants to be here and replacing it with exotic imports is more than hubristic insanity; in botanical terms it’s a full-on manifestation of precisely the colonized mindset from which we’re all ostensibly trying to move on. 
    Soon the spiky leaves of the natural ground cover—its plump blue fruit provides a dozen jars of tart jam every summer—will be embroidered with the gleaming stars of fawn lilies, chocolate lilies, blue camas and inky columbine.

    Native fawn lilies, a favourite snack for black-tailed deer 
    I know this for sure. The snow drops are already unfurling, the nodding onions are up and nodding, the wild currant is in bloom, its snowy little blossoms erupting amid the small, defiant fists of green buds just beginning to unclench against a sombre backdrop of mountain rhododendrons. When this seasonal machinery clicks into gear there’s no stopping the momentum. I can set my calendar by it, give or take a few brief February snow storms. A week seems forever in the Twitterverse but on the celestial time scale it’s barely a blip.
    This morning as I sat contemplating how to begin the piece I’d promised Focus on the rising tide of urban wildlife and how we respond to it, I reached for my coffee, looked up and found myself eye-to-eye with a doe, her delicate face pushed through the unappetizing fringe of bamboo we planted long ago precisely because deer won’t eat it.
    Wild deer in the garden and browsing suburban boulevards are a common sight these days, and not just out here in the dishevelled hinterlands. They are seen among the most manicured of upscale and urbane flowerbeds.
    To me the deer are a marvel, a reminder of our place not as rulers but as sharers of a natural world that includes them. To others, of course, they are a pest, invaders of the gardens that symbolize how we assert aggressive colonial control over the landscape, just as we do with our practice of naming streets, schools and public buildings after people who got rich and powerful by the very same colonial process that adulates them for exerting cultural, economic and political hegemony over the natural world.
    Municipal councillors and the writers of compelling letters to the editor frequently characterize the phenomenon of urban wildlife as a problem of populations out of control almost everywhere. The urban deer are subversions of the natural balance, although that balance is entirely unnatural considered in the larger context.

    Black-tailed Columbian deer hang out in a Rockland neighbourhood front yard. Are there as many as it seems?
    Too many deer in Oak Bay eating the dahlias! Wild otters are devouring the introduced ornamental koi in a traditional Chinese garden in Vancouver! Too many yipping coyotes and growling raccoons menacing tourists in Stanley Park, itself a manufactured fabrication of the wild, built on the site of long-expunged indigenous villages and populated with imported non-native squirrels! Too many sea gulls in Victoria! Too many bears in North Vancouver! Too many noisy, stinky sea lions eating the salmon at Cowichan Bay! Too many elk in Youbou and Jasper! Too many wolves in Wyoming! Too many Canada geese just about everywhere there are Canada geese. Too many badgers and too many foxes in British cities. Too many monkeys in Hyderabad. The list is long.

    A Roosevelt elk in a Youbou front yard
    The migration of wildlife from backcountry to downtown is a global and continental  phenomenon, one of the fascinating developments of the 21st Century.
    “Synurbization” is the scientific term. It represents a growing recognition that cities themselves are a new evolutionary force, an explosion of new and strange types of artificial environments arising in the midst of natural landscapes to which wildlife had millions of years to adapt. Those are now under siege from resource exploitation, from commerce—ship noise is rendering some ocean tracts unendurable for marine wildlife—and from the expanding footprint of human population growth and its biggest doppelgänger, anthropogenic climate change. Now suddenly, in conjunction with dwindling native habitats there’s a portfolio of new ecological niches in urban environments for wild animals to occupy.
    Why would that surprise anyone? We humans are part of the process. Human relocation from undeveloped hinterlands to constructed landscapes occurred first and represents one of the most rapid and extensive species migrations in the evolutionary record.
    A century ago more than 80 percent of us lived rural lives, some of us hunters and gatherers—part of the natural ecosystem—others were agricultural intruders but still largely wedded to the natural cycles of those habitats. Today, fewer than 15 percent of British Columbians are rural inhabitants, and many of those are actually urban but on the scale of small towns instead of huge cities. It’s now the wild that intrudes into the domesticated and built spaces where most of us live and the wild is exotic.
    It’s not just Bambi moving into your neighbourhood
    Vancouver Island is an example of natural landscapes transformed by rapid human population expansion (almost a million people arrived in a brief century); vast industrial denuding of the original forest cover (over 80 percent of its old-growth forest cover has been removed); the altering of hydrology by damming of rivers, draining wetlands and carving through watersheds with a network of roads that now fragments about 67 percent of the landscape. Finally, urbanization itself in which 32 distinct population centres—one for every 1,000 square kilometres—create heat sinks, enmesh themselves in transportation grids, and transform the native flora and fauna with astonishing rapidity and reach.
    For example, while Island wolf and cougar populations decline, domesticated canine and feline populations favoured by the colonizing human population, explode. It’s estimated that one in five households on Vancouver Island owns a dog. That math says we now have almost 400 domestic dogs for every remaining wild wolf. There are now more than 500 domestic felines for every bobcat or lynx—although we know almost nothing about these trace populations of small wild cats. We know more about cougars but even there the ratio is now roughly 118 domestic felines for each of the big predators.
    Should a cougar, having had the ancient food sources in its natural habitat disrupted, start preying on the abundant domestic food source of dogs and cats, we are quick to call for conservation control which usually results in the killing of the cougar. One 2016 study of a 30-year data set found that in British Columbia more than 1,200 cougars—equal to more than 35 percent of the present provincial cougar population—were killed in conflicts with humans and their pets or livestock. Add hunting, trapping, road and train mortalities and it rises to 8,500.
     This pattern is significant because it’s not just Bambi who’s moving into your neighbourhood, either. Deer moving uptown have brought company. Their main predator, the shy and reclusive cougar, has followed its principal food source. Media is now rife with sightings in back yards, on patios and even in downtown parking lots.
    It’s something to contemplate when walking the dog off leash. If there are deer, there is most likely a cougar not far away, usually invisible but there, nonetheless, and while a human and a dog give it pause, a small dog alone in the underbrush might look more like an appetizing meal.
     24 generations of fawns
    I thought of that as I exchanged glances with the deer at my window.
    I took note of the hand-sized discolouration on her right haunch. A couple of years ago she was one of a pair of fawns frisking around my back lawn. Now here she is, doubtless preparing to deliver another small spotted miracle, part of that larger cycle that surrounds us and to which too few of us pay much attention amid the distracted, increasingly frantic, sheer busyness of urban life. 
    “I know you!” I thought. Her large liquid-brown eyes implied the same recognition. We gazed at one another. Then she demurely withdrew, her hooves tick-tocking down the walk as she headed for the back garden.
    I left my keyboard and followed to observe. She stopped to nibble the leaves of the old-fashioned stock that volunteers here and there. Some people are unenthusiastic about the dusty green straggle of leaves, spindly stems and unassuming flowers but I like them—they seem to survive just about everything. When you’re getting well into your eighth decade, the ability to endure and survive no matter what seems an increasingly admirable trait.
    She moved on to sample the tender tips of the watershoots freshly pruned from the Cox’s Orange Pippin and the Sunrise apple trees, piled up awaiting their trip to the compost, turned her nose up at the thimbleberry canes with their still sparse buds—perhaps that’s part of their strategy, don’t put out your leaves until the rest of nature’s buffet is already stocked—looked over and dismissed the lavender, stopped to browse on new grass on the lawn and ambled off into the salal.
    By my count, this will be the 24th generation of fawns to find safety in our backyard. Some of our neighbours are not so sanguine about the visitors. Fences have gone up, although as one bemused neighbour pointed out, your fence is not so hot if a deer gets inside and the dining options are suddenly restricted to your garden buffet until a breakout can be effected.
    The bigleaf maple that towers over the western side of the yard—I love it for the stunning wall of wind music and visual texture it provides from May to October—has begun to dismantle the tree house we built almost 25 years ago for a long grown-up child, a reminder of nature’s relentless resilience.
    Like other urban spaces we used to think of as belonging exclusively to people, the tree house has been repurposed by generations of raccoons. They use it as a nursery before trooping their little ones off into the wider world. Every few years we’re lucky enough to witness the procession. Not so lucky, perhaps, when they return to banquet in the grape arbour—they seem to have an unerring ability to arrive the night before I decide the fruit is finally sweet enough to harvest.
    The other day we had a river otter cavorting outside our window—there’s a marsh across the road and the otters rear their pups up in frog hollow before migrating down a seasonal creek. It connects to the marsh through a culvert that provides safe passage under the road for mother and babies, and the creek bed leads to the beach. 
    Facts and context regarding Oak Bay’s deer population
    There’s an irony here. Road safety for humans is often cited as a reason for stringent animal controls directed at deer. These range from simply killing them to trying to manage local populations with experiments in chemical sterilization.
    Yet much of this deer anxiety seems misplaced. In Oak Bay, for example, where the rumpus over deer management has been prolonged and occasionally raucous, data gathered using GPS collaring and remote cameras in 2019 was able to identify a total population of as few as 72 deer, perhaps 128, mostly found in Uplands where there’s a large park—and big gardens—and the Royal Victoria Golf Course. This doesn’t exactly resemble the plague of black tailed locusts threatening to denude the landscape that some rhetoric suggests. 
    Preconceptions are a powerful engine of perceptions, though. Thus the insistence by suspicious municipal councillors and members of the public that the data is wrong and that deer populations are obviously out of control, destroying gardens and parks and creating traffic hazards.
    And, of course, traffic safety is a genuine issue. It’s true that startled deer darting into a street or trapped on a highway by centre barriers can result in unwelcome collisions, most often fatal to the deer. But in risk analysis, perspective and context are everything. 
    Another comprehensive study of deer carcasses recovered in Oak Bay alone in 2017 estimated that about 30 had been victims of traffic. Deer, like people, die for many reasons. Some of natural causes, some from disease outbreaks—for example, the fast-moving epidemic of a hemorrhagic virus that’s recently been claiming deer in BC—some killed by dogs, some as a result of other injuries, and some by traffic accident. Police shot about 60 injured deer across the entire Capital Region in 2018, although it’s unclear how many were injured by traffic as opposed to dogs or traumatic accidents with fences or other urban infrastructure.
    Context helps, though. We routinely euthanize deer injured by traffic because it’s more convenient. Humans we send to hospital emergency rooms.
    Interestingly enough, about the same number of pedestrians as deer are struck by cars in Oak Bay in a given year according to the Insurance Company of BC’s data for the city. That’s the average tabulated by ICBC from the last five years. Twice as many cyclists—almost 60—suffer collisions with vehicles in an average year in Oak Bay. Considering that 78 percent of cyclists and 86 percent of pedestrians are injured in collisions with motor vehicles, fretting over the threat from and to urban deer seems a bit of a displaced moral panic.
    Some complaints cite aggressive deer. This too is reasonable and true, particularly during the fall rutting season when large bucks can become assertive and territorial about their harems. In October 2016, a homeowner in Oak Bay reported a buck injuring a small dog that was on its own lawn and another woman jogging with her dog reported being knocked down by a buck.

    A Black-tailed buck with a full set of antlers can be intimidating to some. But is it any more dangerous than a dog?
    These are certainly alarming incidents for those involved, but once again there is a larger context to be considered. In fact, pedestrians and their dogs in Oak Bay are far more likely to be confronted and injured by another aggressive domestic dog than by a wild deer. Animal control agencies are not transparently proactive when it comes to records of dog bite incidents—nobody seems to want to pay for collection of the data—and the emphasis is on encouraging the adoption of pets in their custody. One can understand why dog bite statistics wouldn’t be top of the mind for adoption marketing, I suppose. But across the Capital Regional District, municipalities appear to average a dog bite incident every two days. The total number of dogs in Oak Bay hasn’t been consistently indexed, but based on one well-done 2012 study for a dog-owners’ association, there are about 12 dogs in the district for every deer.
    Once again, context is everything. Based on the deer count from the 2019 study, the human population density of Oak Bay is about 1,710 people per square kilometre, the dog population is about 150 per square kilometre, the deer population is about 12 per square kilometre.
    Comparing the risk from deer to the risk from fellow humans offers another perspective.
    On average, calculating from crime rate indexes, there are about 80 criminal assaults a year in Oak Bay. This is extremely low compared to other places—the district remains one of the safest places to live in Canada. 
    However, the hazard residents face from their fellow citizens vastly exceeds any menace from deer. Despite concern about a perceived overpopulation of deer creating road hazards and menacing the public, in fact, Oak Bay residents face the same risk of colliding with a pedestrian, twice the risk of colliding with a cyclist or of being attacked by a fellow citizen or a pet dog and drivers face 10 times the risk of colliding with another car. 
    Deer population on Vancouver Island has collapsed
    While there’s a perception that there’s an overabundance of urban deer, it masks another, more grim reality, which is that the native black-tailed deer population on Vancouver Island has collapsed. 
    Fifty years ago, the Island’s black-tailed deer were estimated to have numbered up to 350,000. Today the most optimistic estimates put that population at 60,000. More conservative estimates say it may be only 45,000—or fewer. In any event, over the past half century, for every two additional humans added to Vancouver Island’s population, four or more black-tailed deer were subtracted.

    Vancouver Island has become a landscape of countless clearcuts that have greatly reduced and fragmented wildlife habitat, including for black-tailed deer. The clearcuts shown above are west of Victoria.
    These declines were all forecast by wildlife biologists as the backcountry food supply was disrupted by industry. First there was a sudden increase in forage as old growth forests were rapidly logged. Then there was a sudden decrease in available forage as fast-growing second growth forests matured. Logging then moved into winter browsing areas. Urban footprints expanded. 
    Deer were never part of this social and economic equation. One particularly bitter winter about 100,000 starved to death without much notice by anyone.
    The survivors voted with their hooves and began migrating into urban areas where there was better, more abundant browse.
    Now, faced with an illusion of over-abundance where we’ve actually caused a catastrophic depletion, we’re attempting to dislodge that remnant population from its urban refuge. 
    I doubt it will work. It hasn’t worked elsewhere. 
    Maybe it’s us who should adapt
    Culls almost always result in breeding rebounds. Relocations are thought more humane, but studiers show they initially result in 50 percent or greater mortality—and then survivors often return or are replaced by others who migrate inward from the margins. Reducing breeding through contraception will likely encourage more in-migration to maintain population equilibrium in exploiting the available ecological niche and besides, it doesn’t address complaints about garden browsing or traffic interactions.
     Most urban complaints about deer and touted solutions are cosmetic. They have little to do with any comprehension of our place in and duty to the larger ecological framework. They are about perceived affronts to convenience and revolve around native deer browsing upon introduced ornamental flowers and exotic shrubs that symbolize the colonial order, the imposition of a sensibility from elsewhere upon what’s already here.
    As mentioned, by my count this will be the 24th generation of fawns to find safety in our garden. I’m grateful for their presence, although it doesn’t come without adjustments. They love tulips, so those flowers are gone. They ate the Japanese holly to a nub, so it’s now in a pot on the deck where they can’t reach it, replaced by native Oregon grape.  
    Frankly, it’s not such a big deal for me. I like to garden but I’m less enamoured of the colonial footprint I’ve increasingly come to recognize. Deer have been evolving to adapt to North American landscapes for millions of years. It seems the height of hubris to be trying to eliminate deer for trying to adapt to the destructive changes we’ve made to their habitat in our brief sojourn. Maybe it’s us and not them who have the moral and ethical duty to adapt.
    Got a photo or a galling, appalling or appealing story about your encounter with urban wildlife? Send it along. We’ll run the best of them here and offer modest book prizes for the five we like best, chosen entirely at the judges’ whim and not subject to appeal!  
    Stephen Hume has spent half a century as a journalist writing about Western Canada, the Far North, BC and the Island. 

    Maleea Acker
    Allan Galambos’ fight against CCA treated wood products.
    IN 2016, PROFESSIONAL ENGINEER Allan Galambos and his wife moved to Cordova Bay to enjoy retirement. His wife was hoping to garden but the back yard had a significant ash pile. Rather than mixing the ash into the ground, they made the decision to gather it for disposal and test a sample. It was a good thing they did. The testing revealed an extremely high level of arsenic—344 parts per million (ppm), nearly 14 times the allowable level for livestock grazing in BC—and high levels of chromium and copper. One tablespoon of the ash would have killed a person; 5 tablespoons a cow. 
    The ash was a result of burning chromated copper arsenate (CCA) treated garden posts; the water-soluble inorganic pesticide is used to make posts more rot resistant, as it repels both fungi and bugs. You have probably seen CCA treated wood—it has a distinctive green stain and pressure treatment marks. And you might remember when it was removed from use in playground construction, in the early 2000s. Over 4 million CCA treated posts are still produced each year in BC. The International Journal of Women’s Dermatology links skin cancer in the USA to CCA treated wood. 
    Galambos found a disposal company to remove the ash and several tonnes of soil, as Hartland Landfill wouldn’t take it. Leachability for the ash was shown to be 4.13ppm, almost twice the landfill’s limit. 
    Thousands of dollars later, Galambos had a new retirement project: figure out why this poison-laced wood was still being sold, unlabelled, at hardware stores around the region in 2020.

    Treated fence posts and ties read for sale at a local supply outlet
    The issue has turned out to be an all-consuming bureaucratic tangle for Galambos. But now, residents also have an opportunity to weigh in on the sale and regulation of the posts. The Canadian Standards Association Group has opened a public review on wood preservation. 
    “What really worries me is that these ties are the perfect size for building raised beds,” Galambos told me when we met for tea on my back deck last fall. They are especially tempting because they often cost less than a less toxic post (treated with copper azole), they last longer without decaying, and they’re not individually tagged with a warning label. The two types are often sold side-by-side. “The residential lumber industry now requires copper azole treated lumber to be labelled with an end tag,” says Galambos, but “nothing like that has evolved for wood treated with CCA.” I have four posts in my garden, holding up my raspberry canes and supporting an aging pear tree. Fortunately, they’re not the green ones; but they easily could have been.

    Allan Galambos poses in front of arsenic-treated garden posts at a local supplier’s yard
    In 2003, the wood treating industry agreed worldwide with authorities, including Canada, to voluntarily withdraw CCA treatment of residential lumber, but would continue to treat wood for industrial use (utility polls, bridge beams) and for agricultural purposes (where the posts are used in fencing or staking). The sale of the posts is supposed to be restricted, but a government game of “pass the buck” has meant that the posts occupy a limbo zone that leaves residents at risk of buying and handling these pesticides without knowledge. Burning, touching or cutting these posts without using personal protective equipment can mean inhalation or absorption of arsenic. Poisoning results in skin swelling and lesions, abdominal pain, cramping, tingling, and increased risk of cancer.
    Galambos reached out to various levels of government in 2018 to get clarification on the regulation and labelling of CCA treated posts. He shared the responses he received with me. Through his correspondence with the Federal Minister of Environment and the Minister of Health, and the BC Provincial Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, Galambos discovered that though regulations for use are in place, sale and labelling regulations are not preventing local hardware stores from offering the posts; neither are they mandating labelling. The Minister of Health argues that “most residential uses of CCA treated wood were voluntarily withdrawn in 2003 by North American CCA producers.” But as Galambos discovered, this doesn’t mean it still isn’t being sold to residents.
    Galambos toured hardware stores around the region last summer; he found green posts at most stores, including Buckerfields, Slegg Building Materials, Integrity Sales, Russell Nursery, and Rona. In some cases, they were side by side with end-labelled Copper Azole treated brown lumber, which is significantly less dangerous to health but costs more. If you didn’t know the history or dangers of CCA, wouldn’t you choose the cheaper wood product? 
    Another problem is that the CCA posts aren’t labelled. In 2018, the Federal Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) responded to another letter from Galambos saying that “there is no requirement…to afix a pesticide label to the [CCA] treated lumber” because the wood is only sold for agricultural use. 
    The Federal Minister of Health wrote that “CCA-treated wood must not be burned, except in authorized disposal facilities,” but wood products “are specifically excluded from…the Federal Hazardous Products Act,” which would mandate their labelling as toxic. 
    The Provincial Ministry of Climate Change Strategy also passed on the issue, writing that “labelling inquiries concerning the protection of workers, are managed by the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System, under the Federal Hazardous Products Act and Regulations.”
    After Galambos found the CCA posts in local lumber supply stores, he sent letters to all of them, copying the PMRA, explaining the loophole and lack of labelling and asking them to voluntarily stop stocking the posts, since their residential use couldn’t be guaranteed. As of last fall, two stores had changed their practices: Slegg Building Materials and Buckerfields both put signage in place (a stapled tag on one out of 100 posts) identifying CCA treated wood products and advising customers on how to handle them.

    Warning to would-be customers of treated posts
    Galambos was also worried about the protection of workers who might be handling the posts without gloves, which he discovered is a WorkSafeBC responsibility. But WorkSafeBC, when Galambos contacted them, passed the responsibility for protection of workers on to the employer. The Federal Pest Management Regulatory Agency is in charge of inspections to make sure CCA treated products are being handled properly. When Galambos wrote to them asking for findings of noncompliance, there was no response. Various regulatory bodies seemed to be pointing the finger at one another, while Wood Preservation Canada (WPC) quietly kept producing and selling the posts. 
    When Galambos wrote a post on the issue on the Canadian Standards Association Communities page, WPC contacted him. “They called me, saying ‘I will handle this offline with you. Let’s talk, but stop writing,’” says Galambos.
    In 2019, Green Party MP Elizabeth May wrote to the Minister of Health on behalf of Galambos. She outlined his concerns and urged the immediate requirement that all agricultural posts treated with CCA be labelled. She also made a call to restrict the sale of the posts, while aiming toward a stop in production. Minister Petitpas responded, writing “CCA treated wood is not generally available at lumber yards that serve the general public.”
    When I phoned around this February, Slegg, Buckerfield and Rona said they no longer carried any green posts, but a visit in person tells a different story. Slegg, Integrity and Buckerfields all had green posts available in the yard. One post in the pile had an arsenic warning label. Online, Rona lists the CCA posts as “round posts”; their ends have been sawn flat, making them perfect for garden bed planters or retaining walls. There is no mention of the posts’ toxicity on their website.
    Has Galambos’ persistence scared distributors into at least identifying the arsenic content? “I’ve talked to the Saanich Environment Committee, to the City of Victoria, and I’d like to get a resolution to the Union of BC Municipalities,” Galambos tells me. Back in the fall, he rued that “the only way might be to tackle the individual stores and post negative informative reviews online for each green post sold.” This seemingly endless process of whack-a-mole may have increased labelling, but it has not prevented the sale of the posts. Meanwhile, the government bodies continue to refer Galambos to one another.
    Until February 18, anyone can write in support of more stringent regulations for CCA treated wood. Email your comments to Kat Crew, Project Manager for the Canadian Standards Association, which is currently reviewing standards for treated wood. Here, you can voice your support for the removal of CCA treated posts from any residential lumber stores. In the meantime, we have Galambos and his wife to thank for choosing not to till that ash into their backyard soil. 
    Kat Crew, Project Manager with the CSA, can be reached at kat.crew@csagroup.org. Galambos recommends also copying the Federal Minister of Health, Patty Hajdu at hcminister.ministresc@canada.ca. 
    Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast, which just entered its second printing. She is still a PhD student. She’s also a lecturer in Geography, Canadian Studies, and Literature, at UVic and Camosun.

    Maleea Acker
    Gerald Harris and other volunteers are making progress towards introducing chum to the meandering city creek.
    IN 1978, GERALD HARRIS wrote a short series of articles on Vancouver’s buried and long lost watercourses. The articles were eventually collected and published as a short book: Vancouver’s Old Streams, and offered by the Vancouver Aquarium in 1989. In the book, Harris weaves stories from fishers and “old-timers” with research from the Vancouver Archives into a compelling portrait of a city of salmonberry-lined pools and streams, laden with coho, chum and rainbow trout, including steelhead. Forty years later, it seems fitting he has become one of the chief caretakers and protectors of Bowker Creek and its watershed. Now, he’s set to try to bring spawning salmon back to the heart of Victoria.
    Bowker is a small creek that stretches from its headwaters at the University of Victoria, down to its mouth in Oak Bay, near Glenlyon Norfolk School. In 2011, the Bowker Creek Initiative, a multi-jurisdictional effort, published the Bowker Creek Blueprint, a document endorsed by almost a dozen community associations and municipal governments (including the Friends of Bowker Creek Society [FBCS], with whom Harris volunteers). The blueprint sets forth a 100-year plan of action to support creek restoration. 
    Harris has volunteered with the FBCS since 2009. A tall, genial man, he worked as a fisheries technician, then a special education instructor until retirement. We walked the creek edge this winter, strolling from the Oak Bay Recreation centre along a daylighted section below Oak Bay High, then over a culverted portion near the Oak Bay Fire Hall, ending at the Monteith section of the creek. Passionate but a slow talker, he loves the teamwork that volunteering with the society allows. “I’m realizing that this work is moving along my consciousness and my philosophy,” he mused. He understands humans as beings within a larger ecology. “We’re ecosystems ourselves, and we’re part of larger ecosystems.” His volunteer work actualizes these life beliefs.

    Gerald Harris holds up a sample of water taken from Bowker Creek
    Bowker Creek has suffered under over 100 years of urbanization, including stream channel degradation, culverting of the creek waters, clearcutting of the watershed for development, runoff that pollutes the water, habitat loss, invasive species, and flooding, which causes erosion of the creek bank. It’s one of many creeks in the Victoria area that almost completely disappeared under a tide of development in the early 1900s. Part of the creek runs under the Hillside Mall shopping centre parking lot. Other areas have been daylighted but remain encased in artificially straightened and deepened corridors. All of these factors increase the creek’s flow speed, which results in less water soaking into the watershed, flooding and big variations in flow. In winter, the creek is too high; in summer, it’s too dry.

    The Victoria area’s named watersheds. The Bowker Creek watershed is on the far right side (click to enlarge)
    Harris’ work involves completing habitat assessments of various sections of the creek, restoring sections by removing invasive species such as yellow flag iris and planting native species like Skunk cabbage, cattail and willow, and monitoring flow and water quality. But this past year, he’s set his sights higher. 
    Harris is working with about 35 volunteers, scientists and with Derek Shrubsole, a teacher at Oak Bay High who has won a national teaching award for his work building stream ecology into his classes. Together, they want to reintroduce chum salmon into Bowker. They are currently completing a streamkeepers assessment of the creek. Gathering data to prove the stream has good water quality and sufficient natural habitat to support salmon is key to getting support from DFO. “It’s an interactive process,” he explains, “even applying [for funding] creates interest and will and opens doors.” 
    Harris is also working with Peninsula Streams Society, which helps to coordinate stream restoration and habitat conservation in the region. Peninsula streams “really know small urban and rural salmon streams. They know how to put funding together, and they have lots of friends in the community. They have ways of getting boulders or gravel” for restoration work. 
    The chum salmon’s lifecycle is ideal for the habitat, he tells me, “they’re a low hanging fruit, because they are in the ocean for the summer, when the flow gets low and the water heats up.” The chum return after the mid October rains wash pollution into and then out of the creek. Unlike coho, juvenile chum salmon also exit the stream for the ocean immediately after they hatch. 
    Harris hopes to introduce the first baskets of eggs into gravel in winter 2022 in the Monteith area of the creek. It sits downstream of a long culverted section of the creek, which passes under the Oak Bay Fire Hall parking lot. Salmon most likely wouldn’t brave the culvert. But below it, a soft-banked area, overhung with snowberry and red osier dogwood, burbles. Several years ago, a group of volunteers helped remove invasive species, planted a garden and now maintain the section. 
    “Teaching people about native gardening has been interesting,” he says. They’ve had to accustom themselves to a wilder look than much of Oak Bay cultivates. Deer also continue to be a problem—native bushes that should be 10 or more feet tall are small and heavily browsed. But Oak Bay Parks helps by bringing tree sections and mulch. Last fall at Monteith, they found invertebrates, including caddisfly and dobsonfly larvae, which aren’t found in poor water quality. “Findings like that are equivalent to a year’s worth of water sampling,” Harris says. Crayfish also live in the creek, as well as a small fish called three-spined stickleback. 
    A natural, healthy creek meanders. Its flow is moderated by soft banks, good permeability of surrounding soils and an ability to expand widthwise rather than shoot down a narrowed channel. The only reason Bowker continues to be a year round stream is because of the underlying geology, Harris tells me. Underlying the UVic and Gordon Head areas is a large swath of glacial gravel that came down from Howe Sound and across the Salish Sea during the last Ice Age. Called a drumelin, the gravel collects, holds and then slowly discharges this water, releasing it out of the sides of the hill UVic sits on. “Mystic Spring and Mystic Vale and, I suspect, Mount Douglas are all benefiting from this pile of water.” 
    Restoration of Bowker Creek can help control what happens to this water, says Harris. But people can also control what happens to rainwater the region (and the creek) receives over the winter. Impermeable surfaces, including pavement and building roofs, contribute to flooding, preventing the water from soaking in where it lands. Planting native species, using rain barrels and avoiding concrete can help a lot. Harris wants to start a campaign called “Does a raindrop feel wanted?” which would provide real time monitoring of flow rates and compare them to precipitation levels, so a game could actually be made of trying to slow a raindrop down as it moves from where it lands to the sea. 
    Before COVID, the Friends of Bowker Creek Society did some creekside concerts as a fundraiser. During one, they set up an art table where people could write a message on a “fish” (a shape cut out of a rhododendron leaf), then take their fish down to the creek and let it take their messages. “It was a way of giving people a connection to place,” Harris remembers. Now, he wants those fish to actually swim. 
    To support restoration on Bowker Creek and receive a tax deduction, donate to the Peninsula Streams Society and ask that the funds be directed towards Bowker Creek Restoration: https://peninsulastreams.ca/
    Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast, which just entered its second printing. She is a PhD student, a lecturer in Geography, Canadian Studies, and Literature, at UVic and Camosun.

    Maleea Acker
    Without his stewardship, it’s unlikely Victoria would have the nearby forests it has. And at 96, he’s not finished yet.

    Bob McMinn at Mary Lake Nature Sanctuary (Photo by Koi Neah)
    “I’M A FIRM BELIEVER IN FOREST BATHING,” Bob McMinn tells me as we sit in the house that hangs over the green and pristine edges of Mary Lake in the District of the Highlands. The lake stretches out from the windows, framing the November colours of the far shore’s forest. “Two reasons I have lived to 96,” he tells me, “is my mother’s genes and I’ve lived in the woods all my life.” 
    I’m in quarantine so that I can care for my 84-year-old father, so McMinn agrees it’s safe to meet me in person, albeit at a 6-foot distance. No worries there—I have to race to keep up with his long stride as we walk around Caleb Pike Heritage Park. I race again when I follow his car from Caleb Pike to Mary Lake. I feel a little decrepit beside him, a bit COVID-weary: too much teaching from the couch. At age 96, he demurs, he can’t walk as easily through a pathless wood without thinking about his balance. I feel my feet grow roots.
    McMinn has been a resident of the Highlands since 1953, when he and his wife Nancy first bought an old stone-faced log house on Millstream Road, but it burned down thanks to a chimney fire. The next year, they moved to 360 acres surrounding First Lake, or Mitchell Lake, which they purchased for $20,000. With a doctorate in ecology from UBC, McMinn went to work for the federal government, a researcher in forest ecology in the Kootenays first and then the white spruce forests in the Prince George Forest District. But part of his heart stayed in the forested area just north of Victoria, where one can still, even today, get lost in the woods. 
    At urging from his wife, who realized that as Victoria grew, so would pressure to develop the Highlands, McMinn started the Highland Ratepayers Association in 1967, which transitioned to the Highlands District Community Association a few years later. Working with local community he built up interest in greenspace protection and a regional trails system with the CRD and the provincial government. He was a founding member of the Greater Victoria Greenbelt Society (GVGS) in 1979. “I was reading about the city forests of Europe and thought they were an excellent idea.” City forests are woods within easy distance of urban areas which can be used for timber needs, though now mostly serve recreational needs. 
    As more of Vancouver Island was logged (his doctoral dissertation focused on the Nanaimo River Valley, the giant trees of which were cut a few years after his research was completed), McMinn realized the need for conservation. In the 1980s, Langford and Highlands were both part of the Langford Electoral Area, similar to the current Juan de Fuca Electoral Area. In 1986, McMinn had left the federal government; he retired from contract work in 1992. His second career saving the Highlands began in earnest.
    As development pressures grew in the early 1990s, incorporation separate from Langford seemed the best way forward. McMinn assisted with an incorporation study and supported a referendum, which voted 70 percent for incorporation and 80 percent to incorporate as a separate municipality from Langford. It was an amazingly prescient decision. 
    In 1993, the year the two areas parted ways, McMinn became Mayor of the Highlands. Construction and bulldozing of natural areas in Langford hasn’t stopped since, while Highlands has maintained large tracts of older second-growth forest and has increased its protected areas from 6 to 40 percent parkland. Today, the two municipalities could not look or feel more dissimilar. 
    McMinn became first chair of the Highland Heritage Park Society when he formed it in 1983, 10 years before Highlands incorporated. Restoration of the first dwelling in the West Highlands, the Caleb Pike House, and its heritage orchard, provided Highlands with a community centre even before incorporation. McMinn has provided over $400,000 in land and cash, as well as secured grants towards restoratiing and developing the Pike House property. He also served as Chair of the CRD’s Parks Advisory Committee, and as a director of the Christmas Hill Association and the Thetis Lake Sanctuary Association (as well as other boards too numerous to name here). 
    Over the years, he has carved off pieces of his property for donation to the Land Conservancy of BC (which was later transferred to the Nature Conservancy of Canada). He was instrumental in beginning the work to create Gowlland Tod Provincial Park. 
    It was his work with Mary Lake which inspired me in 2010 to donate to a conservation project even though I was a student. The Greater Victoria Greenbelt Society, chaired by McMinn, was trying to acquire a large property in the south-west Highlands with rare wetland and riparian habitats in the Millstream Creek watershed. McMinn, though in his 80s, set up an online fundraising initiative that saw people from around the globe “buy” square metre parcels of the Mary Lake property as a contribution to the land’s purchase price. I remember clicking on my three metres, right on the edge of the lake. McMinn donated $100,000 to support the challenge. Later, he provided $300,000 more to secure a mortgage with Vancity to purchase the land. The mortgage was recently paid off by the sale of some of the land to the CRD for a trail corridor connecting Thetis Lake and Gowlland Tod Parks, and by a grant from the Province. “My family is very good natured about it. They understand that the money they might have inherited is no longer there,” McMinn tells me. 
    McMinn closes his eyes as he remembers dates and places. He takes me through his childhood in England, after his birth in Toronto and a brief spell in Vancouver. His time in Somerset, in WWII in India and Palestine. His studies at UBC and Washington State University. The whole story has the charmed feeling of the generation born in the 1920s and 1930s. Despite the terror of a world war, its aftermath brought his generation opportunities never seen before (or since): education, jobs, low land prices, and the chance at a new life in a land that still held remnants of the beauty and diversity First Nations stewarded here on Southern Vancouver Island for millennia. In short, he was lucky beyond belief. 
    At 96, McMinn looks a spry 70. But he says he no longer has the vigour to do the conservation work he used to do. I ask if he plans to donate his own acreage. “That’s up in the air,” he demurs. In the meantime, he is saturating the property with protective covenants so that “it will be worthless, with no building allowed.” 
    As we talk, I feel my feet root into a municipality that, through a stroke of luck and foresight, managed to free itself from Langford’s clutches. “You’ve seen West Hills?” he asks me. “The whole of the Highlands would have been a West Hills if we hadn’t incorporated.” There is the sense, despite his protests, that he isn’t quite finished his work. 
    McMinn closes his eyes again, “Politics is the art of the possible. My feeling is that although parks can disappear, at least if there’s a significant area of park, the Highlands can remain predominantly green.” His ambition is to see the percentage of parkland in the municipality continue to climb—to 50 percent, like the City Forest of Hannover. And to get a letter of congratulations from the Queen on reaching 100 in four years. 
    Donations to the Mary Lake Nature Sanctuary can be made at:  https://www.marylakeconnections.ca/donate/
    Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast, which just entered its second printing. She is still a PhD student. She’s also a lecturer in Geography, Canadian Studies, and Literature, at UVic and Camosun.

    Leslie Campbell
    TLC needs another $45,000 to finalize purchase of 27 acres of the the Millstream Creek Watershed.

    A forest view in the Millstream Creek Watershed. (Photo by Dianna Stenberg)
    THE LAND CONSERVANCY OF BC’s latest fundraising campaign is focused on protecting a key 27-acre Coastal Douglas-fir ecosystem in the Millstream Creek Watershed. Located in the District of Highlands, the lush and diverse property is comprised of a mature forest and three different wetland types (sedge marsh, hardhack marsh, and skunk cabbage swamp). 
    Dominated by Douglas-fir, other trees include western red cedar, grand fir, arbutus, Garry oak, and red alder. The understory flourishes with salal, dull Oregon-grape, ocean-spray, bracken fern, sword fern, trailing blackberry, western trumpet honeysuckle, and Oregon beaked moss.
    The Coastal Douglas-fir ecosystem is the smallest and most at-risk zone in BC because it has been so altered by human activities. Less than one percent of the CDF remains as natural forests. Species-at-risk, including the Northern red-legged frog (SARA listed species of Special Concern) are found within its boundaries.
    While the Millstream Creek Watershed property on its own is valuable as a nature sanctuary, its importance really resides in the connectivity it provides for wildlife and protection of the local watershed. With two creeks (Earsman Creek in the east and an unnamed creek in the west) and numerous ephemeral streams that flow into Mary Lake, the parcel functions as a water source for the sensitive lake system found to the south. Protecting this parcel will help maintain a healthy intact watershed for these lakes, and allow for crucial wildlife corridors to the adjacent 42-acre Mary Lake Nature Sanctuary and established Capital Regional District (CRD) parks in the area.
    In 2016, the Greater Victoria Greenbelt Society purchased 42 acres around Mary Lake from the estate of Peter and Violet Brotherston for about $2 million, with Tsartlip First Nation joining as partners in 2018. Cathy Armstrong, executive  director of TLC, says, “Our piece [27 acres] was needed to complete the Sanctuary,” as it will conserve and protect the lands around the lake.
    All of the Nature Sanctuary land was originally used by the Pauquachin, Tsartlip, Tsawout, Tseycum, Esquimalt and Whyomilth (Songhees) peoples for hunting, gathering food and medicinal plants and spiritual practices.
    Due to donations from the community since the campaign was announced this fall, the initial goal of raising $75,000 by December 31 has been whittled down to $45,000. Donations are being matched 4-fold by an anonymous donor. So a $500 donation becomes, in effect, $2500. The federal government has also contributed funds towards the overall purchase.
    Armstrong is especially excited that salmon spawning streams can be rejuvenated and restocked with coho. “Mary Lake can be a breeding and nurturing place for the fry,” says Armstrong. Yet another partnership is involved in this endeavour: “Peninsula Streams Society is key to re-establishing coho in the watershed, beginning with the newly constructed Millstream Creek Fishway,” says Armstrong. 
    The Fishway project includes building five fish ladders, the first of which was constructed in the summer of 2020, allowing migrating fish access to over 6.5 km of habitat upstream of the Atkins Road culvert. Brian Koval, biological coordinator for Peninsula Stream Society describes the project thoroughly in a video (see below), pointing out that the Atkins Road culvert was impassable till this summer. In all, as the video illustrates, 13 step pools with weirs were constructed up to the huge culvert, which was lined with concrete to further help the fish heading upstream. Four more ladders are coming, as well as plantings of native plants on eroding banks and some trash removal (volunteers welcome). Ian Bruce, executive director for the society describes it as the organization’s biggest project ever. Once all fish ladders and other restoration work is completed, coho (initially from local hatcheries) will have access from Esquimalt Harbour right upstream to Mary Lake with the deep pools, gravel, and vegetation they need to thrive.
    With TLC’s financial problems well behind them the organization has purchased a property every year since 2017. “We do so carefully and slowly,” says Armstrong, “making sure we have all the resources we need to fund an endowment.” She sees the purchase of this watershed property as a rare opportunity to protect an undisturbed parcel of critically imperiled Coastal Douglas-fir ecosystem on southern Vancouver Island, 
    The sanctuary will be just that with only limited access by the public. A number of hiking groups have toured the property with Armstrong who says that the fall weather only seems to have enhanced the beauty of the property, with the strong-running creeks, a waterfall and lush green vegetation, all habitat for many birds, frogs, and deer.
    “TLC envisions a future for the site that protects the vast biological diversity found within its boundaries while including educational opportunities for participants in the land trust’s existing Passport to Nature Program and Deertrails Naturalist Program,” says Armstrong. 
    Support for the Millstream Creek Watershed acquisition can be arranged by calling TLC at 1-877-485-2422 or by giving online today at www.conservancy.bc.ca/millstream. Any amount is welcome. Also contact TLC if you’d like to arrange a tour of the property for your group.
    Besides the TLC’s website, further information on the Mary Lake Sanctuary can be found at https://www.marylakeconnections.ca.
    Leslie Campbell is the editor of FOCUS.
    Learn more about the Millstream fish ladders:

    Stephen Hume
    A reprieve for the Cowichan River offers a rare good news story.
    PERHAPS IT’S A GOOD MOMENT to let our attention drift from the pandemic-propelled collapse of the Trumpian snake-oil-sales dystopia to the south and the daily litany of coronavirus woes across Canada to some good news that promises to yield benefits long after our current griefs have receded into gloomy tales for grandchildren.
    After decades of dithering, hand-wringing, seemingly interminable committee meetings, political buck-passing, corporate two-steps and protests from curmudgeonly self-interest groups, it looks like we are finally going to get serious action to rehabilitate the beleaguered Cowichan River, including raising the weir on Cowichan Lake.

    The weir on Cowichan Lake
    It’s one of Canada’s iconic heritage waterways, still achingly beautiful and a lynchpin ecosystem for the larger Georgia Basin. Yet it’s been ravaged by residential developers, entitled waterfront landholders, and by industry. It’s been used as a sewer; as a kind of giant waterslide for thousands of recreational tubers; as a source of massive water extraction for municipalities and factories. It’s been channelized, the foreshores intensively modified, the steep slopes above it stripped of forest cover, and the river itself choked with migrating gravel and sediments released by increased erosion.
    This is a problem that’s long needed addressing and it’s something we’ve known we could effectively mitigate for a long time now but simply haven’t. 
    The federal government now says it’s going to put $24.2 million into a new 7-year program led by the Cowichan Tribes that’s intended to remediate the watershed of BC’s blue ribbon heritage river and to salvage it from brutal seasonal yo-yoing between desperate summer droughts and rainy season floods in the lower reaches that are the consequences of rapid climate change.
    But just to put the initiative into perspective, welcome as the federal funding may be, the contribution amounts to but one-quarter of the $96-million budget allocated to improve a single intersection at McKenzie Avenue and the Trans-Canada Highway. Those improvements are intended to reduce commuting time from Colwood by eight minutes—a cost of about $12 million a minute.
    Think about the relative priorities. The amount allocated to salvage a heritage river that’s the ancestral homeland of an indigenous culture which has been there 10,000 years is what we spend shaving two minutes off commute time to Downtown from the suburbs.
    Look, we should all be pleased that authorities have finally decided the Cowichan River is worth rehabilitating. The Cowichan Tribes, who deserve genuine congratulation for having worked so tirelessly toward this objective for so long, are putting up $5.3 million of their own funds to help repair what others have wrecked and are generously co-managing with partners on the Cowichan Watershed Board, another group that’s worked arduously for remediation.
    If this is what reconciliation looks like, we should enthusiastically welcome it. And yet perhaps public gratitude toward government is not the entirely appropriate response for something that should have been pursued far more aggressively from on high a long, long time ago.
    We’ve watched the painful and undeniable impacts of climate change unfold on the river for decades, amplifying problems created by heedless development, starting with deluded and short-lived attempts a century ago to use the river to float log booms to tidewater. 
    Chinook salmon runs that numbered in the tens of thousands collapsed. Legendary steelhead diminished. Coho fell by the wayside. Most recently, egg-laden fish have had to be trucked from the lower river to their ancient spawning beds as the river suffered through repeated severe summer droughts—8 over the last 17 summers—while volunteers with buckets struggled to rescue by hand millions of fry stranded in drying pools. 
    Snow retention on surrounding mountains now averages just 15 percent of what it was half a century ago and this means substantial declines in summer flows into Cowichan Lake where the river rises.
    This is a dramatic contrast from winter when heavy rainfall raises lake levels, surplus water spills into the river and frequently results in severe flooding downstream, particularly where homes of Cowichan Tribes members are located in low-lying areas. Just last February, 175 homes were affected by high water with some residents evacuated in dangerously swift water.
    And these conditions are going to get worse. Maximum daily summer temperatures are forecast to increase from 1.5 to 2.5 degrees over the coming decades. While a single degree of warming may not look like much, it’s actually a lot in climate time. One degree of warming will mean significant increases in the frequency of both severe drought and extreme rainfall events, warns the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
    Average summer rainfall over the Cowichan Lake watershed is expected to decline by up to 30 percent. Summer inflows to the lake that feeds the river are predicted to decline in volume by up to 16 percent. But fall rains are forecast to increase in volume by up to 38 percent over the next 50 years and winter rains by up to 26 percent. These are immense changes.  
    Sixty-three years ago a weir was installed at the outlet to the 45 kilometre main stem of the river. The intention was to hold back flows into Cowichan Lake and to store the abundant winter water so that releases in summer months could maintain adequate flows of cold water for fish.
    In fairness, this wasn’t ecological altruism. The weir was constructed so that a pulp mill at Crofton could safely extract sufficient water to keep operating during summer months without draining the river dry. 
    Dr Goetz Schuerholz, a distinguished wildlife ecologist and chair of the Cowichan River Estuary Restoration and Conservation Association, estimated in an open letter to the local newspaper five years ago that more than 370 million litres a day were being extracted from the river for just industrial use at the mill and municipal water requirements at Duncan and North Cowichan. 
    On top of that, while the city of Duncan returned waste water to the river as sewage effluent, Schuerholz, whose career with the United Nations involved wildlife conservation in Africa, Asia and South America, noted that about 128 million litres of extracted water per day was never returned to the river but was discharged directly into the ocean as industrial effluent. 
    None of this water use anticipated the effects of global warming-induced droughts. Over the last decade, inflows to Cowichan Lake have declined in volume by about one-third. And a succession of long, hot summers that signal a new normal will mean even more loss to evaporation.
    Last year, lake levels fell so low that storage behind the weir hit zero, meaning there wasn’t sufficient water to normally spill into the river. That spelled disaster for already struggling fish stocks. It also threatened community drinking water, sewer systems and the mill. Sometimes flows have been too low to adequately dilute sewage effluent, resulting in public health emergencies that adversely affected recreational use of the river below the outfalls.  
    Despite the late hour, if the planned mitigation project comes to fruition, it will indeed be a big deal.
    “This is great news,” said Tom Rutherford, executive director of the Cowichan Watershed Board, in the organization’s official statement. “Today, I feel more hopeful than I have in decades for the future of wild salmon in the Cowichan watershed, and for all the communities whose well-being is dependent on that.”
    He, too, acknowledged the Cowichan Tribes constancy in the push for rehabilitation.  
     The caveat, of course, is that the proof is always in the pudding when it comes to government funding promises. Governments change and priorities have a way of evaporating for ideological reasons. Parks once considered inviolate are suddenly on the table for logging, or mining, or tourist resorts, or road improvements. Lands designated exclusively for forestry are suddenly deemed more valuable as residential real estate. Industrial companies that assured environmental cleanup are often nowhere to be found after the profits have been extracted, leaving taxpayers holding the bag. 
     But this plan, if it comes off, does represent the right decision for all the right reasons. 
    The wounded Cowichan River still sustains important runs of steelhead, chinook, coho and chum salmon and all the other species that depend upon them, from birds to bears to endangered orcas. There are resident populations of trophy-sized brown, rainbow and cutthroat trout. All are keystones to a world-famous recreational sports fishery and are crucial traditional and cultural resources of the Cowichan Tribes.
    Fresh water angling on Vancouver Island, of which the Cowichan River has historically been one of the most important branding elements (daily creel counts were once posted in the New York Times and in the exclusive gentlemen’s clubs of London) generates more than $100 million a year in spending, wages and GDP. 
    And salt water angling perhaps that much again, although sport fishing for coho and chinook in Cowichan Bay today is but a tattered remnant of what it was 50 years ago. Old timers used to tell me nostalgically of the days when runs were so abundant that you could hear them moving down the coast, and when they were holding in the bay for rain to bring the river levels up, you couldn’t look to a point on the compass without seeing a jumping salmon in the air.
    The pulp mill is still a critical employer in the Cowichan Valley, providing about 600 jobs locally.
    In the 1990s, advocates for the river began calling for the old weir to be raised to capture more of the winter inflows to Cowichan Lake. The plan was to stabilize river flows, establishing an equilibrium that would provide adequate summer flows for fish, maintain constant feedstock for the pulp mill, secure drinking water supplies for Duncan and ensure sufficient dilution for any effluent.
    After waiting for so long, it’s satisfying to see genuine progress at last. It’s been estimated that $10 million would cover the cost of raising and renovating or building a new weir.  Replacing the old structure with a new one that can help stabilize summer flows is eminent good sense, it serves people as well as fish and other species.
    So is the seemingly more mundane commitment to remediate the effects of gravel flows and to restore riparian zones and reduce erosion. The $25-million bundle represents a holistic approach to restoring this fabled river and its watershed. 
    And if anyone deserves thanks for that, it’s less the federal politicians than it is the Cowichan Tribes and the community’s many environmentally concerned volunteers and dedicated activists. 
    Stephen Hume has spent half a century as a journalist writing about Western Canada, the Far North, BC and the Island.

    Stephen Hume
    Father Charles Brandt, who died in late October, was a tireless advocate of the idea of nature as a sacramental commons in which all living things, including us, have dignity and place.

    Father Charles Brandt at the hermitage near the Oyster River
    THE LAST TIME I went to see Father Charles Brandt, who died of pneumonia in Campbell River on the morning of Sunday, October 25, a stiff southeaster had come blustering up from Seattle and was pushing around a high tide.
    White-laced rollers hissed over the shallows off the Oyster River estuary, the same shoals on which Jim McIvor’s schooner had wrecked in a similar sudden blow more than a century before.
    McIvor came ashore clinging to a spar, abandoned his plans to join the Klondike gold rush and, from the salvaged wreckage of his ship, built a cabin in the giant timber where farm pasture now sprawls about halfway between Campbell River and Courtenay.
    I was early for my meet-up with Charles, so instead of taking Catherwood Road to the secluded hermitage he’d helped found more than half a century earlier—and where he was the last hermit, sustaining himself by repairing rare antiquarian books—I took the old forestry bridge across the lower Oyster, parked my battered truck and killed time walking down to the river mouth.
    I took The Padre’s Walk, the trail named for my wife’s grandfather, another man of the cloth who loved and fished the wild river as a way of bleaching the bloody nightmares of The Somme and World War One out of his memory back when McIvor still lived in his shack near the beach and Father Brandt was a toddler on Euclid Avenue in Kansas City, Missouri.
    The Oyster is a river that wanders when it takes a mind to, so I dawdled through the back channels, stopped at the pool where Susan cast her grandfather’s ashes, watched the brindled backs of several small trout sheltering from a rising freshet in a back eddy behind a knot of willow roots and thought of her father, the grizzled old newspaperman who first brought me here to fish in my own distant youth 50 years ago. His ashes, too, and his wife’s, the life-long fishing companion he met on the Oyster as a leggy teenager, are scattered on the next beloved trout stream south, Black Creek.
    I pushed on to the beach.
    Wind roared through the canopy above, a strange counterpoint to the gloomy green silence below with its dripping underbrush adorned by glimpses of the river sliding past.
    At the beach, a screaming helmet of gulls above the surf, their wings gleaming as the light from a westering sun slanted in under dark layers of cloud. The gulls dipped and wheeled before they dropped to the sea, taking nature’s allotment from the surge, a little epiphany of abundance emerging from chaos.
    It struck me then that stepping out of the forest was a passage between worlds; a transition as abrupt as passing through the film that separates the world of fish from the world of birds, both of which Father Brandt thought as sacred as the world of humanity, to which he also ministered—as much by stepping outside its turbulent currents as by plunging into its chaos.
    I’m not a religious man, far from it. I’ve lived my entire life in the gritty, utilitarian pragmatism of journalism where there’s little time for reflection, let alone deep meditating upon the natural rhythms of wild places. But I always looked forward to my meetings with Charles, the quiet spirit of contemplative calm.
    He lived in a world as different from mine as the world of those noisy seagulls was from the world of those trout idling at the edge of the racing current, dreaming whatever fish dream. Yet after 30 years of talking about the natural world with the hermit of the Oyster River, I’m increasingly inclined to think that everything alive has some level of consciousness, even trees, however incapable we may be of discerning what that might mean or of translating that awareness into intelligible terms of human reference.
    I picked up a cobblestone for my garden, one of the rounded Oyster River pebbles distinctive for the snowflake-like quartz intrusions created when the rocks were ejected from some ancient volcano, another reminder of natural boundaries, this one between ancient past and immediate present.
    Every visit to Charles was rich with these puzzlements, they seemed to coalesce out of the air. He was 94 on this visit. Below the hermitage, the Oyster grumbled through its channels, the winter rains turning the sunny song of summer into something more ominous.
    He told me about surprising a cougar in the woods nearby—it stared at him, a tawny apparition, then vanished into thin air. He told me about a visit by an exotic bird that sized him up and then departed, some passing migrant he hadn’t seen before. He showed me a photo of a lighting redwing blackbird and another of an owl taking unblinking note of its observer.
    We chatted about an essay by the British writer Russell Hoban. He wrote about the moment, waking at night next to his sleeping wife in a hut on a Greek island, in which he realized that the world was talking to him in languages most of us have forgotten—the wind snuffling around the eaves, the water dripping into the cistern, the distant susurration of surf, the sound of rain spattering against the roof tree; how we use “our little language of words to describe the big language of nightfall”—or of steelhead cutting through surging rivers like silver scalpels or cougars that come and go from our noisy lives unseen and unheard.
    Charles was always turning thoughts like these over in his mind, always considering meanings. He was a tireless advocate of the idea of nature as a sacramental commons in which all living things, including us, have dignity and place. And even things that don’t live as we conceive the notion: snowflake rocks, water moving over stone, the wind over vasty deeps, the rosy flush of sunset on a mountain glacier.
    He brought a remarkable humility to these meditations.
    One of the jokes he loved to tell on himself was the day he had travelled to Campbell River and was looking for the post office. He asked a young man on the street for directions and, as he went on his way, invited him to visit the hermitage.
    “I’ll show you the way to heaven,” Charles said.
    “No thanks,” came the reply. “You can’t even find the post office.”
    Perhaps, though, that young man should have taken him up on the offer. Many have discovered that his teachings were really about self-worth—about how the sacred infuses the natural world and that to disrespect, degrade and destroy it is really to disrespect, degrade and destroy what is divine both in our shared humanity and in the home we also share.
    Charles was 97 when he slipped away in the embrace of what some who see dying as a natural part of living call “the old man’s friend.”
    I’m sad to have been deprived of his friendship but, as he’d have pointed out, that sadness is really a bit of selfishness, a desire to keep for ourselves something that was never ours to keep. Charles has simply gone where he was always meant to go and after a long, fulfilled and fulfilling life of helping the rest of us at that.
    He was trained as a scientist, served three years as an Army Air Force navigator in World War Two, was ordained as an Episcopalian, found himself drawn to Roman Catholicism and then met the mystic Trappist monk Thomas Merton, who told him of the eremitic tradition in the early Christian church, the desert brothers who built huts in the wilderness, or lived in caves, or even holes in the ground in order to dispense with the busy distractions of civilization.
    The idea stuck with him.
    In 1966, he was ordained by Bishop Remi De Roo as the first hermit monk in several hundred years of Catholic Church history. The bishop granted permission to find an appropriate site and then found a hermitage. He did so, at first with eight and then with 13 other monks near Merville, a farming community founded in 1919 to settle returning World War One veterans and then razed by a fast-moving forest inferno in 1922, seven months before Charles was born. The Merville religious community dispersed, but Charles established an individual hermitage on the Oyster River in the spring of 1970.
    Hermit monks are expected to sustain themselves. Charles found his way in his own past. He’d earned a merit badge in bookbinding as an Eagle Scout in 1937. It was a portable skill and one that loaned itself to solitude. He went back to school, refreshed his knowledge and became one of Canada’s leading conservators of antiquarian books and manuscripts serving as chief conservator for artistic and historic works on paper for the Manitoba Archives, teaching a course on curatorial care for ancient documents at the University of Victoria, and building a conservation lab with library and study at the hermitage.
    Merton’s philosophy remained with him, too. In 1985, when he heard of the fate of the Tsolum River, a tributary of the Puntledge River in Courtenay that had been poisoned by acid leaching from waste rock at a briefly-lived mine on Mount Washington, he began to organize support for a local effort to pressure government to restore and preserve the river.
    Today, salmon, trout, otters, eagles, bears and all the other creatures that the river sustains have returned.
    On the Oyster River, he launched a similar initiative to restore a river that had been badly battered by heedless logging on the steep slopes of the upper watershed; by landowners who sought to tame the wild river’s propensity to wander by channelizing the lower reaches with riprap that speeded the flow and altered the natural hydrology; and by industrial recreation that gouged a boat basin into the previously natural estuary.
    Some felt despair but Charles provided a unifying vision of what might be. He framed it with the idea of the sacramental commons. A community rallied, determined to do better by the little river—and by each other. Forestry workers, scientists, environmentalists, anglers, and farmers were encouraged to find common ground and so they did.
    Collective management of the Oyster River watershed, still imperfect as human causes always are but nevertheless a remarkable coalition of interests, emerged as a model for cooperative stewardship of something that’s now alive as a stewardship idea, as a resource and as part of the bigger fabric of life itself.
    There’s a popular misconception that hermits must cut themselves off from the world, rejecting the hurly-burly of living in society for asceticism and austerity. Hermits did once retreat to the wilderness so they could distance themselves from the distractions of humanity and so they could better dedicate themselves entirely to the service of God.
    But sometimes God wants a more engaged service and so the completely isolated hermit was never the hermit that Charles became. If the world was infused with the divine, then that’s where he was called to be, deeply engaged with both the natural world around him—the society of plants and animals—and the human community with which that natural world is inextricably entangled. Father Brandt the hermit priest departs this world deeply esteemed for his great accomplishment: the reconciliation of factions that thought themselves opposed; the creation of consensus about what needs to be done to restore the natural world in sustainable ways; the persuasion of government, industry and community to take up the mantle of stewardship that he argued was their duty, as much to themselves as to the environment.
    His friend Kathryn Jones tells me that Charles made arrangements to donate his property to the Comox Valley Regional District with a reserve around the hermitage established half a century ago. It’s to be maintained by the Brandt Oyster River Hermitage Society. I’m told another contemplative soul is already in residence.
    And that’s the sacred mystery and wonder of it that Charles understood. We all must perish in this life. Yet life goes on. Our duty is to nurture it as best we can.
    Stephen Hume has spent half a century as a journalist writing about Western Canada, the Far North, BC and the Island.

    Stephen Hume
    A proposal for Indigenous “guardians” to act as the eyes and ears on the land provides a dramatic win-win for resource management.
    BRITISH COLUMBIA TAXPAYERS are probably on the hook for a $100-million bill to clean up an abandoned copper mine on the northwest coast that for 67 years has been leaching acid runoff into a rich trans-boundary salmon river critical to the Douglas Indian Association of Alaska and the Taku River Tlingit First Nation in BC.
    And that’s just the start. The public cost of remediating the environmental impact across the province of similar abandoned mines with environmental liabilities is going to run as high as $3 billion according to Mining Watch Canada, which surveyed unfunded taxpayer liabilities.
    Then there are potential liabilities from pollution that deprive First Nations of resources guaranteed by treaty. First Nations also suffer the depletion of resources, their use of which was understood to be guaranteed in perpetuity.
    Yet it doesn’t have to be that way. A new proposal from the BC First Nations Mining and Energy Council suggests that one solution could simultaneously satisfy calls for greater protection of the environment for all British Columbians, take a major step towards mutual reconciliation between indigenous and settler societies, provide economic benefits to small indigenous communities, and save taxpayers’ money by preventing resource development from morphing into costly liabilities in the first place.
    The organization is urging the governments of Canada and the Province to collaborate with First Nations in establishing a network of Indigenous “guardians” with power to monitor and protect the lands, waters and wildlife within the boundaries of their traditional territories by applying traditional knowledge as well as modern science.
    They wouldn’t supplant mainstream obligations for monitoring and enforcement, but would instead enhance them by serving as the “eyes and ears” of First Nations themselves, contributing to an emerging capacity as co-managers of resources on their land.

    Industry is inflicting great harm on the environment, much of it unseen and unacknowledged. Above, the mine tailings pond washout at Mt Polley near Quesnel, the largest environmental disaster involving a mine in Canada’s history.
    Guardian programs supply jobs, data and prevent environmental destruction
    BC’s government has already acknowledged that lands and resources should be managed in ways that find congruency for both provincial and Indigenous law, and the federal Truth and Reconciliation Commission urged for the respect and revitalization of First Nations laws. Both judicial scholars and the courts have long said Indigenous laws were never simply extinguished and replaced by British common law but, in fact, were subsumed into and became part of it.
    Indeed, the proposal offers a way to pragmatically realize the ideals expressed in the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act passed unanimously by the BC legislature last November.
    “Guardians [would] monitor the activities of resource users, enforce federal, provincial and indigenous laws, gather data on the ecological health and wellbeing of traditional territories, compile data to inform First Nation resource decision making, and engage in community outreach and education about conservation of cultural and natural resources,” the proposal says.
    Researched by law students at the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre, the proposal notes that there are 70 such Guardian and Guardian-type programs already in place and thriving around the world from Australia to Africa.
    They include a number of successful systems in Canada, perhaps the best-known being the Canadian Rangers, in which volunteers from remote Indigenous communities provide the military with remarkable reconnaissance, intelligence-gathering and patrol capabilities relying on their traditional knowledge and skills on the land which require minimum resources.
    Other examples within Canada range from “Watchmen” employed to safeguard important cultural and historic sites on Haida Gwaii, to fisheries and game management in the Arctic, on the Prairies and in BC’s rugged interior.
    One major benefit of the programs would clearly be economic. They would provide local jobs and enhance community capacity for everything from mounting search and rescue operations and managing wildfire hazards to rehabilitating mismanaged fish stocks, monitoring environmental compliance in forestry, mining and other development and enforcing fish and game regulations to prevent poaching.
    In addition to growing both individual and community capacity, though, a Guardian program has benefits that are less tangible but no less valuable. For example, they can help amplify the intergenerational transfer of traditional knowledge, a process that was severely damaged by the residential school system which intentionally separated children from their parents and grandparents for reeducation with another’s culture’s values, history, language and belief sets.
    This, too, offers important spinoffs. It helps revitalize self-government and contributes to community health by instilling the cultural pride that enhances community wellbeing.
    Costly environmental destruction not being addressed by government
    Many studies, the UVic Environmental Law Centre research team discovered, report that public investment in Guardian programs generates returns of up to $10 in returned value for every dollar spent. At least one study indicated that there were $20 in benefits for every dollar invested.
    Compare returns on investment like that to the inflating long-term liability costs from resource extraction projects that weren’t properly managed and it looks like a dramatic win-win alternative to the short term gain, long-term pain models of the immediate past.
    In BC we are discovering the public penalties are very long-term indeed and will likely have unforeseen consequences that extend far beyond the tax burden of even the simplest remediation.
    For example, an abandoned copper mine west of Victoria still leaches fish-killing toxic metals into the Jordan River at a site where the Pacheedaht people, now reestablished at Port Renfrew, locate their creation story. Think of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Mecca or the Temple Mount repurposed as toxic waste dumps and then having devout Christians, Muslims and Jews told to, like, just get over it and move on.
    Spiritual and moral dimensions aside, acid leachate into the Jordan River also has an economic cost. It has for a century deprived the Pacheedaht of access to a traditional fishery they own and have always owned.
    Another abandoned copper mine on Mount Washington straddles the headwaters of the Tsolum River. It operated for three years and required a 40-year effort and massive public expenditure to reduce acid drainage that is finally—for now, anyway—back below levels lethal to salmon and trout stocks which should be worth, by the accountants’ estimate, about $3 million a year.
    The toxicity of the metals basically killed the main stem of the Tsolum, a rich salmon-bearing tributary of the Puntledge River at Courtenay, once famed for its now-extinct race of giant chinook. Anglers who came from around the world to fish for them nicknamed the massive, deep-shouldered salmon “Puntledge Torpedoes.”
    And a dam supplying power to coal mines in the vicinity put paid to a sockeye salmon run that spawned in Comox Lake.
    So add another $150 million to that overall cost just in foregone value from lost salmon returns. One might calculate the costs of foregone recreational angling too, but let’s leave that for some grad student in economics. It’s sufficient to say the cost-benefit of the abandoned mine does not look good.
    Whether the Mount Washington remediation is permanent—it involved putting a gigantic synthetic raincoat on the exposed acidifying rock—only time will determine, although common sense suggests that it won’t last forever and constant monitoring will be needed.
    At the long-abandoned Britannia Mine on Howe Sound south of Squamish, the initial public cost of controlling acid drainage from the site was $46 million but there’s an ongoing annual cost of $3 million to maintain the treatment “in perpetuity.” My dictionary defines “in perpetuity” as forever, which is a long time for everyone to pay for something that profited a few shareholders for a few years.
    Then there’s the aftermath of the Mount Polley accident, the worst environmental mining disaster in Canadian history, in which a tailings dam failed and spewed 24-million cubic metres of mine waste into the Quesnel watershed which provides habitat for one of the richest and most abundant sockeye runs in BC.
    There are thought to be at least 84 abandoned mines and industrial sites in BC, a number with insecure tailings dams and ponds, some—similar to the notorious Tulsequah Chief—possibly leaching acid into ground and surface water from seldom-monitored tailings fields.
    That’s in addition to hundreds of abandoned and leaky oil wells. Scores of unlicensed dams associated with oil and gas development pock the northern landscape.
    Forestry infractions range from shoddy road construction and subsequent erosion, to encroachment upon the riparian zones of fish-bearing streams, to inadequate or improper reforestation of logged lands. In 2018, about 4,000 forestry infractions alone were recorded.
    There is habitat degradation from agricultural runoff.
    Near-industrial scale poaching strips abalone and clam beds, while undersized crabs, endangered rock fish sanctuaries and salmon streams closed to commercial and recreational fishing for conservation reasons are pillaged. Recent estimates for poaching run to 8,000 tonnes or more of shellfish and thousands of tonnes of rockfish which is peddled to restaurants on a backdoor blackmarket. The Vancouver-based news website Tyee several years ago cited one ministry of environment report that in BC it’s now estimated that poachers may steal as much fish and game as is taken legally.
    And the fact is that these are all merely indicators. Many more environmental problems remain unknown and uninvestigated. That’s because for decades cash-strapped government agencies have been downsizing investigation and enforcement abilities.
    Since 2013, BC’s Forest Practices Board has complained about a reduction in forestry inspections and in 2014 it reported that the provincial forest branch’s ability to enforce the law no longer deserved the public’s confidence.
    Right now, to enforce fish and game regulations and resolve human conflicts with wildlife, about 165 conservation officers are expected to patrol an area which is larger than 164 of the world’s countries. BC’s Compliance and Enforcement Branch was not long ago down to about 150 staff, which included the 83 natural resource officers expected to make inspections, patrols and investigations. It’s hard to get accurate counts because government agencies tend to bury the data, perhaps because numbers change so rapidly and on the penny-pinching whim of who’s in power at the moment. Nevertheless, the arithmetic is compelling—each natural resource officer is responsible for policing 11,386 square kilometres.
    A Sierra Club report in 2010 said that the provincial forest service had reduced field inspections for compliance and enforcement by 46 percent and that what inspections are done now go for the low-hanging fruit—those infractions that are easy to spot and don’t require expensive travel to remote regions or complex investigations.
    Guardian program an answer to the erosion of governmental monitoring
    More than half a century ago when I was still physically fit enough to hike and wade up the small salmon and trout streams that once teemed with coho and late summer steelhead, it wasn’t uncommon to run into a stream walker contracted by the federal government to count spawned-out salmon carcasses, which gave a pretty exact accounting of returns.
    These fish counters were often local, knew the land like the back of their hand and could report poaching, habitat damage and the apparent health of fish populations year to year.
    I would occasionally encounter them when I was exploring ephemeral Vancouver Island streams that showed up only after the first rains in October when coho would slither up the beach in rivulets little deeper than a hand span, then disappear with a flip of the tail to spawn in sloughs and marshes behind the beaver dams higher up. I’ve met them on unnamed streams in the northern Interior where little runs would spawn after their 1,000 kilometre ascent from the sea and in trickles deep in the outer coast rain forest, jotting down notes about a couple of tenacious steelhead, and on the distant Stellako where spawned out sockeye would form stinking drifts on the bars.
    On one small creek on the rain-sodden West Coast of Vancouver Island, I went out with just such a stream walker. Every morning, downpour or not, she shrugged into her chest waders and walked the creek from estuary to the impassable falls above which there wasn’t really any fish habitat. Then she’d slog back again.
    She counted migrating salmon, resident trout, marked and observed the movement of gravel bars and logging debris as it flowed slowly downstream. She knew immediately when a run came in and whether is was late or early, bigger or smaller than previous years, what the timing for different species was, where the cutthroat and rainbows lay in wait to feast on stolen eggs and where the fingerlings hid out from other predators.
    But that was then. Those days are long gone in the aftermath of relentless rounds of downsizing under successive Conservative and Liberal federal governments. It’s become like that old proverb about the weather; everybody talks about the pillaging of the environment but nobody ever does anything about it.
    Moreover, as an article in the Globe and Mail pointed out almost 20 years ago, the problem now afflicting us is the arrogance of a kind of science that prefers statistics and mathematical models to the old-fashioned data-gathering of sloshing through the rain with a pencil, a notebook and an eye cocked for bears in the willows.
    As it pointed out: “Today, fisheries managers know more and more about fewer and fewer stocks. They look at a limited number of rivers, gathering detailed information through tagging programs, test fisheries and hydro-acoustic counting stations. Then they apply mathematical models to estimate the overall status of stocks. But they may not know when a tiny stream that usually had a run of 500 salmon now has none.”
    A number of dedicated fisheries managers never lost sight of feet on the ground and helped organize volunteer stream watchers. But they aren’t the grizzled old-timers who used short-term fish counting contracts to supplement incomes largely earned in the outdoors. They are householders, parents, part-timers with full-time jobs and they tend to monitor streams close to home, not those that require running a tinny up on a remote beach, serious bushwhacking, coping with bears come to feed on the spawners and camping out in the rain.
    Putting to Indigenous Guardians the renewed task of monitoring salmon streams and their health at first hand seems blindingly obvious in its merits. This is especially true for those streams apparently beyond the scope of fisheries science that’s focused on big, high-value salmon runs, to the detriment of all those small runs that contributed so heavily to the diversity, abundance and richness of life on this coast.
    The proposal from the BC First Nations Energy and Mining Council seems such an indisputable win for everyone that we should all nag our provincial and federal governments to act swiftly and vigorously to put Guardians in every watershed and to do it sooner rather than later.
    Stephen Hume has spent half a century as a journalist writing about Western Canada, the Far North, BC and the Island.

    Maleea Acker
    Sonya McRae helps Shoreline students honour and learn about biodiversity and the Songhees and Esquimalt Peoples.
    AT THE FAR EDGE of Shoreline Community Middle School’s fields, which run from the Old Island Highway down to the inner reaches of the Gorge Waterway, a Kwetlal ecosystem, or meadow sits atop a rise. Kwetlal is the Songhees name for camas, one of the key plants in native Garry oak ecosystems. The garden’s approximately 500 square feet abuts a vestige coastal Douglas-fir forest, with remnant species of arbutus, oak, fir and maple. When I visit with Sonya McRae, the garden’s co-creator, there are swaths of yarrow in bloom, as well as seeds forming on shooting stars, camas, barestem-desert parsley (Qexmim), and miner’s lettuce. Small stepping-stones mark a path through the thickest parts. This is where the kids are taught to step, McRae tells me.
    McRae is an art and outdoor education teacher at Shoreline Middle School, where Songhees Nation kids number over half of its English program students. “It’s really important to honour [their culture],” she says, on a grassy knoll next to the garden project she has stewarded from idea to reality over the last two years. “We speak to that on a daily basis.”
    McRae tells me that Sarah Rhude, the Indigenous Art and Cultural Facilitator for the Indigenous Education Department in School District 61, dreamed up the idea of planting camas meadows in multiple schools across the region. Rhude found funding through a Harvest 4 Knowledge Grant from the Horner Foundation. Then McRae and fellow teacher Brenda Pohl applied for and received a grant from Farm to School BC for the Shoreline site in 2018. Since Rhude’s initial work, gardens have gone in at Esquimalt, Spectrum, Vic High and Arbutus school. McRae also notes that both Butch Dick, as the cultural Liaison for SD61, and Cheryl Bryce worked on the project.
    The Shoreline garden is a way of bringing Songhees culture to life within the school grounds, says McRae, and of offering children the opportunity to learn about biodiversity, history and relationships to the land. “This is my passion project,” McRae says, “It’s super rewarding being out here in this space.”
    Another of the school’s projects is to slowly remove invasive ivy and blackberry from the adjacent forest. McRae chose the location so that the borders of meadow and forest could eventually blend. She wants to see edge species like thimble berry and salmonberry mingling at the meadow’s perimeter, allowing an existing ecosystem to merge into the new one she and her students have planted.
    McRae has also produced a suite of learning resources about the meadow, including a map which goes beyond basic cartography. The map charts the history and importance of many of the species found within it. The Spelxen meadow is divided up into four quadrants, representing the seasons of the year and the stages of growth and rest of a Garry Oak meadow. In each coloured frame, there are drawings of people digging, planting, harvesting and tending camas, miner’s lettuce, bare-stemmed desert parsley, nodding onion, stinging nettle and yarrow. Drawings of birds and insects crowd the spring and summer quadrants. Wintering bulbs fill the “Earth Getting Cold” quadrant. Small stories detail the seasonal burning of the meadows to keep them clear of woodlands, pitcooks, varieties of grasses, and an acknowledgement in Lkwungen of the lands that South Islanders share with its many plant and animal species. “Hay’szw’qa,” or “Thank you” in Lkwungen (pronounced hai-sch-qua) concludes the map.

    The Spelxen Meadow map. (Click image to enlarge)
    “A lot of it was off the side of my desk, but the kids did all the work,” McRae demurs. She also gives credit to others, like Edward Thomas (Esquimalt Nation) and Diane Sam (Songhees Nation), for the knowledge they shared. McRae and her students sheet-mulched the grass, shovelled soil, spread seeds, and continue to weed and tend the plot, which has expanded from its original smaller circle into a larger plot as further grants came in.
    The map she helped create with others, including students Marcus Atleo-George and Calvin George, will soon stand as an interpretive board by the meadow. She hopes to install split rail fencing to further highlight and protect the spot. “I would love the public to know that this is here, and there’s a very specific purpose for it being here. It’s not just landscaping. We’re trying to actively re-establish biodiversity on a plant and cultural level—a physical presence of what was here before settlers came and changed the land. To honour that in a way that’s beyond just plants,” she says, is integral to understanding kinship and relationships for the Songhees and Esquimalt Peoples. “It’s about the plant and animal nation all interacting together.”
    McRae uses the garden as a teaching location with her students, learning about bugs and plants, harvesting techniques and propagation. At some point, she hopes that “we can cook [camas bulbs] and taste them and pass them around.” Site by site, schools are incorporating experiential learning opportunities for students on their grounds, helping to form a set of ecosystems that will help support this region’s species and its cultural legacy.
    Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast, which just entered its second printing. She is still a PhD student. She’s also a lecturer in Geography, Canadian Studies, and Literature, at UVic and Camosun.

    Maleea Acker
    Help restore—or just enjoy—one of the most intact Garry oak meadows on the island.
    LOOKING FOR MORE nature-bathing time? Residents can now socialize while staying safe during BC’s Phase 2 reopening. Margaret Lidkea, president of the Friends of Uplands Park Society is looking for more volunteers to help restore and maintain the beauty of Cattle Point and Uplands Park in Oak Bay. A 30.6 hectare municipal park, Uplands contains 17 rare plants in its vernal, shallow and deep soil meadows, and is one of the most intact representations of a south coast Garry oak meadow ecosystem on the island. In spring and summer, wave after wave of wildflowers bloom in its meadows. It’s one of the most spectacular wild areas on the South Island.
    Lidkea’s education and restoration programs came to a halt in March during BC’s COVID-19 lockdown. During the spring’s sensitive wildflower season, the society managed to get materials to rope off the most delicate and threatened areas of the park—including the main meadow—in anticipation of increased traffic from residents looking for places to escape their homes while physically distancing. Still, damage was done, as is being recorded in parks around the region.
    “Camas and other plants have undergone a challenge this year. There were many new visitors, and some trampled the wildflowers on the edges of the paths” in their attempts to distance from others. “We are hoping [the plants] will recover,” says Lidkea.
    Now that BC has graduated to Phase 2 of its reopening plan, Lidkea has restarted the Society’s volunteer program, as the park gives residents a perfect opportunity to physically distance while helping contribute to restoration projects. “It’s important we honour everyone’s needs,” she tells me by phone, “as some people are very anxious. We have to be cautious.” Still, Lidkea feels comfortable, given the precautions she is now taking. All materials are quarantined between events. No tarpaulins are being used, and a limited number of people can join each work party.
    Lidkea’s funding comes from the Federal Habitat Stewardship Project, Trees Canada, Telus and Oak Bay municipality.
    This past year, the Society began a larger restoration project in an area of the park overgrown with invasive species, including Norway maple, blackberry and Sow thistles. They removed 307 maples last year, and this August, a few more will come down. When I visited in April, the newly cleared area was already thick with new plantings of native sea blush, camas and other native species, as well as several sapling Garry oaks.
    Wylie Thomas and Matt Fairbairns, two local ecologists, serve on the Friends of Uplands Park board. “I feel very, very blessed to have such expertise,” Lidkea says. Thomas is keeping a record of rare plants and their yearly numbers. “COVID is going to trigger austerity,” says Lidkea. She worries that environmental programs and protections will be the first to be cut as the country attempts to restart the economy.
    Uplands has one of the greatest concentrations of rare species in all of Canada, including tall woolly-heads (Psilocarphus elatior) and Macoun’s meadowfoam (Limnanthes Macounii), and until recently was home to one of only four populations in the world of Victoria’s owl clover (Castilleja victoriae). The latter was destroyed by foot traffic in Uplands Park’s vernal pools.

    Victoria’s owl clover (Castilleja victoriae). (Photo courtesy of COSEWIC)
    The park has also been plagued with invasive species such as Daphne laureola, Himalayan blackberry, English ivy and carpet burweed, all of which have had special removal attention from volunteer parties since the Friend’s formation in 2009.
    In June, volunteers have been working in a rare species meadow, helping to remove crow garlic. Crow garlic sends up a stalk of tiny purple flowers that emerge from a cluster of bulblets, The bulblets develop green sprouts like the tails of a meteor, then eventually fall and colonize the surrounding area. Lidkea thinks that its presence may have resulted in decreases in the number of native flowers, which compete for space in the meadows.
    If you would like to help, send Margaret an email and grab some gardening gloves. “I know people are finding out the value of families and friendships during this pandemic,” she says. She hopes they also recognize the value of parks, and the volunteer hours that keep them beautiful. Events will continue every couple of weeks through the summer.
    Check the Friends’ website at https://friendsofuplandspark.org and watch a video here. To join a volunteer party, email Margaret Lidkea at mlidkea@shaw.ca.
    Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast, which just entered its second printing. She is still a PhD student. She’s also a lecturer in Geography, Canadian Studies, and Literature, at UVic and Camosun.

    Stephen Hume
    June 17, 2020
    Forty-five years ago, Barrie Gilbert had a part of his face ripped off by a female Grizzly bear. Yet he has spent his life devoted to undoing the demonizing of this complex, highly intelligent creature. Warning: graphic, bone-crunching description ahead.

    Female grizzly feeding cubs at Glendale Cove on the B.C. mainland about 35 kilometres north of Sayward where there have recently been numerous grizzly sightings. Photo by Shea Wyatt, courtesy Barrie Gilbert.
    ALMOST 45 YEARS AGO, not long after sunrise dappled the remote ridge they were climbing in Montana’s Rocky Mountains near the borders of Idaho and Wyoming, a Canadian wildlife biologist and his graduate student emerged from the stunted tree line on a cold, windswept height three kilometres above sea level.
    This was Bighorn Pass. For sake of comparison, that’s almost twice the altitude of Mount Arrowsmith, the craggy, snow-clad peak that so dramatically dominates the skyline above the pass separating Nanaimo from Port Alberni.
    The two men were there to observe and study how grizzly bears responded to back country hikers and mounted outfitters with pack trains. It was part of an ambitious research project at Utah State University, where Barrie Gilbert had landed a faculty position after graduating from Queens University, taking a doctorate at Duke and then doing field research in Alberta.
    To get there, they’d spent a week humping their 20-kilogram packs through the foothills, fording rushing creeks and paddling 30 kilometres across deep, icy Yellowstone Lake, itself almost 2.5 kilometres in elevation.
    It hadn’t been an easy passage. They’d endured a series of marching cold fronts which spawned thunderstorms, hail, drenching rain and lashing squalls that repeatedly forced them ashore when the short, steep waves threatened to swamp their aluminum canoe.
    The canoe itself was cause for concern. There was frequent lightning. The prospect of getting fried by a strike on the lake or while huddling under the up-turned hull to shelter from pelting rain loomed large in his imagination.
    So did grizzlies. At night, they’d camped well off the trail and they’d dragged in snags and branches from deadfalls to create crude barriers around their tent that, if they gave no real protection, at least offered an early warning should a bear approach.
    Eventually they reached their destination and, to their excitement and delight, soon encountered what they’d come to observe—a grizzly bear in pristine habitat. It was a female with three cubs digging roots in an alpine meadow.
    They watched enthralled as she stood down a male that approached, a mortal threat to her cubs. Male grizzlies, like lions, will kill the offspring of competitors. Later the bear family ambled down the meadow they shared with a small herd of grazing elk.
    The next morning, Gilbert decided they should circle behind and climb the back side of the adjacent Crowfoot Ridge so they could observe the bears more closely from above.
    Just as they left the scrubby trees at the top, Gilbert felt a call of nature and moved ahead of his partner to find a spot. He hunched over, keeping himself low to avoid spooking the elk with his silhouette against the skyline.
    That was when he met the bear. It had unexpectedly come up the other side of the ridge.
    Gilbert realized later that the unfortunate encounter—for him at any rate—was shaped by two things. First, because of the menace of the big male to her cubs, the female grizzly was already on hair-trigger alert. Second, approaching in a hunched-over stance, the biologist must have resembled a stalking predator.
    There was one explosive “woof,” a blur of brown hurtling out of the scrub and in seconds he was on the ground.
    “Her teeth felt like a row of pick-axes scraping across my head as she tore my scalp off,” he recalled later, although strangely, he says, he felt no pain in the moment.
    “Her second bite came down on my face, a big canine tooth punching into my eye-socket. ‘This is how you die,’ I thought as I felt bones crunch. One bite removed my cheekbone and sinus, exposing brain membrane.
    “As my life drained onto the ground”—it was later determined that he was hemorrhaging almost half of his blood supply—“I went limp and the biting stopped.”
    The grad student, Bruce Hastings, courageously yelled and the grizzly retreated.
    The bear, Gilbert later realized, was simply being a bear—reacting to his presence as a threat to her cubs. She wasn’t interested in killing him for the malicious reasons humans attribute in their deep trait of anthropomorphizing other animals. She simply wanted to neutralize an unknown and unidentified threat and once it was no longer a threat, she left.
    A less resilient person might have surrendered to the terrible wounds and died on the mountain. But Gilbert was tough. He was also very lucky.
    A team of highly trained medical technicians attached to a smoke-jumping crew had just deployed from a nearby fire base. And the helicopter pilot who picked him up had just done two combat tours in Vietnam war, landing under the most difficult conditions. Finally, a team of military surgeons experienced with battlefield trauma had just been assigned to the nearest medical facility.
    Gilbert’s first surgery, the one that would save his life following a bear mauling in the remote Rockies, took 11 hours and exhausted the hospital’s suture supply.
    The lead surgeon, Earl Browne, who has since died, later showed Gilbert photographs from before they began reconstructing what remained of his face.
    “All my facial skin and scalp was pinned out like a rat dissection in Biology 101,” he writes in the preamble to his astonishing memoir, One of Us: A Biologist’s Walk Among Bears.
    Scientific curiosity and a fascination with methodology trumped squeamishness.
    “I wasn’t repelled,” he writes. “I asked Dr. Browne if he had seen this kind of damage before.
    “‘Well, yes,’’’ the surgeon replied. “‘But not all on the same guy.’”
    So, through a combination of luck and fortitude, Gilbert survived the extraction and a round of intensive surgeries. His maimed face was rebuilt—although the massive injuries left him blind in one eye and his face permanently disfigured.

    Barry Gilbert closely observing a young grizzly bear on a river at Geographic Harbour, Katmai National Park, Alaska. Photo courtesy Barrie Gilbert.
    IF THIS STORY SOUNDS LIKE THE MAKING OF A BOOK, IT WAS. But not the book you might expect. This gripping story—a journalist like me might have made a whole book out of it alone—occupies a mere 15 pages at the beginning of Gilbert’s recently published memoir, One of Us: A Biologist’s Walk Among Bears.
    Gilbert went home to convalesce, to endure his 15-minutes of fame as the media descended to pester him for lurid details—mostly, he concluded, to advance a stereotype of grizzlies as “rogue killers in the woods eager to eat your children”—and to grapple with the post traumatic stress disorder that came with the cold reality of people staring at his facial disfigurement.
    Some might have withdrawn. “I chose to see the staring responses of others as their problem,” Gilbert writes. “I was a handsome guy and still am (inside).”
    Instead, he rejoiced that his hands still worked. And his scientist’s analytical brain. It reminded him of something equally important—point of view.
    Which is why the following summer found him sitting beside half a tonne of black bear just stirring from anaesthesia after being darted in his new research project. With only the slightest misgivings, Gilbert stayed with the bear while it recovered consciousness—staying with bears in such a state is essential, he notes, because a handicapped one invites opportunistic attacks from other bears, another trait they share with humans.
    “Fear of that bear was not an issue for me, but I could only guess why,” he writes. “Maybe long experience with animals and my short dose of terror carried the day.”
    We should all be grateful that Gilbert didn’t succumb to the kind of risk-averse apprehension regarding bears that might have gripped the rest of us, because he went on to almost half a century in the field, exhaustively studying bears in their habitat and in the most intimate proximity, at that. He sat with them, walked with them, observed them more closely than the benighted rest of us might get in a zoo with cages.
    His field work took him from the American Rockies to the Alaska wilderness and deep into Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest.
    One of Us charts that remarkable journey, not just through the bush in search of the great predators, but also through the devil’s club thickets of contradictory political policy; the technical disagreements spawned by what he calls “conservation contrarianism” and “science friction”; and the baser economic conflicts between the imperatives of ecological integrity for a threatened species and the special interests of industry, from tourism to timber harvesting to the powerful big game hunting lobby.
    There’s far more than the science of observation and dry statistical analysis here. Gilbert’s memoir takes us on an extraordinary excursion through the history—and pre-history—of relations between bears and humans.
    First, it explores the thousands of years of bears’ coexistence with indigenous peoples, an entanglement of mutual tolerance that populates the innermost of First Nations’ sacred spaces and endures into the present.
    Second, it examines the fatal contact between bears and a settler culture which demonized the animals as a precursor—and rationalization—for their systematic extirpation from vast areas of their range, particularly in the United States.
    Explorers, fur traders, cattle ranchers and sheepherders shot them, trapped them and poisoned them in great numbers. Trophy hunters preyed on the remnants. Then loggers, farmers and urban developers set about destroying their habitats. Once abundant in California, for example, the last grizzly bear was shot there in 1922 and the species survives only on the state flag, a reminder of our propensity to make icons of what we destroy.
    Grizzly populations dwindled to about 1,500 in the lower 48. There are 600 in Wyoming, 800 in Montana, 400 in Alberta, maybe 70 in Idaho and 20 in Washington.
    In Canada, there are about 25,000 bears, of which about 15,000 are in BC. When Europeans arrived by land it was estimated there were 25,000 in BC alone.
    One of Us takes us back to 1805 and the first scientific expedition of discovery by land across what’s now the western United States by William Clark and Meriwether Lewis. The party shot and killed 51 grizzly bears and wounded another 18, probably mortally. From then on it just got worse for the bears.
    And yet humans and bears can safely coexist, Gilbert argues, and provides the evidence from deep personal experience. He disrobes the enduring myth of the demon bear and reveals a complex, highly intelligent creature with a fascinating social system and crucial roles in the natural ecosystem.
    As Vancouver Islanders get used to the idea that they might soon be sharing the outback with grizzlies, particularly along salmon rivers north of Campbell River, One of Us would be a good resource to put on the bookshelf. It’s $21 in paperback.
    More about Barrie Gilbert’s bear research coming soon.
    Stephen Hume has spent half a century as a journalist writing about Western Canada, the Far North, BC and the Island.

    Maleea Acker
    March 2020
    Two UVic librarians volunteering for Surfrider are leading the battle against industrial plastic on our beaches.
    DANIEL BRENDLE-MOCZUK takes a small jar from his office shelf and shakes it, his eyebrows knitting together. “This is from one site, one collection, ten litres of sand.” He hands me the 192 millilitres of small plastic pellets, about the size and shape of a Baby Aspirin. They are various colours of white, beige, pale yellow, and grey. They darken as they absorb contaminants from the ocean, he tells me. 
    Brendle-Moczuk’s colleague, David Boudinot, walked into his office with a jar of the pellets in 2016. “I started going to monthly beach cleanups at Willows Beach,” Boudinot tells me. A foot down, the sand was saturated. “I didn’t know what they were.”
    The beach clean-up Boudinot attended was organized by Surfrider, an international organization started by surfers to clean up the places they love. Brendle-Moczuk soon joined in. Both are University of Victoria librarians, and their investigation into the pellets—called “nurdles,” or pre-consumer plastic pellets—have led them to surprising places. Brendle-Moczuk’s daughter calls him and Boudinot “Nurdle Man 1 and 2.” She’s picked up on their dedication to their work. Together, they are helping to illuminate an unfolding environmental disaster occurring quietly on southeast-facing beaches all over the region.

    Daniel Brendle-Moczuk holds nurdles found on the shore of the Fraser River near an Annacis Island facility that uses nurdles
    Pre-consumer plastic pellets are just that—plastic which has been produced by a refinery, but not yet made into the plastic bags, buckets, storage containers, and packaging we see in stores. The pellets are small and oval to facilitate easy transportation (imagine trying to ship, then melt, a giant plastic cube). Plastic consumer products are produced all over the world, including just across the strait, in Port Coquitlam, North Burnaby, and Annacis Island, which lies between Richmond and Surrey. Brendle-Moczuk and Boudinot couldn’t figure out how the plastic pellets were arriving to Inside Passage waters on the West Coast. At first, they looked to Asia. But there’s a commonality to the locations on the mainland: the Fraser River.
    Brendle-Moczuk took a trip to see his in-laws and stopped by Annacis Island on his way. With a ballcap pulled down low, he shot photos of several plastics manufacturers’ facilities grounds. Though they declined to give me company names, Google map lists Plasticon Plastics, ibox Packaging, Merlin Plastics Supply, and Plasti-Fab Delta as operating facilities on the island. Brendle-Moczuk’s photos show train tracks (where the pellets are unloaded into trucks), yards (where pellets are shifted from truck to facility) and parking lots littered with plastic pellets. At the edges of these stretches of sidewalk are storm drains—which empty into the Fraser River.
    When Boudinot and Brendle-Moczuk took their research to the Canadian Plastics Industry Association (CPIA), they denied responsibility: the pellets, CPIA said, came from Asia. But intertidal movement wouldn’t push plastic pellets that far upriver, and certainly not into the canals of the island, or all the way into the storm drains. “This is an industrial solidified oil spill that’s been happening for decades,” says Boudinot, “and no one is doing anything about it.”

    David Boudinot holds a nurdle sample retrieved from a West Coast beach
    Since 2016, Boudinot and Brendle-Moczuk have spent countless hours researching the spills, the types of plastic the pellets are made from (both high- and low-density PolyEthylene and Polypropylene), and monitoring spill sites. Brendle-Moczuk has watched pellets disappear from parking lots after staff pressure-washed them down the drains. Every time he goes to Vancouver, he does research on the sites he’s been keeping track of.
    Boudinot spends hours each month combing beaches and sifting sand to get an idea of pellet concentration. Last fall, he spent four hours walking the beach at Goose Spit in Courtney. “This is what we do, every time we go somewhere,” he says.
    They look for southeast-facing beaches without a hard edge (like a sea wall or rock face) where pellets tend to gather. Esquimalt Lagoon is a prime location. Cadboro Bay, Willows Beach, any southeast facing beaches on the Gulf Islands. Strong winter storms come from this direction, pushing the pellets onto the beaches. They are keeping a map of areas where pellets have been found, which includes locations all over Vancouver Island, the mainland, Sunshine Coast, and the San Juan Islands.
    It’s estimated that more than 8 million tonnes of plastic are dumped into oceans every year. Over 90 percent of sea birds have plastic in their stomachs. Photos from Midway Island, in the South Pacific, show wildlife that has succumbed to plastic ingestion, literally starving albatrosses to death. By 2050, it’s expected there will be more plastic than fish in the Earth’s oceans. Much of this comes from post-consumer plastic (plastic which has been made into a bottle or disposable food packaging, for example) but pre-consumer plastic pellets are just as dangerous—not to mention a totally unnecessary and preventable form of pollution.
    Plastic pellets absorb hydrophobic pollutants in water, becoming more contaminated the longer they float. These pellets have been found in 22 percent of marine fish, according to a 2016 Marine Pollution Bulletin study. Ingestion of plastics can induce hepatic stress, intra-epithelial cysts, affect blood calcium levels, and cause endocrine disruptions in animals. Studies on humans wouldn’t be ethical to do, but many extrapolate the effect on animals to include humans. Bisphenol-A, one compound in plastics, has been found to increase anorexia nervosa, disrupt the endocrine system, and impact fetal development in humans. Recently, its replacement, Bisphenol-S, has been found to be just as (if not more) dangerous.
    This fall, Boudinot and Brendle-Moczuk made a video, in collaboration with Surfrider, on plastic pellet spills in the Fraser River. Along with scenic shots of the West Coast, the video shows students from the 2019 Geography Sustainability Field School, who found hundreds of nurdles in just an hour of sifting. Boudinot and Brendle-Moczuk are also working with law professor Calvin Sandborn to figure out how to best publicize the issue, since the plastics industry is notorious for fighting back against bad press (remember their challenge of Victoria’s plastic bag ban?). They’ve also enlisted the help of UVic’s chemistry students to analyze the pellets, and biology students to research the effects of plastic in fish. Geography cartographer Ken Josephson helped them put together their map.
    The Canadian Plastics Industry Association promotes Operation Clean Sweep, an international best practices program designed to prevent plastic pellet contamination in waterways and oceans. But participation is voluntary. The Ministry of Environment states that discharge of pollution to the environment is prohibited under the Environment Management Act. But it has not responded to Boudinot and Brendle-Moczuk’s findings, other than to say it will be “looking into these concerns and determining appropriate next steps.”
    Last Fall, Boudinot and Brendle-Moczuk sent their Surfrider video to the media. They held a media conference on Annacis Island in October. CBC and Global News turned up. Boudinot and Brendle-Moczuk recommended that industries should be required to install storm drain covers to collect pellets and prevent them from entering waterways. When Brendle-Moczuk returned to Annacis Island later that fall, he noticed that many of the work sites he had previously documented were suddenly cleaner. Some storm drains had felt filters installed (albeit not all correctly). But he and Boudinot worry this is a temporary measure, designed to ease tensions until media and public attention turns to the next story. “We’re calling on the Ministry of Environment and the Province of BC to investigate these spills and monitor them, and make sure they don’t happen in the first place,” says Boudinot.
    Their fears were confirmed last month. The heavy rains of late January and early February sent thousands of pellets into Annacis Island’s Audley Channel. According to Surfrider, the piles of pellets were up to three centimetres deep.
    They also want the public to be aware of the insidious nature of plastics production. “The oil industry is pivoting away from oil and gas for cars, and building plastic manufacturing plants instead.”
    Despite recent moves to reduce single-use plastics, the material is used everywhere. Brendle-Moczuk and Boudinot would like to see pellets labelled as an industrial pollutant. They encourage the public to call RAPP (Report all Poachers and Polluters) if they see a spill. They plan to liaise with First Nations and make another video about the spills happening in their traditional territories. And Boudinot has a simple solution for what to do when pellets escape. “When a spill happens, clean it up!”
    Residents can call RAPP to report pellet spills or the presence of pellets on beaches or waterways at 1-877-952-7277.
    Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast. She is currently completing a PhD in Human Geography, focusing on the intersections between the social sciences and poetry.

    Stephen Hume
    March 2020
    The clinic attracts Canada’s best aspiring public-interest environmental lawyers to work on cases for community groups.
    SHOULD YOU WANT TO TRACK DOWN one of British Columbia’s most important shapers of public policy regarding environmental protection, better have your GPS handy.
    There’s no glitzy storefront to brand the Environmental Law Centre at the University of Victoria. No swanky offices with plush carpet, oak panelling, and some elegantly-tailored watchdog receptionist. In keeping with its humble origins as a student initiative launched almost 25 years ago, it’s tucked away in a rabbit warren of austere cubicles, a Zen-like reminder that in the world of ideas, it’s the ideas, and not the trappings, that are the important currency.
    And the ideas for statutory and regulatory reform that emerge from this small, scholarly clinic have profoundly altered the legal and political landscape for generations of British Columbians yet to come. That’s quite a legacy for undergraduate law students with only their passion, brains, diligence and the judicious guidance of a few wise mentors behind them. As such, UVic’s ELC offers a refreshing antidote for the next time some grumpy elder from my generation holds forth about the failings of young people.
    On scales that range from the intensely local to the national arena, there’s no doubt that students who have passed through the ELC have worked critically important transfigurations in the administrative fabric of Canada’s environment. And they’ve gone on to work as federal litigators, to clerk with federal and provincial supreme courts, and to join leadingedge lawfirms working with environmental, civil rights, and First Nations’ issues.
    To find this quiet epicentre of change, visitors must navigate through the hushed expanse of the university’s newly-renovated Diana M. Priestly law library, with its vast high-tech access to more than a hundred extensive legal databases, and past a series of glass-fronted study and seminar rooms. Then—an abrupt change in atmosphere—through unmarked, metal crash doors and up a nondescript back stairwell graced with handrails of utilitarian steel pipe. Beyond the library’s upstairs book stacks with their 180,000 volumes, past the students lounging in a pair of moulded designer chairs and taking an introspective break with their AirPods, and down a drab corridor adorned with hand-scrawled directions, is the beating heart of environmental law reform in the province.
    Presiding over this unassuming heavyweight is a triumvirate.

    ELC'S Calvin Sanborn, Deborah Curran and Holly Pattison
    There is executive director Deborah Curran, a scarily well-informed expert in land and water law who is also an associate professor in both the law faculty and the university’s school of environmental studies. Curran does vital work in the centre’s background on governance, fundraising, liaison with the university, and program development.
    But in the foreground, Curran is also one of the centre’s big hitters. She has earned a reputation for a steely analysis of how those with environmental concerns can use something as simple as their own municipal bylaws to trigger powerful and effective protection for local ecosystems, particularly in terms of employing already existing regulatory tools to modify development so that it sustains and conserves healthy watersheds and clean water. She supervised one ELC study of urban storm water management that’s credited with transforming policy regarding urban rainfall runoff in Greater Victoria.
    Holly Pattison, a former UVic student herself, directs the ELC’s day-to-day operations and conducts financial oversight. But Pattison, who graduated from the university’s fine arts faculty, also multi-tasks as a writer, photographer and documentary filmmaker, and manages the communications that are so critical to any public policy agency in these days of spin, greenwashing and fake news.
    And last, but far from least, there’s Calvin Sandborn, whose formidable legal intellect on subjects as diverse as drilling regulations, the ethical duties of mining engineers, and the obligations of politicians to close statutory loopholes exploited at the expense of the environment, combines with a genial, avuncular style. He’ll bring his guitar to a legal seminar and deliver a not-bad rendition of some 60s protest song, invites human rights and environmental activists into his classes, and has pizza delivered to workshops on dry subjects like corporate media.
    Sandborn might be a poster-boy for effective environmental activism. He’s certainly a metaphor for the perils of environmental inaction. Born in Alaska, he moved to California as a young child and grew up at the centre of what became the 2018 wildfire inferno that erased whole towns—one of them the community of his childhood, Paradise, where 85 people died.
    “My entire childhood, turned to ash,” he muses.
    That which hadn’t already been drowned. He says his heightened awareness of the importance of environmental integrity coalesced around the fate of the Feather River, in whose canyons he spent one of those nostalgic Huckleberry Finn boyhoods. “I grew up swimming in the Feather River,” he recalls, “then they built the dam and flooded my swimming holes!” To make things worse, a politician came to town and scoffed there’d never been anything there before the damn dam anyway.
    That memory was a motivator in the ELC’s work to stop plans to log watersheds in the upper Skagit River Valley. Protecting the Skagit had been a joint Canadian and American environmental mission for an earlier generation of environmentalists, but then it came back for his students, some of whom hadn’t been born for the first go round.
    Student Caitlin Stockwell, he says, looked at the original agreement between BC and the City of Seattle. She found that BC, by approving logging in the “doughnut hole”—an unprotected patch of forest in the Upper Skagit set aside because of mineral claims and now surrounded by three state and provincial parks, a BC recreation area, and a US wilderness zone—was infringing upon Seattle’s rights under the 30-year-old international agreement protecting wilderness, wildlife habitat, and recreational resource values.“She finds that its provisions give the city of Seattle unilateral ability to take the BC government to court over the international treaty!”
    In 2018, on the basis of the ELC report, the mayor of Seattle politely reminded Premier John Horgan of this fact. Last December, the Province abruptly banned further logging in the ecologically sensitive valley on the US border.
    Sandborn, educated at a Jesuit university in San Francisco (“The Summer of Love was about to happen, and there I was in this place full of priests!”), cut his activist teeth on the civil-rights movement, anti-war protests, and efforts to organize California’s agricultural workers.
    He came to Canada to join his brother Tom, who had come north after ripping up his draft card and mailing it to President Lyndon B. Johnson. On arrival, Calvin promptly rolled up his sleeves and got involved helping organize farm workers in the Fraser Valley and setting up the now-iconic Downtown Eastside Resident’s Association that has successfully worked to reconfigure cruel stereotypes about the Vancouver neighbourhood and its often marginalized, low-income citizens.
    Curran, who was born in Kamloops and graduated from Trent University, had her environmental epiphany while working in Pacific Rim National Park when the Clayoquot Sound protests erupted. And Pattison, who came to Campbell River from Guelph as a teenager 43 years ago, was working in Victoria law offices when the flood of Clayoquot defences—the protest generated the largest mass trial in Canadian history—transfixed the legal community.
    IF THESE THREE REPRESENT the official face of the Environmental Law Centre, they are quick to point out that the real engine of environmental change is the ever-changing team of law students—about 30 a year—that cycles through its clinics, gaining experience in researching, writing, and advocating for the law reforms that have lasting community effects upon how we live and interact with our environment.
    For example, there was the work done by law student Neal Parker, who in the summer of 2017 investigated and reported on the growing problem of private landholders encroaching upon public access to publicly-owned waterfront lands on the Gorge waterway.
    Parker, under the guidance of Sandborn, found 11 public access points colonized as parking pads, misidentified with intimidating signage, developed as private recreation sites, incorporated into gardens, used as dumps for garden waste and construction debris, and blocked by structures, hedges, walls, car ports and private docks.
    Half a dozen of these effectively preempted public rights-of-way from members of the Songhees Nation a few blocks to the south, whose Douglas Treaty rights guaranteed them unfettered access to traditional hunting and fishing grounds on the Gorge in perpetuity.
    In Greater Victoria, Parker pointed out in a 77-page brief to both Saanich and Esquimalt municipal governments, that projected population growth of an estimated 100,000 people by 2040 means the inevitable loss of existing green space, at a time when it’s becoming even more valuable and important for urban livability. It also represents an attack upon the core values in some of the most successful marketing strategies and economic revival plans of forward-thinking cities in the world. It’s clear from what’s happening in cities like Austin, Texas; Lyon, France and even Winnipeg, which is upending its dowdy grey image, that cities embracing public access to green space are more livable, and that cities deemed more livable will be the economic winners over the decades ahead. Cities that don’t proactively develop public green space will have to reestablish it at great expense, if they are to compete with the Seattles, Portlands and Vancouvers.
    As a result of Parker’s work, those public access points have since been restored, Sandborn says.
    THE NON-PROFIT ELC, which celebrates its 25th anniversary in the fall of 2021, started as a dream, took shape as a hope, and was realized when professor Chris Toleffson, a specialist in environmental law, agreed to work with half a dozen students who wanted to study in the field. He became the ELC’s first executive director.
    “There was no funding,” Curran says. “It was run without funding until Calvin came on board as legal director [in 2004].”
    Sandborn didn’t even have an office to start. He was working from the students’ computer lab. Then entrepreneur Eric Peterson, who had made his fortune developing and then selling medical imaging technology and whom, with his wife Christina Munck, had created the non-profit Tula Foundation, provided the ELC with $1.1 million over a five-year period.
    “We had 10 years of angel funding with very few strings attached,” Sandborn says.
    Now there’s stable funding from BC’s Law Foundation, which provides 48 percent of the centre’s annual revenues, and from other philanthropic organizations, including the Oasis Foundation, Tides Canada, the Sitka Foundation, and the Vancouver Foundation. Small individual donors make up the rest.
    What the ELC does with this funding is provide students with a hands-on opportunity to learn environmental law, while simultaneously using it to empower individuals, small community organizations, First Nations, environmental and other groups. The students offer—at no charge—the statutory research and advice that enables the public to use existing legal frameworks to hold private, corporate, and administrative agencies accountable for ensuring that environmental regulatory requirements are met. Or, in other cases, to help press for reforms to environmental laws, and their enforcement, so that they serve the public, and not private, interest.
    Among their notable achievements, ELC students conducted research into the proximity of sour gas wells to schools, residences and other public buildings on behalf of the Peace Environment and Safety Trustees Society.
    Sour gas contains hydrogen sulphide, a compound so toxic that it paralyzes olfactory nerves at concentrations as low as 100 parts per million. Respiratory failure begins at 300 ppm, and at 800 ppm, 50 percent of those exposed will die within five minutes. The ELC students discovered that during one leak at Pouce Coupe in 2009, sour gas was released for 27 consecutive minutes before emergency shutoff valves cut off the flow.
    In 2013, ELC law student Jacqui McMorran, lawyer Tim Thielman, and Sandborn gathered information from DataBC and plotted it using Google Earth to locate active, suspended and abandoned wells capable of leaking sour gas.
    They reported that 1,900 children at 9 schools in 2 northeastern school districts were at risk from sour gas wells that, under provincial law, could be located a scant 100 metres from schools or hospitals. Worse, there were no minimum setbacks at all for pipelines carrying sour gas—although in 2010 the Province said it planned to establish safety zones of 2,000 metres.
    In some cases, provincial emergency plans for gas leaks were so primitive, they consisted of supplying classroom teachers with rolls of duct tape and instructions to seal cracks around doors and windows.
    After this inconvenient political bombshell, the provincial government announced it would increase the safety buffer for sour gas wells adjacent to schools and other public buildings from 100 to 1,000 metres.
    “Government seemed quite content to renege on their 2010 promise to extend the legislated safety buffer around schools—until we exposed the fact that the safety buffer had not been expanded,” Sandborn said at the time.
    “What about all the other issues that never get publicized? Day to day, who is looking after the public interest? Who is watchdogging the regulators to make sure that the Province doesn’t weaken regulations?” he asked.
    Luckily for the public, the ELC has been doing a first-rate job of watch-dogging. Among its most high-profile accomplishments:
    The ELC’s complaint to the federal government in 2013 regarding the muzzling of scientists on controversial issues like climate change. It triggered such a robust public response that government can no longer mute the voices of its own scientists just because their message is politically vexing.
    More locally, a complaint about metals contamination leaching from an old copper mine on the Jordan River beyond Sooke—it hadn’t even been checked for 20 years—prompted clean up efforts and a full scale remediation plan for later this year.
    But that’s just a start. In the aftermath of the Mount Polley mine disaster, in which the failure of a tailings dam dumped the equivalent of 10,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools of contaminated waste into one of the biggest salmon rivers in the Fraser River watershed, the ELC produced a report calling for comprehensive mining reform. It found that BC taxpayers are liable for more than $1 billion in mine clean up costs, and called for the Province to begin fully checking and cleaning up 1,100 mines like the one that killed the lower Jordan River.
    ELC students and lawyers also assisted local residents in the Interior, whose drinking water was being contaminated by nitrates leaching into an aquifer from agricultural applications of manure to fertilize fields. That work led to a new provincial code for agricultural waste management but, perhaps more important, it also earned a ruling from the Province’s information and privacy commissioner that government must promptly and proactively release, without charge, all government records that are in the public interest.
    Working with the World Wildlife Fund, ELC students supervised by Sandborn and Curran prepared a study last fall calling for remediation of beaches around the Salish Sea that were once critical spawning habitat for forage fish that serve as foundation species for the chinook, and other salmon, upon which threatened resident orcas depend.
    The ELC recently called for regulation of single-use plastics, and recommendations for how to go about it. It follows a report two years ago outlining legal reforms necessary to address the growing problem of marine plastic pollution.
    There isn’t room in a short article like this to list all the work done on the public’s behalf, or to name the students who have passed through the ELC’s clinics and left their enduring mark upon the laws that frame our collective relationship with the world in which we live.
    There is room to observe that for something that began with a handful of students, one professor who saw their potential and another willing to work from a computer lab to help them realize that potential, the ELC’s 25th birthday party will represent an extraordinary milestone in the evolution of BC.
    Stephen Hume spent half a century as a journalist writing about Western Canada, the Far North, BC and the Island.

    Maleea Acker
    January 2020
    A Fernwood well brings history lessons, community, and precious water together.
    AFTER A CAPITAL REGION SUMMER of near-normal precipitation and one of the wettest Octobers on record (though one of the driest Novembers), it’s easy to forget the troubles much of the world has with limited water supplies. California’s groundwater supply is dwindling; Cape Town is running dry; even Tofino has run out in the past. Climate change promises to bring water insecurity to much of the world. So when a water source is dedicated by the Hudson’s Bay Company to the people of Victoria for all eternity—a source that produces from a fractured rock spring in the middle of a growing city—it’s best to count your blessings, and perhaps even take a sip.
    Bill Goers was talking over the fence to a neighbour not long after moving to Fernwood in 1979 when he heard that Fernwood had once been the main water source for Victoria. “This was interesting to me,” he says when we talk at his store, Common Sense Orthotics on Fort Street. The water came from several springs on Fernwood’s Spring Ridge—from which Spring Street takes its name. Flowing from gravel deposits left from the last ice age, the water was collected and delivered first by bucket, and then by wooden pipe until the 1870s.
    “People have been meeting at wells forever,” Goers muses, “It’s very old stuff.” Less controversial than saving trees or protecting grizzly bears, water is basic. It draws people together and highlights commonalities. The springs in Fernwood—and the wells that were built over them—were a gathering place for 1800s settlers.

    Bill Goers (Photo by Tony Bounsall)
    During a Fernwood Community Association radio interview, Joanne Murray, Goers’ wife and vice president of the Fernwood Community Association, recounts the story of Englishman George Hunter Carey, a settler who attempted to privatize the springs. In 1861, Carey bought land that included a popular Fernwood spring. He fenced it off and tried to charge for water. Locals were outraged and burned the fence down. He was excoriated in Victoria newspapers. Carey had the protesters arrested, but the courts sided against him.
    Over 20 years after first hearing the story of the Fernwood springs, a friend of Goers was doing research in the UVic Law Library and found evidence of an 1866 land conveyance as part of the Act of Union. It dated back to pre-confederation, when the Hudson’s Bay Company passed ownership of Vancouver Island to the Crown. As part of the union, a well on Spring Ridge was set aside and dedicated, forever, to the people of Victoria. The dedication of the well by HBC was likely a result of the public outcry against Carey’s attempt to privatize a public water source.
    In the 1870s, when the city began drawing its water from Elk Lake, the Fernwood well ceased to be used; its location was eventually forgotten. Much of Spring Ridge itself was turned into a quarry.
    But Goers’ interest was piqued. He continued his research. Historical maps placed the well just north of William Stevenson Park, near the Fernwood Community Centre. Telling me the story, his enthusiasm spills out, fingers raking his hair until it stands on end. Goers relates how he gathered together local dowser Ron Welch and a few members of the Fernwood community to start planning. Welch dowsed the entire Fernwood neighbourhood, and eventually found water in a corner of Stevenson Park. The Fernwood Community Well project was born, ushering in the return of an old, old practice of gathering around the well.
    The group won a $3500 neighbourhood matching grant in 2005 and worked with Victoria’s parks department and gained permission to drill a shallow well of 25 feet. They hit water immediately, which explains why even in the heat of summer, you can walk through Fernwood and hear a trickling of streams under manhole covers. The area, says Goers, is one of Victoria’s only dependable water sources.
    In 2008, Goers was prodded by the City of Victoria to spend the rest of their grant money. He worked with Tri-K Drilling to drill a deeper well of 150 feet. Goers won the fourth annual World Water Day Award for his work in 2008. Yet the well still didn’t have a pump.
    Spring water, or well water, is still the primary source of water for most who live outside of the Capital Region’s urban areas. I used to live in a house in Willis Point that had one. Iron and calcium turned the linens yellow and scaled the inside of the toilet. It was worth it, though, for the minerals it infused into my garden and for the taste. But for those of us who don’t have our own free source, water remains an uncertain resource in the event of a catastrophic earthquake. Are we prepared to supply water in an emergency in the Capital Region, Goers asked the Emergency Preparedness team in the region? “Not really,” they admitted.
    Goers had been negotiating with the CRD, VIHA and the City for permission to drill the well, slowly gaining their trust. He finally convinced officials to let him build and fit the well with a pump by appealing to the need for an emergency source of water. At the end of 2008, Goers and the Community Association won funding to install a pump and cement footing. The CRD has stipulated that the pump can’t remain operational, for liability reasons. They tried locking it, but people kept cutting the lock off. So when it’s not in use, Goers keeps the handle at his house.
    A well dedication celebration took place in October 2008. Goers was joined by MP Denise Savoie and MLA Rob Fleming, Songhees Chief Ron Sam and Lieutenant Governor of BC Steven Point. “Water is a public resource,” Savoie said, “It just flows through, it can’t be owned.” As a crowd observed, the well was blessed in Christian, Buddhist, Jewish and Wiccan ceremonies. Ceremonial cups were drunk by many, including Point and Sam. Goers, who is incredibly modest, watched from the background.
    “Officially, it’s not for drinking,” Goers tells me, “But it belongs to all of us; no one can take this away from us.” Goers thinks of the well as a 150-year project, and the community as its steward. Eventually, he’d like to see the well earn a series of good testing reports so that officials consent to keeping the well unlocked and available as a dependable drinking source. It could offer what so many towns in Europe offer: drinkable spring water as part of public infrastructure.
    In the meantime, Goers is out at 9am every third Saturday of the month, rain or shine, to reattach the well handle and pump for anyone who wants some water. You can join him. Many swear their tomatoes grow larger from the mineral content, and bring buckets. Though the water is not officially sanctioned as potable, some stock up, filling glass containers for an iron-rich drink. Some use it for the making of essential oils, which need chlorine-free water for distillation. I’ve joined him a couple of times this fall, and a varied assortment of people always show up. Kids like hanging off the pump while getting the water flowing. “People light up to the idea of what we have,” says Goers. “I’m always pleased to go, because every time, I meet someone I haven’t met before.” The five gallons I bring home tastes of rock and pine and minerals. It’s more thirst-quenching than water out of the tap. I fill my glass every day.
    Visit Bill Goers in Stevenson Park, below the Fernwood Community Centre, on Pembroke Street. He’s there on the third Saturday of every month at 9am. Bring a container.
    Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast. She is currently completing a PhD in Human Geography, focusing on the intersections between the social sciences and poetry.

    Maleea Acker
    September 2019
    Saving forests and removing invasives in Saanich
    FROM HIS HOME IN EAST SAANICH, Harry Drage tells me “It’s fun to say that you worked your entire career in the forests of BC.” A member of the Saanich Environmental Advisory Committee for over ten years, Drage, a forester, has been an ardent volunteer in both Haro Woods and Konukson Park (in East Saanich) since his retirement. This summer, Drage received Saanich’s Individual Environmental Achievement Award for 15 years of leadership in stewarding invasive species removal in Haro Woods and Konukson, a testament to his dedication to local ecosystems.
    Together with local residents, Drage has removed invasive species, applied for grants, helped to inspire the community and supported student research in the parks. He and other volunteers have logged over 4,500 hours clearing large areas of invasive species from both parks. Konukson encompasses seven hectares of upland terrain in Ten Mile Point, with arbutus and rocky outcrops; Haro Woods is a large parcel northeast (5.6 hectares) of the University of Victoria, with tall stands of second-growth Douglas fir.

    Harry Drage (Photo by Tony Bounsall)
    “Haro is about half done,” Drage tells me, and now, areas that have been cleared of invasives are recovering well, with ferns, snowberry and other native underbrush sprouting up under the firs. “You can actually see the [restored] area of the park gradually moving through like a force not to be denied,” he laughs.
    Haro Woods was the centre of recent controversy during the planning for the region’s sewage treatment facility, which will see wastewater and biosolids pumped to McLoughlin Point in Esquimalt for treatment. As part of the plan, Haro Woods was proposed as the site for a series of underground attenuation tanks and an above-ground pumping station; the construction would have seen a significant portion of forest cut down. In 2009, public consultation around the Haro Woods site resulted in strong pushback by local residents. I remember attending those meetings (at the time as an employee of the CRD). Haro Woods, then an unprotected greenspace zoned for large lot residential development, was nonetheless known informally as a forested trail system, and supported a variety of uses (including mountain bike trails). Some of the meetings grew quite heated.
    Drage demurs talking about this period. “I know some people think confrontation is hard to overcome,” he says. He tries to remain optimistic, focusing instead on the cooperation between residents’ associations and developers, and the growing support for the environment, and biodiversity, by Saanich. “We have 50 volunteer projects [in the municipality] with people stepping up. They’re coming forward on their own. That’s a really good sign.”
    As a result of the community’s resistance to the proposed pumping station site, the CRD retreated from its plan. Attenuation tanks will still be built on part of the site, but they will be located underground in a previously disturbed area. In 2011, Saanich purchased the CRD-owned portions of the site for $7.6 million, allowing for protection of 94 percent of the urban forest as parkland in 2013. For Drage, who began restoration work long before the land caught the CRD’s eye as a potential sewage treatment site, it simply shows the commendable actions of Saanich, which, along with the acquisition of Panama Flats in 2011, added 79 hectares to its park inventory in one year.
    Drage applauds the purchase, and his experiences in the park mirror many I heard speak at those 2009 community consultation sessions. The decision to save Haro Woods, however, many not be as simple as portrayed by former Mayor Frank Leonard’s joyous announcement.
    Saanich is the largest municipality in the CRD, and its reach stretches beyond the high-value properties of Queenswood, Ten Mile Point and Cadboro Bay, where many residents have time to become organized defenders of local green spaces. There are numerous properties throughout Saanich’s land base that would also seem to demand attention. Priorities change depending on the lens through which we look. Haro Woods is a recovering second-growth forest. Drage’s work has rid approximately half the park of invasive species. The other half sits waiting, while Saanich concludes its park management plan. But damage to the park over the decades—by invasives, through the construction of mountain-bike jumps, and through heavy use by residents—is extensive.
    In contrast, one might look at the protection of Maltby Lake, also within Saanich’s boundaries (and covered in this magazine). From an ecological perspective, Maltby has a much higher biodiversity rating; it contains old-growth pockets of Douglas fir; it supports a colony of freshwater jellyfish and dozens of listed species. And it could eventually be connected to Francis King Park, forming a contiguous wildlife corridor through the area. Maltby is owned in part by the Land Conservancy of BC, and in part by private landowners. Should that $7.6 million have been put instead toward purchase of portions of Maltby, or of other parts of the Saanich Highlands, which are under increasing threat from development?
    Drage has another solution. As a forester trained in the latter half of the 20th century, he subscribes to management practices that see a forest as a resource or a crop, as well as an ecological refugium. For much of his career, Drage was district manager in the Salmon Arm and Shushwap Lake area. In Victoria, he worked as an analyst for the BC Forest Practices branch, including planning for woodlots. For him, city boulevards—and forests such as Haro Woods—provide an opportunity for use as woodlots.
    City trees could be a part of this plantation, offers Drage, with orchards planted on side streets (and even on some lanes of streets, he offers) and selective harvesting of larger forests. It’s a novel vision. But when asked, he doesn’t have a ready answer to the question of biodiversity levels in mature forests as opposed to woodlots. The former support species such as great horned owls and bats. The latter tend not to have the decaying trees and forest floor detritus necessary to house and feed these creatures.
    Still, planting more trees would certainly help bolster Saanich’s currently spotty record with boulevard tree planting. “To me,” he says, “[boulevard planting] isn’t moving very far very fast. The profile needs to be increased.” One of the simplest ways to combat global warming, he stresses, is through the planting of trees. As someone who’s been trying to get my nearly treeless street in Saanich planted for over seven years, I concur. Drage would also like to see more incentives for landowners and developers to choose nature-scaping and the retention of trees on their properties.
    When beginning work in Haro Woods and Konukson, Drage had to read up on invasives before he knew what to look for in each park’s tangle of English ivy, Daphne, Himalayan blackberry and Scotch broom. In Konukson, he and other volunteers sectioned off areas to work methodically, somewhat like what’s happening in Cuthbert Holmes Park, in Saanich’s Tillicum neighbourhood, or the meticulous record-keeping that Jarrett Teague does for John Dean Park. “It’s almost a war, in some cases it’s so thick,” he says. “When the last invasive [in a section] comes out of the ground screaming in agony, it’s not fun, but it’s close to that.”
    Haro Woods and Konukson are all the better for his and his compatriots’ dedication. “It’s amazing to walk through [the park] now. The natural plants have come back—oh, it was fabulous,” he says. Due to the region’s deer overpopulation problem, the rebound of native species in some areas hasn’t been as quick as he’d like to see, but he has a solution for that, too. “Venison could become the feature meal out of the forest!” he tells me. I offer to provide the wild blackberry sauce to complete the dish.
    Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast. She is currently completing a PhD in Human Geography, focusing on the intersections between social sciences and poetry.

    Briony Penn
    September 2019
    A retired physics professor ground-truths the tanker traffic at Burnaby’s Westridge Terminal.
    FROM HIS LIVING ROOM WINDOW above Westridge Marine Terminal on Burnaby Mountain—the terminus of the Trans Mountain pipeline—retired SFU professor emeritus David Huntley can see the oil tankers coming in to pick up or offload cargo. It’s August and Huntley hasn’t seen a crude oil tanker at Westridge since June 30. Pulling out his iPad with Vesselfinder.com, Huntley finds the large orange icon that is the closest crude oil tanker and pulls up its information—size, draft, speed, destination, location, port of origin and so on. The next anticipated one, the Nordbay, is drifting west of Juan de Fuca Strait, and is not due in until the middle of August. Nordbay’s recent port of call is Martinez, California, where there is an oil refinery.
    “California is where most oil tankers are headed,” says Huntley. He tells me only 20 crude oil tankers have left Westridge for China since 2014. Twelve of these were in late 2018 when the Canadian crude price was as low as $11 US per barrel due to a glut of oil in Alberta. When the Alberta premier ordered a curtailment in production, the price jumped back to normal and shipments to China stopped.

    Westbridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby
    Why is a professor with two degrees in engineering and physics and doctoral studies at Oxford tracking these tankers? “Because,” states Huntley, “initially what the tankers were doing was inconsistent with the rules on the Vancouver Port Authority website. Now, Trans Mountain and politicians are telling us things that are not true.” For instance, as he notes in a recent report, “The numbers commonly quoted from them are an increase from 5 [tankers] per month to 35 per month, an increase of a factor of seven. In the two years before the application, there never were five per month (i.e. 60 per year) as claimed.” It was more like 3.4. Since the application the rate has varied between a low of 1.2 per month in 2016 and 3.6 in 2018. In 2019 (to date) the rate has been 1.0 per month.
    Huntley, who built his career on facts and (amongst other things) helping reconstruct the Earth’s climate through dating sediments using the physics of sand grains, has turned his focus from understanding this planet’s paleoclimate to finding the evidence to protect its future climate.
    “What got me interested in the tankers—besides living next to them—is the lack of good solid data on them,” he says. “How can we evaluate the effects of the proposed increase of tanker traffic in the Salish Sea that would accompany the TMX [Trans Mountain Expansion Project] without this information?” he asks.
    Huntley’s findings are in direct contradiction to what we have been led to believe: Kinder Morgan’s 2015 business case presented to the NEB stated that “access to Pacific Basin markets is almost non-existent…” Implied is that being able to ship oil to Asia would realize higher prices for Alberta bitumen. As Huntley points out, “These claims about a lack of access to ‘tidewater’ are without merit since there is—and has been—guaranteed access to tidewater. And that access is—and has been—severely underutilized.”
    Huntley’s research has been rigorous, and he has appeared at NEB hearings in the capacity of intervenor, commenter and observer. He has assembled data—names, dates, and destinations—on crude oil tankers from 1974 to the present using various sources: the Pacific Pilotage Authority, Port of Vancouver annual reports, Trans Mountain submissions to the National Energy Board, a document ironically known as CRED (Conversations for Responsible Economic Development) published in 2013, and AIS (Automatic Identification System) with navigational tracking software like Vesselfinder. With these he has done that indispensable form of research called “ground-truthing,” i.e., observing first-hand which tankers use the terminal, where they are heading, and whether they leave loaded or empty.
    It should strike anyone as strange that this information has to be assembled by a retired physics professor instead of the pipeline owner, the Government of Canada, to substantiate the business case for buying a $4.5-billion pipeline that requires a further $9.3 billion for expansion, including that of the Westridge Terminal. It seems the government relied on Kinder Morgan’s own business case, which was prepared by Neil K. Earnest of Muse Stancil, a Texas oil and gas consultancy. Earnest provided no evidence for his claim that there was “almost non-existent” access to Asian markets—probably because there is no such evidence. Yet the Government of Canada seems to have bought that.
    The Westridge Terminal is currently capable of loading over 100 Aframax or 200 Panamax tankers per year. So far this year, the rate is only one per month. And on average, only 30 to 40 tankers a year are loaded, with virtually all of them heading to California, according to Huntley’s research. He notes, “It has been rare for Kinder Morgan to exceed 50 percent of [Westridge’s] loading capacity, and in 2016 and 2017 it was using less than 15 percent of its loading capacity.”
    The capacity of the current Trans Mountain Pipeline is 300,000 barrels per day. About 55,000 stays in BC, refined for BC usage. About 170,000 barrels per day—over half of the current capacity—heads south via the Puget Sound Pipeline to four refineries in Washington State. (Some of the refined products are sold back to BC.) Reportedly, the US is interested in bringing in a lot more this way. In an April 2019 podcast interview, the CEO of the new Trans Mountain Crown agency, Ian Anderson, said that new capacity of the expanded pipeline might be soaked up by markets in BC, Washington State or California. He admitted he did not have contracts requiring shipping in tankers. “I’ve got contracts to move barrels down my pipeline, but those could go to different places, not necessarily over water. So the market will decide how many ships move,” said Anderson. The oft-quoted—and for many coastal citizens, worrisome—34 bitumen-laden tankers per month plying coastal waters apparently refers to the maximum physical capacity of the terminal once expanded from its one berth to three.
    Another researcher, a 32-year veteran of the Geological Survey of Canada, scientist J.David Hughes, has shown that historically there has been no appreciable price differential between what oil commands from North America versus Asia, making the main case for expansion seem dubious. As Earnest’s report for Kinder Morgan put it, TMX “enables Canadian crude oil producers [access to] higher-priced Pacific Basin markets.” He projected Asian markets would pay $5–8 more per barrel from 2018 to 2038. Hughes, however, writes “the price in the Far East is $1–3 per barrel lower, plus the transport costs via TMX and tankers will be at least $2 per barrel higher to Asia. Hence building the expansion would mean a loss of $3–5 per barrel compared to shipping oil via new pipelines that will be built long before TMX.”
    In a recent article, Hughes explains there is a pipeline bottleneck due to the 376 percent growth in oil sands production since 2000, but that “the Line 3 and Keystone XL pipelines…will provide double the export capacity of TMX before its earliest completion date and yield higher prices on the US Gulf Coast compared to the Asian markets that TMX is allegedly being built to access.” Huntley notes, “If there were higher-priced Asian markets, the tankers would be going there.” He writes, “The existing pipeline and Westridge terminal are capable of supplying world markets with far more oil than they have been doing, at least since 2014.”
    From Trans Mountain’s perspective, one of their most strategic errors was locating a pipeline terminus on the same mountain as a university community of over 20,000 residents. There are a lot of smart people living on that mountain who like facts—starting with biochemistry professor Lynn Quarmby, who successfully led the first challenge to Kinder Morgan back in 2014, and Gordon Dunnett, a retired structural engineer who released a report on the high risk of a catastrophic fire to the 66-year-old storage tanks in the event of an earthquake, and the failure of Kinder Morgan to adequately assess them for failure. There’s also John Clague, professor emeritus at SFU, emeritus scientist for the Geological Survey of Canada, and past president of the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of the Province of BC, whose work substantiates the lack of risk assessment. Huntley and these other academic heavyweights are just some of those providing contradictory evidence to claims made by the company and government—evidence which has been underreported by the mainstream media. Vancouver Sun reporting has “bordered on nonsense,” says Huntley, as do op-eds by industry shills like Stewart Muir from Resource Works, a PR arm of the resource sector.
    But if facts aren’t guiding the process, then what is? Huntley answers: “Politics and money.” If there is no plausible business case, what company is going to invest in the expansion, unless it is heavily subsidized by the taxpayer? Currently, the pipeline and some or all of the associated costs are being paid for out of the Canada Account, which allows the federal government to make large investments in higher-risk ventures if they are deemed in the national interest.
    In April 2019, the international Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) produced a report characterizing the project as “built on quicksand and clear as mud” with “no full accounting of ongoing operations” (see http://ieefa.org). It states: “The government has an obligation to tell its citizens how much the Trans Mountain Pipeline Project is costing.”
    Perhaps with the October federal election coming, Canadians will demand such answers. But the IEEFA report also notes that getting answers might prove difficult: “The Canadian government has already routed payments to fund and develop the pipeline through a maze of government agencies with different missions, reporting mechanisms and accounting standards.”
    The other question is: What exactly is in the national interest?
    Email huntley@sfu.ca for David Huntley’s report on tankers at the Westridge Marine Terminal.
    Briony Penn is an award-winning writer of creative nonfiction books including the prize-winning The Real Thing: the Natural History of Ian McTaggart Cowan, and most recently, Stories from the Magic Canoe with Wa’xaid (Cecil Paul).

    Maleea Acker

    A place of refuge

    By Maleea Acker, in Earthrise,

    July 2019
    A deep and abiding love for ȽÁU,WELNEW/John Dean Park is evident in the stewardship work of volunteer Jarrett Teague.
    IN OLD GROWTH STANDS of Douglas fir and cedar, interspersed with sunlit, mossy meadows of Garry oak and arbutus, Jarrett Teague is surveying a landscape that he’s helped restore into an archetype of Southern Vancouver Island. Free of mature Scotch broom and other invasives, it looks largely as it did before colonization. In winter, rains blanket the park’s forests and trails; in spring, calypso orchids dot the mountain’s slopes. This past May, the W̱SÁNEĆ name for John Dean Provincial Park, ȽÁU,WELNEW (pronounced Tlay will nook), was officially recognized and added to the park’s moniker; Teague was thrilled to see the acknowledgement of a place that has helped sustain him for decades.
    Over the last 30 years, Teague has logged nearly 13,000 hours of volunteer work in ȽÁU,WELNEW/John Dean, which includes a sacred mountain on the Saanich Peninsula that once sustained the W̱SÁNEĆ peoples during the Great Flood millennia ago. In 2012, Teague was named BC Parks Volunteer of the Year. This past May, his 30-year restoration and caretaking efforts were recognized in the Provincial Legislature by MLA Adam Olsen.
    In my interview with him at a Tim Horton’s this spring, Teague at first seems reserved, in fact he stops speaking as soon as I begin to write notes. But he visibly relaxes over the course of our chat. About an hour into the interview, I ask him what he remembers of me. Over three decades ago, we were students together at Sidney Elementary. We haven’t had contact since, but somehow we both recall one another. He was a dark-eyed kid; he took things seriously. He wanted to do good. Perhaps we recognized this in one another. He answers my question easily: “I knew you had good parents.” It is a moment that has stayed with me since.
    Teague isn’t a stranger to good shepherding. A 22-year service member with the Canadian Forces and a father of three, he’s been a doting caretaker of ȽÁU,WELNEW since 1989. “I used to spend hours on ivy removal, and I’d watch the sun move the whole way over,” he gestures, and looks up, as if into a forest canopy. “Different lights, winds, birds. If you’re there for that long, you really know it.”
    ȽÁU,WELNEW/John Dean Provincial Park was established in 1921, when John Dean donated most of his 100-acre property to the Crown. Subsequent donations through the 1900s brought the park’s size up to 173 hectares, encompassing the summit of Mount Newton and its surrounding forest. A “Class A” park, it was one of the first in BC developed by Forest Rangers for open access by the public; some of its trails are almost 100 years old.
    Teague, who is a fourth-generation Vancouver Island resident, now lives in East Sooke, but grew up in North Saanich. “In grade six, I did some scouting in the park. I learned how to light a fire in the rain with two matches. By grade nine, I found the Friends of John Dean and started working with them.” Building trails, picking up garbage, preventing erosion and pulling invasive species, Teague quickly became enamoured with the park and its history. He has published two books on the history of John Dean, John Dean’s Cabin Diary, and Camp 20, a history of both ȽÁU,WELNEW/John Dean and BC’s other Provincial Parks.

    Jarrett Teague clears tree roots from a path in the park following a storm
    Mount Newton’s original name, ȽÁU,WELNEW, means “place of refuge.” As Adam Olsen tells the story, XÁLS, the Creator, caused a great flood to occur, and told the WSÁNEĆ people to prepare themselves. Many gathered their belongings and wove a long cedar rope to attach to their canoes. As the flood waters rose, the people paddled to the highest mountain nearby, ȽÁU,WELNEW, and tied their canoes to an arbutus tree, surviving the flood. Today, both the mountain and the tree are sacred (arbutus is not cut or burned by WSÁNEĆ peoples). WSÁNEĆ means “the emerging people,” which comes from the sight of their land emerging in the distance after the flood.
    For Teague, work in the forest is also spiritually significant. He has served two tours of duty overseas in Afghanistan, as well as circumnavigating the globe with the Royal Canadian Navy. The second tour, in Kabul, was uneventful, but the first, to Afghanistan in 2002, left him shaken. “I was like a mouse in a shoebox,” he says. He demurs using the term PTSD, preferring to call it being “wound up.” For the summer after his return, he spent much of every other day at ȽÁU,WELNEW. “It helped me decompress and heal from the experience,” he says.
    Teague’s time with the military has influenced his management of the park in prominent ways. He refers to his two-hour commute to and from East Sooke as his “deployment.” He has a system to keep track of tasks that need doing in the park: a piece of garbage in the park for 45 days or longer is a “debt;” fewer than 45 days and it’s a “deficit;” when he picks it up, it’s “paid in full.” These categories apply to invasive species, trail washouts, or signage in need of repair (he takes down, dries, sands, paints and reinstalls all 32 signs in the park with new hardware on a yearly basis). He has spreadsheets to keep track of each task. BC Parks often comes to him for advice.
    Teague’s organizational skills keep him functioning as a manager, rather than reacting. “When you’re reacting,” he explains, “you’re dealing with the obvious, and you’re missing the details. Everything becomes a priority.” His professional discipline has inspired the trust of local history keepers. He was gifted with retired BC Park Ranger Davey Davidson’s photographs and records of both Manning and John Dean parks. Much of his learning was done at the side of elder volunteers for the Friends of John Dean Park. “I feel I’ve really lost that generation of people who knew me,” he muses. “They affected me.”
    Teague, at 43, isn’t as concerned about a succession plan for his work as some of the volunteers I’ve profiled in this column. He has no intention of letting go his post. But he is acutely aware of the passage of time. “I realize I only have 50 more Junes left. It spurs me to enjoy the day, to think about what [the park] will be like in 100 years, and what it was like 100 years ago.” This musing about time has led him to expand from restoration to teaching. He now leads Scout and Beaver troops along the same paths he was led along. His children are also learning with him. “It’s kind of a neat feeling for me to see [my son] discovering and connecting with the park. I don’t have to make him, or teach him; he’s just doing it on his own.”
    Upon Teague’s retirement from the military, which is an option in 2020, he plans to study as a horticultural technician, revelling in the opportunity to work in Royal Roads’ gardens as part of his training.
    On May 2, 2019, MLA Adam Olsen supported passage of a bill to honour the sacred mountain through addition of the WSÁNEĆ name to the park. During his speech, Olsen briefly lost his composure. Thanking the students from the Tribal School and Cordova Bay Elementary for the petition that spurred the change, he wiped away tears. “That’s the first time that’s happened,” he murmured to a colleague at his side, before continuing. Teague also recounts the moment in his blog, “at exactly 11:19:45 am, the new name “ȽÁU,WELNEW/John Dean Park” was spoken in the Legislature, it sounded perfect and beautiful…”
    More information on ȽÁU,WELNEW/John Dean Park and its history can be found on Jarrett Teague’s website, www.johndeanpark.com.
    Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast. She is currently completing a PhD in Human Geography, focusing on the intersections between social sciences and poetry.

    Briony Penn
    July 2019
    An appeal before the courts should spark debate about whether Trans Mountain is compatible with a stable climate.
    AS THE FIRES BURN, storms rage, ice melts, and drought warnings go into effect, a rising tide of climate policy supporters from professional ranks are demanding change. Insurance company CEOs, health professionals, and journalists (like Bill Moyers) are joining scientists and academics to name the threat posed by climate change and continued burning of fossil fuels.
    Retired Vancouver civil litigation lawyer David Gooderham is one of the latest to put his reputation and his freedom on the line. He is one of the 229 arrestees who defied court injunctions to block the gates of the Trans Mountain Pipeline in 2018 and could face jail time. He is hoping to bring a novel concept to the attention of the courts—evidence of the magnitude of the threat of climate change. Gooderham, at 74, spent his career constructing cases from evidence of catastrophic losses involving flooding, fire, structural failures, and such. He discovered that no Canadian court or parliament has ever considered the evidence about whether the emissions from the expansion of oil sands production in Canada are consistent with keeping the warming of the Earth below the internationally-accepted increase of 2°C.

    Jennifer Nathan and David Gooderham (Photo by Holly Nathan)
    In other words, every large infrastructure project like the Trans Mountain pipeline has been approved without a single inquiry or environmental review considering their implications on the global emission target of the Paris Agreement—or our own national goal of reducing domestic emissions 30 percent by 2030.
    The Ministerial Panel on the Trans Mountain Pipeline of 2016, appointed by the Minister of Natural Resources, found that the question, Can construction of a new Trans Mountain Pipeline be reconciled with Canada’s climate change commitments? had not been answered. The National Energy Board never asked this question. Environment and Climate Change Canada, when tasked with reviewing emissions estimated for the Trans Mountain Expansion Project, admitted that the answer was “not clear.” Yet the cabinet still passed an Order in Council in 2016 authorizing the building of the expanded Trans Mountain Pipeline declaring, with no evidence, that it was consistent with our commitments.
    This failure to answer the question has left Canada pursuing a very dangerous course. Even for those whose concern is only around fiscal matters, it leaves us vulnerable to legal challenges or ending up with stranded assets, including the Trans Mountain Pipeline. With the June 18 federal government decision to green-light the pipeline, more of these types of appeals are inevitable. As Jessica Clogg of West Coast Environmental Law stated on the CBC about her reaction to Trudeau’s decision: “We’ll see you in court.”
    Gooderham didn’t arrive lightly at the decision to get himself arrested. He had spent the last six years engaged in lawful political activity to “encourage, persuade and induce the Government of Canada to reconsider its plans.” It was the failure of the political process to examine evidence that pushed him into getting himself arrested. At least in a court of law, where there are rules, expert witnesses, cross examination, and consequences of perjury, Canadians might at last have an opportunity to learn whether the government’s plans to continue expanding oil sands production can possibly be compatible with a world that is in dire need of cooling down.
    But there is a long row to hoe before he gets that particular day in court.
    On December 3, 2018, Gooderham made his first court appearance with co-accused, science teacher Jennifer Nathan. They informed the court, under Judge Affleck, that they wished to use the defence of necessity. This common law defence recognizes that in rare circumstances, we can be excused from criminal liability if we are faced with an “imminent peril” and where the wrong of disobeying the law can be “justified by the pursuit of some greater good.”
    Necessity is one of the few legal remedies available for climate supporters around the world, since it enables a legal exploration of what constitutes “imminent peril” and “greater good.” Encouragingly, across the border, in April of this year, the first favourable decision from a state court in Washington permitted the necessity defense to be raised in a climate protest case called the “valve turner’s case.” The conviction of US citizen Ken Ward, who shut off the oil by turning a valve in a pipeline, was reversed, and he will return to court for a new trial where he is able to bring his evidence and expert witnesses forward.
    Gooderham, like Ward, is arguing for simply that—a fair trial with the right to call evidence on matters of climate science.
    This is where Gooderham’s civil expertise teamed up with Nathan’s training as a science educator to brief an uneducated judiciary on climate science. For the December court hearing, they prepared an Outline of Proposed Evidence that includes projections over the next 12 years based on current policies, where the concentration of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will exceed 450 parts per million CO2 equivalent, bequeathing us all to “a dire future”—or in legal terms, “imminent peril.”
    The 119-page report, filed with the Court of Appeal, is persuasive and sets this global expansion within the context of Canada’s failing domestic efforts to meet the Paris Agreement of cutting 200 million tonnes by 2030.
    Their central argument is that the Trans Mountain Pipeline has a pivotal role globally in increasing emissions. Canada’s plan is to continue expanding oil sands production to 2040, but the evidence from the International Energy Association (IEA) and other reports show unequivocally that global oil consumption must start to decline in 2020, or else by 2030 the world will be irreversibly committed to warming above the 2° Celsius limit. Canada is one of the world’s six largest suppliers to the world oil market. Our country’s largest growth in emissions is coming from the oil and gas sector—offsetting most of the reductions in all other parts of the economy.
    The proposed evidence lays out oil sands production and emissions; the technology available to reduce emissions during extraction, and per barrel; proposed carbon capture and storage; political caps on emissions, gas sector emissions, methane emissions, and other additional measures proposed in climate plans. Findings are brought forward from the National Energy Board inquiry, Trans Mountain upstream emission report, IPCC reports, global oil consumption projections, mitigation scenarios, the global emissions gap with Canada’s commitment, and consequences of climate change. It isn’t easy bedtime reading but will likely illuminate “the magnitude of the threat.”
    On January 17, 2019, Judge Affleck predictably rejected their request to call climate evidence at their trial—which was held March 11, and at which they were convicted. The judge has rejected three other applications to put forward a defence of necessity, but Gooderham is the first to appeal.
    In Affleck’s 39-page Reasons for Judgement, he stated: “Despite a historical lack of initiative to curb emissions over these same decades, adaptive social measures may be taken to prevent such a dire outcome. Whether government, private industry, and citizens take these measures is a contingency that takes these consequences outside of ‘virtual certainty’ and into the realm of ‘foreseeable or likely.’”
    For Gooderham, this ruling was gold. It meant that an appeal to the BC Court of Appeal could focus directly on the crucial question. The judge appears to agree that we are on a path of a 2° Celsius rise in temperature, but asserts, with no evidence, that there is “a contingency” and that our imminent peril is not “virtually certain.”
    The contingency, however, according to Gooderham’s evidence, would require unprecedented cuts of emissions on a global scale starting in six months, including an immediate halt to the growth of global oil consumption. The question for the Court of Appeal then would be whether a contingency of that kind has, what is called in legal terms, “an air of reality.” That was enough to act on, and following their conviction, Gooderham and Nathan filed their Notice of Appeal to overturn Affleck’s decision.
    The appeal is due to be heard sometime in the fall by three judges.
    I asked Gooderham what he anticipates as success. “The best possible outcome will be that Justice Affleck’s decision will be overturned, and we can have a retrial where we call our expert witnesses.” The Crown would have the right to call their own expert evidence to try and show there is no imminent climate threat.
    If he is not granted a retrial at the provincial level, then he plans to take it to the Supreme Court of Canada. If he succeeds with a retrial with a suitable set of facts, a defence of necessity would apply. Whatever the final outcome, it will still have been a success for Gooderham “to open the public discourse on a subject that has largely been treated with silence.” If in the best case scenario, a defence of necessity is accepted, Gooderham indicates that it would not trigger “some kind of anarchy.” The most dramatic thing that could happen would be parliament abolishing the ancient common law and thus pushing climate change and the evidence for immediate action back into some messy, but better-informed, public debates—something that should have happened long ago.
    Ironically, just at the same time Gooderham and Nathan brought their case to court in Vancouver, the Federal government found itself obliged to file evidence about climate science in the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal, where the Government of Saskatchewan has challenged the constitutionality of the Trudeau government carbon-price scheme. The Federal government, in order to defend its carbon tax, has had to provide the court with evidence about the risks of rising carbon emissions, and to persuade the court that it is urgent to reduce Canada’s emissions. The evidence did not, predictably, extend to the prospect of failing to meet the Paris Agreement; that would have been risky to their own climate policy on pipelines. The Saskatchewan court ruled 3-2 that the federal carbon price is constitutional. The case will be appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada.
    It appears that suddenly, the issue of climate change has found its way into the courtroom, and that it might be “our last chance to help people grasp the magnitude of the threat”…if it can all happen in the next six months.
    A funding site for the appeal has been launched at www.gofundme.com/help-fund-addressing-climate-change-in-the-courts
    Briony Penn is an award-winning writer of creative non-fiction books including the prize-winning The Real Thing: the Natural History of Ian McTaggart Cowan, and most recently, Stories from the Magic Canoe with Wa’xaid (Cecil Paul).

    Maleea Acker
    May 2019
    A molting elephant seal on Gonzales Beach offered lessons in nature and an occasion for friendship.
    FOR OAK BAY RESIDENTS Kerri Ward, Gina Lemieux and Stephanie Weinstein, April 2018 was an exhausting month that changed their lives. A female elephant seal arrived on Gonzales Bay beach to complete its annual spring molt. The three met on the beach, while trying to protect the seal. “I don’t think it was an accident,” Ward tells me, of the three women’s introduction to one another.
    I meet them in Ward’s kitchen, her character house surrounded by red-winged blackbirds, Garry oaks and early spring buds. “I think it was a kindred connection.” But despite their new friendship, the seal’s arrival is not an event they’re eager to repeat.

    Left to right: Stephanie Weinstein, Kerri Ward, Gina Lemieux
    Lemieux and Weinstein are biologists; Ward’s background is in conservation, but she now works as a museum curator and as a long- time volunteer for Wild Animal Rescue Centre (Wild ARC). Ward discovered the seal; Lemieux and Weinstein encountered her trying to erect a caution-tape barrier around the animal. A friendship blossomed from their shared love of the natural world. “We are part of nature, not separate from it,” explains Lemieux. “It was amazing to see this seal go through this phenomenal life process.”
    Ward’s ribbon barrier was a reaction to the frenzy that surrounded the seal’s arrival, which had quickly attracted attention from local residents and media. Even tour buses announced its presence during their travels through Oak Bay. Thanks to the media attention, crowds began visiting the beach, pressing closer and closer to the wild animal. “The behaviour of people was depressing and discouraging,” Ward says. “We’re invading their habitat!” And yet, she says, she encountered many people whose conception of nature was something closer to Disney—where wild animals can be approached for selfie shots or close inspection.
    Elephant seals go through a “catastrophic molt” every year, during which they lose their fur and their topmost layer of skin. It’s a painful and taxing process. Normally, they don’t eat during their month-long molt, and often lose 25 percent of their body weight. Males normally top out at 4,500 pounds, with a length of 13 feet; females can reach 3,000 pounds. During their molt, they loll on the beach or dip into the water, using the salt and sand to keep cool and relieve pain. Their bodies conserve water during these periods, concentrating their urine so that they excrete less and can go long periods without drinking.
    In the initial days after the seal’s arrival, Ward, Lemieux and Weinstein quickly formed a team, taking at least three shifts a day to ensure a barrier remained around the seal and helping educate the public. “For the most part, people were respectful,” says Lemieux, and Weinstein agrees, but those that weren’t led to a couple of frightening incidents for the women.
    The media attention culminated in a confrontation with the public on the sand beside the seal. “I could see the seal, and they were surrounding it, and it was stressed,” Ward recounts. Afraid a confrontation might occur between seal and human (or dog), Ward raced across the beach to ask people to step back. “People started swearing at me, they threw driftwood, they screamed. One guy stood up for me and they turned on him. It was sheer insanity.”
    Ward contacted Fisheries and Oceans to let them know what happened. The next day, there was a massive response by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the Marine Mammal Rescue (an initiative of the Vancouver Aquarium), and local Bylaw enforcement. Pylons and signs were erected. Enforcement officers patrolled.
    The northern elephant seal’s range stretches from northern Alaska south to Mexico. Many molt at Race Rocks, off Metchosin. Mostly a solitary creature, they migrate as far south as Mexico, congregating to breed and feed. Once hunted for their blubber (like whales), they were nearly extinct by 1882. Less than 100 individuals found refuge on small Guadalupe Island, off the Baja Peninsula, where they were discovered in 1910. The island became a biological reserve in the 1920s, and since then the population has grown to more than 200,000 individuals, all descended from the Guadalupe population. This recovery from near-extinction makes the seals even more precious in Ward’s eyes. “They were here long before us. It’s not fair that we stress them out.”
    All three women credit the natural world as a guiding force in their lives. Lemieux has worked extensively in Southeast Asia in marine biology and education. After a masters in tropical conservation and development, Weinstein began working in environmental education, and now provides schools all through the CRD with techniques to connect kids to nature. Ward has transported seals, squirrels and countless birds in her car, through her work with Wild ARC. “This is the best place in the world,” they tell me, of BC’s South Coast. They are spider rescuers, snake and jellyfish befrienders, entranced with all that gallops, shimmies and glides.
    Weinstein and Lemieux qualify that Ward’s bad experience on the beach doesn’t represent the majority of their encounters with the public. Most were far less confrontational, though still lacking knowledge. “They thought the seal was sick or dead, so they went closer and were curious,” Weinstein explains. So she decided to set up an education table. She brought seal skulls, colouring books and information about the seals, gained from her work with the Habitat Trust Education Program and Wild BC. “One of the most positive experiences was talking to a bunch of teenagers, who all had their drinks,” she laughs. One interested girl kept asking questions, and then excitedly took the information back to her friends. It only served to confirm her optimism: how interested children can become in the natural world, and how much their behaviour can influence others.
    Unlike the Pacific harbour seal and California sea lion, who often get blamed (inaccurately) by fishers for eating salmon, elephant seals feed primarily on squid. Diving down as deep as two kilometres, they can hold their breath for up to two hours while in search of squid, as well as small amounts of fish and crustaceans. The inflatable snout of the male elephant seal amplifies his snorts, bellows and grunts, which help to ward off rival males. The females have no proboscis.
    After the seal left, the women breathed a sigh of relief. But it didn’t last long. A second seal arrived in May, staying for only a day. Another was seen in Gorge Inlet on May 30. And a third arrived at Gonzales Bay in June, staying for two weeks. The women’s daily patrols resumed. They were asked if media should be informed. “No!” they shouted. The seal left the Friday of the Canada Day long weekend. Weinstein smiles, “It was perfect timing!”
    Lemieux, Weinstein and Ward don’t know why the seals chose Gonzales Bay to molt. Are they confused about their location? Is the changing climate altering their habits? Or is this just the result of a rebounding population that now needs more beaches on which to molt? They relate the story of California’s Drakes Beach, which was taken over by elephant seals during the recent US federal government shutdown. A lack of park rangers meant the seals easily colonized the beach, mating and rearing their pups in what is normally a busy destination for humans. The park stayed closed until the seals and their young departed.
    Lemieux, despite the stress of monitoring and facing off with the public, looks at the seal’s arrival as a gift. “That’s been the silver lining, to connect with these two amazing women who I never otherwise would have met,” she says. “I’ve connected with local neighbours, seen beautiful spirits and hearts who have the same outlook on what we’re trying to do.” But that’s not to say they wish for another arrival on Gonzales, or any populated beach in the Capital Region.
    If an elephant seal does arrive, their advice echoes that of Fisheries and Oceans and conservation organizations: stay clear, keep your dog and children away, and let the seal endure its natural process without disturbance, and particularly, without having to appear in a selfie.
    Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast. She is currently completing a PhD in Human Geography, focusing on the intersections between the social sciences and poetry.

    Maleea Acker
    March 2019
    Combining creative work with research, Estraven Lupino-Smith collaborates with HAT to monitor and celebrate bats.
    A FEW YEARS AGO, when Estraven Lupino-Smith was living in Philadelphia, they threw their back out. (Lupino-Smith is non-binary and uses they/them pronouns.) Miserable, between contracts and home-bound in winter, instead of succumbing to depression, they fell back on their long history as an artist. “I’m going to make something,” they decided, “I’m going to do a series of prints on nocturnal animals.” Many are vilified, they explained, considered dangerous, part of the underworld. Lupino-Smith wanted to change the way we view wolves, bats, barn owls, raccoons. In particular, I learned during our conversation at a local cafe, they love bats. A lot.

    Estraven Lupino-Smith
    Lupino-Smith, a creative researcher with a degree in political science and equity studies, is currently completing an MSc in geography at Concordia, but art has always been a part of their research. “That’s how my brain works,” says Lupino-Smith. Focusing on bats and other vilified animals seemed an ideal way of combining creative work with research. “I think we don’t realize how much social context there is to issues of science and politics. This is a key reason people undervalue creative work.” Lupino-Smith’s Etsy website offers the artwork as pins, t-shirts and prints, but it was when they moved to Victoria (via Montreal) that things really came together.
    When Lupino-Smith arrived here, they emailed Habitat Acquisition Trust (HAT) and offered to volunteer, sending a copy of the linocut bat print they’d made. The HAT staff member who answered the email just happened to be wearing Lupino-Smith’s bat design t-shirt that day. A collaboration was born. With funding from a CRD arts development grant, Lupino-Smith gathered sound files on the bats using a heterodyne detector, which allows humans to hear the echolocation bats use to find food and move through space. “We can’t normally hear it, but they’re actually screaming; they’re quite loud!”
    BC is home to 16 of the 19 bat species in Canada—the greatest diversity of any province. Bats are the only mammal that can truly fly, and half of BC’s bat species (all insectivores) are listed as vulnerable or threatened. Coming from the east, where bat populations have been decimated by White Nose Syndrome fungus (recorded deaths total over six million), Lupino-Smith was eager to see a population that is, relatively speaking, still intact. “It will take 10,000 years, they told me, “to recover the population numbers on the East Coast.”
    Lupino-Smith counted bats with HAT over the summer, watching over 1,200 bats emerge from the attic of the Metchosin Community Hall, which the bats had chosen as their female maternity colony. That means there are both adults and pups in the groups volunteers count in summer. Some volunteers are retired, Lupino-Smith says, but many just like the work, which is communal and provides a chance to view the world in all its complexity. “You get your blanket out. You bring your dog.” Watching the pups learn to fly can also be hilarious. “They’re not great fliers yet. They hit things, they do loops to get higher,” laughs Lupino-Smith.
    White Nose Syndrome wasn’t initially found on the west coast of the continent. But in 2016, a sick brown bat was found by hikers near Seattle. The syndrome was confirmed a few days after the bat died. This means the disease has travelled over 1,300 kilometres past its last known western-most appearance. Bats keep mosquito and other insect populations in check, protecting crops from infestation and protecting us from vector-borne diseases. Many also pollinate plants and help with seed dispersal. A fall in bat numbers means diseases like West Nile virus could become a serious problem. If the disease becomes as wide-spread as it has on the east coast, the west coast of North America could lose 90 percent or more of its bat population.
    The culmination of Lupino-Smith’s summer work with HAT occurred at the Big Bat Bash in October 2018. Combining video files, footage from a slow-motion camera, and a sculptural piece, Lupino-Smith created a multi-media presentation meant to inspire and educate. The event drew more than 300 people and included workshops, dinner and a dance, with donations supporting the Metchosin Community Hall bats. Lupino-Smith’s plan, working with CFUV, the University of Victoria’s community radio station, is to create a podcast called “Mediated Natures” from the project, integrating science research with art creation.
    Lupino-Smith also works in sound, film, and text, providing workshops on the natural world to children, and nature walks with a political ecology component. Their plan is to eventually do a research-creation-based PhD. “Art is in the ideas. That’s where you start.” The HAT work was great, they explain, “because it was a rural project, not in a gallery. There was a bat cave, a bunch of kids.”
    The work made them realize the importance of outreach. Many landowners in the region don’t know that it’s illegal to remove bats from private property—even if they nest in the eaves of buildings. HAT provided training to Lupino-Smith that included a 14-hour session with other volunteers in Stanley Park, learning about bats, echolocation and data from scientists. “It made me realize that it’s all the work of these individual [volunteers] that makes the difference.” Lack of resources, social or political will, they argue, means that much of the data gathered by scientists is effectively lost if it’s not translated to the public. Lupino-Smith also admires the way HAT liaises with First Nations (with their restoration work on Senanus Island, for example). “I’d like to see more work on the part of settlers to follow Indigenous leadership.”
    One of the key changes Lupino-Smith would like to see in the non-profit world is a greater openness to art-science collaborations, which they stress are key to developing greater connection to place, and acknowledging humans as just one species in a large, complex ecology. Before HAT said yes to their proposal, Lupino-Smith approached another non-profit in the region. It turned Lupino-Smith down, worried they might compete with the NGO for funding. “There’s a funny thing in Victoria. Every organization looks fun, but then there’s a board of directors full of ancient white people who [work] to maintain the conservative frameworks that exist.” Part of being a queer, non-binary person, they argue, is an inclination to question the dominant power dynamic, which can see art and science as disparate fields. For Lupino-Smith, collaboration between the two is an integral step in dismantling colonialism and finding alternatives to institutionalized power.
    “Art is in creatively and critically thinking about things you don’t normally get to think about,” argues Lupino-Smith. “What excites you? What are your ideas? We’ll go from there.” This past year, they dreamed up the Artemisia Institute ( see estraven.ca/research), a name that gives authority to the work they’re already doing in various guises around the continent. So far, the Institute can only point to a research vehicle (the Research Creation Vessel Putt-Putt) and a business card. But if their track record is any indication, it won’t stay that way for long. “If a thing doesn’t exist, I do it. I’ve always had a DIY mentality.”
    If you have bats in your house or on your property, email HAT: hatmail@hat.bc.ca! They study and monitor bats, and need to know where they live. Bats are shy (and cute) and don’t want to harm you.
    Maleea Acker recently submitted the first draft of her geography doctoral dissertation on the intersections of art and science. One chapter of the dissertation is a manuscript of poetry.

    Maleea Acker
    January 2019
    Julian Anderson and Cuthbert Holmes Park
    AN IMPORTANT FACET OF ANY SUSTAINABLE CITY is its green spaces—providing opportunity for residents to step off a city bus and walk into wild areas to enjoy the ecosystems that make a region what it is. On Southern Vancouver Island, that includes salmon-bearing streams, Douglas-fir forests, wetlands, and habitat for a variety of bird and mammal species. Saanich’s Cuthbert Holmes Park, though sandwiched between a suburban mall, a residential neighbourhood and the Island Highway, satisfies all of these needs. But throughout its lifespan it has been both helped by its stewards and troubled by development.
    Julian Anderson, who directs the Friends of Cuthbert Holmes Park (FCHP), acts as main steward of the park. He made up the organization on the spot when asked to join the Gorge Waterway Initiative years ago. “Everyone else was part of a group already,” he explains, smiling, so he said he was part of the Friends of Cuthbert Holmes Park, which, at the time, didn’t yet exist.

    Julian Anderson (Photo by Tony Bounsall)
    Anderson’s invention of the organization, which shares its reports and findings with Saanich, was fortuitous. Anderson began a Restoration of Natural Systems diploma program in 2002 through the University of Victoria. Whenever he had a course project to complete, he used Cuthbert Holmes as the site location. Now, FCHP works in collaboration with Pulling Together, a Saanich invasive species removal program, and Anderson hosts work parties to plant native species, remove invasives, and generally care for the park’s ecosystems. Anderson and other volunteers have cleared large areas of the park, exposing native plants and stopping species like English ivy from smothering trees.
    Cuthbert Holmes is also home to a portion of the Colquitz River, one of the region’s primary Coho salmon spawning waterways. The park’s paths wind through forests, over two bridges, and out to a point where the Gorge waterway meanders past residential backyards. A fish-counting fence on the Colquitz helps keep track of returning salmon each year (see Focus’ October 2015 edition for Dorothy Chambers’ salmon work). Nootka roses and fawn lilies bloom in hidden corners of the park in spring.
    Anderson is no stranger to the area. He grew up beside the Victoria Canoe and Kayak Club, in one of several houses along the Gorge that have since been demolished. “In those days, we’d get kicked out of the house [in the morning], and come back for dinner,” he tells me at a coffee shop in Tillicum. Roving around the neighbourhood as a boy, he learned the local animals and plants. After starting FCHP he found himself directing volunteers and often serving as nature interpreter for school and volunteer groups that visited the park.
    Saanich was all too happy to see someone take a long-term interest in Cuthbert Holmes, and collaboration with the municipality is something for which he’s also thankful. Saanich’s invasive species management program and their openness to volunteers working in Saanich parks makes them “the envy of the entire south Island region,” Anderson says.
    As an example, Saanich’s management of the ferociously invasive species Japanese knotweed has been relatively successful in comparison to the Cowichan Valley Regional District’s. On the Cowichan River, whole areas of streamside native habitat have been supplanted in the last five years by a monotonous sea of knotweed. Knotweed decimates biodiversity and grows through concrete, so Saanich has taken a proactive stance, working to eliminate every new infestation, whether on private or public property. Luckily, none has yet been found in Cuthbert Holmes.
    Anderson’s primary focus these days concerns a new (but familiar) chapter for the park’s borders, as the Ministry of Highways completes an interchange on the Island Highway at McKenzie Avenue. In 2016, the Ministry of Highways vetoed Saanich’s decision to reject a cloverleaf design for the intersection. The ministry used 1.4 hectares of the park, including an area with mature Garry oak trees and a stand of rare Oregon ash and trembling aspen, for the cloverleaf. Some of the land was replaced with Ministry of Highways land alongside the TransCanada, but Anderson argued that infringement into the park was unjustified. Additionally, a constructed berm along the park’s edge will be planted with cultivated grasses and groupings of trees. Recommendations by an ecologist to leave the berm “rough and loose” to allow for gradual growth of native species was rejected. “We’re an impatient species,” rues Anderson.
    It’s been proven that enlarging highways increases dependence on single-vehicle travel. More cars move in to fill the new space. The noise pollution from commuting vehicles is already extreme in Cuthbert Holmes. But “there’s no sound fencing planned next to the cloverleaf right now,” laments Anderson.
    The park’s history can be more easily understood, Anderson explains, through aerial photos of the land. Perusing his series of air photos of Cuthbert Holmes park from 1928 to the present is a sobering experience. Anderson describes the changes he’s documented as we leaf through the decades. The earliest, at 1928, shows tracts of farmland stretching out from the park’s original, larger borders; there is no housing to be seen. The neighbourhoods of Burnside, Gorge and Tillicum mostly haven’t yet been built. Then the island highway bisects Saanich in 1956. Greenspace that makes up the park continually shrinks, as development chips away at its edges. A drive-in movie theatre replaces a field, then Tillicum Mall replaces the theatre. Pearkes Recreation Centre lops off a forested edge; its parking lot takes over a further swath. Then in the 1990s, the Silver City movie theatre replaces another edge. As the decades tick by, the wide swath of fields and wetlands surrounding the s-curve of the Colquitz River slowly shrinks.
    Changes in the park’s boundaries have also affected its species. “I used to walk by the drive-in on my way to school,” Anderson tells me. “There were choruses of frogs” near where the Tillicum Mall parking lot now stands. “You don’t hear that anymore. That’s an incremental change.” Salmon, he points out, are resilient creatures, but “they handle change until they can’t anymore. They’ll reach a limit, too.”
    One of Anderson’s primary hopes for the park is that people step forward who can eventually act as his successors. Anderson is nowhere near burnout, but he recognizes that, as an introvert, the education portion of environmental stewardship is a challenge. “If I disappear, I want this to carry on.” This desire for a succeeding generation of knowledge-keepers is a common refrain among environmental stewards in the region; most of those I have spoken with in the last three years voice concerns about what will happen to their carefully stewarded ecosystems in future decades.
    Cuthbert Holmes is no exception. Two-thirds of the park belong to the Province, and is currently leased by Saanich. It’s hard to say what decisions future governments will make about an urban park beside a highway, even if it does nurture great-horned owls, nesting herons and other at-risk species. The park hosted the largest great blue heron rookery on the island until 2010. Anderson hopes they will return. “I want future generations to go into the park and see the same things I’m seeing. This is a salmon-bearing river in the middle of an urban area,” he pauses to let that amazing fact sink in.
    Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast (New Star, 2012). She is currently completing a PhD in Human Geography, focusing on the intersections between the social sciences and poetry.

    Maleea Acker

    Robin Hood's dream

    By Maleea Acker, in Earthrise,

    November 2018
    In the face of ecological disasters, art and science together can lead to hope and resilience.
    “I CAUGHT THE DREAM OF THE ORCA,” Robin June Hood tells me in Demitasse Café during Fall’s first rainy period, “and it was so full in meaning that I knew something had been transmitted. I had to do something about it.”
    Coming from a cultural geographer, a consultant for community-based research and development projects who holds a PhD in global education, this might sound like an odd thing to say. But Hood is anything but ordinary. She focuses her attention on protecting the natural world, but also on how the cycle of life and death make us the temporally-bound creatures we are. It’s this attention to deeper meanings—shaped by her learning, but also by her own experience—that makes her work so important today.

    Robin Hood
    Born in Quebec but a longtime resident of BC, Hood took a degree in geography and then began an activist career in Guatemala, where she was sent by an international aid agency. She arrived ten days before a major earthquake, and instead of fleeing, she stayed, travelling back and forth from Vancouver to Guatemala for years while working in war zones and refugee camps, setting up schools and “listening to people.” The experience cemented her respect for indigenous knowledge, community-based learning and grassroots initiatives.
    Two years ago, orca whales cried to her for help, Hood explains, a dream that occurred far before the recent and tragic events in the Salish Sea pod’s history. In August, a member of J Pod carried her dead baby for 17 days through the Salish Sea, capturing the world’s attention and bringing many to tears. In September, J-50, a four-year-old female in the pod died, bringing the population down to 74. All three pods—J, K and L—converged in a superpod off Race Rocks soon after she disappeared, some say to mourn her loss.
    Hood and colleagues from Salt Spring Island set about creating and carving wooden orcas, one to represent each member of the pods. They have been shown and circulated in events in Vancouver, Victoria, and Salt Spring, acting as a visual reminder of the orcas’ plight and endangered status. In September they fund-raised for RAVEN Trust, an Indigenous legal defense fund that supports First Nations’ constitutional rights. “We do education around acoustic noise, traffic and salmon habitat,” she tells me. “It’s been a dream and a heart project” that has Hood dipping again into art as a method of informing and impacting citizens through grassroots efforts—a track she’s been on for nearly a half century. “Art keeps me hopeful,” she explains.
    Hood put the knowledge she gained from Mayan communities to use after her return to Canada, consulting in education, community and international development, and teaching at Royal Roads University. For several years, she was director of the Community Based Research Institute at Vancouver Island University (before the university shut the program down). She has worked as a filmmaker, was part of the negotiation team for the creation of the Great Bear Rainforest, and has worked extensively with Indigenous peoples both here and in Latin America. “I tend to be a seeder,” she explains, “I like to get things started.” Hood’s doctorate work examined how to revitalize traditional ecological knowledge in Guatemala, a skill she has applied on the island with the Cowichan Nation. A book, For the Love of Nature: Solutions for Biodiversity, co-authored with writer and naturalist Briony Penn, appeared in 2010.
    Until last year, Hood was involved with the Xwaaqw’um project in Burgoyne Bay on Salt Spring Island. Xwaaqw’um is a historic Cowichan settlement that existed in the bay’s provincial park. The resurgence project is now a cultural learning hub for First Nations and settlers. “It’s an amazing project, where elders have put together a series of workshops, like ‘Cowichan 101,’ which are open to settlers and indigenous,” she says. The program recently received funding from the Vancouver Foundation to take the model to five other First Nations communities in BC.
    A year ago, Hood lost her husband, the social justice activist and The Land Conservancy director John Shields, to a rare blood disease. In 2015, they had survived a serious car accident only to learn he was terminally ill.
    A traumatic life event can be a catalyst—for refocus or for introspection. Many turn inward, eschewing community and work to heal on their own. The unexpected loss catapulted Hood into a period of flux. “I realized I needed a couple of years to be quiet and think about next steps.” But though she downplays her achievements when we talk, Hood has continued to be a force for positive change, mostly on a volunteer basis. Part of that work has been acknowledging the importance of slowing down, recognizing our bonds with the Earth, learning how to age and die well, and realizing that grieving, in the age of the Anthropocene, is an essential act. “I think we’re in the middle of a big [ecological] collapse. So I’m holding at the same time the grief and upset of this time.”
    Hood is a board member and facilitator for the Centre for Earth and Spirit, which offers workshops and programs on aging well, death and dying, community conversations and the importance of story-telling, and thus the importance of elder involvement in our society. “We are asking older people to step up, and to be mentors and create opportunities for younger people,” she says.
    She does not shy away from taking a hard look at her community. “There are very few mature, nurturing, regenerative adults out there.” The solution, she argues, is acknowledging our lack of deep environmental awareness. “We are in an age of education for global survival. We need to make sure people have knowledge of the Earth.” This education, she argues, is also tied in with grieving. “It is our belief systems and our philosophy that we need to change and align with the Earth’s carrying capacity…When I look at the lurch to the right, globally, the last gasp of capitalism…” she trails off, she looks grief-stricken, but recovers quickly, saying, “If we settle into touching how we’re feeling, then we become more whole, more mature, balanced, and resilient.”
    Resilience, for Hood, is about reconciliation—with nature, with First Nations, and with ourselves and our consumerist society. Hood is also a special advisor to the Greater Victoria Greenbelt Society, which has galvanized support across the region to save Mary Lake and its surrounding 67 acres of forest in the municipality of the Highlands. The Coastal Douglas-fir and related endangered ecosystems are increasingly imperiled by encroaching development in Langford (and recently, by a proposed gravel-mining operation in Highlands itself). The lake’s former residence, Highlands Nature House, will serve as a meeting space, artist-in-residence space, and environmental education facility.
    It’s that kind of mixing of art and science that makes so much sense to Hood. “Art has been a deep underground river that I’ve dipped into a few times. Now the river is turning into a waterfall.” When art and conservation is combined with Indigenous knowledge, like the learning she’s facilitating at the Centre for Earth and Spirit, or that’s taking place through Cowichan’s Xwaaqw’um project, her work becomes a way of not “discounting our time of dreaming, which is another way of knowing.”
    Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast (New Star, 2012). She is currently completing a PhD in Human Geography, focusing on the intersections between the social sciences and poetry.

    Briony Penn
    November 2018
    Some local First Nations leaders fear the next rounds of “consultation” around the Trans Mountain pipeline may be even worse.
    GWEN UNDERWOOD, a member of the Tsawout First Nation, chokes back her emotions as she leafs through a binder that contains some of the voluminous materials used to assess and fight the Trans Mountain Expansion Project (TMEP) between 2014-2016 for her community.
    In her capacity as then-lands-manager, it was her task to assemble the legal and scientific team, and the traditional knowledge keepers, to help review the proposal and assess the impacts to “existing Aboriginal and treaty rights.”
    In that binder is a picture of her grandmother and great-grandfather and the map of SENĆOTEN place names describing the wealth of sea life that has fed her community for millennia throughout the Saanich Peninsula and Salish Sea. She stops at his photograph and says, “I believe our ancestors were with us too,” then pauses; “That’s what makes what is happening now so hard.”

    Gwen Underwood (left) and Belinda Claxton overlooking the Salish Sea
    What is happening now is that Ottawa—after losing the court challenge by Tsleil-Waututh and other First Nations for not considering Aboriginal concerns—is returning to “consult” again. Trudeau directed the National Energy Board (NEB) on September 26 to complete what he is calling the “reconsideration process,” with a report due February 22, 2019. The NEB provided only five working days to amend the scope of the environmental assessment to be sent by fax by October 3 (their fax machines were jammed with protest complaints).
    Many legal experts predict that the timeline is so unrealistic and egregious that it will lead to new court challenges.
    This time round, Gwen Underwood will not be on the Band’s reviewing committee. In 2016, Tsawout were poised to join the other First Nations in the court challenge, but a new council was elected and they pulled out. “Tsawout did an excellent job on their report submissions. We had the strongest legal case and RAVEN said that they could fund part of it. But our new council said we can’t afford it,” said Underwood. The council is now divided on the issue, and Underwood has resigned from her position. The stress has driven her to a new job with a non-profit, but she is worried for her community’s future.
    “The government still is not obligated to listen,” notes Underwood; “so my question is: Why are the feds trying again? First Nations still cannot veto the decision.” She fears “that some might see it as ‘it is going to happen anyway so they might as well get something out of it.’”
    Underwood and I are meeting at the Tsawout Reserve with another member of the original review committee, elder Belinda Claxton, who tells me: “The government tries to starve First Nations out. They wait for people on council who will sign on. It ultimately gets down to divide- and-conquer mentality.”
    The original committee also included Hereditary Chief Eric Pelkey. For 30 years he has held positions, both elected and staff for the Band, including most recently the position of Douglas Treaty Officer. But he was dismissed in 2015, a decision he is challenging in the courts as unfair. He believes his outspokenness on the Trans Mountain pipeline could have been a factor. “That is what is so maddening in terms of those type of tactics. I think that we have experienced it a number of times in our territory where we go out and fight for our rights and title, and then Canada or BC goes behind our backs and offers resources to come to some kind of side agreement and undercuts negotiations that we are trying to put forward. And that is the type of thing Trans Mountain seems to be doing all the way through the territories—undermine any kind of unity in terms of opposition to the pipeline.”

    Hereditary Chief Eric Pelkey
    Flipping through the binder and reading the briefings, it is apparent that Tsawout would have won alongside the other Nations had they gone ahead with the court challenge. They experienced the same litany of concerns. As Underwood notes: “We gave [NEB] a full list of our impacts and concerns backed up by our marine traditional use and scientific reports, and they didn’t address it. We asked about cumulative impacts and they didn’t address that. Climate change wasn’t even in the terms of reference. My brother Harvey Underwood’s submission talks about how important the orca are, and how once they start disappearing, we aren’t too far behind them. The federal government representative said: ‘Well they are dying anyway.’ That was his response; we have that recorded in our minutes. Everything we did, they didn’t address it.”
    Pelkey adds, “The federal government had already made a decision—even before we made our submission to the National Energy Board—that the transport of dilbit in these ships was in the ‘best interest of Canada.’” Pelkey’s experience was that “the NEB decisions always fall on the side of the proponent. [The federal] government says NEB is flawed but they continue to use it.”
    Underwood says the length and complexity of the process itself has worn down communities, forcing them to agree to the pipeline. “It is a completely overwhelming process. They sent us five boxes of binders and then we have information requests and you have to understand all the legal and scientific terms. How do councils cope if they don’t have the background or the time to review it? You realize how projects like this go under the radar, if they don’t have good scientific and traditional knowledge experts and a legal team.”
    In order to hire the legal and scientific experts to do the studies, review the proposal, and argue the case, councils sign “capacity agreements” to receive funding for those purposes. These agreements are often misrepresented by some as agreements to support the pipeline, another tactic that confuses both the public and some members of the community. As Pelkey notes, “We said in our [capacity] agreement that just because we were accepting funds to do the independent research, we were not obliged to give them a thumbs-up to increased tanker traffic in our territory. I personally spoke out against the pipeline because I didn’t want even myself as hereditary leadership to be seen to be bought off by any kind of…agreement.”
    The binding agreements are “Benefit Agreements”: once accepted, they have to be paid back if a community changes its mind about increased tanker traffic under a new council (they change every two years). The benefit agreement offered by Kinder Morgan in July of 2015 to Tsawout was a $3-million payout over 50 years. The Tsawout community members rejected this offer outright. Claxton, Underwood and Pelkey all fear that this offer might be reopened to the new council, who might be more open to the prospect for a variety of reasons, including the costs to Tsawout council for the process to date which have already put them in debt.
    The reason councils find themselves in debt, despite capacity agreement funding, is that the agreements do not necessarily cover the unpredictable costs of the process. As Underwood tells me, “Even with capacity agreements, there wasn’t enough to cover the changes in strategy by Trans Mountain or through Intervenor Information Requests (IIRs) that were thrown at us. We ended up spending a lot of our own money because they changed some of their witnesses. Canada should provide the capacity for us to address any changes, but they wouldn’t allow it.”
    One such Intervenor Information Request reads as follows: “We are seeking feedback from you on the completeness and accuracy of the concerns and issues you have raised and your views on concerns and issues that may have not yet been addressed by proposed mitigation measures or proponent commitments to this point in the process.” These kinds of questions take hours of professional time—first to determine what they are actually asking for, and then to answer them adequately. How can the accuracy of a concern about impacts of dilbit spills to a traditional fishery be measured?
    In his capacity as hereditary chief, Pelkey continues to speak out against the pipeline. Although the courts have determined that there is a requirement to consult traditional governance leaders, Kinder Morgan made no effort to approach Pelkey, or other hereditary chiefs of the W̱SÁNEĆ Nation, who have responsibilities for the Salish Sea, Gulf Islands and Saanich Peninsula and live in the five reserves of Tsawout, Tsecum, Tsartlip, Pauquachin and Malahat. Kinder Morgan only approached the elected councils of each Band. Malahat and Pauquachin signed a benefit agreement. Claxton states, “It is important for our full council to stand up for our people, recognize our rights and honour our W̱SÁNEĆ way of life in our traditional waters and territory.”
    According to Pelkey, this is the kind of conflict that is a direct result of the Indian Act governance model. When Tsawout successfully challenged the development of the Saanichton Marina in a court case years ago on the basis of Douglas Treaty rights and aboriginal rights, their lawyers advised council to put their hereditary leadership up front in terms of rights and actions on behalf of the whole WSÁNEĆ Nation. According to Pelkey, that hasn’t happened yet on the pipeline project. But it might now. Pelkey notes, “I believe that the time is right for that type of unified position of the entire W̱SÁNEĆ Nation. The main problem is that the Indian Act divided us up and created these little kingdoms. The W̱SÁNEĆ Nation includes all of us.”
    Briony Penn is currently working with Xenaksiala elder, Cecil Paul, Wa’xaid, on Following the Good River, due out in 2019. She is also the author of the prize-winning The Real Thing: The Natural History of Ian McTaggart Cowan.

    Maleea Acker
    September 2018
    One woman’s commitment to de-colonization.
    SOME PEOPLE IN THE WORLD serve as profound role models. They embody our species’ best qualities—care, patience, empathy, tenaciousness, optimism—and they focus on doing “right work” that acknowledges the importance of all beings, that tries to decolonize settler relationships to the land, and that seeks justice and fairness for all. This column gives me the opportunity to meet a lot of these kinds of people.
    Marion Cumming, however, is one who comes frequently to mind, not least because I spent two years working as her gardener on her wild Oak Bay property at the foot of Walbran Park. Gardening involved copious tea drinking and cookie eating in her kitchen, while we caught one another up on our projects. Now that I no longer work for her, I thought it time her achievements came to light.

    Marion Cummings (Photo by Tony Bounsall)
    Cumming, who calls Oak Bay a miniature Disneyland, is known for her ability to gently, persuasively, and relentlessly achieve miracles for ecosystem protection, heritage conservation, and First Nations reconciliation. The latter is earning her a place in history. Born in 1936 in Toronto, Cumming completed a BA in visual art, and then spent two years as an exchange student at the Universidad de Las Americas, in Mexico City. Living with Mexican families, she “became aware of the vast disparity between the rich and poor, and—even in Mexico—racial discrimination.” After working for the Argentine Embassy and teaching high school art in Ottawa, she moved with her husband to a New Brunswick farm, where her lifelong dedication to First Nations took flight.
    Decolonization involves the un-settling of the settler mindset, which has silenced First Nations, taken their land, and used violence to attempt assimilation. In 2014, the landmark Tsilhqot’in Decision awarded Aboriginal Title to 1750 square kilometres in the BC interior. It has set a precedent for future rights and title cases, and grounds the reality that, as Cumming argues, all settlers live on “stolen land.”
    But Cumming started on her mission well before the court case. In 1990, Cumming and her (now late) husband Bruce put their beliefs into action. After she was bequeathed a house by her aunt in Victoria, the Cummings donated their 288-acre New Brunswick property and home to the Wolstokwiyik Nawicowok Indigenous Sacred Land Trust, to become a healing and cultural centre. “We don’t even think of it as a gift,” she says. “It was land that was taken unjustly to begin with.”
    Cumming’s daily work takes her in a dozen directions, as she petitions against development projects in the city that threaten many private parcels of the last remaining Garry oak stands by talking to mayors, councils, developers and landowners. Her sense of hope, her doggedness and her fearlessness can be awe-inspiring. In the 1970s, trying to fight development on the East Coast, she picked up the phone and asked the operator for journalist and activist Jane Jacobs’ number, which was easier to find back then, she tells me, blithely. They spent several years in conversation, Cumming consulting her when issues arose.
    High on her to-do list, she tells me during tea in her garden, is “encouraging Canadians to think about returning land to Indigenous Peoples. We’re learning so much from them about respect for land and wildlife, and they deserve to feel that they’re back on their own land, with their own culture once again.”
    Cumming also owns a small heritage cabin on land that fronts the Koksilah River. She and her husband agreed to give both it and her Oak Bay property, which overlooks the traditional Lekwungen village of McNeil Bay, back to First Nations upon her death. She wants both to “serve as a bridge for Indigenous Peoples and [settler] cultures.” It is, she says, “my life’s work.” Their decision has been lauded by Mohawk UVic Professor of Indigenous Governance Taiaiake Alfred, and master carver and Tsartlip First Nation member Charles Elliot.
    Locally, Cumming serves on the board of the Salish Sea Biosphere Initiative, the Oak Bay Heritage Foundation and its Commission. She was also one of the founding members of the Sea-to-Sea Green Blue Belt Society, which worked to secure the Sooke Lake Watershed Lands for protection, and had the vision to conceive of a swath of protected lands that now stretch from Sooke to Saanich Inlet, helping to limit sprawl and development past the Western Communities. The first meeting of the society was held in her living room. She and Bruce were also weekly speakers at the Water District board meetings, back when it was considering logging and developing large swaths of the now protected watershed.
    Cumming is an accomplished pen and ink artist and painter, and has exhibited across Canada. It’s a vocation she has used to prevent the demolition of heritage structures across the country, including the old Toronto City Hall, and the New Brunswick and the Stratford City Halls, as well as countless heritage houses. One way, she points out, of counteracting the destruction wrought by gentrification, is to get publicity for particular structures that merit being retained. In Fredericton, four months of weekly articles in the local paper, along with accompanying local art depicting the city hall, helped turn the tide. Developers nicknamed her “the velvet bulldozer” for her ability to portray the beauty and value of heritage buildings and lands.
    She sketches and paints every Sunday afternoon, seeking out “rambling properties in Oak Bay and Fairfield that lie on tiny lands, surrounded by towering Douglas-fir and which have been forgotten for a century, except by developers. It’s a form of expression,” she says, “the way that music is, and it can be so healing in some ways.” Cumming volunteered in the “worst” mental hospital in Mexico, El Manicomio de Mixcoac in the late 1950s. She can still name the children she taught how to express themselves through art.
    Her fight against development extends to the Juan de Fuca Lands, where her passion is leading her to campaign, along with Deborah Dickson, Stan Boychuk, Ray Zimmerman and Jacques Sirois, for the creation of a United Nations Biosphere that would encompass the CRD and the Salish Sea. Recently, the initiative received a $10,000 research grant to explore potential collaborations, including forming an Indigenous elders committee from the First Nations communities in the CRD.
    “The Juan de Fuca lands are of major concern. When you look at the map, you can see the area is just laced with streams and lakes, and it really ought to be preserved.” Cumming believes that those with a yearning to develop the area, if they thought deeply about it, would realize their actions “would devastate intentions of living up to our responsibilities where climate change is concerned,” and have a change of heart. Her idealism still seems at once innocent and indomitable.
    We bring the tea back inside. On her dining room table, which has become one of her desks, there are stacked books and pamphlets—on wolves, on the geology of Vancouver Island, on First Nations coastal art. She mentions the burial cairn she suspects lies in her garden, where a circle of boulders cradles a patch of bracken fern. She loads me up with two books on backyard birds and Tod Inlet and a handful of chocolates.
    Her optimism in the face of dark times—the Trump administration, Trudeau’s approval and recent purchase of the Kinder Morgan pipeline, and the construction of Site-C dam—might be what impresses most upon meeting Cumming. She does not falter; she simply recalibrates and continues to work behind the scenes. To her, hope “means striving to be more loving and more humble and less selfish—it’s possible. If we’re to be serious about climate change and concerns about the environment, in a way it’s the only choice.”
    Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast (New Star, 2012). She is currently completing a PhD in Human Geography, focusing on the intersections between the social sciences and poetry.

    Maleea Acker
    July 2018
    Digging, planting and watering together produces food, strengthens community and helps the bees help us.
    THERE'S NOTHING QUITE LIKE planting a garden in an urban area to garner attention. It raises interest, creates detractors and supporters, and gets people talking—to one another and to those doing the transforming. And when that garden gets built in a municipal park, over top of a former lawn, there’s a sense of revolution—taking back the history of lawns as European pleasure grounds, as demonstrations of wealth or conformity. We can do so much more with a patch of earth than grow a ground cover that doesn’t feed anyone.
    Thanks to the Gorge Park Community Gardens (GPCG) team in Saanich, led by Gabe Epstein, there’s a new example of what a lawn can become. The transformation is strengthening community, building biodiversity, supporting pollinators and providing a beautiful way of feeding a neighbourhood. And, perhaps most importantly, it’s giving people a concrete and positive way to connect with nature when they gather in a public space.
    “Because of this project, I now talk to my neighbours,” Epstein tells me, sitting with fellow GPCG members Jane Bond, Laurie Jones and Brenda Pilon in the shade of the gardens’ tool shed, as pollinators float through the warm air around us. All four serve as coordinators for the site. Pilon is the native plant expert. Bond, who is the site manager, concurs with Epstein: “We help each other. That’s what it’s all about here for me. I come down and get talking to people and build that association.”

    Jane Bond, Gabe Epstein and Laurie Jones (Photo by Tony Bounsall)
    Epstein, the spearhead organizer for the GPCG, first held a visioning workshop on the future of Gorge Park (at the corner of Tillicum and Gorge Road) in 2011. Epstein, who used to be president of the Gorge Tillicum Urban Farmers group, is a retired school teacher and was looking for a way to focus on food security in his neighbourhood. The park was underutilized, and drug use was common. One suggestion that came out of the visioning workshop was a community garden. After consulting with Saanich, whose vision statement includes a plan to create a community garden in 12 neighbourhoods by 2036, GPCG polled neighbourhoods to determine levels of support; after a two-year process, the gardens gained approval in November 2013.
    The difference between an allotment and a community garden is key for Epstein, who rallied during the gardens’ planning process for the latter. He wanted a garden that could serve the needs of a diverse population, including native species. And he wanted the focus to shift from only private plots to a more inclusive model. “Communities grow in community gardens,” Epstein tells me. Brown concurs, telling stories of apartment dwellers who met at the gardens, then ended up holding communal dinners with neighbours they’d previously only passed in the hall.
    Gardens are proven to help us connect to nature, even if we are growing kale and carrots, not camas. Soil microbes have been shown to have an anti-depressive effect on those who sink their bare hands into the earth. Learning the timing for plantings, ways of building soil health, and seed-saving connects us to the seasons and to our neighbours. Educational events held at the GPCG foster informal conversations, which build knowledge and passion. “There’s a thread of environmentalism spread out as we talk with one another,” says Epstein.
    Design of the GPCG involved consultations with First Nations; Earl Claxton and Judith Arney came and sat at the site before building began; Will George participated in the gardens’ groundbreaking ceremony. The coordinators are hoping that future collaborations might involve First Nations and nearby schools, which could use the site as an outdoor classroom.
    Several groups collaborated to initiate the GPCG, including the Gorge Tillicum Community Association, the District of Saanich and the Capital Regional District, along with many community members. Each group provided something towards the construction and maintenance of the gardens. In 2013, GPCG was awarded a $20,000 startup grant from Saanich, which paid for archaeological assessment of the 1600 square-metre area; the CRD contributed $10,000 in storm water management, and many of the supplies for irrigation and the garden shed were donated by local businesses. Total cost for the gardens so far has been about $65,000, says Epstein, with money now coming in from allotment rentals, plant sales and other fundraising activities.
    Community gardens have a long history in the CRD. The Spring Ridge Commons, a thriving food forest in Fernwood, was a parking lot rescued by nearby residents in 1999. Saanich’s Capital City Allotment Gardens were originally started in the 1970s on Crown land, which was transferred to the municipality in 2005. Many smaller gardens around the city have similar histories—locals gathering together to take back an unused parcel of land and make it productive and beautiful. But increasing development pressures mean that it is harder and harder to find an unused piece of land that a developer doesn’t already have eyes on. Hence, the transformation of grassy spaces in parks.
    What the GPCG plants in the gardens interests Epstein and his fellow coordinators as much as who comes to use and visit them. Saanich forbids any use of pesticides or invasive plants, but provides free deliveries of compost and wood chips for paths and winter mulch. The GPCG strives to use plants that either feed people or wildlife, and encourages drought-tolerant choices. It’s a choice that will contribute toward the creation of pollinator corridors that many are arguing are a way to save native bee populations, like the yellow-faced bumblebees that took up residence in my swallow nest box this spring. Use of native flowering shrubs in the GPCG—red osier dogwood, snowberry and red-flowering currant—also provides food for insects and birds, as well as nesting material. Readers may notice that non-native shrubs like laurel and boxwood hedges tend to attract invasive house sparrows; native bushes attract and support native birds and insects.
    The construction of the gardens has also had some fortuitous benefits. Hummingbirds, Jones tells me as we walk around the site, use the spider webs from the garden’s rock walls to line the insides of their nests.
    The plan includes a living arbor over the event space that could turn the gardens into a neighbourhood hub. That will take long-term vision, which the coordinators are hoping to receive from neighbours. “We want to encourage people not to just plant seeds, but to volunteer, and actually get involved,” says Jones.
    Epstein and his colleagues are happy about the outcome of the gardens, though they’re hoping that the model they’ve created—collaboratively managed, with opportunities for residents to become members even if they don’t have a garden plot—will encourage a succession plan that includes ways to get involved that are both large and small.
    When describing her hopes for the future, Jones quotes Marian Wright Edelman: “You can’t be what you can’t see.” She smiles, “There are people looking at this place and seeing what we’re doing, and it has an impact. It’s a way of modelling behaviour.”
    After our talk, I pluck a leaf of spinach from one of the common beds as I’m leaving. Nearby, kale flowers are loaded with bumblebees and mason bees. The leaf tastes like summer, and like hope.
    Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast (New Star, 2012). She is currently completing a PhD in Human Geography, focusing on the intersections between the social sciences and poetry.

    Briony Penn
    July 2018
    The recent renewal of fish farm tenures is just the latest in a long saga of denial of First Nations’ fishing rights.
    IN 1930, a group of First Nations fishermen gathered around a fire to wait out a storm on Langara Island. They were sheltered by their rowboats pulled up on the beach as the storm set in. Salmon prices were so low, gas so high, and federal policy so targeted to support commercial companies, the fishermen had abandoned motors and returned to hand-trolling to make ends meet. 
    Visiting them that night was Haida elder Alfred Adams, Nangittlagada. He had come with an idea that he had picked up in Alaska—he wanted to form a Native Brotherhood (and Sisterhood) for increased recognition of aboriginal rights in hunting, fishing, trapping and timber harvesting in off-reserve traditional lands. And he wanted to meet with Ottawa officials about these matters. The BC Native Brotherhood was founded in 1931.
    Another leader of the Brotherhood, Guy Williams (Haisla), who went on to become a senator in 1971-82, wrote, “The men listened long into the night, no one noticing that the fire had gone completely out and the great rollers were still pounding the beaches heavily from the grey cloud wall at the edge of the world…” 
    Ninety years later, at the edge of the world, the Brother and Sisterhood still fight on against a metaphorical grey cloud wall: that of the corporate fish industry, morphed into its latest permutation of farming Atlantic salmon.

    Three Dzawada’enuxw First Nation Hereditary Chiefs, including Willie Moon (r), deliver an eviction notice to workers at a Cermaq/Mitsubishi fish farm in 2016. (Photo by Tamo Campos)
    When the NDP government recently announced their decision to continue to allow open net-pen salmon farms until 2022, it was no surprise to the activist descendants of the fishermen on that Langara beach. Dzawada’enuxw First Nation Elected Chief and Traditional Leader Okwilagame (Willie Moon) of Kingcome Inlet stated, “We’ve been fighting fish farms in our territory for over two decades, and that battle does not end with today’s announcement. We will fight it in court through the various legal tools at our disposal…”
    Fighting fish farms is just one chapter in a century of fighting for aboriginal fishing rights, a battle where traction has only been gained through the courts. Politically, there has been little progress, federally or provincially. The pattern of pushing on ahead with ever more aquaculture, followed by token slow-downs, usually in the form of moratoriums, is all too familiar. The provincial government has no real jurisdiction for regulating the federal fisheries other than the granting of land tenure permits for the farm itself. It has only ever used slow-down-and-study approaches to fish farms over the last 30 years.
    In the 1980s, a Namgis fisherman, Chris Cook, joined the board of the Brotherhood right about the time the fish farms were being brought into his territory around Alert Bay. He was one of the first to warn his community about the impacts of the farms. He had already experienced the devastating social impacts of the 1971 Davis Plan, which implemented a fishing license buy-back program. The commercial fishing fleets were blowing locals out of the water, at the same time that stocks were declining. The buy-back program was the final nail in the coffin for small-scale native fishermen; it favoured those with capital who could improve the efficiency of their boats to meet increased operating standards. Through the buy-back program, the DFO reduced the number of boats; those who couldn’t afford to upgrade had no alternative but to sell. DFO further consolidated the fleet by giving larger boats the ability to obtain rights to fish in other areas. 
    A token grandfather clause provided a special Native licence, but it only provided a right to fish, not the ability to sell the licence. The Brotherhood had some influence on the Indian Fishermen’s Assistance Program, in which capital was made available to upgrade equipment, but again it favoured existing boat owners who had the down payment necessary to get in on the scheme. 
    Fishing policy did not change substantially when, in 1996, the federal Mifflin Plan replaced the Davis Plan—and neither did the results. Corky Evans, then Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for BC, summed up the two world views of fisheries at a standing committee on fish: “If you’re an economist, you would say that the Mifflin Plan to reduce the fleet to increase the viability of the remaining operators was a perfectly rational response to a changing technology and market conditions. If, however, you were a resident of Ahousat, or maybe a lot of the people in this room, you would say that it’s the elimination of half the jobs in your community.”
    Atlantic salmon open-net fish farms arrived on the coast in the early 1980s as mom-and-pop operations around Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast. There were just 10 farms in 1984, but within a couple of years, the industry had consolidated and grown ten-fold, and started shifting from farming local species of salmon to Atlantics. 
    In the north, only the tiny remote village of Klemtu brought fish farms in. The village didn’t have much choice: it had lost all its fish boats through the Davis and Mifflin plans. It had a fish processing plant standing empty and few other options to sustain its community. 
    Cook says Indigenous bands were left with no choice but to turn to aquaculture because of erosion of their fishing opportunities. He speaks about the divide-and-conquer tactics and his people “being used as pawns by the aquaculture industry.” 
    A moratorium on further expansion of fish farms was put in place in October 1986, after pressure from fishers following a massive bloom of phytoplankton on the Sunshine Coast that killed an estimated 100,000 fish. That same year, a commission led by David Gillespie explored some of the stickier issues of growth. 
    Again the Brotherhood raised alarms on the impact to their own salmon fishery, the commercial fishery, and the environment. But many fishing families had already lost their fish boats and livelihoods and so were left with no alternative to get any fish. The recommendation of the Gillespie commission was to lift the moratorium but introduce stricter, clearer guidelines. The moratorium was lifted in 1987 by the Socreds. 
    During the early 1990s, salmon farms became increasingly owned by transnational corporations and more operating processes became automated, resulting in fewer jobs. Farm locations became concentrated off the coasts of the mainland and east Vancouver Island.
    In 1995, the NDP instituted a moratorium on the issuance of new salmon farm licences. Production at existing sites, however, was allowed to intensify. During this time, aquaculture companies ramped up their operations, forging an agreement with some Native villages, and increasing tension between neighbouring First Nations who had placed their own moratoriums on the farms.
    By 2000, the aquaculture industry accounted for 15 percent of BC’s total agriculture production. In 2001, fish farm expansion once again hit the pressure valve. The federal Auditor General’s Report came out, followed by the Standing Senate Committee, and the David Suzuki Foundation-funded Leggatt Inquiry. Not one of the three inquiries gave green lights to fish farms.
    Stuart Leggatt, a retired judge, was given independence to hear and review the evidence. Leggatt gave a definite red light and recommended a permanent moratorium and switch to closed-containment, land-based operations. Cook spoke at its release: “I’m tired of sending letters. I’m tired of talking. I hope my people stand up and start to fight.” 
    The Standing Senate Committee recommended the precautionary approach, while the Auditor General reported that DFO was “not fully meeting its legislative obligations under the Fisheries Act to protect wild Pacific salmon stocks and habitat from the effects of salmon farming.” It recommended keeping the moratorium while more public review was conducted. 
    In 2001, a Liberal government was elected provincially. Despite the recommendations of the three bodies, the moratorium on new locations for fish farms was lifted in 2002. The south was now wide open for expansion, while a battle was waged in the northern communities where there were still livelihoods to be made in the wild salmon fishery. By 2008, a total ban was placed on open-net fish farms on the north coast (north of Klemtu).
    In 2012, the $37 million Cohen Commission reported on its examination of the decline of sockeye salmon in the Fraser River, making 75 recommendations, most still unmet, though a moratorium on fish farm tenures around the Discovery Islands was put in place by the Province. In 2016, Chief Bob Chamberlin noted to the press, “The part I find disingenuous with freezing [licences] of the farms in Discovery [Passage], is that just up the coast, five or ten miles from there, they’re expanding the industry and creating new farms.”
    In 2017, Chris Cook was still fighting in his territory on Vancouver Island for a southern moratorium. His First Nation, the Namgis, led the way in setting up the first closed containment, land-based fish farm. At age 75, Cook told the press: “What happened to us, the coastal First Nations people? My words would be ‘economic assassination.’”
    Most recently, on June 20, 2018, BC Minister of Agriculture Lana Popham announced that any fish farm will need approval of local First Nations to operate beyond 2022. Fish farm operators will also have to “satisfy Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) that their operations will not adversely impact wild salmon stocks.”
    Is this a true turning point, or just another twist in the tale of fish farms destroying the wild salmon fishery? Does it spell the end of open net-pen salmon farming on BC’s coasts? What happens if the NDP government gets defeated? How much damage has already been done?
    While the Union of BC Indian Chiefs views the new plan as “an initial step on the pathway to preserve and safeguard the future of wild salmon,” others are disappointed and wary. 
    Chief Willie Moon of the Dzawada’enuxw First Nation is leading the legal challenge. The Dzawada’enuxw First Nation is not waiting around for another four years of negotiation with the fish farm operators while fish stocks continue to decline. The Nation’s lawyer, Jack Woodward, said, “What the Dzawada’enuxw require is legal rights now, not political promises four years from now, when there may be a new government in power with no obligation to follow its predecessor’s policy.”
    Meanwhile, six Kwakwaka’wakw First Nations, including the Dzawada’enuxw, continue their occupation of a Broughton Archipelago fish farm, which they began on August 24 of last year.
    As for the requirement that fish farms show they are not harming wild salmon stocks, many of the Indigenous salmon protectors of the north island have no trust in what they see as a politicized scientific community. 
    Yet another standing committee has formed, and the prospect seems probable that the struggle over salmon fish farms on BC’s coast will become a 100-year war.
    Briony Penn is currently working with Xenaksiala elder Cecil Paul, Wa’xaid on Following the Good River, Stories from the Magic Canoe of Cecil Paul. Rocky Mountain Books, due out in 2019.

    Maleea Acker
    May 2018
    Colleen O’Brien is restoring Playfair Park’s Garry oak meadows—allowing the rest of us a walk back in time.
    COLLEEN O'BRIEN AND I SIT ON A BENCH tucked into a gap in the split-rail fence that surrounds the two-acre Garry oak meadow expanse in Playfair Park. It’s windy, but when the sun shows, it’s deliciously warm. Around us, the ground is thick with the new green leaves of common camas, great camas, Pacific sanicle, fawn lily and other rarer species she demurs mentioning. It’s beautiful, and by the time this article comes to print, that sea of green will be a sea of blue camas flowers—so blue that Sir James Douglas, back in 1849, mistook it for a lake. But it’s what is missing in this landscape, which O’Brien has tended since 2010, that makes it so rare.

    Camas, shooting star and fawn lilies flowering in Playfair Park's Garry oak meadows (Photo by Tony Bounsall)
    Using a variety of methods—some orthodox, some her own creation—O’Brien has made it hard to find a single introduced species in Playfair’s meadow. No orchard grass, no stubborn blades of couch grass, no creeping buttercup, no broom and no ivy. Hardly even any chickweed. Under the blades of native bulbs there is a thin skim of moss, but otherwise, the unblemished blue-green of camas leaves bent by wind presents a scene impossible to see anywhere else on Vancouver Island.

    Colleen O'Brien (Photo by Tony Bounsall)
    “Am I doing restoration or rescue?” O’Brien muses. She sees the habitat she is creating in collaboration with Saanich Parks as the first step in a kind of decolonization of the land—getting rid of the invasives and “seeing what is there.” O’Brien, a resident of Victoria since 1976, grew up in Metchosin, where as a child she cultivated satin flowers from seed and planted them out, caring for them “like they were my children.” Her 7000-plus hours of volunteer work in Playfair (since 2010) is mostly solitary, broken by spells of unofficial public education, when she tells people about the species they can find here, or asks them to keep their dogs from running through fenced areas.
    O’Brien is not a trained scientist, but has learned from some of the region’s best, including Hans Roemer, who did the first categorization of Garry oak ecosystems in the 1970s, and James and Kristen Miskelly. She also regularly researches using the Garry Oak Ecysostems Recovery Team’s website (www.goert.ca) and E-Flora BC. In 2003, after years of serving on various arts and environmental boards, she was asked by Saanich to be the lead steward for Playfair Park. Her restorations were unofficial at first, and gradually gained ground as she learned more.
    Intact, deep-soil Garry oak meadows are extremely rare in the CRD. Less than one percent remains of the original coverage. At Playfair Park, the sandy, loamy soil crumbles at a touch. It’s completely unlike the clay I wrestle with in my backyard, or the thin soil of Mount Tolmie. This deep topsoil supported a wide variety of native species, but it was also highly coveted when colonists arrived to the island. Most deep-soil sites are now lawns around houses in Saanich, Oak Bay and Victoria, or farming fields and large developments in Langford, Colwood and Metchosin. Those sites left are often highly degraded, O’Brien tells me, mostly because of human impacts from straying off trails and soil compaction.
    O’Brien’s work takes a different form than the restoration done in the Cowichan Garry oak preserve, where caretaker Irvin Banman has gradually convinced Cowichan officials to use fire to control introduced species. That’s not an option in an area so close to residential development. Instead, O’Brien started noticing that Garry oak leaves tend to fall after the fall germination of introduced weeds and grasses, meaning they’re too late to cover and shade these interlopers. Native bulbs go dormant by late summer and don’t reappear until early spring.
    O’Brien began covering the ground with one-metre test patches of black plastic, which killed existing grasses and kept the seed bank from germinating. She left the plastic in place for five to seven weeks and removed it by late January to allow native plants coming out of dormancy to grow. Her hunch worked beautifully, dramatically cutting down on weeding and providing a clear space from which native bulbs could emerge. Last year, she covered over 1000 square meters of the park’s meadows, keeping the ground weed-free until the early spring emergence of native species. The effect of the plastic is visible as a reverse shadow—swaths that have been covered are cleaner, freer of weeds, and native species are more plentiful.
    Saanich, which benefits from her techniques, also participates by keeping shrubs like snowberry from expanding their territory, and by employing a judicious use of grass-specific herbicides for stubborn species like couch grass, which don’t respond as well to mulch or cover. After introduced species are removed, O’Brien can start to add other natives—increasing the population of some, like chocolate lilies or spring gold, and adding others, like woolly sunflower. “To me, this is precious. It’s a small portion of land, but what I’m trying to do is show what is possible.” It won’t work, she asserts, without a lot of other people trying to affect change.
    If there’s one thing O’Brien wants to stress, it’s that these places, and the species in them, belong to everyone. “There was one purple sanicle in Mount Doug,” she says, “and someone dug it out.” The rare species has a tap root and she thinks it probably didn’t survive transplant by the collector. She shakes her head at the idea of stealing from a park. “These species are everyone’s!”
    Other jurisdictions are watching O’Brien’s work, especially to see how rare species respond to her restoration efforts. She is fortunate that Playfair, which is only 300 metres from her house, lies in the District of Saanich.
    Saanich’s philosophy toward volunteer labour differs considerably from other municipalities, such as the City of Victoria’s. By allowing volunteers to do what the municipality doesn’t have the human resources to achieve in the parks, Saanich is tacitly admitting that volunteer labour is key to management; union members have agreed that volunteers can do the work they don’t have the staffing to complete. Saanich’s Pulling Together program unites 150 volunteers from around the municipality to remove invasive species from parks. O’Brien works closely with Saanich, and it does not make changes in Playfair Park without first consulting her. She has recently convinced them, she tells me, to add aggregate paths with brick borders to the meadow portions of the park. These will hopefully convince visitors to stay on trails and off of the increasingly large number of rare species found within the park’s borders.
    In the City of Victoria, conversely, volunteer labour is seen as a possible infringement on union agreements. Cheryl Bryce, who volunteers in Beacon Hill Park (see Focus January 2016), described encounters with unionized park workers who were disconcerted, to say the least, by the work she was taking away from them. Thus, work parties within Victoria’s borders tend to be organized by “Friends of…” associations, such as the Friends of Uplands Park, which can result in fewer resources, including access to tools and equipment, and less funding for restoration efforts. “I’d love to see more people involved in doing this kind of thing—in Beacon Hill, in Uplands Park,” she says. “If restoration is going to work, it’s going to need to involve a lot of people or a lot of money.”
    As we tour the meadows, I remark that to walk through Playfair Park’s meadows is like walking back in time. Almost, O’Brien corrects me. “What did this ecosystem look like? That’s everyone’s question.” She isn’t sure anyone can answer it completely.
    Still, the work O’Brien is doing for Saanich and Playfair represents a profound respect for native species. Going beyond casual volunteering, she has completely transformed the site; it is an astounding example of a deep-soil meadow, free (in parts) of introduced species. The work is not easy, she admits. “It’s really hard to stay optimistic. But I refuse to crawl into bed and pull the covers over my head.” Thanks to her efforts, and the respect of those who visit, we have an idea of what this region might have looked like before colonization.
    Also at Playfair Park is a large grove of mature rhododendrons and azaleas. Access is from Rock Street and at the end of Cumberland Road.
    Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast (New Star, 2012). She is currently completing a PhD in Human Geography, focusing on the intersections between the social sciences and poetry.

    Maleea Acker
    March 2018
    Mary Haig-Brown wants us to see vital connections in the natural world.
    IN VICTORIA'S RICH WORLD OF CONSERVATION STEWARDS, whether talking with mycologists, fish hatchery volunteers or amphibian counters, one name keeps coming up. Mary Haig-Brown is a bright-eyed optimist who lives in the Prospect Lake region of Saanich. The daughter of renowned writer, naturalist and outdoorsman Roderick Haig-Brown, she grew up in Campbell River alongside its rivers, learning about local ecosystems from an early age. Her optimism about the future of the natural world and the region’s local ecosystems may be her most inspiring trait.
    I’ve recently started teaching a workshop at the University of Victoria to help students deal with the impacts of environmental despair. After a semester of introductory geography lectures, many of them are left feeling hopeless; their potential to help the Earth survive the Anthropocene seems miniscule in the face of multinational mining and oil companies, falling biodiversity, or the innumerable pieces of plastic added to the world’s oceans each year. “It’s too late,” they tell me; “we’re inheriting a disaster.”

    Mary Haig-Brown (Photo by Tony Bounsall)
    When I share my students’ views with Haig-Brown, she replies without missing a beat: “Nonsense!” There is warmth and stubbornness in her eyes. For Haig-Brown, the knowledge people have about the natural world has done nothing but improve since her childhood up Island. “My father was a lone voice in the wilderness. Now there are so many people looking after the land and the rivers.”
    Haig-Brown serves as chair of the Friends of Tod Creek Watershed Society (FTCW), where she helps steward the 23 kilometres of watercourses, wetlands, ponds and lakes that stretch across Saanich (as well as parts of the Highlands and Central Saanich), from the heights of Maltby and Killarney Lakes to Tod Creek’s flow into Saanich Inlet. The society, which has 43 members, logs over 400 volunteer hours a year. Through the FTCW, Haig-Brown has worked to restore the ecosystem of Whitehead Park on the north end of Prospect Lake. “I taught my family to swim there,” she tells me from her home on the banks of Killarney Creek. Killarney supplies 50 percent of the water that enters Prospect Lake.
    Her home, lit with skylights and warmed by a woodstove, is a warren of books and comfortable chairs. From the living room windows, which hang out over the trout pond that connects the creek, all one can see is water and the dark cedars opposite. Two of her four children live as her and her husband’s neighbours. Haig-Brown also volunteers on the Board of the Peninsula Streams Society, and with Habitat Acquisition Trust (HAT). For the latter, she counts bats that fly from their nests under the soffits of her roof in the summer—she just lies down outside her house. In recent years, the count has surpassed 400. “We still don’t know where they go when winter comes,” she laughs.
    Haig-Brown has also collaborated, through FTCW, with Saanich’s “Pulling Together” program that sees volunteers remove invasive species from local parks (readers can also get involved through Saanich.ca), and worked with the SeaChange Society on advocating for the fish fence in Gowlland Tod Park (SNITE).
    But right now, she’s most excited about the Tod Creek Flats, a swath of land owned by four separate land owners, which stretches behind West Saanich Road’s Red Barn Market. Originally a peat bog used by First Nations to harvest food, European colonial farmers drained the bog and used it for agriculture; the sisters of St Anne’s grew vegetables there for over 50 years, which they supplied to both St Joseph’s Hospital and St Anne’s Academy. Over the years, the peat levels dropped, due to oxidation and erosion, shortening the growing season to less than 100 days.
    Thinking of watersheds as a whole, rather than by their parts (streams, lakes, ponds, wetlands) can help acknowledge the interconnectedness of action in a region. Cutthroat trout that use the fish ladder in Tod Creek can’t survive unless they have a quiet stream or pond like Haig-Brown’s where they can rear. Cutthroat are a blue-listed species in BC, considered vulnerable, with many of their runs extinct or in decline. Non-native species like Himalayan blackberry and golden willow can clog stream habitats and increase sedimentation and water temperature. Predators can disturb spawning grounds, and culverts prevent trout migration. Tree cutting adjacent to creeks spurs erosion. Haig-Brown has worked to remove golden willow from Killarney Creek that she says exists in an invasive line from Prospect Lake “all the way up to Cowichan,” somewhat like the Japanese knotweed now appearing in frightening clumps along the Cowichan and Quamichan Rivers.
    Recent support by the Peninsula Streams Society and many volunteers has resulted in construction of channels and a berm next to Tod Creek, allowing cutthroat trout (some perhaps from Haig-Brown’s pond) to access the flats for winter habitat and return, as water levels drop in spring, to the creek. Now, Haig-Brown tells me, having managed to get all four current land owners together to support restoration of the area, “they are interested in either doing farming without pesticides or letting it go back to wetland.” Either would be fine with Haig-Brown and the FTCW. Imagine, she says, supplying Red Barn Market with vegetables by wheelbarrow rather than by truck.
    Haig-Brown moved to the Prospect Lake area over 40 years ago. Visiting her home feels like stepping back in time, her rural road fortressed by Douglas-fir and rushing waters. But she’s seen tremendous changes during her tenure, including recent subdivisions and clearing of upland areas that turned a seasonal stream in her yard into a flooding gully. “I’d like to see everyone knowing the value of the natural areas, of every piece of ground,” she says.
    Haig-Brown calls Saanich a “shining beacon” of environmental awareness. That is, unless one brings up the topic of the municipality’s recently rescinded Environmental Development Permit Area (EDPA) bylaw. Haig-Brown serves on the Saanich Environmental Advisory Committee, which helped to shape the current bylaw, and which sought to fold in previous iterations of wildlife, tree, and sensitive ecosystem protection into the EDPA bylaw. Now that it has been rescinded, these protections are in jeopardy. [See Briony Penn’s article in this edition for more on Saanich’s EDPA.]
    People often don’t realize, she says, that the actions they take on their own land can reverberate and affect adjacent properties and parks. She invited Saanich’s Mayor Atwell out to view the damage Whitehead Park has sustained from flooding. Water which used to be locked into the groundwater system now flows off four adjacent properties where owners removed a number of trees. The tree removal caused erosion and flooding. Though she had warned the mayor, he didn’t bring his rubber boots. “I don’t think he understood,” she tells me, ruefully. It’s the only time during our conversation I see her hopefulness falter.
    The answer, she argues, is learning how to encourage water to stay where it falls. “We’ve lost 85-90 percent of our wetlands,” she says. People don’t want to be told what to do, she acknowledges, but the more we learn—through volunteering or caretaking one’s own land—the more that knowledge helps bind us to our ecosystems. “If you can do something, then do it,” she argues. “You can’t get [involved] without wondering: ‘Why did it grow that way? What comes here at night? What’s going on underground?’”
    The life she lives is one she’s embraced since her earliest days, hanging around with her siblings as her mother did the farm chores. “When my mother was milking the cow, and we were running around behind the barn, she’d say to us, ‘Go tell me what’s growing back there.’ We’d find yellow violets, other wildflowers. She taught me to look at the tiny things.”
    It’s a technique that’s helping to save the region’s wild places, one volunteer hour at a time.
    Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast (New Star, 2012). She is currently completing a PhD in Human Geography, focusing on the intersections between the social sciences and poetry.

    Briony Penn
    January 2018
    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.

    Maleea Acker
    November 2017
    Peter McCully and his volunteer team are passionate about their work with the Goldstream Hatchery.
    WHEN I ARRIVE AT THE FIRST SET OF GATES to the Goldstream Howard English Salmon Hatchery, weekly volunteer Steve Atamanchuk greets me with a wave and sets upon me with a dry sense of humour that pushes away the cobwebs of the morning. “Yup, I’m a volunteer here. Last year they offered me a 20 percent raise. I told them not to give me so much.”
     Atamanchuk is part of the “Tuesday Crew,” comprised of six retirees from the ranks of over 20,000 volunteers that work province-wide six days a week to restore habitat and run salmon hatchery programs. Atamanchuk and his cohorts are coordinated by Peter McCully, Technical Advisor, part-time contractor and volunteer with the Goldstream Salmonoid Enhancement Association, located at the Goldstream Hatchery, in the Greater Victoria Water District lands. “Teachers, engineers, posties, geologists, journeymen, ex-military; the membership is eclectic at best,” says McCully. The only thing they’re missing, he rues, is more young people. Atamanchuk, his voice full of respect, whispers McCully’s own background to me. McCully served with the Royal Canadian Navy for 25 years before retiring. He went back to school, finished his biology degree, and returned to the river he first visited during spawning season in 1949 with his father, who took him to see the magic of the run.
    This summer, McCully and his cluster of volunteers learned that the Goldstream’s education program, which allows school children to learn about salmon lifecycles and help incubate salmon eggs, was due to be cut. Countless volunteers and non-profits rose up to protect the outreach programs, which are part of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ (DFO) education, stewardship and salmon enhancement programs. If the cuts had gone through (the activists won, this year), they would have saved the Federal government a mere $400,000. The costs, argue many, would have been immeasurable.

    Peter McCully (Photo by Tony Bounsall)
    McCully’s history as a uniformed serviceman seems incongruent with his gentle demeanor and incredible attachment to the natural world. While driving through the various locked gates that lead to the hatchery, he tells me of a conversation he had earlier that morning with a giant black beetle. To his amusement, a couple of park rangers hiking the Trans Canada Trail caught him bending over the road, asking the beetle how its day was going. “I believe everything can communicate on some plane,” he laughs, and gets out to open another gate in the watershed lands. “This keeps me young!”
    The Goldstream River cuts through the mostly pristine wilderness of the Greater Victoria Watershed Lands and Goldstream Provincial Park before emptying into Finlayson Arm, south of Saanich Inlet. Few invasive species grace its banks (though some yellow perch and bullfrogs have infiltrated), making it an ideal spawning habitat for five species of salmon, including prolific Chum and the many Coho. The hatchery program, BC’s largest, includes fish counting, a school education program, and the hatchery itself. Over 100 incubators currently operate in school classrooms around the region, nurturing salmon eggs into fry, which are released after 18 months into Goldstream River, Colquitz River and other salmon-bearing streams.
    “It’s almost laughable, the cutbacks to DFO in recent years,” says McCully. “Without volunteers to do citizen science, we’d be in sad shape.” With the recent escape of Atlantic salmon into West Coast waters, and continued concerns about open-net fish farms, watershed contamination, and pipeline construction, volunteer work at the Goldstream Hatchery is as pertinent as it was in 1971, when Howard English, a local outdoorsman, began streamside incubation of salmon eggs after noticing declining salmon stocks. Funding was secured for the rearing of salmon, habitat enhancement, and public education in 1977 from the DFO.
    Last September 19, the Tuesday Crew and volunteers from Stantec Engineering assembled a Japanese floating weir on the Goldstream River, just east of the hatchery. The weir is a removable fish fence that gets installed every September in advance of the fall salmon spawn. Originally, salmon were supposed to be corralled by the weir and driven naturally into a counting fence at the river’s edge. But, as McCully tells me, “Coho are tricky!” They didn’t use the fence. So now, volunteers in hip waders lift the floats and dip the salmon out along the wide expanse of the fence. They are sorted by species, gender and by whether they are hatchery or wild born. Hatchery fish have their adipose fins removed. Some fish are then selected for brood stock, and taken to the hatchery to collect their eggs and milk. The rest are returned to the river, where they travel back to the exact place they were born, spawning before they die. “It’s a magical part of the food chain,” says McCully, gleefully, watching his volunteers nudge sections of the floating weir into place.
    The Tuesday crew seem just as pleased to shoulder their work with enthusiasm. At the hatchery, the cookies (and the Lamb’s mickey) I spotted at 8:00 a.m. disappear from the lunchroom within the hour. An endless pot of coffee sits warm on its element, and despite the rain, the goofiness of the crew is contagious.
    The fall spawn won’t mark the end of the volunteers’ work. In January, McCully tells me, comes the fun part: the Carcass Toss and the Mark Recovery project. “It’s miserable work,” he says, grinning. To complete the Mark Recovery, volunteers walk the river, noting any Coho marked by a hole punched in their gill cover. Data provides a sense of how many hatchery and wild fish are returning. During the Carcass Toss, volunteers of all ages deposit dead fish into nearby waters, like Douglas Creek, in Mount Douglas Park. “Our rivers are low in nutrients on their own,” explains McCully. “Without these fish coming in, it would be a lot poorer environment. Wonderful fish!”
    “He’s an incredible teacher,” confirms Dorothy Chambers, who volunteers on the Colquitz River salmon count and whose own work on salmon enhancement on the Colquitz River Focus covered in October 2015. “He’s been my mentor for years.” 
    McCully doesn’t see the hatchery program ever becoming superfluous, in part due to increasing population numbers in urban area, and in part due to our insatiable appetite for seafood. “You can have wild salmon, but you won’t be able to enjoy a harvest without artificially enhancing them,” he says.
    McCully seems resigned to open-net aquaculture techniques like those which resulted in an escape of thousands of farmed Atlantic salmon this summer. “In an ideal world, I wouldn’t be a booster of aquaculture. But if you want to enjoy seafood, then you have to have it. I don’t think we should be commercially harvesting our wild salmon. That’s my personal opinion.” McCully argues that Pacific salmon are much more aggressive than Atlantic salmon species. They outcompete in streams and don’t interbreed with Pacific wild species, thus posing less of a risk than some believe. (Biologist Alexandra Morton, for instance, cites piscine reovirus and sea lice as just two of the long list of reasons Atlantic salmon don’t belong in open-net pens. In late September, after a large escape from a fish farm, the City of Victoria Council passed an emergency resolution calling for an end to open-net fish farms in BC.)
    Thanks to pushback from local environmentalists and educators, McCully’s contract at the Goldstream Hatchery will continue for another year, and 35,000 BC school children will keep learning about salmon lifecycles through the incubation boxes provided to their classrooms.
    “This is a resource centre for many things beyond fish,” stresses McCully, citing research on the migratory habits of Rufus Hummingbirds and DNA testing of local waters. But salmon, for McCully, are the most beautiful of all. “If you don’t imbue in the children a sense of stewardship and the importance of this marvellous creature, you’re dead in the water.”
    Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast (New Star, 2012). She is currently completing a PhD in Human Geography, focusing on the intersections between the social sciences and poetry.

    Briony Penn
    November 2017
    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.

    Maleea Acker
    July 2017
    Monterey Middle School’s nature-focused program nurtures a sense of place and a caretaking ethic.
    AUNALEIGH MACLUCAS AND SIDNEY HURST started taking sketching trips to Bowker Creek last fall with their middle school class. During each of several expeditions, they spent time drawing their surroundings from the point of view of one of the creek’s resident creatures—a dragonfly, a salmon, a raccoon. “It’s quite eye-opening, actually,” MacLucas tells me. “It makes you realize what a salmon might think of this area and what they would see.”
    These two passionate 13-year-olds, however, may not have dreamed they’d soon share their knowledge with an international audience.

    Aunaleigh MacLucas (l) and Sidney Hurst at Monterey Middle School
    This summer, MacLucas and Hurst are taking their knowledge to the Royal BC Museum (RBCM), volunteering along with their class and grade-nine students from Oak Bay High School to create a temporary exhibit on Bowker Creek that will display through the summer months. Bowker, a creek that feeds into Oak Bay, represents an ideal example of a degraded watershed that has recently seen significant restoration efforts. Thanks to their collaboration with the museum, Monterey students who attend school near its banks will have a voice in raising awareness about a hidden place most visitors to Victoria don’t know exists.
    MacLucas and Hurst are students in Monterey’s Grade Seven Ocean Studies program, an invention of Mark Brown, kayak-guide-turned-middle-school-teacher. “There was never any doubt that my meaning comes from the natural world,” Brown says. “I meet kids who don’t know how to be outside in nature. I want to give them a sense of place.”
    Brown’s class offers an opportunity to spend the entire year dedicated to learning about marine and watershed environments. Brown tailors all curriculum (science, writing, math, language) to focus on life science. A colleague joins every week to teach a class focused on marine biology. Even the French curriculum is geared toward the natural world, with lessons on les animaux en danger. “Kids need authentic experiences,” stresses Brown. “School shouldn’t extract them from their environment. And it should give back to the community, not create a bubble inside it.”
    Oak Bay High School students provided input to the CRD during the Bowker Creek restoration project, completed near the school in 2016. Thanks to them, an outdoor amphitheatre was constructed at the stream bank, offering an ideal location for outdoor education. Portions of the creek near Hillside Shopping Centre have also been restored with streamside native vegetation, removal of invasive species, and “daylighting.” The latter involves removing the culverts installed to contain the water’s flow.
    The 2003 Watershed Management Plan for the creek will take a century to implement. Though salmon may not spawn anytime soon in the creek, daylighting still represents an ideal opportunity to steward other native species like dragonflies, trout, juncos and mink, to improve water quality and to reduce downstream flooding. Restoration also helps provide greenways between neighbourhoods—the creek spans three municipalities on its journey from the University of Victoria to Oak Bay. Perhaps most important, restoration connects communities to their natural environment.
    RBCM Learning Program Developer Chris O’Connor connected with Monterey because of the school’s commitment to science and natural history education. Hurst is a long-time volunteer and mentor for the Museum’s summer camps. “It’s been an absolute pleasure to see Sidney [Hurst] not only put forward brilliant ideas, but to see her deepen into a ‘museum way of thinking’ more and more,” O’Connor tells me. “Aunaleigh and Sidney are both awesome,” Brown confirms. “They have a really good handle on the project.”
    O’Connor stresses that the project honours the learning process, amplifying ideas that youth bring, while focusing on real-world learning and authentic engagement. “It is such a pleasure to see the development of a project from an inquiry or guided question, to an ideation stage…to the hard work of getting it developed, to the even harder work of getting it finished,” he says. During this summer’s exhibition, thousands of people will see their work.
    Specialized learning classes aren’t new in the region. High-school students can participate in a variety of Programs of Choice, including soccer academy, arts specialties and environmental studies. But in the region’s middle schools, only Monterey students can enter a program like Brown’s, through a simple application form and a payment of $500 to cover the costs of renting kayaks and supplying an additional guide during trips.
    “It saddens me that we seem to be Oak Bay’s best kept secret in environmental education,” says Brown, who argues that focused middle-school programs create a highly developed sense of environmental responsibility and connection to place. He started the program in part to reverse a decline in enrolment at the school. When enrolment goes down, schools lose librarian time and the number of Education Assistants. Enrolment is now starting to turn around, and another teacher in the school has started the MIT classroom (the Monterey Institute of Technology) to complement Brown’s outdoor studies.
    Brown’s students also participate in six ocean kayak trips, including one overnight camping trip. For many, it is their first time on the water in a small craft. When I met with them at Oak Bay Marina, they had just returned from a paddle along the coast and out to a nearby archipelago of islets. The enthusiasm was palpable.
    Brown would like to see funding from government to support Programs of Choice in middle schools, so that his offering could be expanded beyond a high-socioeconomic school like Monterey, and subsidization could be offered to families when needed. He’d also like to see more teachers trained in specialized education. “What happens if I get sick?” he points out. He argues that rather than a “tracking program,” as many specialized courses at the high-school level are billed, the Monterey program is more about living in place. It’s also been a saving grace for Brown, who does a job known for its high burnout rates. “It’s only since Ocean Studies that I’ve gotten a glimmer of possibility that this job is sustainable.”
    This is year two of the Royal BC Museum’s Partner School Project, which engages students and teachers over the course of an entire school year. The museum engaged Monterey students specifically because of Brown’s program. “There’s a full science curriculum [in my class], but ocean ecology is a year-long theme,” he explains. “They make a diorama of tidal ecosystems. They show food webs. So by the time they started the [RBCM] exhibit project, they were ready.”
    Aunaleigh MacLucas, Sidney Hurst and their cohorts are thrilled to be writing the exhibit text, as well as researching, taking and choosing photos and illustrations, and creating a narrative that will focus on their understanding of the creek. “We have a lot of power as humans,” MacLucas tells me. “We have a creek we can go visit whenever we want to. It’s hidden away. I want to try to make people aware. There are so many things that depend on this ecosystem.” This summer, she and the other students will contribute to that awareness.
    Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast (New Star, 2012). She is currently completing a PhD in Human Geography, focusing on the intersections between the social sciences and poetry.

    Maleea Acker
    May 2017
    A century ago, Robert Butchart’s cement works used the inlet as a dump; help is finally on the way.
    TWO YEARS AGO, Alice Meyers had just arrived in Victoria to complete research for a PhD focusing on revitalization of the Sencoten language. On advice from Judith Arney, ethnoecologist for SeaChange Marine Conservation Society, she went out on a rainy Saturday and got drenched to the bone, working to remove invasive plants from the shores of an emerald inlet in Saanich. She lights up at the memory of sloshing around in the mud and the cold. “It was the best time,” she tells me. “It was like having a hazing from nature!”
    SṈIDȻEȽ (pronounced sneed-kwith), or Tod Inlet, forms the upper reaches of Saanich Inlet and is part of Gowlland Tod Provincial Park. SṈIDȻEȽ is the area’s WSÁNEĆ (Saanich First Nation) name, and means “place of the blue grouse.” After that first visit, Meyers quickly became a regular in the park, removing blackberry and ivy in all weather and occasionally rewarding herself by planting native species. Working alongside volunteers from the Garth Homer Society and SeaChange, she developed a deep and sustaining relationship with the history-laden land. Now, her work has become one part of a significant ecological restoration project currently underway.

    Alice Meyers (l) and Nikki Wright at Tod Inlet. (Photo by Tony Bounsall)
    There’s an undeniable feeling upon arriving at the protected upper reaches of SṈIDȻEȽ—a ghostly sense of loss and palpable history, layered over one of the most beautiful watersheds in the South Island. Emerald Douglas-fir, cedar and spruce blanket the inlet’s steep surrounding Partridge Hills. Tod Creek, in late winter, runs thick and fast as a mountain river, and joins the bay at its southernmost reach. The inlet itself gleams. Deep, still and protected from wind and tides, it warms to swimming temperature in summer and is a destination for those who enjoy trilliums and rattlesnake plantain orchids in spring, or carpets of maple leaves in fall. But the water’s glossy surface hides a complex past that many are now trying to rectify.
    “This is a magical watershed,” agrees Nikki Wright, the executive director of SeaChange. Tides in SṈIDȻEȽ empty and change completely only once per year, helping to create the feeling of a place unhinged from time.
    But the inlet’s recent history also contributes to a feeling of loss. SṈIDȻEȽ was the place of creation of the first human, according to WSÁNEĆ oral literature. WSÁNEĆ peoples lived there until 1904, when, travelling back from their summer harvesting grounds, they found their winter village had been replaced by a cement quarry and pier, built by Robert Butchart’s Vancouver Portland Cement Company.
    The factory, using workers from China and India who lived in insubstantial shacks near the inlet’s head, operated until 1913. Typhus and tuberculosis were common. The park’s soil still yields artifacts of Chinese pottery, metal and glass. As Meyers notes, it’s both a gorgeous place and an amazing, sad story. The cement plant was only operating for nine years, but “100 years later we’re still cleaning up the mess.”
    Meyers, through SeaChange, has been involved primarily in the organization’s terrestrial restoration projects. But this year her work dovetailed with an ambitious foreshore restoration project. It’s one that everyone hopes will continue (pending funding) until the inlet’s ecosystem biodiversity is restored.
    When I visit with Wright, markers in the bay indicate underwater debris—concrete, sunken vessels and other navigational hazards—slated for pick-up by SeaChange in the coming weeks. The debris, left over from the cement factory’s tenure, provides an ideal surface for jellyfish polyps to grow, which eventually mature into moon jellyfish. Though a native species, overpopulation of these creatures, which feed on plankton, causes a trophic cascade in the ecosystem: Less plankton means less small fish, which in turn means fewer salmon. Though the inlet looks rich in wildlife, the ocean bottom is a moonscape low on biodiversity. Little life can survive the leachate from the former factory’s contamination of land and water.
    Jennie Butchart began her family’s gardens in the abandoned excavated limestone quarries after the cement factory’s closure, but SṈIDȻEȽ wasn’t acquired by BC Parks until 1995, during the NDP’s last push for parkland acquisition. Restoration of the terrestrial portions began soon after, including removal and burning of invasive species and plantings of acres of native species right up to the water’s edge by volunteers from around the region.
    “You develop a familial relationship with the plants,” Meyers says of the native species she’s added. Many of the plantings are tucked beside the remains of cement house foundations left over from factory housing and cottages that dotted the inlet in the decades after the factory’s closure (terrestrial cement remains aren’t as ecologically damaging as those in the inlet itself).
    On February 10 of this year, SeaChange arrived to haul concrete, contaminated soil, and abandoned bricks off the foreshore, piling it further inland at the park’s northern edge. The beach was then levelled out to a gradual slope and covered with gravel and sand, which will soften into an erosion-resistant shore. The soft shore provides protection against rising sea levels and creates an ideal habitat for marine life in the inlet. Wright said that less than a week after the restoration project was completed, she came down for BC Family Day, happy to see children playing in clean sand and families enjoying the beach’s gentle slope.
    Shoreline restoration funding for SeaChange’s project was provided in part by the Recreational Fisheries Conservation Partnerships Program (Fisheries and Oceans Canada) and by the Pacific Salmon Foundation. SeaChange partnered with the Tsartlip First Nation and BC Parks to complete the work. Tsartlip, Tsawout and Tseycum First Nations have all expressed support for the project.
    “The whole intent of our work is to bring it back to some semblance of health for First Nations,” explains Wright. Her hope is that management can eventually be shared or even pass from BC Parks to the Tsartlip First Nation, allowing the original inhabitants to take responsibility for and shape the future of their former village.
    Wright hopes BC Parks will agree to cap and cover the debris left on the shore, as trying to remove all of the contaminated material in SṈIDȻEȽ would be a monumental task, and one that would likely involve disturbing the returning Douglas-fir and other streamside ecosystems.
    Eventually, SeaChange’s goal is to restore much of the foreshore around the wharf, as well as to cap and cover the inlet’s sea floor, so that marine life can return. Stories abound of historical herring, oolichan, and salmon fisheries in the inlet, with abundant shellfish beds. The intertidal zone below these cliffs is currently littered with old bricks, concrete, metals, and potentially contaminated sand.
    “It’s a disgrace,” sighs Wright, “but what do you do with all that anger? You act.”
    For Meyers as well, who has returned to work at SṈIDȻEȽ time and time again, ecological restoration has become a way to connect with nature and history, to enjoy a sense of community, and to give back to the WSÁNEĆ Nation from whom she’s learning. “You can see that the land has absorbed this love,” says Meyers. “I feel a deep connection now that I’ve been out there for so many hours.”
    While visiting SṈIDȻEȽ, Wright brainstorms with my friend’s children on how to build an outdoor amphitheatre with some nearby abandoned stacks of concrete pilings. In half a minute they’ve come up with a new solution that won’t involve cutting any trees and could provide an ideal setting for sylvan performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. If the dreams and energy of Meyers, Wright and SṈIDȻEȽ’s original inhabitants keep flowing, the future may indeed be able to heal the past.
    Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast (New Star, 2012). She is currently completing a PhD in Human Geography, focusing on the intersections between the social sciences and poetry.
    Also see the Victoria Foundation's video on the Tod Inlet restoration project:

    Maleea Acker
    March 2017
    Preserving the flora of the Garry oak meadow ecosystem in the face of development.

    WHILE COMPLETING A PhD IN WILDLIFE BIOLOGY between 1970 and 1985, Louise Goulet worked in some of British Columbia’s most beautiful and remote areas—including the Stikine, the Kechika and the Liard River valleys. She often travelled by helicopter or even by horse. Pilots would ask her and her female colleague if they were sure they wanted to be dropped in the middle of a remote BC valley, by themselves. “We’re sure!” she would chirp.
    Throughout the 1980s and ’90s, Goulet completed wildlife impact assessments and protected areas strategies, evaluating the impacts of potential infrastructure projects, like dams, while working for BC Parks, BC Hydro, and the Province’s Ecological Reserves program. She eventually became the first executive director for the Garry Oak Ecosystems Recovery Team (GOERT) after her move to the Island. Living through what she calls the golden time in BC (during the NDP Mike Harcourt years), her motto was “Now is the time.” In just over five years, the Province designated over 500 protected areas and doubled the BC parks system. When the Liberals came into power in 2001, she tells me, the Parks budget was cut by 65 percent.
    When asked if things are changing for the better in the Capital Region, Goulet doesn’t even pause: “If you’re in conservation, you better be an optimist.” Sitting in the vaulted-ceiling kitchen of her self-designed home, 20-foot tropical plants soaring in front of the back garden windows, her stories roll forward with the humour and excitement of someone who has long loved her work. Now she’s focusing that enthusiasm on southern Vancouver Island. But will her dreams for Island ecosystems come true?
    Upon her move to Vancouver Island, Goulet, turned her attention to Garry oak meadow species. “I wanted to contribute to conservation,” she says, “and I wanted to learn something.”
    Her husband, Michael, ran a surveying business that gave him access to many of the region’s large-scale land developers. Goulet used Michael’s contacts to establish plant salvaging arrangements on many large-scale development properties, often removing the entire top layer off shallow soil sites, saving native plants such as Roemer’s fescue, nodding onion, and camas. She even successfully transplanted Garry oak and arbutus seedlings—notoriously difficult because of their long tap roots. She stockpiled the bulbs, soil and seed in her own garden, giving them away to other gardeners, to Native Plant Study Group members, and organizations like GOERT.
    Now that she and Michael are both retired, however, their developer contacts have thinned. New methods of conservation will be needed if we are to protect the species that once thrived here.
    Garry oak meadows have been identified by many as the south coast ecosystem most likely to survive climate change. Both Goulet and Briony Penn have called the ecosystem a refugia that may act as a seed bank if other ecosystems—coastal Douglas-fir, Western hemlock, for instance—fail to adapt to the lengthening droughts and uncertain weather patterns that climate change is already bringing.
     In recent decades, however, Vancouver Island’s southwest coast has lost hundreds of acres to development, including many of the remaining shallow soil Garry oak meadows in Langford, Colwood, Saanich and even Metchosin. Losses include parts of Christmas Hill, Broadmead heights, and the current McKenzie interchange construction, for example.
    With last summer’s sale of 110 acres on Skirt Mountain (Bear Mountain) and extension of the Bear Mountain Parkway, more of these fragile ecosystems will disappear in coming years. Langford has shown little interest in preserving parcels like the south face of Skirt Mountain, which is currently used as a recreation and hiking area. Many other properties, thanks to the skyrocketing real estate market, are now out of reach of conservation organizations unless donated by their owners.
    Goulet rues that the next generation of environmental leaders don’t have as much time or money as did hers—the baby boomers. Her concern reminds me of a meadow on Mount Helmcken where I used to walk. Formerly a high mountain swath of moss and flower-covered bedrock with lodgepole pine and a small forest pond, it was paved and carved into lots just over a decade ago. When one day I emerged from a bluff on the trail to the blacktop road that had been cut across it, something inside me shattered. It took years to get back on the path of environmental action. “Frustration can keep you doing things,” says Goulet; but it can also stultify a generation into inaction or despair. As organizations like GOERT see precipitous drops in Federal and Provincial funding, it’s even more essential that public awareness and action do not falter.
    As a first step, says Goulet, the resilience these remaining species provide should be better protected by both Federal and Provincial governments. “At a certain point you have to secure the land base,” she says. “You need a good salesperson to convince developers to donate critical areas.” With a 123 percent projected growth rate in Langford between 2001 and 2026, remaining parcels are disappearing fast.
    The onus, however, doesn’t just lie with funding for protected areas. “We also need to get the public to value what’s out there. Then we steer the action. Perfection is the enemy of good,” she advises. Perfection, for ecologists, might include preserving every last acre of Garry oak meadow in the region, as well as restoring many other sites. Part of valuing native ecosystems, argues Goulet, means that every resident on the South Island should cultivate these species in their own yards.
    “When I talk to gardeners,” she tells me, “I have to remember that they want a garden.” So she advises them to plant native plants that have the colour and blooming cycle of a horticultural species, but the benefits of a native species. Common harebell is a perfect example. Similar to blue hyacinths, or bluebells, which are invasive, the harebell blooms for six months, supports native insects and looks good in a residential garden. Use of plants like the harebell contributes to the refugia that Penn and Goulet stress is so important, and adds to the seed bank in the region.
    Goulet would also like to see municipalities in addition to Saanich formalize a plant salvaging program, which, she says, should be mandatory before any development can occur. Saanich’s program, which residents can join for free through the municipality’s website, provides liability protection for developers after residents have completed a training workshop.
    Participants are notified by email when a site opens and can arrive, shovels in hand, for free plants.
    Goulet loves the physical aspect of salvage, and stresses that though native plant study groups and books are important parts of conservation, the key is getting people out on the land. “It will keep you young,” she laughs, “if it doesn’t kill you first!”
    Goulet now grows seed and parcels out bulbs to garden tour visitors (led by Habitat Acquisition Trust and the Native Plant Study Group) and through private visits by plant ecologists, Parks Canada staff, and the Horticultural Centre of the Pacific, to name but a few. She also supplies growers like Kristen Miskelly and parks such as Playfair in Saanich and Uplands in Oak Bay with great camas bulbs, which can be difficult to locate in the wild.
    When planting natives in the garden “we don’t know what is going to happen, ecologically, with climate change. I’m confounded every single time,” Goulet says. Still, a seed bank that has its roots in all our gardens will help to assure the survival of not just Garry oak ecosystems, but the region’s diversity, beauty and health into the future.
    Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast (New Star, 2012). She is currently completing a PhD in Human Geography, focusing on the intersections between the social sciences and poetry.

    Briony Penn
    March 2017
    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.

    Maleea Acker
    January 2017
    Dorothy Field explains her passion for Rock Bay Creek, which once flowed from Fernwood to the Inner Harbour.
    STEPPING INSIDE DOROTHY FIELD'S HOUSE is like taking a voyage through a sunlit, tapestried, foreign country. Every object feels lovingly curated and the enormous kitchen skylights give way to backyard gardens, fir and oak trees. Fernwood has never seemed wilder, and if Field had her way, the whole neighbourhood would fit her aesthetic. “Even if it’s just a moment, anything that reminds people of the underlying land is really important,” she tells me. For Field, that underlying wildness is perfectly portrayed by the movement of water through each of the city’s neighbourhoods or watersheds.
    Field’s latest project is to envision and steward the mapping, signage and eventual daylighting of Rock Bay Creek, the original watercourse that began its life at what used to be Harris Pond, where Vining and Stanley Streets meet. The creek—now contained within culverts and buried under streets, yards and parks—meanders north, crosses Bay Street at Fernwood and then heads west to the Inner Harbour. There it empties into Rock Bay at the remediation site of a former gasification plant, once the most contaminated land in Canada. Creeks and streams in urban areas, long the site of dumping and pollution, were historically buried to protect inhabitants against water-borne diseases such as cholera.

    Field grew up in New York’s suburbs, went to Berkeley and settled as a farmer for 35 years in Cobble Hill before moving to Fernwood 12 years ago. She is the author of several books of poetry, a children’s book, an extended essay on handmade paper’s spiritual role in Asian culture (Paper and Threshold), and the co-author of Between Gardens. She is also an accomplished visual artist working with handmade paper.

    After arriving in Victoria, she began working on the Fernwood Community Mapping project with help from Ken Josephson, cartographer at the University of Victoria. The map they produced in 2015 shows Fernwood then and now, with the ghost of buried Rock Bay Creek and Harris Pond sketched over the city grid. It was that sketch that drew Field’s interest toward her current project.
    This year, Field received just under $5000 from the City of Victoria to create and install art and signage along Rock Bay Creek’s route and at the former location of Harris Pond. She sees this as the first step toward daylighting the creek—the deliberate uncovering of portions of a watercourse in order to reestablish some modicum of a natural ecosystem. “Living water changes people’s feelings about where they live,” she says. They feel more connected with the land, so are more careful about how they treat it.
    The hills, valleys and watercourses of the south island, including several springs in Fernwood that once supplied drinking water to most of the city’s colonial inhabitants, have over time been erased by the city grid. Looking at the past, Field argues, shows us what we’ve lost, as well as what we may have the opportunity to regain.
    The City of Victoria, however, is more circumspect; recently completed greenway projects would have to be redone in order to daylight the creek on public property. There will be, Fields tells me, a five to ten year wait before any shovels could hit the ground. But she remains positive, looking at Alexander Park, Blackwood Park and Wark Park as prime locations for a daylighting project, which could include rain gardens or other forms of environmental storm water management.
    Creek daylighting projects have a long history in the CRD. Portions of Bowker and Craigflower Creek have been uncovered by the Gorge Waterway Initiative, the Bowker Creek Initiative, and local non-profits. Some argue that a partially uncovered creek will never regain its former vitality. Salmon and trout won’t migrate up a culvert and invasive species can end up clogging daylighted sections. Water often flows too fast to support fish or other aquatic species.
    But for Field the importance is not just the fragile ecosystems that can be recreated—in Bowker Creek’s case, daylighted sections harbour dragonflies, songbirds, river otters and raccoons—but the learning that can take place alongside its banks. “Without water we won’t survive,” she says. Daylighting Rock Bay Creek would help to show the creek’s original path, pinpoint watershed boundaries, and even provide natural evidence of why certain streets suffer from basement flooding after heavy rains. Earlier this year, two UVic students made a short documentary about the creek. For Field, the increasing interest just proves she’s on the right track.

    A daylighted stream can have positive impacts for a whole community, but many argue that it isn’t just humans that contribute toward these changes. “Convivial ecologies” are wild spaces created by human interaction and co-habitation with the insects, birds, plants, and animals in a space, all of whom contribute toward a larger sense of how to live in the world. Studied by Harriet Hawkins in the United Kingdom, convivial ecologies recognize other species’ abilities not just to enchant us but to be equal actors in the construction of a wild space. As an example, Hawkins cites an abandoned railway line in inner city Bristol. The forgotten land was gradually reinhabited by flora and fauna—including foxes, birds, trees and meadow flowers—until it began to resemble a park, thus creating a space in which many humans also found solace. When redevelopment of the area was proposed, residents rallied behind the species that had already chosen this spot as a green space and a nature preserve was eventually born.
    What if the path of a long buried watercourse were another kind of convivial ecology? The watershed of Fernwood receives drainage from Oaklands and feeds through North Park before reaching Rock Bay. The seeps, springs and streams of Victoria’s urban areas may not be visible or even audible any longer, but their voice becomes apparent in the flooding that once happened at the intersection of View and Quadra, where a former wetland long trumped the city’s attempts to tame it, or in the spring-fed well of Fernwood’s Stevenson Park, the pump of which is ceremoniously unlocked every month so that residents can fill pails and take home the bounty of water that tastes of rocks and trees. The tomatoes grown using this water, Field tells me, are also rumoured to be the sweetest in the city.
    Daylighting a stream, therefore, might not be the first step in rewilding an area, but a response to the region’s already present natural forces: water running over rock, gathering force from many communities, marking a long forgotten pond, demonstrating the lay of the land we otherwise only notice when we’re on foot or bicycle. The convivial ecologies of Fernwood are already afoot; we have only to listen to their call.
    During our conversation, Field jokes about “pulling up the drawbridge” on Vancouver Island, preventing an already crowded region from becoming unlivable. But in the end, she is most interested in projects that both humanize the city and connect us to the land over which it lies.
    On January 21, 2017, at 10am, she will host a walking tour to trace the second half of the path of Rock Bay Creek. The tour will begin at Blackwood Park, in Fernwood, and end at Rock Bay, downtown. The walk, which will last 2-3 hours, is open to all residents of the region.
    Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast (New Star, 2012). She is currently completing a PhD in Human Geography, focusing on the intersections between the social sciences and poetry.

    Maleea Acker
    November 2016
    Adolf and Oluna Ceska’s fungi and the coastal ecosystems they nurture.
    IN THE WORLD OF MUSHROOMS, Adolf and Oluna Ceska aren’t just well known; they’re heralded. They’re also incredibly modest. When I first contacted them they demurred. “We are just preparing a talk to the Pacific Northwest Key Council on our (basically Oluna’s) work on Observatory Hill,” Adolf told me by email, and then passed me a dozen links that had more to do with fellow mycologists’ work than with their own achievements.
     Both Ceskas are members of the Natural History Society and the Southern Vancouver Mycological Society, a 200-member group they started 20 years ago. Oluna, with Adolf as her research partner, has contributed to mycological research through the categorization, classification, and discovery of new species of fungi on Observatory Hill in Saanich. She also participates in knowledge-sharing that reaches far beyond the world of mushrooms, into the biodiversity work of dozens of scientists around the South Island.
     “Even Adolf has agreed that mycology is more interesting than botany,” teases Oluna, during our eventual meeting at a Saanich Starbucks. Adolf swats her hand and laughs. “I couldn’t have a better partner,” she continues, “he’s a fantastic photographer.”

    The Ceskas arrived in Canada from Czechoslovakia in 1969, just after invasion of the country by Soviet and other Warsaw Pact forces. After studying at the University of Victoria, Adolf became curator of vascular plants at the Royal BC Museum, and a specialist of rare plant communities for the BC Conservation Data Centre. Oluna worked as an associate researcher in cellular biology at UVic before returning to her own research in the late 1990s, concentrating on the mycology of particular regions in BC.
     Fungi, or mushrooms, might seem like a minor genus to focus on in the natural world. Popping up in the Capital Region after late summer and fall rains, their fruiting bodies rise from roots that spread through forest soils like thick mats. Some are edible, some poisonous, and their ragged forms, by late November, can seem insignificant, even eerie, amongst the stately firs and fire-red trunks of arbutus. But their importance to a forest’s health is still being uncovered.
     In the last 12 years, Oluna has categorized over 1,300 species of fungi in a 185-acre area of Observatory Hill. In their biography on the Mushroom Observer website, Adolf (despite his serious botany credentials) lists his involvement as consisting of “driver, field assistant, photographer, computer operator, library liaison, and chef.” The two work side-by-side collecting, categorizing and identifying new species of fungus. “Our methods are not conventional,” says Oluna. Using an “intuitive path” method for finding species, they “just wander and observe.”
     The Ceskas recently donated 3,316 specimens (stored in over 52 shoe boxes) to the University of British Columbia’s Beaty Biodiversity Museum, which accounts for more than one-third of the museum’s current collection. The Canadian Botanical Association provided $16,000 toward the costs of preparing the collection for donation. The museum is eager to accept whatever they provide. “We need more collections,” says Oluna. Adolf laughs; he describes their house as already full to bursting with gathered species; “We don’t need more collections!”
    The Ceskas began work on Observatory Hill in 2004. The hill, sometimes called Little Saanich Hill, is crowned by the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory and managed by the National Research Council’s Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics. Large areas of the federal property were left undeveloped in order to protect night sky observations. This has conserved some of the region’s last untouched swaths of open Garry oak and Coastal Douglas fir ecosystems.
     Since 2004, the Ceskas have visited the hill 380 times, collecting, drying and storing samples, recording species through photographs and drawings, and ultimately creating the first comprehensive study of fungi in the varied ecosystems of the hill. The results of their work can be found online at www.goert.ca.
    Professor Joseph Ammerati of the University of Washington has called Oluna’s work “the longest, most detailed biodiversity study in North America.”
     After 2013, when the $4000/year funding for her work was cut by the Astrophysical Lab (which also resulted in Federal closing of the facility itself), she continued collecting data, but has not compiled the results into reports.
     Many species of trees—including Douglas fir and many coastal rainforest species—depend on fungi. About one-third of mushrooms are mycorrhizal, which means their roots have intertwined with tree roots underground. In BC’s coastal forests the tree roots of oak, fir, arbutus and pine depend on a variety of mycorrhizal mushrooms. The higher the tree species diversity in a forest, the higher the diversity of mycorrhizal fungi. Oak milk caps only grow under oak trees; chanterelles prefer Douglas-fir forests of 80-100 years old, where roots have had a chance to develop symbiotic relationships. Mycorrhizal fungi help protect trees from pollutants, cleanse heavy metals from the soil and keep them from passing to the tree itself. They increase a tree’s vitality, helping it to resist disease and insects.
     Mycorrhizal symbiosis also allow trees to access nutrients otherwise unavailable. The mycelium of the mushrooms provide minerals to the trees in exchange for sugar from the tree. A tree’s roots are too large to absorb minerals like nitrogen, phosphorus and copper from the soil, so mushroom roots harvest the minerals for them. They actually mine them from rocks, passing the nutrients not only to the connected tree, but from tree to tree, including between two species of trees. Without the minerals that mycorrhizal mushrooms provide, trees wouldn’t be able to grow taller than a few feet.
     This shared economy also increases overall forest health through far-reaching and species-crossing effects. Come fall, a spawning salmon dragged out of a river by a black bear can end up feeding not just the closest tree, but an entire grove. Salmon cells, in other words, are digested by the mycorrhizal tubular roots and end up dozens of metres away, in the cellular structure of a grand fir, an alder or a cedar. It’s the fungi that make that communal meal possible. In such ways, it’s clear the Capital Region’s biodiversity depends on healthy fungi populations. Unfortunately, over the last few years, due to drier summers, some early fruiting varieties of mushroom have not appeared at all. This, in turn, causes stress to trees that depend on the fungi.
     Long-term monitoring of the Coastal Douglas Fir Biogeoclimactic Zone provides an important way of monitoring not just plant, fungi and animal ranges, but also the changes in climate, including rainfall and temperature, that southern British Columbia is increasingly facing. Many of the species Oluna found on Observatory Hill are at the northernmost edge of their range. “We are so lucky we started this research before the effects of global warming became visible here,” says Oluna.
    Other researchers appreciate the Ceskas’ comprehensive approach and huge data bank. This year, the first Oluna and Adolf Ceska Mycology Award, created by the late fellow mycologist Jean Johnson, will provide support to a UBC mycology student. When asked about the award name, Adolf demurred, “It was an extremely touching moment, and I did not know if I, Adolf, should accept that honour, since I am just Oluna’s assistant.”
     Oluna also submits specimens for DNA sequencing, which has resulted in the discovery of several previously unknown species. More may be forthcoming. “Mycology is now in revolution,” she says, explaining, “sequencing the DNA proved that it is a superior method to just morphological identification.”
     While much of Europe has taken a holistic view of ecosystem study, North American scientists have tended to concentrate on individual species (usually endangered ones). That, say the Ceskas, has to change. “We are so behind in BC,” laments Oluna. “Southern Vancouver Island is so exceptional, we have to save what’s left.” Saving what’s left will depend on first knowing what’s there.
    Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast (New Star, 2012). She is currently completing a PhD in Human Geography, focusing on the intersections between the social sciences and poetry.

    Maleea Acker
    September 2016
    Metchosin uses citizens and volunteer scientists to create a low-cost but impressive inventory of species.
    FIVE YEARS AGO, a group of naturalists in the Capital Region realized there was no comprehensive list of species that inhabited the varied ecosystems in their rural district of Metchosin. Despite containing rare ecosystems like coastal bluffs, Garry oak meadows, and Douglas-fir forests, naturalists Kem Luther, along with Moralea Milne and Andy McKinnon (the latter two now serving on Metchosin’s council) decided to see who they might be sharing their community with (other than humans).
    The result of their work, which continues to expand today, is one of the most complete species listings of any community in Western Canada. And the actual search for those species? “It’s like a treasure hunt,” Luther tells me proudly. Come November, it’s a hunt in which local residents can also participate.
    Since 2002, Luther, Milne and McKinnon have been working to empower the public and increase knowledge of local ecosystems—Metchosin’s in particular—through citizen science. They started the Metchosin Biodiversity Project—metchosinbiodiversity.com—in 2002. They began with a now-popular Talk and Walk series, inviting local experts to lead a Saturday evening talk followed by a local ecosystem walk the next morning. The project has hosted 87 events so far, on topics ranging from local butterflies to fungi, amphibians and songbirds. When they started, Milne tells me, they had to convince people to show up; now they regularly host 70-100 attendees. 
    Metchosin occupies a distinct place in the CRD. It is the only municipality to experience a drop in population over the past 20 years (from 6170 people in 1986 to just under 5000 by 2012). It also has a higher- than-average population per dwelling unit than most of the rest of the CRD (2.8 persons per dwelling as opposed to the CRD average of 2.3). Home to over 50 red- and blue-listed species, its official community plan’s objectives are pointedly conservation-centred, foregrounding the support of biodiversity, protection of sensitive ecosystems and minimization of development impacts. 
    This ethos, felt Luther, made Metchosin an ideal place to begin a species count known as a bioblitz, one of only two bioblitzes that occur in Western Canada (the other takes place in the municipality of Whistler). Specialists in botanical, animal, and insect species volunteer from around BC; together with local residents, they help count the huge variety of species found within Metchosin’s boundaries. “We let the experts nerd out together” during the one-day blitz, McKinnon tells me. The scientists work for free, but, says McKinnon, “a lot of those people will come up at the end of the day and thank us. Every year we find new things.” Though Luther and his colleagues would like to see expansion of the bioblitz to other municipalities in the CRD, they also recognize that their expert volunteers create a kind of catch-22. If interest were greater, they might not be willing to do all the work for free.
    Bioblitzes provide a key method of tracking the diversity of distinct ecosystems. They are usually volunteer-run, grassroots efforts without ties to government funding (of which there is little), and take place within a short time period. “We wish there was some international or national organization that could step in and tell people how to do this,” Luther says. Instead, he, Milne and McKinnon plan their events from the bottom up, which aids a feeling of community but makes the coordination and dissemination of information gathered harder down the line. 
    The Metchosin Bioblitz allows amateurs to accompany experts as they count species in the field. It’s a kind of collaboration that Luther wishes would happen more often in North America. For Luther, there are currently two main approaches to natural science. In North America, he writes in his 2016 book Boundary Layer, science is affiliated almost exclusively with universities and government; to be credible, one has to be academically trained. In Europe, however, citizen science forms a large part of the naturalist work done in the field. Passionate amateurs are encouraged to contribute their knowledge of species and ecosystems, and they’re respected for doing so. “If there was a way of getting that going here,” muses Luther, “that would be lovely.” 
    Involving citizens in science, however, means less ground can be covered during the day a bioblitz takes place. To attempt to streamline the event, Luther, Milne and McKinnon tried a different approach this past spring. Rather than sending professional biologists out with resident volunteers, a team of six naturalists travelled together by car to specific sites throughout Metchosin. They ultimately recorded a different species every 40 seconds over six hours. The final count this spring was 2300 distinct species, including many that had never before been identified in the area. Still, the count was collaborative, with a botanist finding a bluebird and a birder discovering a rare violet.
    Key to the success of Metchosin’s Bioblitz events, however, is the collaboration between volunteers and scientists and, surprisingly for such a quantitative activity, a feeling of connection with the natural ecosystems that surround residents. “It’s more fun than Christmas,” says Milne. Though the data gathered during Metchosin’s events helps local government clarify the biodiversity value of an ecosystem, the point is also to build understanding about the natural world. “We have to try to respect and preserve this environment in order to have somewhere for all of us to coexist,” says Milne. 
    The Metchosin Biodiversity Project has a budget of a few hundred dollars; results are posted online and passed to local government, parks and Whistler’s bioblitz organizers. “As councillors, we’re often talking about biological value,” McKinnon tells me at the Broken Paddle café in Metchosin’s village centre. “It’s very practical to be able to say ‘this is where these species are living.’” 
    The best example of how species information translates into practical information for residents, says Milne, might be the Propertius duskywing butterfly, which overwinters in last year’s oak leaves when they are left lying under the trees. When people rake leaves off the grass, they destroy nesting sites for these rare butterflies. “It’s not the oak trees that are the [whole] ecosystem,” clarifies Milne. The more residents can learn about the interdependencies of these species, and how many we share the region with, Luther concurs, the more an ethic of protection can be built. 
    The species lists can be used when Metchosin’s council makes decisions about possible development projects. It’s also used by the properties that the teams roam over when making their discoveries—William Head prison, the Department of National Defense lands at Rocky Point—and as an inspiration for future bioblitzes. Both Parks Canada and Government House have expressed interest in doing their own identification events. The group has visited schools and they offer templates to share with communities that would like to start their own projects.
    This November, residents can participate in the project’s final 2016 activity. In the Pacific Northwest, fungi aren’t as visible as other species in the spring. So this fall the Biodiversity Project will hold their fourth mycoblitz event. Scheduled for early November (check their website for final dates and locations) this year’s blitz will feature a scavenge for local mushrooms, a talk on local species, and an opportunity to peruse the findings, which will be laid out and identified by expert mycologists from as far away as California. Says Luther, with a smile, “As an analogy, imagine you’d collected a house full of junk, and then an antiques collector came through and pointed out all the rare objects. That’s what it’s like. We’re told we have something special.”
    Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast (New Star, 2012).

    Maleea Acker
    July 2016
    Habitat Acquisition Trust volunteers help to save local frogs, salamanders and other amphibians.
    ONE NIGHT LAST SPRING, when John Potter and Joan Hendrick were out scanning a kilometre of dark, rainy road by their house in the Highlands, a woman stopped her car to ask if they were looking for something. “Yes,” replied Hendrick, “dead amphibians.” She laughs as she tells the story, but she can’t picture a rural road on a warm, wet night these days without thinking of the casualties likely happening around the region. “I didn’t understand,” she says, “until I started walking. You see them everywhere.”
    During summer’s heat, as residents enjoy the local lakes and the winding roads of Saanich and the Highlands, it’s easy to forget the creatures that live alongside in forests, fields and wetlands. But come September’s rains, amphibians like rough-skinned newts, long-toed salamanders and red-legged frogs will make a treacherous journey across these lanes of traffic. 
    The region’s amphibians complete two migrations a year. In early spring, they move from upland forests to lower wetlands to find mates and lay eggs. In August and September, they journey in reverse, back to their winter forests. Unfortunately, many of the region’s rural areas have roads that bisect this migration route. On parts of West Saanich Road and Munn Road, the mortality of these species can be shockingly high. In one night in 2015, volunteers counted 369 dead amphibians (mostly Pacific tree frogs) on one curve of West Saanich. Almost 100 more were counted at the hot spot near the Potters’ house on Prospect Lake Road.
    Potter’s and Hendrick’s observational tasks are part of their work as long-term volunteers with Habitat Acquisition Trust (HAT), a non-profit conservation organization that helps to preserve and restore native ecosystems around the south island. 
    HAT began its Amphibian Roadkill Project in 2015 and now coordinates with volunteers around the region. Volunteers—usually clad in raincoats and reflective vests—complete counts of amphibian mortalities, including species type and number and GPS location,  recording the data on waterproof paper that HAT supplies. They also help amphibians across the road, picking up the slow-moving newts and salamanders and carrying them from one side to the other. Since learning the places where amphibians tend to migrate, Hendrick says that she’s become more careful. “I’ve been yelled at for hitting the brakes for a frog when driving,” she admits.
    More than 20 species of frogs and salamanders make their home in BC, with many concentrated in the southern part of the province, where low, temperate wetlands provide ideal habitat. The word amphibian means “double life,” and refers to their larval and adult stages, when they transform from aquatic, gilled animals into air-breathing, land-based animals. 
    Amphibians are key players in the planet’s web of life. They eat insects, help to protect agricultural crops, and serve as prey for larger animals. But amphibian numbers are in decline world wide; their sensitive, porous skin makes them among the first casualties from pesticide run-off and other water pollutants, habitat change, and ecosystem fragmentation. Because they are so sensitive, they act as an indicator species, warning of potentially dangerous environmental conditions that could also harm human health.
    Despite their key role, Alanah Nasadyk, the Community Outreach and Development Coordinator for HAT, tells me that relatively little is known about breeding ground locations for amphibians in the region as well as the species that inhabit them. The Environmental Studies department at UVic came into being only in the late 1990s, she explains; for the Capital Region, knowledge of habitat and number of species is research that just hasn’t yet been done. 
    Potter and Hendrick, along with other volunteers who patrol local roads, pass their information to HAT, who have created species maps for Highlands, Metchosin and the CRD as a whole, as well as hot spot maps where casualties tend to be particularly high. “We’re really relying on citizen science,” stresses Nasadyk. HAT hopes that zeroing in on hot spots could help convince governments to build amphibian tunnels to provide safe passage under, instead of over, roads, as well as to post signage, warning drivers of crossings. They would also like to see increased study of diseases specific to amphibians, which is where broader scientific collaboration comes into play.
    The results of the volunteer field work and HAT’s mapping efforts aren’t useful just to the region. HAT also works with the University of Victoria’s Microbiology Department, where the department’s lab focuses on applying what is known about human health to animal health. Some HAT volunteers recover the remains of amphibians who have died crossing the region’s roads. If they’re in passable condition, they donate them to UVic, where Caren Helbing, professor of microbiology and biochemistry, is happy to receive them. “It’s an exciting and critical partnership,” says Helbing, as HAT provides much of the fieldwork that the lab can’t always do. Helbing stresses that UVic’s research concentrates on non-lethal methods as much as possible. In one nook of the lab, four bullfrogs in various stages of transformation from tadpole to mature frog bump their noses against their plastic bucket. But the acquisition of a rare species, even if it’s no longer alive, is a welcome gift.
    Helbing’s lab recently completed the first sequencing of the frog genome. When I visit, she pulls out small test tubes of a white, nebula-like material floating in liquid: pure DNA, millions of strands in each vial. Using DNA pulled from species collected by HAT, Helbing’s lab is advancing research on how metamorphosis occurs in amphibians, how their health can indicate wider patterns of health in the animal world (in species such as Beluga whales, spot prawns and mussels), and the health of a region’s water supply. In the CRD, persistent organic pollutants (POPs) like polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), which can act as endocrine disruptors, have recently been found in the region’s river otter populations. Endocrine disruptors change hormone levels in animals. Higher levels of thyroid hormone can disrupt or alter metamorphosis for amphibians and cause changes in sex organs and the development of tumours. Tracking the presence of POPs can help indicate amphibian health—and human health—around the region. 
    HAT’s goal is primarily to raise awareness of impacts amphibians face not just through road mortality, but through the introduction of amphibian diseases from Europe and Asia. Many families buy foreign salamanders or newts as pets; diseases can accompany them. When the aquarium has served its purpose, too often the water is dumped into local waterways or down the toilet, which can spread fungal diseases like Bsal, an amphibian fungal disease responsible for significant amphibian deaths in other parts of the world. Helbing thinks it’s only a matter of time before these diseases reach North America, and wetlands like those in the Highlands. 
    During my visit to Potter’s and Hendrick’s home, over a dozen bird species mob the feeders outside their windows. They also have a neighbourhood bear that visits from time to time. They boast of not having to mow a lawn, and it’s obvious that the region’s natural habitat is impetus to their need to volunteer, not only through amphibian counts but by installing bat boxes for HAT, restoring native ecosystems with the CRD and enjoying work parties on Haliburton Farm. “Your level of awareness,” she tells me, “really increases. There are lots of little creatures out there, you just have to look for them. You think of that on rainy, warm nights.”
    Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast (New Star, 2012).

    Briony Penn
    July 2016
    Business interests, scientists, environmental groups and First Nations call for new policy on the Island's remaining old growth.
    WHEN THE BC CHAMBER OF COMMERCE and the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities (AVICC) recently came out championing the protection of old-growth forests on Vancouver Island, it was hailed as a historic and tectonic shift by environmentalists. Yet it’s probably more accurately described in earthquake terms as “fault creep”—the “slow, more or less continuous movement occurring on faults due to ongoing tectonic deformation.” 
    Political and business associations have finally caught up with the economic reality, climate change, public attitudes, business opportunities, and scientific data—and not a moment too soon. 
    In typical island fashion, it takes a poster boy from elsewhere with home-spun prairie logic to signal that shift. Handsome Dan Hager, the head of the Port Renfrew Chamber and business owner of Handsome Dan’s Wild Coast Cottages, looked in his guest books one day and noticed that his guests were coming year round to visit old trees at the Avatar Grove. Since then, with just a handsome Saskatchewan smile and anecdotal stories of full beds and full-time staff, he’s managed to convince the entire BC Chamber of Commerce of the value of leaving old growth close to towns. 
    This likely amuses botanist and Metchosin Councillor Andy Mackinnon. His 30 years of collecting compelling scientific data on the value of old growth on Vancouver Island is not as “hot” on the current media radar, although he’s being effective in other ways. With his own moniker the “fun guy” (pun on fungi, his research specialty), Mackinnon has spread his own charismatic mycelia alongside Hager’s in the slow and continuous movement towards improving Vancouver Island land use planning. 
    Mackinnon, a forest researcher with the provincial government, has recently retired from public service and jumped into political life. He won a seat on Metchosin council in 2014 and has been looking for ways to get science back into policy and planning ever since. Mackinnon managed to get a resolution asking for a moratorium on the logging of old growth on Vancouver Island passed by his Metchosin Council, and then Colwood’s, this spring. That was subsequently endorsed at AVICC’s AGM in April. His advocacy was triggered by his frustrations as a government scientist. He says, “You felt you were gathering a lot of good information that wasn’t being incorporated into policy and management.” Mackinnon’s first priority was to stop the old-growth logging while Vancouver Island still had some left to save.
    His resolution for a moratorium was borrowed from the Ahousat chiefs—also known as the Hawiih of Clayoquot Sound— who had announced their own moratorium on industrial logging of old-growth forests in October last year. It hasn’t gone unnoticed by Mackinnon that the Ahousat have been slowly, more or less continuously, suggesting to Western governments the values of old growth. Their data goes back several thousand years. Their resolution included a community “Land Use Visioning” process intended to protect a traditional way of life while diversifying livelihoods. 
    The mayor of Tofino shared this resolution with Mackinnon and he fashioned a similar moratorium for Metchosin with a request to the provincial government to revise the old Vancouver Island Land Use Plan. The resolution’s preamble states that old-growth forest is increasingly rare on Vancouver Island and has significant values as wildlife habitat, a tourism resource, a carbon sink and much more. It also noted that current plans on provincial Crown land call for logging the remaining old-growth forest outside of protected areas, Old-Growth Management Areas (OGMAs), and similar reserves, over the next 10-20 years.

    Mackinnon is not new to the science of why it is important to protect old growth. He was on the scientific team that wrote the provincial Old Growth Strategy (OGS) starting in 1989. At the time, the OGS was cutting-edge policy. The 1992 report began with the acknowledgement that old-growth forests “represent a wide range of spiritual, ecological, economic and social values” and outlined the framework to plan for conserving old growth. It was the time of the “war in the woods”—from Clayoquot Sound to Carmanah—and logging still constituted the dominant industry in parts of northern Vancouver Island. The same year, the NDP created the Commission on Resources and Environment to provide independent land use recommendations to cabinet for Vancouver Island, and the OGS was folded into this new Vancouver Island Land Use Plan (VILUP) and the Forest Practices Code. (Clayoquot Sound was excluded from VILUP because it came under a separate scientific commission.) 
    According to Mackinnon, “those were exciting times with the opportunity to do broad land use planning and establish new protected areas.” Before 1992, only 6 percent of Vancouver Island had any protected status and what was protected was mostly rocks and ice at the top of mountains. By the end of the planning process in 2000, the protected areas reached 12 percent of Vancouver Island with a slightly better representation of diverse lowland ecosystems. That included some of the big, old trees in valley bottoms known as “productive lowland old-growth forests.” The VILUP decisions established the upper Carmanah Valley, the lower Walbran Valley, Tashish Kwoi and Brooks Nasparti Provincial Parks as large protected areas. 
    The target of protecting 12 percent of the land base had come from the international Bruntland Commission and its landmark report Our Common Future. The report called for doubling the area of protected areas globally—which, at that time, also sat around 6 percent. 
    Mackinnon supported the plan then because it at least doubled the protection and was achievable politically, but it fell short in many regards. Many scientists had recommended quadrupling the area protected to take in forest stand and ecosystem diversity, and climate change wasn’t being factored in yet. The compromise was partly addressed in a series of special management zones created to maintain areas of old growth and high biodiversity within forest tenures on Crown land. 
    In 2001, with a change in provincial government from NDP to Liberal, the Old Growth Strategy and VILUP were sent to the shredders, special management zones were cancelled, and the Forest Practices Code was gutted. Since then, apart from a handful of tiny isolated groves, like Avatar Grove, being designated OGMAs or Land Use Objective areas, no ancient forests have been set aside in protected areas on Vancouver Island. 
    In the absence of any provincial leadership on island old growth, the Sierra Club has taken the lead role in mapping island forests. Mackinnon says, “When people asked my ministry how much old growth there was left, I would have to say: ‘Go talk to the Sierra Club.’” Jens Wieting of the Sierra Club of British Columbia notes that, as of 2012, less than 10 percent of the productive lowland old-growth forests remain. These are the forests that businesses like Handsome Dan’s benefit from, not the older, scrubby trees in the mountain tops that the provincial government still includes in their tally of old growth. 
    According to Wieting, the state of old growth on Vancouver Island is now an ecological emergency. Of that 10 percent that remains, only 4 percent has been set aside in parks or OGMAs and 6 percent is up for grabs. The Sierra Club’s recent Google Map press release visually shows how that remaining unprotected old growth is at risk. 
    This situation has brought a return of the wars in the woods, with conflicts over Walbran, Klaskish and East Creek. The battle is being led by the Ancient Forest Alliance, Western Canada Wilderness Committee and others. These last watersheds of remaining unprotected old-growth lowland forest are where the greatest value are for all stakeholders. The stakes are even higher with an increased understanding of the value of these forests for sequestering carbon. 
    Sierra’s data shows around 9400 hectares of Island old growth being logged annually and 17,000 hectares of second growth, some of it highly endangered ecosystems. Second-growth forests eventually become old-growth forests so we need to pay attention to these as well. Only saving old-growth forests is like only looking after elders and not nurturing the young. For forest ecologists, this is a compelling rationale for reopening the Vancouver Island Land Use Plan and reconsidering the mix of different forests and age classes of stands. This would entail planning for future reserves of old growth in forest types where there is hardly any old growth left, like the Douglas-fir forests of Vancouver Island where old growth has been reduced to 1 percent of the remaining stand.
    Wieting’s argument is that “with every new clearcut, more biodiversity of the original ecosystem disappears.” That’s the ecological argument for a new target of quadrupling protected areas—nature needs half. But what about the economic argument?
    The 1992 VILUP included a careful economic analysis with projections to 2012. What is most interesting is how accurate those projections were. They predicted continuing declines in the resource sectors and continuing increases in importance of tourism and other service industries like high tech and filmmaking, light manufacturing and pension and investment incomes. The plan states, “These shifts in economic structure will be reinforced by the in-migration of retirees to the Island, the aging of the resident population, increasing demand for and scarcity of wilderness recreation opportunities, technological change, and resource depletion.” 
    According to the VILUP, back in 1992  forestry and logging provided 10,565 jobs (3.6 percent) on Vancouver Island. By 2012, StatsCan numbers show, that had declined to 4700. Pulp and paper mills employed 12,900 people in 1992, but by 2012 that had fallen to one-half of that. 
    Compare that to 4800 jobs in the “information and cultural industries,” 9800 in the “arts, entertainment and recreation industries” and 5800 in the mysterious-sounding “personal and laundry services.” The largest employers—by far—on Vancouver Island are in the service industries with 20,000 to 50,000-plus jobs, per sector, in health, education, professional services, high tech, trade and tourism (accommodation and food services).  Even the recent Vancouver Island State of the Economy report by the Vancouver Island Economic Alliance, in a curiously conservative analysis, points out the only fast growth areas are in the professional, scientific and high tech sectors—the people who fill up Handsome Dan’s Wild Coast Cottages.
    The age-old problem for northern Vancouver Island rural communities of boom and bust resource-based economies was pinpointed accurately in the 1992 plan, with various recommendations for diversification.
    In the ensuing years, though, there was minimal action taken to diversifiy. There was little public investment in a number of critical areas: infrastructure for making value-added wood products, transportation systems, an old-growth strategy, marketing of tourism to these areas, and creating value for ecosystem services. The BC Liberals weren’t, apparently, paying heed to the shifting economic landscape. New Zealand, with roughly comparable economic forecasts, land base and population, looked at its data back then and brought in a moratorium on old-growth logging while investing heavily in ecotourism infrastructure and marketing. Total tourism expenditure today in New Zealand is $29.8 billion, increasing at 10 percent per year. Vancouver Island tourism generates $2.2 billion annually.
    Better late than never, Mackinnon’s resolution will now go to the Union of BC Municipalities AGM in September. So far the provincial government hasn’t responded to his request for a meeting. With Hager working the business community on a modified resolution specifically referring to old growth close to settlements, both Mackinnon and Hager argue that it will be hard for the provincial government to ignore both local governments and the business sector. 
    Once a moratorium is in place, Mackinnon would like to see innovative planning—with a foundation based on scientific principles—adapted for Vancouver Island. He points to the land use plans for Clayoquot Sound and the Great Bear Rainforest, both of which he participated in and which were spearheaded by First Nations. The Great Bear Rainforest Agreements in particular incorporated First Nations concerns, economic realities that included real conservation financing, and carbon credit projects for First Nations. 
    As Jens Wieting suggests, “We have a lot to learn from what went on in both these regions—and fast, because climate change means that we have even less time to save rainforest as we know it.” 
    As for Handsome Dan, he says, “I’m no treehugger and I don’t need to rely on any science. I just see the logic because the economics are black and white. The trees left standing are good for my business.” Hardly earthshaking, but a welcome tectonic nudge to an island that has so much natural capital to offer its inhabitants and the world.
    Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast (New Star, 2012).

    Maleea Acker
    May 2016
    James Clowater's urban arboreal vision.
    IN THE WORLD OF West Coast restoration ecology, native species usually hold a pinnacle place of importance in the minds of decisions makers, scientists, and the public at large. Trees such as Douglas-fir, big-leaf maple and Garry oak support a host of native birds, insects, mammals and mosses. Restorationists push the importance of wildlife corridors made of native shrubs in urban areas. Botanists cherish lands unmarked by development—where native species can thrive unmolested—and often wave their hands in dismissal at horticultural gardens and urban trees as if they don’t merit attention at all.
    James Clowater, local biologist, educator and avid bird watcher, regularly leads hikes into native oases in the Capital Region. He shows hikers the fall fungi and winter birds at Witty’s Lagoon, or the grand spread of an arbutus half way down a treacherous trail to Finlayson Arm in Gowlland Tod Provincial Park. Six years ago, however, his way of seeing the South Island began to change, and today he has created a new resource for Capital Region residents.
    Clowater realized that most South Island residents live in urban areas. We pass the seasons walking under scarlet Norwegian maples or the vast canopies chestnuts create over many of the city’s main road arteries. “The giant sequoias on Rockland Avenue caught my eye,” he tells me over coffee at an East Saanich Road cafe. He asked himself why it shouldn’t be possible to value an introduced tree as much as a native species. Clowater also started noticing other species—trees he couldn’t identify. “Curiosity started it. What are these?” he asked himself. The answers were often nearly impossible to find. 
    Clowater’s archival research uncovered a 1988 Heritage Tree Society publication. Victoria has an urban forest master plan available online, but there is no access on its website to a listing of trees or species. A big tree registry—vancouverislandbigtrees.blogspot.ca—lists native species in excess of 1100 years old within 30 minutes of the city centre. But no site existed that could lead those interested in heritage trees, native and introduced species of note, as well as map the location and species of significant trees. Until now. His new website—treesofvictoria.com—celebrates the beauty of his home region, so that “people can learn, and then value the region more because of that learning.” 
    Horticultural species are foreign plants—they aren’t native to the West Coast—but many aren’t aggressive invaders; they play nicely with native plants. Victoria’s ornamental cherry trees become pure blossom in February. Monkey trees, Lebanese cedars, horse chestnuts, and ornamental plums saturate this region’s urban areas with a riot of spring colour. Content to stay where they’re planted, instead of reproducing or running riot like balsam poplar, eucalyptus or “tree of heaven,” ornamental trees can provide paved city streets with much needed shade, a heat sink, and architectural grandeur, as well as acting as habitat for adaptable native species. 
    The history of the region’s horticultural trees is rich. It’s also in plain view. The Begbie “hanging tree” grows on Cook Street. On Ash Road, near Mount Doug, a tree once part of the Todd family farm was used by cougars for sighting deer. Ross Bay cemetery contains rarities such as Spanish fir and cork-bark elm. But the details of these tree species and their locations weren’t easy to find, until now. Clowater also hounded the City of Victoria until they gave him a printout of species not just in Ross Bay but also an identification of all of the city’s street-side trees. The cemetery, Clowater tells me, once served as an unofficial tree nursery; cuttings from the trees became many of the city’s current boulevard trees. 
    Some protection currently exists for non-native trees in the CRD in the municipalities of Saanich and Victoria. Victoria trees must be over 80 centimetres in diameter at chest height to qualify. The Saanich bylaw lists “significant trees” with addresses, and it specifies where both native and horticultural species exist. Though the Victoria bylaw was established in 1999 and strengthened in 2005, exceptions still exist for species in the building footprint of a house or house addition or driveway, or those interfering with utilities. Victoria asserts that it has one of the “rarest and most threatened urban forests in the Pacific Northwest,” but it’s easy to imagine how the bylaw can be sidestepped by owners who want, as arborist Ryan Senechal tells me is common, “a better view of the Olympic Mountains.”
    Clowater’s site launches this May, and features GIS maps of Outerbridge Park, Beacon Hill and Ross Bay Cemetery, as well as walking tours and listings of historical, horticultural and native trees of significance. The maps show paths as well as trees such as blue atlas cedars from the Himalayas or a dawn redwood, previously only known through its fossils. The Ross Bay Cemetery section features trees from dozens of countries, each species overlaid on a satellite image map. 
    To begin the project, Clowater received funding from the estate of Joan Outerbridge. Naming the species outside of parks, says Clowater, will help locate unmarked but significant heritage trees and ensure their protection. Clowater acknowledges, however, that mapping the entire region will be a lifelong endeavour. He makes his living from the talks he gives, but there is little left over for this passion. “What the project needs is to find funding and hire people—a master identifier and a GIS person.” That said, Clowater’s favourite part of the process is the exploring: identifying horticultural species, creating lists of trees and maps, and walking neighbourhoods to photograph giant species. Next on his list is UVic’s Finnerty Gardens and St Ann’s Academy.
    Many mapping projects already exist in the region. The University of Victoria Community Mapping Collaboratory features dozens of community green maps, including indigenous digital harvest stories, community vision maps, maps with traditional place names and UVic student maps completed during the Cascadia Field School sessions. Some environmental organizations, including the Ancient Forest Alliance, are also working to create maps of big trees in Avatar grove. 
    Clowater’s site will also include a community mapping feature, where residents can add their own trees. Habitat Acquisition Trust’s land cover mapping project shows that the core municipalities lost 2025 hectares of urban tree cover between 1986 and 2011, 452 hectares of which was in Langford. The clearing continues today, as residents can see travelling between View Royal and Langford, where hectares of land beside the Island Highway are rapidly changing from forest to subdivision. 
    Mapping also comes with its own risks, as Canada’s Indigenous peoples have discovered to their dismay. Maps don’t guide only well-wishers to the location of special trees or species at risk. Even ecotourism can increase negative impacts on habitat and native species and detract from privacy. But ultimately, the reason Clowater started Trees of Victoria is the same reason he started his birding courses and hiking group: “If we can get people excited about things in their own back yards,” he says, “if they have knowledge, and find it interesting, that leads to protection and preservation.” 
    Clowater’s enthusiasm is infectious, and it is hard to undervalue the excitement, and the potential actions that excitement inspires, when confronted by a truly stunning example of an incense cedar, or a giant coastal redwood. In garnering public support for conservation—distinction matters.
    Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast (New Star, 2012).

    Maleea Acker
    March 2016
    Nurturing native species, young farmers and the land.
    OFF THE PAT BAY HIGHWAY, on Saanich’s Haliburton Farm, James Miskelly points to a clump of lime green leaves poking out of the rich earth. “That’s sea blush,” he tells me, proudly. The small-leafed annual, usually a rare sight in Garry oak upland meadows in mid spring, smatters the soil like a groundcover. The more I look, the more I see. Kristen Miskelly, James’ wife, wades through the wetlands at the western edge of their plot while telling me about the area’s tree frog song in spring. “It’s deafening!” she says, with glee.
    The Miskellys, both young biologists with a penchant for native plant restoration and gardening, started Saanich Native Plants, a nursery and consulting business, in 2013, cultivating first the one-tenth acre front yard of the farm’s house, and in 2015 began work on a half acre adjacent to the farm’s biodiversity project parcel. They grow native grasses, bulbs, annuals and perennials, offering them for sale at the farm and through both large and small landscaping projects around the Capital Region.
    “We both fantasized about having a nursery before we met,” Kristen tells me in Haliburton Farm’s house, which is used for community education. “We never considered growing anything but native plants.” 
    Both are transplants to Vancouver Island; James chose the University of Victoria specifically to study Garry oak ecosystems in Hornby Island’s Helliwell Park. Kristen hails from Ontario. Both, after completing graduate degrees in biology, now consult for government as well as operate the nursery and serve on Haliburton’s board. The nursery, however, supports them. Along with selling plants and seeds, they offer site consultations for those interested in cultivating native plants.
    Haliburton is a seven-acre community-supported organic educational farm owned by the municipality of Saanich. In 2001, the then CRD-owned land was slated for removal from the ALR and creation of a 26-home subdivision. Concerned community members, including the Land for Food Coalition and the Cordova Bay Association, banded together to provide an alternate plan. The property was eventually transferred to the Municipality of Saanich. 
    Board members established the Organic Farm Society to manage the leasing of farmlands and creation of a biodiversity plot. Saanich provides free leaf mulch dumps and sells compost to farmers. Response from surrounding neighbours has been mostly positive, says board member Elmarie Roberts. “Our neighbours love us and there is a very respectful relationship.” In fact, one neighbour shuts the farm’s chickens up each night in exchange for eggs. 
    Young farmers apply to the Board for a five-year lease to cultivate a portion of the property, renewable one time only. The farm acts as a local food provider, education centre and demonstration site for both farming and ecosystem restoration. The biodiversity project, for which the Miskellys estimate they volunteer over a thousand hours a year, includes the restoration of the wetland adjacent to their plot. Five years after beginning restoration, volunteers spotted the first long-toed salamanders, an indicator species that signals health of a wetland. 
    A decade ago, finding native plants for sale at a local nursery in the CRD was a daunting challenge, but the Miskellys are pleased to be part of a change for the better. At Seedy Saturdays and gardening clubs, they’ve seen increased interest in native plant gardening and adaptation of municipal lands to incorporate native species. 
    Still, the transformation of a thistle-infested boulevard into a native meadow draws skepticism. A lot of work was needed, not just to create, but to maintain a planting after 150 years of colonial seed dispersal. Native plantings need regular attention to remove invasives. “We’re in the Pacific Northwest, where people have been actively managing lands for thousands of years. But we still get asked ‘What’s the point of doing this if you have to care for the land in perpetuity,’” says James. “We’ve used the analogy,” offers Kristen, “of brushing your teeth,” citing the daily tasks that take time, but pay off in the long run. 
    The Agricultural Land Reserve, according to the David Suzuki Foundation, has lost 35,000 acres on Vancouver Island, the Lower Mainland and the Okanagan since its inception in 1973. Most of the removed land disappeared under suburban development or industrial facilities. Rising land prices are one reason that farmers seek to sell (or develop) land previously included. Vancouver Island’s food production dropped from 50 percent of total supply in the 1950s to 5-10 percent by 2004. Production drops when hobby farmers pasture horses and when large lot subdivisions with grass lawns replace cultivated fields.
    The Miskellys had to convince Haliburton’s initially skeptical board that raising native plants added to the local food supply. Today, their presence is a positive for the farm and for all food growers, concurs board member Roberts, allowing access to a time when “the First Peoples of these lands had their summer retreats on the shores of the Salish Sea and harvested the riches that nature offered so freely.” 
    The Miskellys harvest and sell miner’s lettuce, bog cranberry, herbs and nodding onions, the latter as a tastier alternative to green onions. They also make stinging nettle pesto and salal sauce, and have planted extensive hedgerows of native berries around the borders of the farm, hoping that this, too, may become a saleable item. This fall, they held a harvest feast that featured a 100 percent native species meal. James also now sits on the farm’s board as its biodiversity representative. 
    Growing native plants, for the Miskellys, is part of a larger turn toward learning the traditional foods, traditions and ecosystem cultivation practices of First Nations in the area. They work with Growing Our Futures at Royal Roads University, a collaborative program with First Nations that is more broadly horticultural in nature. They also work with Judith Arney at Saanich’s Tribal School, where the school’s nursery, Blossoming Place, teaches students about traditional practices, the SEN?OTEN language and native plant harvesting. Claremont Secondary students also participate in projects at Haliburton; many helped to restore and build the wetland on the farm. 
    “We’re aware that the ecological wealth [of this region] is an inheritance that is really due to the hands of aboriginal peoples,” says Kristen. “The settlers never made any attempt to be at home here,” says James. “They imposed the techniques that they were familiar with.” The lack of cultural interaction is shameful, admits Kristen. “We’d really like to improve on that.” 
    The Miskellys’ farming and consultation work serves as a stepping stone. “A lot of what we’re trying to do is remove the impediments to bigger restoration projects,” says James. Kristen elaborates, “We’ve done road trips to native plant nurseries in Washington and Oregon. They’re doing things at a scale that we’re hoping people will start to think about here.” Experimenting on their half-acre parcel, they use growing techniques learned in other restoration projects; techniques they also perfect in collaboration with the Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve and the University of Guelph. By planting dense rows of species such as camas, wooly sunflower and native grasses, they can collect seed more efficiently. This year, BC Parks bought all of their native grass seed. 
    James’ and Kristen’s eyes light up as they tell me about nearby hay meadows and highway boulevards that would be perfect sites for meadow restoration. The satisfaction in their lives is evident and infectious. “Restoration is hugely satisfying. It’s amazing how little you can do and see a result.” James, summing up their current situation, confesses, “There’s no distinction between work and non-work. The things we do for a living and the things we do for fun are indistinguishable.” 
    Haliburton Farms offers its Growing Food in the City summer course beginning March 20, 2016. A free information session at the farm will be held on Monday, March 14 at 6:30pm.
    Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast (New Star, 2012).

    Maleea Acker
    February 2016
    Knowing our fellow creatures inspires Ann Nightingale's passion
    WHEN LIFELONG Vancouver Island resident Ann Nightingale started birding in the 1990s, she had in her head American naturalist Ken Kauffman’s words. If people could name 50 plants and animals in their own area, said Kauffman, it would fundamentally change how they fit into the world. A chance opportunity with a co-worker took Nightingale out to Skirt Mountain (now Bear Mountain) on her first birding trip. “It knocked my socks off,” she tells me. Within a year of studying, she could identify most of the birds in the Capital Region. 
    Twenty years later, Nightingale, small, red-haired, with dancing eyes and a fortuitous name, tells me, “I’m a birding evangelist.” Her resume attests to the assertion. Nightingale is past president of the Rocky Point Bird Observatory (RPBO) and an 18-year volunteer with the organization. She coordinates Victoria’s Christmas Bird Count, serves on the board of the Victoria Natural History Society, and leads nature walks and gives lectures at various locations around the south island. She also writes her own blog, centering on a passion that bloomed throughout 2015. 
    Last December, Nightingale chalked up final numbers for her “Big Year,” shorthand among birders for a year spent identifying and counting as many bird species as possible on Vancouver Island, then writing about them on www.vibigyear.ca. She had aimed for 275. Supporters pledged donations to the RPBO based on how many species she could find. When I contacted Nightingale, she had activated her Spot GPS and I followed her movements around Bamfield, where she was on a last dash to bring up her count. 
    Vancouver Island’s bird species are on the decline, as are one in eight worldwide, according to the David Suzuki Foundation. Environment Canada estimated the nine leading causes of premature deaths of birds in a 2013 study Domestic and feral cats are, by far, the biggest threat to birds.

    Lack of food can also be an issue. Mosquitos are one of the prime food sources of barn swallows, but as urban dwellers take more care to prevent mosquito larvae from hatching—for fear of West Nile Virus and for their own comfort—their primary meal disappears. Perhaps nowhere is this conflict more on display in the region than at Island View Beach, where local residents have become polarized around the Capital Regional District’s attempts to rehabilitate a native saltwater marsh below a subdivision of high-priced houses. Those who don’t want to slap at their arms on their patios in the evenings are fighting to prevent re-creation of the wetland—prime habitat for many native bird species who, along with frogs and other creatures, will eat the mosquitos. 
    The root causes of overall bird species decline, however, are unknown. Findings tend to depend more on volunteers like Nightingale than on funded scientists. The Province collects and uses information gathered by Nightingale and other volunteers, including count numbers and bird banding expeditions. The Christmas Bird Count, sponsored by the Victoria Natural History Society (VNHS) and which she has coordinated since 2001, features over 200 participants and is regularly cited by scientists. 
    The count, which VNHS President Darren Copley says is the longest standing citizen science project he knows of, has taken place in Victoria since 1958. “It shows us where the birds are in winter, and how they are generally doing,” explains Copley. “Ann has made our area one of the most successful and well-attended Christmas Bird Counts anywhere,” he adds. Counting occurs on the first Sunday after December 13 every year. There is also a bird hotline for residents to call if they see an unusual bird at any time of the year. As the climate changes, the Christmas counts may prove more and more important, showing population trends that could tie into other environmental changes—from survival of native trees during increasing summer droughts, to species’ populations over time. 
    Nightingale, a retired university administrator, now spends most of her time volunteering to raise awareness about local native species. On one pivotal moment, she and other volunteers were mist-netting and banding birds at Rocky Point, then fitting them with geo-locators. “We were handling a fox sparrow that had come back for the fifth consecutive year,” she explains. She loves the idea of a bird so tied to its roots and home that it could pass through the same 10-metre spot every fall. “Learning the birds, even a little bit, really improves observational skills, [provides] a feeling of connection and the changing of the seasons. It’s addictive,” she admits. 
    Others have felt the same. Joan “JoAnn” Outerbridge’s estate supplied the RPBO with a five-year grant to continue banding and monitoring work. Nightingale and other volunteers lead monthly birding walks at Outerbridge Park in Saanich. Still, says Nightingale, the society is hard pressed to find enough funding for their research. “We have some amazing resources, and [the public] can visit Pedder Bay, Swan Lake and Goldstream with us. But I would like to see some professional fundraisers donate their skills to help RPBO achieve its goals.” Though Nightingale isn’t a formal fundraiser for RPBO or VNHS, she donates all speaking fees she receives. 
    Nightingale is happy to have support from a female donor’s legacy; her interactions with the male world of birding haven’t always been as positive. “I’m trying to make this normal for a woman to do,” she says. 
    Birding has a history entwined with more than a passion for simple perception. James Audubon shot and killed every bird he painted, and bird-watching’s roots in hunting, of which the modern variation would be “listing,” has lured mostly men. Nightingale, who ignores the occasional insinuation that as a women she is unfit for the stresses of a “Big Year,” wants to be a role model for other women who have an interest in the natural world. “It’s like going into a hunting community,” she tells me, “but I go out to enjoy the day. I haven’t been driven by the numbers as much.” 
    Still, the lure of a long-eared owl or a white-winged crossbill can take her far out of many people’s comfort zones. Returning from Winter Harbour, her van struck a rough patch in the logging road and tore the underbody. She jacked the vehicle up, alone, and cut off the hanging pipes before continuing home. 
    By December 31, after a month of rain and terrific wind storms, Nightingale had seen 268 species of songbirds, waterfowl and raptors, including more than a few rarities. This number sets a new record for Vancouver Island, and she recognizes that she’s become one of the top birders on the island. 
    So do her cohorts. This spring, nominated by the RPBO board, she will receive a Governor General’s Caring Canadian Award for her volunteer work. 
    “One of my life regrets as an adult was that I had never learned the names of the birds and the constellations,” Nightingale tells me during our meeting in a crowded Tim Horton’s, where she meets with birders or waits for calls of sightings. 
    Her words make me remember an old Madeleine L’Engle children’s book I loved, in which a wise creature says to the protagonist: You don’t have to know how many stars there are; you just have to know them by name. Nightingale’s quest, though its roots may lie in the colonial past, echoes this sentiment. Out in the weather of Balaclava Island, near Port Hardy, amidst the frosts of Sooke, or telling me about a Black-throated sparrow sighting while we sip coffee, her passion centres around the journey and the names more than the final numbers.  
    Ann Nightingale often leads the Rocky Point Observatory Bird Tours on the second Sunday of each month, 9 am, at Outerbridge Park in Saanich. Everyone is welcome. See www.rpbo.org.
    Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast (New Star, 2012).

    Maleea Acker
    January 2016
    Cheryl Bryce's Community Tool Shed.
    LAST NOVEMBER a group of volunteers, spearheaded by Songhees Band member Cheryl Bryce, gathered at Beacon Hill’s Petting Zoo parking lot. As usual for these monthly gatherings, someone brought tools, including shovels, gloves, loppers and a tarp. Others brought tea. There were geography students, Sierra Club members, and ardent restorationists. All were looking to make a difference to a south coast ecosystem that used to supply food to entire nations of indigenous peoples before the arrival of European colonists. 
    When I joined that chilly morning, the group of 11 chatted amiably, waiting for Bryce before advancing into the open fields to work on the hillsides where restoration efforts over the last ten years have seen huge reductions in Scotch broom, English ivy and other invasive species. The gathering of volunteers is part of Bryce’s Community Tool Shed, an initiative started under the Vancouver Island Public Interest Research Group’s umbrella ten years ago, though Bryce has been working with her family in Beacon Hill for much longer. 
    Bryce values the Kwetlal food system, the Lekwungen name for camas, for its cultural history and traditions and for the food that bulbs like camas provide, as well as the medicines made from trees and other plants in the ecosystem. The Kwetlal food system, she tells me during a conversation at the Songhees Band office, where she works as lands manager, was “always taken care of. The [meadows] are really living artifacts of my ancestors that require constant interaction.” Bryce is reinstating harvesting in the meadows for food and medicine, as well as removing invasive plants and educating First Nations and their allies.
    The Community Tool Shed received a special projects grant from the City of Victoria in 2011; it has also received funding from UVic’s Indigenous Governance Program, its Sustainability Project and the Sacred Land Society. 
    While preparing to remove a small Scotch broom infestation, volunteer Joanne Cuffe tells me that she loves seeing a meadow change from broom-infested to nearly broom-free. Cuffe has attended the Community Tool Shed for years. She was interested, like Bryce, in supporting traditional food networks. Region-wide, support is also growing. In November, two Victoria councillors and Mayor Lisa Helps supported a resolution to return the top of Beacon Hill to the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations and to replace the Checkers pavilion with a longhouse. 
    Garry oak meadows comprise some of the CRD’s most beloved and beautiful ecosystems. Dotted with oaks and patches of native brush, the meadows include camas, chocolate lilies and a host of insects and birds. What the first settlers didn’t realize (or more accurately, refused to recognize) however, was that the meadows were a managed landscape kept clear of brush and Douglas fir through use of fire, weeding and selective harvesting by Bryce’s ancestors. Camas bulbs were historically a primary source of carbohydrates; baked in pits, they taste somewhat like a pear.
    As a child, Bryce frequented local meadows like Beacon Hill (Meegan in Lekwungen) with her grandmother, learning the plants and harvesting in early morning to prevent confrontations. That tactic didn’t always work. “I was chased by a vehicle once,” she tells me. On another occasion, yanking out a broom plant, she heard someone speak into a walkie-talkie behind her. “I saw these boots come up.” She heard a woman say, “She’s just pulling invasive plants,” and the boots walked away. That was when she realized someone had called the police. Bryce eventually started bringing non-indigenous people on her harvests and invasive pulls, finding she was less harassed when they were present. 
    Today, she tells me, there are still challenges, but none as extreme. When I accompanied the volunteers to Beacon Hill, small groups attacked patches of ivy, blackberry and broom, but not in the ways taught by some ecosystem restorationists. Bryce advocates a complete removal of plants, including roots. This disturbs the soil, and can add to its seed bank (broom seeds remain viable for up to 50 years). Volunteers dug several foot-wide holes on the south-facing hillside of Meegan. This, says Bryce, is just what the ecosystem needs to stay healthy. Digging and removing larger camas bulbs and replanting others with seed loosens the soil, allows native seed to penetrate, and adds to the soil’s fertility. 
    Digging may help native species, but what if this work takes place in a post-colonized world? Marianne McCoy, local conservation ecologist tells me, “Digging is not an advisable approach,” because it can help invasive species to spread. On Observatory Hill, an upland meadow site in Saanich, McCoy used the “stick” method, where broom is cut to knee height. When all green branches were removed, mortality was 90 percent. McCoy says digging can also allow introduced grasses to crowd out native plants. Scattered in today’s meadows are the seeds of 150 years of colonialism. McCoy wonders whether we have arrived at a point where uncovering the organic layer in a meadow does more harm than good. Nonetheless, argues Bryce, leaving fields untended hinders camas production. Thomas Munson, environmental technician for City of Victoria parks, supports her work; parks staff dispose of the invasive species piles Bryce leaves. 
    Last fall, Bryce also assisted geography students at UVic, who completed an “Edible Geographies” mapping course, taught by Jennifer Bagelman. Students created an interactive digital map that shows the stories, history and results of the Tool Shed project. Part of the reason the stories are important, stresses Bryce, is that “there have been people who have challenged whether we have the right to do this,” citing not just restoration guidelines but unionized job protection for parks staff and the park’s official status as a protected area. “It’s an ever existing battle,” says Bryce. “That’s the battle with colonialism, to live, to exist as the old ones did.” 
    Community toolsheds aren’t a new idea. Hundreds exist across Canada and the US providing tools for lending and resources for communities in need. Bryce’s idea for the toolshed solidified as she realized how much teaching she was already doing in the community. Giving her work a name helped obtain funding, but also provided space for common ground. “I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing,” she says. Speaking to those interested in joining, she adds, “You can come and help, whoever you are. It’s up to you to make that decision.”
    I asked Bryce if she thought colonial settlers would ever be able to live as people at home rather than as settlers lacking the knowledge or right to occupy the territory. She smiled, and asked a question in return. “Is it possible to have the invasive plants living among the Garry oak ecosystem” without taking over, without destroying what is already there? The question hung in the air. Some “trimming,” we eventually laughed, of species like the Himalayan blackberry, would be essential. 
    Bryce also holds pit cooks through the University of Victoria and Songhees, demonstrating how to prepare camas, or Kwetlal, for eating. She visits the region’s school systems, giving lectures, but her favourite thing is to be out in the meadows with the students. She shows me a black planter full of earth and camas bulbs on her office table, “It’s a good way to have conversations in a different way. You have a whole different type of communication when you’re doing things on the land.” She smiles, “A Garry oak ecosystem needs to know that we need it. We are part of it. It is a part of our community as much as we are a part of the plants and trees.”
    The Community Tool Shed meets on the first Sunday of every month to work together at a different location. Meetups are open to all, provided you are willing to approach the work respectfully and with a willingness to learn. Contact mapping@lekwungenfoodsystems.org and see www.facebook.com/CommunityToolShed.
    Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast (New Star, 2012).

    Maleea Acker
    December 2015
    Nurturing herring would allow other species to rebound in the Salish Sea area.
    BY DECEMBER, rain and the darkness of winter blankets the Capital Region. Berries hang like rubies from the darkening limbs of the arbutus. Storms shawl the coast with salt spray. Songbirds have migrated to their southern homes. But as the days shrink to their shortest and the Salish Sea takes on its jade-green clarity, a dark pulse of fish are gathering in the deeper waters of our coast, waiting for spring. 
    Biologist Jacques Sirois would like to see these fish—Pacific herring—return to their pre-1960s population, a restoration he argues that would have cascading effects not just on marine life, but on how we live in and think of this region. 
    Pacific herring, a schooling fish found in the Pacific from California to Japan, have been called a cornerstone or foundation species for their key role in marine ecosystems. Herring and their eggs help sustain sea birds, black bears, wolves, eagles, fish and marine mammals. Fingerling herring, born in our region’s harbours, bays, and shallow waters, leave their spawning grounds in early fall for the open ocean, where they follow currents and travel in schools until full maturity—about three to five years. 
    I met with Sirois at his home in Oak Bay. He told me about the herring, but he didn’t stop there. A fast-talking transplant from Quebec City, Sirois is a passionate volunteer warden for Trial Island Ecological Reserve and chair of the Friends of the Victoria Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS), which stretches from Gorge Inlet to Ten Mile Point in Saanich. He also works as a lecturer in the polar regions, tying nature and culture together for those enthusiasts who travel vast distances to visit research stations and icebergs. 
    Sirois wants residents to think bigger when considering the south coast’s future. Here at home, he points out, there isn’t even a sign celebrating Trial Island’s status as an ecological reserve. Our marine and terrestrial ecosystems are, in his view, “the best coastal environment in Canada,” but will only remain that way through concerted efforts. Integrating a plan for herring restoration with cultural heritage and sanctuaries for species at risk would allow the region to coordinate planning. 
    This, he says, could happen with creation of a UNESCO Salish Sea Biosphere. Through the Cattle Point Foundation, he argues that a Salish Sea biosphere would provide opportunity for balanced interactions between humans and nature and champion the area as a model for sustainable living, cultural heritage and ecological diversity. 
    Sirois leans in at his dining room table to emphasize his points. The Lekwungen ancestors of the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations used this fish as a staple. Herring may have sustained First Nations as much or more than salmon. Their bones, previously undetected in coastal archaeological surveys because of their size, date back to catches over 10,000 years old. “This is ground zero for a paradigm shift,” says Sirois.
    UNESCO biospheres are internationally recognized areas of marine, terrestrial and coastal ecosystems. They support protection of biodiversity in tandem with sustainable development and also serve as testing sites for programs to help people live in concert with nature. Reserves normally have a core protected zone, a transition zone and a buffer zone where the greatest amount of development occurs. In Greater Victoria these areas might coincide with the Oak Bay Islands archipelago, local green spaces and Victoria’s urban centre. Not everyone agrees on the idea of a biosphere. Gavin Hanke, vertebrates curator at the Royal BC Museum, argues development precludes the region as a viable area. “Intentions are good, [but] execution is impossible. I say put a wall around this region and humans have to stay inside…let wildlife roam unmolested outside of our communities.”
    Herring used to school so thickly in Victoria Harbour and Gorge Waterway that the water would turn black. But in the 1960s, and then again in the 1980s and 2000s, populations plummeted. Overfishing, creosote pilings, and pollution all took their toll. In 2014 and 2015, when the Department of Fisheries and Oceans allowed fisheries openings in the Haida Gwaii, West Coast Vancouver Island and Central Coast regions, the Heiltsuk, Haida and Nuu-chah-nulth succeeded in halting the openings based on low herring numbers. 
    A return of the herring, Sirois argues, would allow species like migratory birds to rebound. In the last decade there has been a 70 percent decline in coastal bird populations. Worldwide, populations of marine birds, mammals, fish and reptiles have declined by 49 percent since 1970. Some species, like tuna and mackerel, have seen drops as high as 74 percent.
    Sirois wants to see more enforcement and education used to revive the Migratory Bird Sanctuary, originally marked as a protected area for migratory birds back in 1923. The sanctuary protects, on paper at least, shorebird species, many of which are constantly on the move. Loons, grebes, plovers and terns use the MBS shores in winter as feeding locations on the way to their breeding grounds. 
    Sirois argues that this sanctuary was and is ideally situated. Birding BC keeps track of unusual species seen by residents. This year’s spottings included the golden eagle, brown pelican, cattle egret, Pacific golden-plover, long-billed curlew, and wandering tattler, many seen within the boundaries of the sanctuary. 
    The region’s richness, says Sirois, presents an ideal opportunity to create a biosphere. But it may mean some changes to how we currently live in it. For instance, one of the biggest obstacles to enforcement of the bird sanctuary might not just be development or pollution, but the species that accompany people to those shores. 
    In 2012, Sirois helped count over 600 Canada geese in the area between Trial Island and Ten Mile Point. Federally, Canada geese are a protected species, but locally, where they are an introduced, invasive species, efforts are being made to reduce their numbers. Geese feces pollute lakes and other water bodies. They are a possible carrier of salmonella for cattle and they routinely trample and feast on endangered plant species in Garry oak ecosystems. The situation, agrees botanist Matt Fairbarns, who restores native habitat on Trial every summer, “continues to deteriorate despite two years of egg addling.” 
    Besides the geese, Sirois sighs, “We have a dog problem. Our beaches and our rare plant habitats that are used as dog parks—this is highly questionable. We have many wild versions of Butchart Gardens, but better. We need to treat them like we do those gardens.” The Dallas Road walkway features a two-kilometre off-leash area, where dogs swim on beaches and romp along shorelines. Signs exist in parks like Dionysio on Galiano Island, warning of nesting oystercatchers and other seabirds, but disturbing the established Dallas Road ecosystem of dogs and their owners may prove a hard sell. 
    Sirois names off local natural areas—Uplands Park, Cattle Point, Dallas Road, the Oak Bay archipelago—that could constitute core conservation areas in the Salish Sea Biosphere. “Right now, we still have all of the ingredients here,” says Sirois. “The bald eagle has returned. The northern elephant seal returned, where they bred on Race Rocks in 2010.” As a recent success story he cites Howe Sound, where the Squamish Stream Keepers began a herring reintroduction program in 2004, covering creosote pilings with environmental wrappers to protect roe from contamination. The eggs began surviving. Within ten years, he tells me, Orca, salmon and birds returned to what had been an industrially decimated area. 
    Purple martins and Coho salmon are returning, Sirois continues; Olympia oysters have survived decades of pollution in the Gorge. Herring could also return. “I think we have to ask, do we want this kind of beauty, or do we not?” He pauses and leans closer. “What we do today is what we will have in the future,” he says.
    Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast (New Star, 2012).

    Maleea Acker
    November 2015
    Carmel and Woody Thomson show how love of place can keep it safe.
    BACK IN THE LATE 1990s I learned of a legendary property in West Saanich that a few lucky UVic students lived on each September through April. On tiny Maltby Lake, there was a large house for communal living and a smaller off-the-grid cottage for a couple. When I finally visited one fall, the students renting from caretakers and part-owners Woody and Carmel Thomson were playing banjo on the lake’s dock, stoking the woodstove and exploring the hand-cut trails that circle the lake and fan out through its forests. The paths wound through Douglas fir and cedar laden glades, into open meadows of Garry oak and moss and along headwater streams for the Tod Creek watershed. I thought I had stumbled on paradise. 
    The Thomsons, it seems, felt the same. In the midst of growing pressures from developers and ecosystem fragmentation region-wide, their recent efforts have helped safeguard Maltby Lake as one of the last undisturbed ecosystems in the Capital Region, and certainly the most untouched example in Saanich. After their success, however, two questions remain: Will the whole lake remain protected? And what should protection look like given the region’s growing population?
    In April of this year the BC Supreme Court ruled that the Thomsons could formalize a deal with The Land Conservancy of BC (TLC) to purchase 29 percent of the jointly-owned property (they previously owned 10 percent). An additional 6 percent still belongs to the TLC, which recently sold several of its properties to satisfy creditors and regain financial solvency. The landmark decision saw the TLC’s Court Monitor ultimately place a higher priority on ecological than economic value (other offers were refused because of the ecological covenants the Thomsons agreed to place on their portion). The $750,000 the Thomsons paid will ensure their share of their extended family’s property transfers before or upon their death to the municipality of Saanich or a land conservation organization; the covenants will help guard against development. 
    Though most laud the decision as a success story, only time will tell the ultimate outcome for Maltby. “The best outcome would be to have the whole property and lake protected,” Carmel Thomson tells me in their kitchen. “We’re hopeful that others in the family will come on board.” The property is unusual in that its owners do not hold fee simple title, but rather share their interest, a fact that hinders the placement of environmental covenants or creation of a park, but has also helped protect the property from development (as all owners have to agree on any changes). The Holmes and Dumberton families bought Maltby Lake from J.D. Pemberton, a Hudson’s Bay surveyor who completed the last leg of his journey to Victoria by canoe in 1851. Pemberton, Woody Thomson’s great-great grandfather, later started Pemberton & Son, a real estate and engineering firm. The families joined through marriage in 1917. 
    Maltby Lake lies about 30 minutes by car from downtown Victoria. Just north of the triangle intersection that connects Prospect Lake Road and Munn Road, the 172-acre property surrounds the 21 acre lake at its centre. The lake supports a population of rare freshwater jellyfish and sponges which, biologist Ian Bruce writes, have existed since the area rebounded from the compression of glaciation and the lake separated from Tod Inlet, thousands of years ago. The property also contains cutthroat trout, painted turtles, Pacific tree frogs, 18 listed species and the largest Douglas fir on record in Saanich (estimated to be 600 years old). 
    Woody and Carmel live in a converted barn on the property, a small wood-sided building with firewood stacked in the kitchen and desks piled with files and books. When I visited, the forest was quiet, the fall migration of songbirds already underway. The lake was a glowing pool surrounded by dry Douglas fir, creaking in summer’s last heat. “I was born here,” says Woody, “and as soon as high school was done in Ontario, I scampered back.” They have lived on Maltby together for 31 years, since Woody, a retired forest service photographer and filmmaker, met Carmel, a writer and researcher. Last year the Thomsons received a Saanich Environmental Award for Long-Term Achievement in recognition of their work to protect Maltby Lake.
    The vision the Thomsons have for the lake places ecological integrity higher than public use, a fine balance that’s easily destroyed. For proof one need only look to other regional lakes, like Elk and Beaver Lakes, which have yearly problems with fecal coliform levels and agricultural pollution, or Durrance Lake, which is a sea of floaty toys and swimmers on sunny summer days. The Thomson’s vision raises questions about how best to coexist in a region with both spectacular natural beauty and a burgeoning population.
    The Capital Region population is expected to increase from its current 381,743 to 456,377 by 2035. Much of this growth will occur in the West Shore, where developments on Bear Mountain, Skirt Mountain, West Hills and Olympic View, in Langford and Colwood, will absorb many of the new single family dwellings. This increase, however, will also see increased pressure on recreational parks and natural areas. Fewer large, forested properties and more small acreages or housing developments also puts more pressure on places like Maltby as wildlife sanctuaries. 
    In the end, who is a park for? The Capital Regional District has closed access to large parcels of the Sooke Watershed lands; its rationale isn’t simply protection of drinking water for the region, but ecological protection for every species. The Thomson’s purchase raises a key question for Maltby and places like it: In future should priority lie with human recreational use or with the ecosystems that make a property so distinctive?
    The Thomsons’ bid to save Maltby isn’t the first grassroots attempt to protect large parcels of the central south island. In 2010 former Highlands Mayor Bob McMinn, then 86, began a campaign to protect Mary Lake, in the Highlands, from development. Using Twitter and an interactive website, supporters could purchase square metres of land, but insufficient money was ultimately raised. In comparison, the Thomsons have been lucky; they emphasize the community support that galvanized their efforts. “We’ve met some amazing people,” says Carmel, “and they’ve all been tremendously generous.” Support that the Thomsons received included letters from 17 conservation organizations. All funds raised went to the Friends of Maltby Lake Society, which may buy the TLC’s remaining six percent.
    Several agencies in the Capital Region accept gifts of land, including TLC, The Land Trust Alliance of BC, The Nature Trust of BC, Habitat Acquisition Trust and the Province of BC. Ecologically significant land donations have significant tax benefits and conservation covenants can ensure land is protected in perpetuity. Most, however, do not accept shared interest gifts.
    The Thomsons currently use Maltby as an untreated water source. When the lake freezes, small, cobalt blue open patches of water dot the surface. These, Woody explains to me, are where the multitude of natural springs are bubbling up from the lake’s bottom with warmer water. “It’s the only lake in the region that’s classified as Pristine,” he tells me. Carmel pulls out another file to show me proof, “We mortgaged everything we had to save Maltby, and we’re in debt up to our eyeballs.” She pauses, “But when you start to understand the natural, social, environmental and cultural values of this area, you really become passionate.”
    Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast (New Star, 2012).

    Briony Penn
    November 2015
    The rise and fall of fish farming in Ahousaht territory.
    QAAMINA HUNTER starts our telephone conversation by telling me I’ve reached the general store in Ahousat village. I apologize that I have called the wrong number (Is there a general store in Ahousat?). Then I hear him laugh. Judging by the children’s voices in the background, it might as well be a general store I’ve reached. Qaamina’s house is certainly some kind of major hub for this First Nation of 2000 people.
    Carver, fisherman, wilderness tour guide, youth counsellor, activist, ex-fish farm worker, grandfather, basketball coach and wise guy, Hunter laughs again when I cautiously ask him what his western title is. “Better say carver because that’s the one I’m famous for.” His masks are famous—in more ways than one. They have been all over the media lately. Masks with the tears of swimming salmon on them, strapped to boats of Ahousaht protestors who—for the first time in BC’s conflicted history with fish farming—successfully stopped one. The offending proposed farm was due to go into Ahousaht territory, at a place called Yaakswiis—a real general store of the region, a bay near the salmon-bearing Atleo River where you used to be able to get all the food you needed before the fish farms arrived. 
    (Careful readers will notice two apparently different spellings of “Ahousat” in this story. Ahousat refers to the village, Ahousaht to the people and their land.)
    Qaamina, as one of the elders, provided support to the younger Ahousaht activists led by Lennie John, who camped out on the new floating catwalks and successfully blocked fish farm giant Cermaq’s access to the net pens. 
    How and why did a carver grandfather turn into an activist? Qaamina describes how from the day the fish farms arrived nearly 20 years ago, he had concerns about them. A fisherman of 45 years, there isn’t too much on the sea that misses his notice. “Our fishing collapsed, it went downhill and that is all we knew. Our people have been suffering.” 
    Luckily Qaamina could turn to wilderness guiding as an alternate livelihood, something he had done since a boy of 11 taking visitors to the hot springs for 5 cents. “The fortunate thing for me was that I knew tourism was going to be there,” but others in his community, with declining fishing, were drawn to big promises of lots of steady jobs in the industry made by Pacific National Aquaculture (PNA). “So our people said: OK, it is money coming in.” Fish farming was welcomed by the leadership. Yet over the years, the 14 fish farms in the territory have resulted in only about 15 total jobs for local people.
    Mainstream purchased PNA in 2000, acquiring farms in Chile and Norway, as well as the 14 farm sites in Clayoquot, all of which are in Ahousaht territory. Then Cermaq, a Norwegian company, purchased Mainstream. And last year, Cermaq became part of the giant Mitsubishi empire. 
    In the beginning, Qaamina said, “We didn’t know what the impacts were, if any.” 
    In 2007, he decided to go work on the fish farm “to see what it was like.” He worked for three months when the first disaster struck. In September 2007, a containment net of a pen near Ahousat village was torn and salmon started escaping. The deputy manager of Mainstream told the Globe and Mail at the time that 5000 Atlantic salmon had been pulled out of the water in between that net and the predator net. 
    Meanwhile, outside the pens, Ahousaht fisherman were pulling up Atlantics in droves with buzz bombs and their own nets, to keep the non-native species from intermingling with the returning Pacific salmon species. “There was a lot more escapees than they said,” says Qaamina. He and other Ahousaht fishermen protested and Qaamina lost his job: “They let me go because they saw my boat out there protesting.” 
    He says he had seen enough to know that there were other problems. “I noticed the deterioration of our fish, but also the divide it has created, not only bleeding our stocks but bleeding our ties together.”
    But the leadership of Ahousaht had signed an agreement with Mainstream/Cermaq in 2002. The protocol was renewed in 2008, 2010 and then extended for another 5 years last January. The most recent iteration identified problem sites, like Dixon Bay west of the Megin River, that needed re-siting away from what were referred to as “Pristine Areas.” Yaakswiis was intended to be a replacement site for the Dixon Bay farm, which was believed to be more vulnerable. But for Qaamina and others, no location is good. 
    Qaamina’s 87-year-old father Stanley Sam— or Tsahsiits—told his son that these sites are too culturally important to be invaded by farms. He told Qaamina that below one of the farms, “is a cave underwater that our people used to swim down to become what they wanted to become—whether it was a great speaker or a warrior in the village.” They put a farm right on top of it without consulting the elders, Tsahsiits told him.
    Qaamina also points out, “People didn’t know the impacts of the fish farms to our territory. They didn’t know about all the sludge and the crap that dumps into the ocean. One of my nephews who worked on a farm says: ‘I can’t speak. There are a lot of things that they tell us not to say.’ So my encouragement was: Just do the right thing.” 
    According to Qaamina, every family had someone working for Cermaq. One of his own sons worked for Cermaq, as have nephews. His son knew what was going on in the inside and had decided he wanted out; he planned to become an RCMP officer. Unfortunately, a week after he quit the fish farm, he was in a fatal float plane crash. Qaamina took in two of his orphaned grandchildren and started on a project to ease his loss through carving masks for all his grandchildren to celebrate a teaching that his mother, Katie Sam, had provided. 
    “My mother always told me about the sacred salmon; how they searched for you and you didn’t search for them. And that is the theme for every carving, so I basically put salmon-are-sacred tears on the masks.” 
    It is these masks that have found their way, lashed to the bow of protest boats, into the media recently. “I thought of my mum when I told her I hated these farms. I just despised them. Not the workers, not the humans beings. I respect human life, but I just couldn’t stand what they were doing in our territory and to me as a fisherman—taking our jobs away.”
    The issue came to a head this summer with a decision by Christy Clark to issue two new tenures on the August long weekend despite the recommendations of the Cohen Commission for DFO to review and change the siting criteria and analyze all current licenses to meet the new criteria. DFO did review the sites with some criteria and rejected one at Hebert Inlet (a first for DFO), but Yaakswiis got the green light, perhaps as the sacrificial lamb for re-siting Dixon Bay. Ahousaht warrior Lennie John spearheaded a petition to the hereditary leadership (who had approved the farm’s site), while biologist Alex Morton took a 106,000-signature petition to the legislature. When the catwalks and pens started accumulating on Tofino docks late this summer, they knew a protest would be necessary to protect Yaakswiis.
    Qaamina’s role in the blockade was doing what he always does at basketball tournaments, potlatches and functions of the village. “I supported them circling the farm doing silent prayers and I made a statement: that the power that we carry from our ancestors is still alive within us.” Qaamina has coached most of the young people of the village at some time or other, as well as being a parent, foster parent, uncle and of course grandparent. With the general store of the Hunter clan supporting them, the younger warriors were on solid footing. 
    The blockade continued for 13 days and on September 21 the company agreed to remove the farm. Dan Lewis and Bonny Glambeck of Clayoquot Action were witnesses in Qaamina’s boat and they report that in the final hours of the blockade Qaamina left them to do a stream purification ritual. He explained, “A long time ago, we were all praying people for our salmon. We all went onto the ocean and swam together praying for the fish to come…We have to start by putting everything back to the way it was. The old way.” The Ahousaht fisheries boat arrived at the floats being dismantled and the hereditary and elected chiefs asked Qaamina to join their ceremony. 
    When asked why he thought the leadership rescinded their approval of the farm, Qaamina said: “I think because of pressures. Even though a Chief can make a final decision and say the way it is going to be, people have more of a voice.”
    Qaamina is full of plans to see the return of the salmon “back for our grandchildren.” He wants more information for his people. Tsahsiits wants native names re-established for all the places where the fish farms are because “they all have a story and a meaning and they were given to us by the creator.” 
    According to Glambeck and Lewis, “the social licence to do fish farms is almost gone. People don’t want an expansion, they don’t want the farms.” Qaamina believes the salmon will come back but “we have to work together to make these things happen. It took nine very strong people to get it overturned with support and supporters. I’m thinking of Lennie John’s words: ‘Imagine what we could do as a nation?’”
    Briony Penn, PhD is a naturalist, journalist, artist and award-winning environmental educator. She is the author of  The Kids Book of Geography (Kids Can Press)  and  A Year on the Wild Side.

    Maleea Acker

    Salmon resurgence

    By Maleea Acker, in Earthrise,

    October 2015
    Thanks in part to volunteers like Dorothy Chambers, coho salmon are thriving in Colquitz River—but for how long?
    A WALK ALONG THE GORGE WATERWAY in the months of October and November usually yields the occasional splash of a salmon.  Last fall those splashes, amidst the smooth currents of the waterway, became a leaping river, as mature coho salmon returned from the open sea to their natal spawning streams. “It felt so amazing, exciting and satisfying” to see the high returns, Dorothy Chambers tells me. “Close to 4000 passed under the Admirals Bridge.”
    Chambers, a Gorge-Tillicum resident and nurse, assisted in counting 1600 coho in the Colquitz River in 2014. This year Chambers, a Colquitz River Steward and 25-year volunteer for Friends of Cuthbert Holmes Park and the Gorge Waterway Initiative, is hoping again for thousands, but climate anomalies may pose the newest threat.
    The Craigflower and Colquitz are the two major watersheds to feed Portage Inlet and the upper Gorge Waterway. Together, they include more than 7400 hectares of land. Water flows from 13 lakes, numerous bogs and flats, and over 35 creeks and brooks in Saanich and the Highlands municipalities. Flow comes from as far east as Blenkinsop Lake and as far north as Elk and Beaver Lakes, Upper and Lower Thetis and a host of lakes in the Highlands. Readers can find watershed maps on the Capital Regional District’s (CRD) website. 
    The Colquitz and Craigflower watersheds are unique in the CRD in that, though urban, they continue to support coho salmon stock. The Craigflower exists largely in its original state, with more than 30 percent protected by regional parks; some coho spawn as far upstream as Prior Lake. 
    The Colquitz is more compromised by development and invasive species, but Chambers has seen sculpin, trout, perch, and pumpkinseed fish in Cuthbert Holmes Park, which includes the Colquitz estuary. 
    Fish counting fences exist on both streams. Over 17 community organizations currently work to monitor the number of returning salmon as well as their health and spawning rates. There are plans to construct a smolt fence, which will also allow for cutthroat trout counts. 
    Chambers is concerned that the coho salmon run could be threatened by the region’s summer drought, high temperatures in local streams, and the unprecedented size of an offshore red algae bloom that stretched from California to Alaska this summer. Warmer waters that trigger algae blooms can encourage growth of less nutritious forms of zooplankton, Lara Sloan, from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), explains: “It’s like the salmon are eating popcorn instead of steak.” 
    The bloom, which stayed offshore in BC, won’t necessarily affect 2015’s returns, but it could affect subsequent spring and fall runs. 
    This year, it’s warmer waters in local streams that has Chambers worried. In 2013 the CRD amended its water license to allow annual summer flows from a Thetis Lake dam into Craigflower and McKenzie creeks, which helps keep salmon fry habitat from warming and drying out. But Ian Perry, senior research scientist at DFO, explains that “warmer ocean water tends to also warm the atmosphere” and that elevates local stream temperatures. “It’s not encouraging,” he admits. Salmon prefer colder water and need higher flows in creeks to reach their spawning grounds. “We expect higher than normal temperatures and lower precipitation rates to continue through the end of October” says Perry. 
    Despite less than ideal meteorological conditions, Chambers isn’t easily discouraged. In 2006, while working to rehabilitate heron rookery habitat on the Colquitz River, she encountered volunteers working at a fish fence to count spawning salmon. A fish fence is a barrier temporarily placed in a river. As fish swim upstream they are caught in a box-like trap, counted, then lifted clear and set free to spawn upstream. Chambers fell in love with the process. 
    Realizing that publicity was key to support for salmon, she started the Colquitz Salmonid Stewardship and Education Society with fellow volunteers Chris Bos and Barrie Goodwin, hoping that CSSES could be “a voice for the watershed.” Working with the District of Saanich, Chambers engages with local communities, leading school group tours and talking to community members about the species that call the creek home. She works long hours each spawning season, counting and tracking fish and providing information to the public, stewardship organizations and the CRD. “To see the salmon come back is a testament to the community and to conservation.”
    Salmon have been called the lifeblood of the Pacific Northwest. In the sea, they provide food for orca whales, seals and sea lions. When returning to the freshwater spawning habitats where they were born they are food for eagles and bears, who carry their carcasses onto the shore, providing, in turn, nutrients for forests. 
    Craigflower Creek lost its salmon in the 1970s due to pollution and in-stream barriers (caused by construction of roads and houses). By the 1980s, heavy metals, petroleum, pesticides and high fecal coliform counts in the Gorge contributed to its dubious status as the most polluted waterway on the BC coast. Leaking oil tanks, fertilizers and pesticides from residential properties, storm water runoff, and the dumping of chemicals contributed to low water quality in both Craigflower Creek and Colquitz River, particularly in their passage through suburban areas. “At one point,” says Chambers, “there was not the concern for this wildlife refuge and recognition of the value of the estuary and migratory bird sanctuary.” Original plans for lands surrounding the estuary included a BMX racing track, a boat launch and community gardens in the riparian zone. “I’ve seen so many changes since I started this journey 25 years ago.”
    Beginning in the 1990s, two decades of cleanup—led by volunteers, local government and the World Fisheries Trust—transformed the area. Juvenile coho were reintroduced from Goldstream River. Populations stabilized at 200-400 returning fish per year by the early 2000s. Today, the Gorge is a habitat suitable for swimmers, the native Olympia oyster and native species, despite recent incidents like Schnitzer Steel’s spill of crushed cars into the waterway. This month, Victoria will move ahead with eviction of live-aboards and abolition of long-term moorage in the Gorge, a move some argue will further improve the waterway’s health. Slowly, thanks to the efforts of many, the Gorge’s freshwater ecosystems are also reestablishing a modicum of health. 
    Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke MP Randall Garrison walked with Chambers through Cuthbert Holmes Park last spring and introduced a private member’s bill to restore federal environmental protection for the Colquitz, Sooke and Todd Creek watersheds. “I found out I didn’t know very much [about the ecosystem] compared to Dorothy,” Garrison tells me by phone. He introduced the bill in part because the change of the Navigable Waters Protection Act to the Navigation Protection Act, with the passage of Bill C-45, “stripped protection from every watershed on Vancouver Island,” dropping the number of federally protected lakes and rivers from 2.5 million down to just 159. 
    In 2012, Chamber, Bos and Goodwin were awarded Saanich Environmental Awards in biodiversity conservation. What really keeps Chambers optimistic about continued resurgence of wildlife, including salmon, though, are the changes she’s seen in people’s behaviours. “I think I could die now and be satisfied that enough people would carry on this work.” Meanwhile, she’s crossing her fingers that climate change won’t negate everyone’s efforts.
    Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast (New Star, 2012).

    Maleea Acker
    September 2015
    Malcom Rodin volunteers his time to nurture native songbirds.
    ESQUIMALT RESIDENT Malcolm Rodin has a passion for native songbirds. It began with summers on his grandfather’s farm in southern Saskatchewan. Each summer, he tells me, “Barn swallows would nest in all the outbuildings. I just got this love of them. You could climb up and look in the nests and really enjoy them.” 
    Rodin, tall and modest, eventually moved to Vancouver Island, working at CFB Esquimalt  for 21 years before retirement. But it wasn’t until the store For Wild Birds and Gardeners closed in the mid 2000s (in Rodin’s opinion, the only one in the region to provide accurate advice on native bird protection) that his passion bloomed into a one-man attempt to protect and support swallow populations. “I’ve been doing this work ever since I pieced together what the solutions were,” Rodin says, “I had struggled for a long time to get good birds to nest in my yard and keep invasive birds out, so once that came together I wanted to connect with other interested people.”
    As funding for environmental protection becomes harder to come by, the work of individuals like Rodin may prove integral to the region’s ecological health. His labour—including staffing an information table at local nature events, visiting and emailing home owners, consulting with government and nonprofits, and taking care of his own “string” of nest boxes—now takes more than two days a week. “I find it pretty amusing,” he says, laughing. “I have no degree in biology. I’m surprised that it comes down to me as a volunteer to do something. But I love being close to the swallows, so it’s a dream, really.” 
    Swallows are migratory, returning from Central America each spring. They catch their prey on the wing and can significantly reduce mosquito populations, which in turn reduces the spread of West Nile virus. Violet-green and tree swallows nest in feather-lined tree or cliff cavities and nest boxes; barn swallows nest in mud cups often built on vertical surfaces such as eaves, rafters, and the undersides of bridges, wharfs, and culverts.
    Programs aimed at protecting these and other native birds rely mainly on federal and provincial funding. Such funding has diminished during the terms of Prime Minister Harper and BC Premier Christy Clark. Numerous critics have complained about government underfunding of environmental programs, as well as bill C-38’s weakening of the federal Species at Risk Act. Barn swallows are blue-listed (“of special concern”), but they are not protected under the Act. Moreover, they are suffering from lack of nesting and forage sites, which speaks to larger issues of habitat protection and restoration, which both current levels of government largely ignore. 
    Hence more and more it is up to citizens like Rodin and their organizations to protect Canada’s native flora and fauna. Rodin does this in a very hands-on, practical manner.
    He and his wife Christina’s webpage—members.shaw.ca/swallows—instructs on the art of his nest box with an oval hole design. This keeps invasive birds like house sparrows from entering. 
    However, it’s Rodin’s face-to-face collaborations with backyard birders and organizations that have protected or added habitat in small pockets of the region. Rodin has visited over 300 landowners to provide advice. He installs countless barn swallow platforms on both public and private properties. And he is regularly called upon to consult and provide volunteer services for agencies as diverse as Parks Canada, the Swan Lake Nature Sanctuary, Vancouver Island Technical Park, and the Cordova Bay Golf Course. He receives no payment for the work he does.
    Rodin’s consultations help mitigate human/wildlife conflicts but they can also place him in murky legal territory. When barn swallows began nesting above the Victoria City Rowing Club’s Olympic team’s boats at Elk Lake, the rowers’ first reaction was to tear the nests down in order to prevent droppings from accumulating on oars and boats. 
    Native bird nests, however, are protected by the BC Wildlife Act. Removing (or moving) them is prohibited. So Environment Canada asked Rodin to consult with the rowing team to find a solution. “I became the mediator,” Rodin explains. Club Manager Brenda Taylor concurs: “Some people didn’t understand why swallows are protected. Malcolm was very practical and non-judgmental in his approach.” Rodin’s unorthodox but successful solution was to relocate nests to the building’s exterior and construct additional platforms for subsequent nesting birds. It was technically illegal, but it worked. “If it weren’t for Malcolm,” Taylor tells me, “we wouldn’t be able to do this.”
    Swallows’ aerobatics are beautiful, but protecting them in a world rife with invasive species isn’t without its grisly side. Organizations and individuals sometimes call on Rodin to do work others cannot or will not do. This often involves the provision of house sparrow nest and food traps to help lower their populations, though Rodin estimates that less than one percent of the home owners he visits can bring themselves to kill invasive birds. 
    Opponents to culls cite squeamishness, cruelty or argue against humans’ tendency to play god. Proponents, including Rodin, argue that without active management, native species will suffer reductions in populations or even extirpation. 
    Often, the problem grows inadvertently. By permitting alien species to nest in nest boxes, he says, “people are killing protected birds indirectly, by allowing aggressive birds to multiply.” Eric Higgs, Professor of Environmental Studies at UVic, agrees. “What he’s doing is consistent with how we manage other invasive species.” The ethics can be complex, Higgs admits, but “what we should be doing more of is understanding the complex ecological implications of what we choose not to do.”
    Few birders would call the European house sparrow a welcome arrival to North America, though some admire its cheerful cheeps and wily ability to coax crumbs from café patrons. The sparrow is more accurately described as an aggressive Napoleon, enlarging its territory coast to coast since its import to New York (via ship from Liverpool) in 1851. House sparrows maim and kill native birds even when their own nests are secure. Recent research even suggests that differences in their immune system may protect them from new pathogens, allowing for more successful expansion of their range. 
    Rodin confides that many who work in official channels have encouraged his alien species reduction work. “One reason I didn’t join an organization [was that] I could tell the truth to the public and be very forward in my wording…without fear of being fired or losing funding.” 
    Rodin’s passion for education also extends to businesses that sell bird houses. Rodin admits he’s been asked to leave some stores after repeatedly asking their managers to change their practice of selling bird houses with round holes large enough to allow entrance by house sparrows. 
    Rodin recently worked at Outerbridge Park, deeded by Joan (Jo Ann) Outerbridge to the District of Saanich. Outerbridge had posts and pilings with bird houses in disrepair and Rodin worked with the park’s carpenter to begin a nest box program. Now established, the boxes need little maintenance. “It’s a very successful site, where we built on what her love of birds and nature started.” 
    Outerbridge left a legacy, but what happens when individuals like Rodin can no longer carry the burden? Last year, Rodin was diagnosed with leukaemia; he is currently undergoing treatment. “I don’t see a line up behind me,” he says. “The ideal succession plan is to get all levels of government onside.” This would involve, he claims, putting house sparrows on an invasive species list, rather than just noting them as an alien species. Invasive species are eligible for population reduction funding; without an Invasive Species Act, currently under consideration by the provincial government, efforts to fight invaders tend to be scattered or ineffective.
    Rodin helped me install a second swallow box in my yard this spring, over 50 years after seeing his first nesting swallows. He watched as two newly returned pairs of violet-green swallows circled the house. “My truck burns $20 an hour doing these house calls. But it’s a passion and some interests and passions could cost a lot more.”
    Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast (New Star, 2012).

    Briony Penn
    July 2015
    Eight planned cutbacks in the Walbran are raising the temperature among those concerned about BC's old-growth forests.
    IN 1991, Western Canada Wilderness Committee (WC2) campaigner, Torrance Coste, was a three-year-old growing up in Lake Cowichan. Barrelling through his community at the time were logging truck loads of old-growth logs coming out of the Walbran Valley and buses of protestors coming in. “I even remember the hand-painted signs: ‘No raw log exports’ which I could just about read.” Coste adds, “Though I didn’t have a clue what they meant then, I do now.” 
    On one of the buses of protestors was Ken Wu, a 17-year-old first-year biology student at UBC, fresh from the prairies and new to activism. Ken was dropped into a grove of old-growth western red cedar and spruce and, according to Wu, “I lost my ecovirginity.” He returned to UBC and organized his first rally to save the old growth of Walbran. One hundred people turned up and he has continued organizing ever since, first as a campaigner for WC2 and then under his own banner of the Ancient Forest Alliance. 
    After years of protest in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the BC government bowed to public pressure and created Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park by purchasing back Tree Farm Licences from MacMillan Bloedel for $83.75 million. But not all the valley’s forests were saved.
    Now the Walbran is poised once again to become ground zero for the latest “war in the woods”—civil disobedience in the form of peaceful blockades of logging. Environmentalists are condemning the plans of Teal Jones Group—a logging company that has held Tree Farm Licence 46 since 2004—to log in the Central Walbran Ancient Forest. The eight cutblocks proposed are in the controversial “bite” out of Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park—literally a big chunk of very high value western red cedar groves left outside the park when the boundary was drawn. The cutblocks are near hiking trails that lead to massive old trees, including the 1000-year-old Castle Giant, more than five metres across at its base. The BC government has approved Teal Jones’ Forest Stewardship Plan, although it has yet to receive plans or issue permits for the cutting.
    Coste believes that if it hadn’t been for early campaigners, nothing of the Carmanah/Walbran forests would have been saved for his generation. So he asked himself what his generation is going to save for the next. “We are going to revive the war in the woods. Every time there has been a presence, changes are made. There is a willingness to make the Walbran this year’s Burnaby Mountain. Of course,” he adds, “we would prefer to see this resolved by government action rather than blocking roads.” 
    The Sierra Club of BC is also wading in, brandishing facts and figures. In 2004, the Sierra Club produced a map of what was left of productive old growth temperate rainforest on Vancouver Island. A decade ago, 90 percent of the valley bottom forests, where the biggest trees were, had already gone. Not surprisingly, things have only become worse in the last decade. It is a finite resource. Jens Wieting, forest campaigner for Sierra Club, who has also been on this file for most of his professional career, says his frustration comes in a variety of forms. Although new conservation-oriented economic tools exist in BC, such as those being implemented in the Great Bear Rainforest which allow for 70 percent protection of the landscape, no such effort at conservation is happening on Vancouver Island. “Ten percent protection of these temperate rainforests, which have the highest sequestration rates of carbon in the world, is not enough,” notes Wieting. 
    The old Vancouver Island Land Use Plan, which was never properly implemented, hasn’t been updated for two decades. After being eaten away by industry, bit by bit, only 10 percent of the entire land base has been set aside in a fragmented collection of parks, Old Growth Management Areas, Wildlife Habitat Areas, and Wildlife Tree Patches. The latter, referred to as WTPs, are a specific designation protecting “a group of trees that are identified in an operational plan to provide present or future wildlife habitat.” Retention requirements in any cutblock are regulated at 10 percent. Typically these WTPs are less than two hectares wide and are frequently subjected to blowdown, yet WTPs are about the only tool being used by Teal Jones. These old designations have resulted in a patchy landscape that doesn’t serve wildlife or forest health.
    The relationship between preserving carbon sinks and mitigating climate change is the other big factor missing in current government policy on Vancouver Island. A report released last year by the Sierra Club—Carbon at Risk: BC’s Unprotected Old-growth Rainforest—called for the elimination of old-growth logging on Vancouver Island. It showed that one year of logging old-growth rainforest in southwest BC was responsible for releasing approximately three million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. As Wieting pointed out, “We blew BC’s entire carbon savings for a year because the BC government doesn’t have a plan to protect the rare old-growth forests of Vancouver Island and the South Coast.” 
    This year appears to be no exception. So long as we continue to log at the same pace on Vancouver Island, we nullify any progress on reducing provincial carbon emissions.
    INSPIRED BY HIS LOVE of the ancient forest near his hometown, Torrance Coste represents the next generation of activists: well versed in biodiversity, carbon science, economic analysis, and endangered species legislation. 
    Many endangered species inhabit these forests, including Northern Goshawk laingi subspecies, Marbled Murrelet, Western Screech Owl kennicottii subspecies—all of which Coste says he discussed with Teal Jones representatives over the last nine months. “I guess I was naïve. I thought that they were listening to us when we asked them to at least stay out of the bite, which is only 486 hectares or 0.5 percent of their total 99,130-hectare TFL.” 
    Teal Jones did a “surprise” clearcut in this “bite” in 2013, an act which put ENGOs on high alert and running to company offices to discuss the situation. “When we recently got the plans for the eight cutblocks in the bite and found orange flagging tape near the famous Castle Grove, after all our conversations, we knew there was no sense in talking anymore,” Coste says. (Focus requested an interview with Teal Jones officials, but the company didn’t respond. The company website notes it complies with a Canadian Standard Association Sustainable Forest Management certification, a low bar over which the company can easily step and then claim it complies with existing government rules and policy.)
    Neither Coste nor Wu were old enough to be involved in the extensive negotiations and planning in the ’90s that resulted in British Columbia leading the world by being the first to sign the landmark 1992 Earth Summit Conventions on Biodiversity, Climate Change and Desertification. The 1991 Walbran protests led to the setting up of the Wilderness Advisory Committee, the Old Growth Strategy, the Protected Areas Strategy, the Clayoquot decisions, and the Commission on Resources and Environment, which in turn led to the Vancouver Island Land Use Plan (VILUP) in 1994. 
    Few young activists today can believe BC was once a world leader in forest ecology, biodiversity, climate change, and best practices for public consultation. What they see now is a bare-bones lip-service approach, the result of a gutted Forest and Range Practices Act. “Professional reliance”—whereby forestry companies have been given much of the responsibility for oversight previously conducted by government officials—and pseudo consultation have become the operating principles by which Crown forests are managed.
    Masters student Sabrina Schwartz at the University of Alberta reviewed the 20-year-old VILUP in 2014 regarding its “ability to cope with past, current and future demands of its stakeholders.” She concluded: “The VILUP was a necessary government tool, to solve the intense conflicts of the ‘War in the Woods’ and to clarify the general land use management on Vancouver Island; it was, however, not able to establish a province-wide sustainability guideline, which would have left an organized, focused and fair land use and resource management on Vancouver Island.” 
    In less diplomatic words, the disorganized, scattered and uneven policy of the BC government is laying the province wide open to a future “war in the woods.” The BC government responded to Focus’ questions with the statement that Teal Jones is within its legal rights to log in the area. It failed to respond to questions about the role of forests in its climate action plan. 
    Coste is quickly finding out “you have to get out there and protest to get them to listen. Grass roots pressure has worked in the past. It is going to work again.” Coste’s sights are on the Walbran—his home patch. For Wu, “these cutblocks are the cherries on the cake, we still have to address the cake. We need a new land use plan for Vancouver Island.” For Wieting, that is a plan that is province-wide and integrates biodiversity, diversification of economic opportunities, and climate change.
    Briony Penn, PhD is a naturalist, journalist, artist and award-winning environmental educator. She is the author of  The Kids Book of Geography (Kids Can Press)  and  A Year on the Wild Side.

    Briony Penn

    Lori and Goliath

    By Briony Penn, in Earthrise,

    May 2015
    A scientific communicator takes on big oil and its so-called regulator.
    WHEN THE BURRARD OIL SPILL started seeping onto English Bay beaches in April, the backstory of the oil industry’s corresponding rising share prices was already in the blogosphere. Kinder Morgan (Trans Mountain) owns half of Western Canada Marine Response Corporation (WCMRC), a company that has a monopoly on cleaning up spills on the coast. Lori Waters, a scientific communicator in rural Saanich, was connecting the dots for her blog followers in graphic detail. 
    Waters is not your typical David taking on the goliath oil industry. With two Masters degrees, one in science (in biomedical communications) and the other in fine arts, rather than wielding more conventional weapons of mass research and lengthy reports, she has sharpened her pen (and mouse) to generate images of key concepts that get the kind of viral exposure useful in challenging giants.
    Waters triggered a tsunami of protest in January of 2013 with her animated video submission on the last day of the Enbridge Joint Review Panel of the National Energy Board (NEB). She inserted the missing islands in Enbridge’s “tanker safety” advertising videos and recreated what the tankers would actually be navigating—a tortuous archipelago of 1000 square kilometres of islands rather than the placid “gaping maw” that Enbridge had portrayed as Douglas Channel. Her recreated videos went viral, reaching international newspapers. She also lodged a complaint with the Competitions Bureau and Advertising Standards Canada that Enbridge’s ads were false and misleading. In response to the bad press, Enbridge withdrew their videos. Waters is a new kind of scientist-artist-activist who understands the power of images that quickly and succinctly communicate key issues.
    It was natural for Waters to turn her attention to the Kinder Morgan pipeline hearings given the potential impacts of tanker traffic on her own home stretch of the Salish Sea. These hearings have been declared a sham by high profile folk like ex-CEO of BC Hydro, Marc Eliesen. In November last year Eliesen withdrew from the hearings with a widely circulated letter claiming, “This so-called public hearing process has become a farce, and this Board a truly industry-captured regulator.” 
    Eugene Kung, staff counsel with West Coast Environmental Law, recently wrote: “The myriad of criticisms (too numerous to list exhaustively) includes limiting public participation and expression (now seeking leave at the Supreme Court of Canada); excluding climate change from its scope…; inadequate testing of the evidence by cross examination or even answering the written questions asked; and participant funding disputes with directly affected landowners to name a few…We have serious concerns that the current NEB panel is neither independent from the oil industry proponents nor ready or able to assess the public interest of British Columbians.”
    During the last round of hearings, economist and ex-CEO of ICBC Robyn Allan waded in with a detailed economic critique of who actually benefits from Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline (not Canadians—see Focus, January 2015). The National Energy Board incurred further criticism recently when it denied a motion by the Province of BC to have Kinder Morgan’s spill plans made public, even though similar plans were made available under Washington State legal requirements. 
    One of the issues Allan brought to light that caught Water’s attention was the revelation that Trans Mountain Pipeline (Kinder Morgan) was in a conflict of interest about marine spill responses because they owned 50.9 percent of Western Canada Marine Response Corporation (WCMRC). This is the same company that failed to quickly contain a relatively tiny bunker oil spill on a dead calm April evening in Vancouver’s English Bay. Trans Mountain also owns a quarter share of Western Canadian Spill Services Ltd (WCSSL), another company that cleans up their oil spills on land and water along with those of Enbridge and other oil industry companies. 
    Among other things, Allan’s submission identified the lack of transparency around this close connection. Trans Mountain referred to WCMRC and WCSSL as “third parties” in their communications to NEB, which Allan pointed out was misleading and inaccurate. Mysteriously, Allan’s submission was removed from the NEB website. That was the trigger for Waters. 
    Waters zeroed in on the ownership question and produced the headline with a twist and image to match. Instead of asking: “Who will profit from the pipeline?” she asked “Who will profit from an oil spill?” According to even Trans Mountain’s conservative estimates, there is a 10 percent chance of an oil spill in the Salish Sea. Recent events in Burrard Inlet confirm that these kind of statistical guesstimates are actually just a distraction from the real issues. 
    Spills will happen—and there is money to be made from them. The public should be asking, “Who stands to get rich when they do?” 
    In Vancouver, the estimated costs of the tiny bunker fuel spill are in excess of $1 million. A major spill clean up of bitumen in Burrard Inlet (500,000 barrels or 70 percent of an Aframax tanker) has been estimated to be as much as $40 billion dollars (more than the provincial budget) according to the 2012 calculations of Pulitzer-nominated journalist Rex Weyler. That figure, based on research done from other oil spills and the cost incurred based on the cost per barrel of oil that was spilled, includes clean-up costs, resident evacuations, tourism loss, losses to the BC fishing industry, health costs and port losses in annual wages and salaries. Someone has to pay for the clean-up, and under the current regulations, the bulk of that someone will be the people of British Columbia. 
    Technically, under the four tiers of funding for the polluter-pay oil spill model, the company responsible for the spill is on the hook for the first $1.34 billion. Kinder Morgan’s own website notes that when the actual costs are higher, though, the public pays. If you look at Exxon Valdez, although $2 billion dollars was spent on clean-up, the spill was never properly completed and costs continue to mount, borne by a myriad of other jurisdictions and the people of Alaska. 
    “The real story,” Waters points out, “is that it doesn’t matter how much the company is obliged or bonded to pay in a spill if the government has difficulty getting the company to pay. The US government is still in court and Exxon continues to appeal court-ordered punitive damages a quarter century later, despite it being one of the most profitable companies on the planet. If Canada were in a similar position, I wonder what chance Canadian taxpayers would have at extracting funds from a company whose corporate structure already appears to be designed to shovel money out of Canada? We have a 10 percent chance of a catastrophic oil spill that will change all our lives, and it could cost us multiple billions of dollars at the expense of our public services. Not only that, but we’d be directly paying the lion’s share of those funds to the polluting company responsible, for the project that we didn’t even want in the first place. Kinder Morgan has hedged its bets towards profit—with or without a spill.” 
    Waters’ training included several years in Ghana working on a masters in fine art. There her activist leanings were heightened through witnessing the tragedy of AIDS and water inequity. She returned to Toronto to get her second masters in medical and scientific animation so she could communicate educational concepts to the people that needed to understand them most. 
    Returning to the coast, her skills were employed by Elizabeth May as a researcher/communications specialist. And now Waters is lending her sizeable talents to Raincoast Conservation Foundation—one of BC’s most respected scientific research-based environmental groups—where she has been hired to communicate Raincoast’s extensive coastal research, which includes the large body of evidence compiled regarding pipeline proposals. Raincoast has been an intervenor in both pipeline enquiries. It has made it its job to research and speak out about the probabilities of risk and the consequences of the two massive pipeline/tanker schemes.
    Waters sees her role as helping to “boil down” complex evidence, putting it into a more communicable form, one quickly understood by a broader range of people all over the digital universe—and locally too. Visual images of “Who benefits from the oil spill?” for instance, have been brought to audiences around BC through Raincoast’s public talks and its Directly Affected film. Waters is providing access to a younger and a wider audience that doesn’t read research scholarship by the likes of Robyn Allan (even if it hadn’t been deleted) and others that gets buried in the archives and libraries of our government’s institutions. 
    Since her experience with the NEB, Waters has also been resurrecting and posting deleted reports like Allan’s, and challenging the institutions to properly safeguard the reports they are charged with safekeeping. 
    Problems with the NEB go back further  than recent pipeline hearings. The first national enquiry into the NEB in 2000, called the Purvin & Gerz report, drew attention to the failure of the institution even then to address environmental concerns, assess cumulative impacts, provide transparency, and address public and aboriginal participation adequately.  Subsequent critiques and audits by the Auditor General have all referred back to the Purvin & Gerz report as a benchmark against which this national regulator has never improved its performance. In fact it appears to be getting worse. (Eugene Kung of West Coast Environmental Law has warned that it will continue to get worse, given recent announcements that the NEB is going to cut its operating budget by close to 25 percent over the next two years.)
    In her research, Waters had seen references to the Purvin & Gerz report, but discovered it was no longer in the Library of Parliament where, by law, it should have been lodged. It had apparently “gone missing.” Waters could only retrieve half of the report from the NEB library. The missing pages were the meat of the critique and recommendations for reform. She finally was able to acquire a full copy of the report from David Core, the head of the Canadian Association of Pipeline and Energy Land Owners Association, who has been an outspoken critic of the regulator. In her letter to the NEB and Parliament libraries, she writes:
    “I am concerned in general about this type of information going ‘missing,’…the current national administration appears to have a penchant and/or propensity for information destruction, such as the deletion of the majority of Canada’s public fisheries libraries…As an older report critical of the NEB at that time as a ‘captured’ regulator, this report allows determination of the scope and duration of these types of perceived issues at our ‘National’ quasi-judicial organization.”
    Waters feels there must be a better way to safeguard the public interest in relation to energy projects. “If we had a real National Energy Board instead of the Calgary Pipeline Approval Board, it would be comprised of people all over the country and not focused in one small jurisdiction—a city like Calgary [the Act requires that the NEB is based in Calgary] and it would consider all aspects of national energy, not just fossil fuels and pipelines.” 
    Waters wants to contribute to a national conversation around planning a sustainable energy future for Canada. “We are being sold a bill of goods by Harper that our national economy is dependent on the oil sands when it only supports two percent of our GDP… [A national energy plan] would consider alternatives that reflect a much wider part of our energy structure.” 
    One of Water’s ideas is a graphic that demonstrates there are more jobs making craft beer in Canada than there are in the tar sands. “A national energy plan, though, is a taboo subject; people think we still can’t talk about it a generation later, but why? Why wouldn’t you have a national energy policy? If you had a national energy plan, wouldn’t you have a national energy board to help Canadians put it together?”
    Briony Penn, PhD is a naturalist, journalist, artist and award-winning environmental educator. She is the author of  The Kids Book of Geography (Kids Can Press)  and  A Year on the Wild Side.

    Briony Penn
    September 2014
    Evidence of destruction of old-growth forest on Sonora Island appears set to shake up BC's South Central Coast forest policy.
    OVER MY YEARS OF REPORTING on TimberWest, there has been virtually nothing that could bring the company’s inexorable liquidation of their forestlands to heel. Being named in a case before the Inter-America Commission for Human Rights, for example, hasn’t slowed the company down; nor has being the focus of a wide-spread media campaign by Greenpeace in 2011. Nor has being challenged by shareholders. Nothing seemed able to slow TimberWest’s relentless pace. 
    That is until two pairs of siblings, all born and raised in the shadow of the last of the old growth on the Discovery Islands, took to the woods of TFL 47 to investigate if TimberWest’s logging had transgressed rules protecting endangered old-growth ecosystems.
    The Sonora Island foursome—Farlyn Campbell, her partner Jody Eriksson, Farlyn’s twin Tavish, and Jody’s brother Cam—have helped convince TimberWest to put a moratorium on the logging of old growth in one of the most threatened regions of the Great Bear Rainforest (parts of the Thurlow, Gray and Fulmore Landscape Units) while the company rethinks its approach. 
    It all started in February of 2013 when TimberWest flagged a cutblock in seven hectares on Sonora Island. This cutblock contained 160 old-growth trees, some with six-foot diameters and heights of 200 feet. The Sonorans obtained the cutblock plans from TimberWest and laid them down over Google Earth, discovering that numerous other planned cutblocks on Sonora’s Crown lands coincided with the last of the old growth on the island. Under existing rules, the company should have avoided any of the last remaining (four percent) old-growth Douglas-fir. 
    When they initially took their complaints to TimberWest, the Sonorans were given a variety of excuses. The most egregious justification for the locals was TimberWest’s claim that these were “second-growth” forests and they had a right to log them. It appears that TimberWest’s definition of old growth was “forest with more than 50 percent of the stand volume over 250 years old.” As Valerie Langer of Forest Ethics stated in her blog “How did they pull that off? By using a bizarre, technically-unheard-of definition they made up.” 
    So the Sonorans commissioned their own professional forester to come up with an opinion on that definition. Registered Professional Forester Doug Hopwood was “unable to find any documented scientific basis” for TimberWest’s definition of old growth. The Sonorans took the definitions to the Forest Practices Board (FPB), asking them to intervene, but the Board can only respond to a complaint once a violation has occurred. 
    The FPB told them, “Go talk to TimberWest and come back to us if they chop them down.” Throughout the rest of 2013, the company and the Sonorans did just that. Sonorans talked and TimberWest cut. TimberWest’s Chief Forester and VP for Sustainability Domenico Iannidinardo assured the Sonorans that TimberWest would be “precautionary” while the Forest Practices Board, the government, and First Nations developed their final ecosystem-based management agreement and definitions. 
    TimberWest’s definition of “precautionary,” however, seemed to be as shaky as their definition of old growth, and trees of great stature continued to fall. So in January of this year the Sonorans decided to collect evidence of violations of the “South Central Coast Order” for a formal complaint to the FPB. They mapped out where the company’s cutblocks were in the Thurlow Landscape Unit on Sonora and where endangered (red and blue listed) ecosystems overlapped. Then they packed some tents, a couple of bicycles and $500 worth of spray paint into their boat and set off to assess the situation on the ground. They had little difficulty finding huge stumps from recent logging; these they identified and marked with bright red paint. 
    Anyone can now see the painted stumps as they fly over Sonora Island at the southern edge of the Great Bear Rainforest. Each tree has been catalogued by the team, with its age and geographic location. Catalogues of seven cutblocks, which the foursome calls “Stump Reports,” document the cutting of close to 500 old-growth trees with an average age of 300 to 400 years old, with some as old as 800 years. 
    The team then made a formal complaint to the Forest Practices Board, which is now exploring whether TimberWest fulfilled the objectives of the South Central Coast Order. This legal order, passed to (temporarily) satisfy the Great Bear Rainforest Agreement in 2009, has obligations to maintain biodiversity, protect 30 percent of the old growth of each forest type and protect red- and blue-listed plant communities. The FPB has stated that it will be investigating whether the company “physically adhered to the spirit and intent of the Agreement,” which required them to use “ecosystem-based management.”
    Ecosystem-based management recognizes the importance of preserving  habitats wildlife need to maintain viable populations. For example, the red-listed (in BC “red listed” means extirpated, endangered, or threatened) marbeled murrelet can nest only in old-growth trees. Their population continues to decline in BC.
    With the Sonora Island old-growth trees having a monetary value of up to $10,000 each, depending on their size and condition, the temptation for TimberWest to overlook its obligation to practise ecosystem-based management was perhaps too great.
    Formerly in BC government foresters told companies where they could log on Crown land, and government foresters monitored the cutblocks. But the Liberal government argued company foresters could monitor themselves through their professional organization by a process known as “professional reliance.” It’s now evident this system is not working. 
    Lately, when professional foresters fail to protect endangered ecosystem or species, the responsibility has fallen on citizens to file complaints, but that requires discovery of the offense and the collection of evidence—a challenging proposition, especially when cutblocks are as remote as that documented on Sonora Island. That’s one weakness of “professional reliance.”
    A second is that such self-policing requires a robust disciplinary process. In 2009, the Association of BC Forest Professionals committed to “improve the transparency of the discipline process” and started to publish case digests. We now know that from 2010 to 2013 there were only seven complaints of failure to protect endangered ecosystems/species or riparian areas. Only one of those was investigated and no citations were issued. Although transparency is improving, there’s still no real deterrent for bad practices. 
    All that remains to keep companies honest is the Forest Practices Board, which has been gutted by the provincial government. The Board now does only one random annual audit of a TFL each year. At that rate, the odds are good a TFL won’t get audited more than twice in a century. 
    So it’s encouraging that, as announced this past month, the Board is conducting an audit of all of TFL 47. That audit, as well as a report on the Campbell-Eriksson complaint, is expected at the end of the year. 
    Meanwhile, with the threat of a judgement looming, everyone appears to be leaping into action. The Province, in conjunction with First Nations and licence holders, is finally redoing the 2009 Orders for the Great Bear Rainforest with the stated intent of “achieving low ecological risk” and a higher percentage of protected old growth. TimberWest has voluntarily made significant changes to their 2014 logging plans and, in fact, is going one step further than is required by the rules, creating restoration planning areas because of the extent of the damage in this region.
    But would any of these moves towards accountability have occurred without the hundreds of hours devoted to documenting TimberWest’s misdeeds by four young Sonora Islanders?
    Briony Penn, PhD is a naturalist, journalist, artist and award-winning environmental educator. She is the author of The Kids Book of Geography (Kids Can Press) and A Year on the Wild Side.

    Maleea Acker
    April 2013
    Victoria was described as a "perfect Eden" by Sir James Douglas. But then the sweet song of bluebirds disappeared.
    THIS SPRING AFTER DARKNESS DESCENDS, thousands of songbirds will navigate up the Pacific Flyway, travelling north to their summer breeding territories. Migrating from Central America, Central Mexico and the Southwestern United States, it’s possible to see their slight forms against the moon, or even hear their furious wing beats as they traverse the Olympic Peninsula, Juan de Fuca Strait, the San Juan and Gulf Islands, and up the reaches of Vancouver Island. 
    Amidst the Violet-green swallows, Golden-crowned sparrows, and Yellow warblers, Julia Daly, project technician with Victoria’s Garry Oak Ecosystems Recovery Team (GOERT), is crossing her fingers for the return of a few Western bluebirds, which have not bred here since 1995. That is, until last year. 
    Buoyant in flight, carrying, as Thoreau wrote, “the sky on its back,” the bluebird is a gorgeous harbinger of spring across North America. With its convivial habits and warbling song, the male Western bluebird is unmistakable: rich, cerulean blue colours its head, wings and tail, set off by an orange and white breast. Its soft, tentative calls once echoed over our region’s open meadow landscapes. 
    Population decline began in the 1950s, due to pesticide use, habitat loss, and predation by domestic and feral cats, invasive house sparrows and starlings. Since the 1990s, only rare sightings of Western bluebirds have been reported. “Our South Coast region—including Victoria, the Gulf Islands, the San Juan Islands and the Seattle area—once contained an abundance of Garry oak meadows,” Daly described over coffee. “As little as 100 years ago, birds could hopscotch over large swaths of native habitat since buried under suburban sprawl.” Migrators now navigate through highly modified urban landscapes. Pesticides have reduced bluebirds’ insect food supply; development has overtaken grassland and pasture areas; standing dead trees have disappeared—essential for cavity-nesting birds—and invasive European house sparrows and starlings now compete with bluebirds, occupying nesting sites and killing nestlings.
    The few bluebirds that Daly has pinned her hopes to could be the first of many, as GOERT begins year two of its “Bring Back the Bluebirds” project, collaborating with, amongst others, Ecostudies Institute, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and San Juan Preservation Trust. In the next four springs, 45 nesting pairs from Washington State will be translocated by car and ferry (unless GOERT can find an airline willing to sponsor their travel). Each pair will be housed in an aviary on either the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s 21 hectare Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve, one of the largest deep-soil Garry oak ecosystems on the island, or on private property in the Somenos-Quamichan Lake area. 
    In 2012, GOERT translocated four adult birds and nine nestlings to the Cowichan Valley. One of the pairs produced a second clutch of four nestlings—the first bluebirds known to have hatched on Vancouver Island in 17 years. Eight more pairs and their nestlings will be translocated to the island this spring. As this article went to press, GOERT received a report of the first sighting on San Juan Island for 2013. CRD residents are encouraged to report their own sightings to bluebird@goert.ca.
    Though bluebirds are an easy sell, with their stunning plumage and long history lauded by song as a friend to happiness and liberty, one of GOERT’s biggest goals is to raise awareness of threats to their primary habitat—Garry oak ecosystems. To survive, bluebirds need nesting sites above expansive grasslands—the quintessential Garry oak meadow landscape—where insects and native berries are plentiful. Farmland can substitute for wild meadows when nest boxes mounted on fences allow birds to stay out of harm’s way. Even then, predators who climb fences are a threat. 
    Irvin Banman, caretaker of the Cowichan Preserve, says this is where residents in the Capital Region come in. We need to appreciate and cultivate gardens that look more like the wild beauty on Mount Tolmie or the lower reaches of Government House in Rockland. Get to know native species, Banman recommends, and support them on our own property. Push for the continued expansion of parkland. As Daly affirms, “We’ve already lost bluebirds once. This reintroduction program isn’t going to work without the participation of south island residents.”
    Daly also has advice that might fly in the face of some. “Keep your cat inside. Western bluebirds are ground foraging birds and very vulnerable to predation.” By some accounts, domestic cats kill more than a billion songbirds every year in North America. Daly argues that outdoor cats are a major threat to the survival of not just bluebirds, but all resident songbirds. 
    GOERT’s project is modelled after San Juan Preservation Trust’s recently completed bluebird project, the first successful songbird reintroduction program in the US. According to program director Kathleen Foley, the organization translocated 92 adults; 238 fledglings hatched onsite; and San Juan currently has a resident returning population of 38 birds. When I attended SJPT’s 2011 bluebird celebration in a supporting landowner’s barn, Kathryn Martell of GOERT accepted an honorary nest box and travelled back with two large aviaries, which hold GOERT’s translocated pairs until they have adjusted to their new environment. “The release of at least 90 individuals has been linked with reintroduction success,” said Daly. It’s hoped that Cowichan Valley bluebirds will mingle with birds from nearby San Juan and expand into other regions—from the Comox Valley south to Greater Victoria, Metchosin, and the Gulf Islands.
    To prepare for the bluebirds’ arrival, volunteers built and installed over 300 nest boxes in parks and on participating landowners’ properties. Now they’ll monitor the boxes and discourage invasive birds. GOERT has had a lot of volunteer help from groups like the Metchosin Biodiversity Project, the Victoria Natural History Society, École Mill Bay, Metchosin Technical Centre and the Nanaimo Navy League.
    Wildlife translocation isn’t a new idea; thanks to global warming, it now takes place worldwide. As early as the 1880s, Australia moved Koala to its outlying islands; Scotland has reintroduced Ospreys to England; sage-grouse reintroduction programs are underway in Utah and along the border. 
    Most often, we resort to translocation due to changes we have made to habitat. Over the last 150 years, dozens of species have dwindled in the CRD’s Garry oak meadows, as coverage plummeted from 10,443 hectares in 1800 to just 512 hectares in 1997. Developments on the slopes of Christmas Hill and Bear Mountain are only the most recent examples of urbanization replacing meadows where bluebirds once nested. 
    Translocation success hinges on habitat quality, potential productivity of the released species, historical presence, and the length of a reintroduction program. GOERT chose Cowichan because the valley hasn’t been as affected by urban ecosystem fragmentation, which means more protected spaces and oak meadows.
    Julia Daly hopes that GOERT’s project will be but the first in a series of regional reintroduction initiatives. “The best part of our first year was witnessing an entire bluebird family grow up and flourish in local habitat, but this gorgeous bird is still just a flagship species.” There are 117 others at risk of extinction in Garry oak ecosystems, she points out. “The CRD has been lauded for its efforts, and it has some intact ecosystem pockets, but we need the whole community on board, creating contiguous green spaces in people’s back yards.” 
    Daly’s passion and her hope keep her going. “Before they migrated south last fall, this new bluebird family hung out on the western side of Mount Tzouhalem [North Cowichan]. That was also the last place Western bluebirds were seen in 1995. It was,” she pauses and smiles, “as if things had come full circle.”
    Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast (New Star, 2012). 

    Briony Penn
    May 2012
    IN THE LAST 10 YEARS ALONE, Vancouver Island has had more severe flooding problems damaging homes, infrastructure and fish habitat than in the last 50. In the last five years, we’ve seen disaster-level flooding in central and southern Island (Dec 2007), Sooke and Langford (Jan 2009), Duncan (Nov 2009), central and north Island (Sept 2010, Dec 2010), and southeast Island (Nov 2011). Every year, sometimes twice a year, severe events are causing damages. The once exceptional has become the norm.
    The tab for the worst damage is picked up by the federal/provincial Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangement—the public purse. Since 2008, the federal and provincial governments have provided $125 million dollars for 137 flood mitigation projects in BC with a sizeable chunk of this going to Vancouver Island—money to build dykes, pump stations, flood boxes and other engineered facilities. 
    But what is causing the flooding and who should pay? That is the question that Rick James, a Courtenay resident, a 25-year tree planting veteran who lives just above the Tsolum floodplain has been asking. And he wasn’t satisfied when a hydrologist’s report on key factors affecting the pattern of high flows on the Tsolum River fell on his desk last year. The report emphasized the role of climate change on downstream flooding of Courtenay, and downplayed the significant logging in the watershed by TimberWest. 
    The report states that harvesting had decreased since the heyday of the ’60s, and therefore was unlikely to have increased the frequency and intensity of flooding. James’ first thought was, where is the detailed data to prove this? The report included only one sentence about TimberWest’s assessment that 20 percent of the Tsolum watershed was clearcut. James asks, “What about the accelerated logging practices in headwaters of the valley’s rivers and streams over the past 10 years, which is essentially stripping bare the higher elevation forests where the biggest impacts to flooding occur?”
    The watershed in question can be seen clearly from the slopes of Mount Washington, looking to the northeast. The clearcuts stand out prominently when the snowpack builds up, next to the darker patches of the forested area. These are the upper basins of the Tsolum River. James knows the watershed inside and out since he worked many years restoring its clearcuts as a tree planter. “I’ve seen the scale of the logging taking place; I’ve flown over it and to say that logging has no impact on the flooding just doesn’t make sense.” 
    In an editorial to the local newspaper, James pointed out that TimberWest, which owns two-thirds of the watershed, paid for a third of the hydrology report and set the terms of reference. “How could there be any objectivity?” 
    James’ objections are not alone. Concerned groups and politicians from Port Alberni, Oyster River, Campbell River, Qualicum Beach, Sooke and other communities downstream of private land logging are also asking the same questions. Part of the problem is they can’t get answers on the rate of cut in their watersheds because these are private lands and owners are under no obligation to publish accurate data and maps of the cut area. 
    Secondly, there are no restrictions on the amount cut on private lands. The Private Managed Forest Land Act is “results-based” with vague goals about conservation and fewer regulations than even private land in municipalities. For example, only a certain number of trees in the riparian zone have to be left. The only checks are a monitoring presence by the Private Managed Forest Land Council—which many critics refer to as “the fox watching the chicken coop.” The public can lodge a complaint about how things are being done on private forest land, and technically the Council staff should investigate. But the Environmental Law Centre has judged this process ineffective.
    And who dares complain? In small communities, most people and institutions have relationships with the logging corporations (aka asset managers). Municipalities and local stewardship groups receive funds from these companies; people are directly employed by them or hired as consultants and contractors. Understandably, there is often a reluctance to speak out against them.
    As Rick James attempted to get clarity on the hydrology report, many of these inherent problems were highlighted. Government scientist Peter Tschaplinksi was asked to comment on the report and declined, though not before stating, “For watersheds that have eroding soils and steep slopes, it is hard to discount human development as a major factor out of hand. That would raise red flags for me.”
    Greg Phelps, Courtenay’s ex-mayor who called for the study in the first place, was candid: “Concerns were raised when we received this report and we wondered if it was as comprehensive as it could have been. The City of Courtenay is on the funnel end of all these watersheds and there is no question that the combination of logging and climate change are impacting the Courtenay floodplain. How do we know TimberWest hasn’t greenwashed the whole thing? It is a huge liability.” (Phelps was one of the incumbents ousted from office shortly after the release of the report by a pro-development slate of candidates.)
    Staff hydrologist for TimberWest, Domenico Iannidinardo, stands by the results. “The report concluded that although forest harvesting can impact peak river flows in some circumstances, large climatic cycles outweigh the effects of modern forest management practices as they relate to the most significant flood events.” When asked why recent data wasn’t included, he released some data to Focus on logging and roading in the watershed. 
    Dave Gooding, past provincial hydrologist and consultant to the local river restoration society (that has received assistance from TimberWest), did a preliminary analysis of this data. He points to one sub-basin that is approaching high risk of damaging water flows, with 26 percent of the area clearcut. According to the provincial guidelines, logging anything over 20 percent moves into “significant risk” and over 30 percent is “high risk” of flooding. Moreover, he notes, the logging has mostly gone on in the transient snow zone (the area that you see from Mount Washington), which experiences the rain-on snow events that cause the greatest peaks in flows, so they have a higher than normal impact. 
    TimberWest’s Iannidinardo argues that his model adjusts for this and puts it in the context of clearcutting averaging 22 percent across the whole watershed he manages. But Gooding notes, “Small impacts are important, especially if it’s only the top five percent of a flood that is crossing your road or living room.”
    He calls the area “a watershed on the edge, for both its fisheries and its capacity to handle extreme flows.” Illustrating what this could mean, Rick James says: “If two successive two-year cycles of pink salmon spawn are flushed out by floods, it probably means the death knell for this run.” 
    Gooding laments the already mighty effort needed to deal with damages from historic logging to the Tsolum, both for fish egg and fry survival, and to increase the channel’s capacity to handle extreme flows—and worries about TimberWest’s future plans, 
    In its literature for shareholders (many of whom are government pensionholders), TimberWest states it will be continuing with its accelerated rate of cut for another five years at least. Ianniddinardo states, “We retain the management prerogative to adjust plans in consideration of markets while always meeting our commitments to sustainable forest management.” Rick James feels this translates to “business-as-usual—more flooding, more damage to our fish, and more public monies picking up the tab.”
    Briony Penn, PhD is a naturalist, journalist, artist and award-winning environmental educator. She is the author of The Kids Book of Geography (Kids Can Press) and A Year on the Wild Side.

    Briony Penn
    March 2012
    “THIS ISN’T A SOUVENIR COFFEE TABLE BOOK that the mining companies will take back home under their arms,” says Wade Davis about his new book, The Sacred Headwaters: The Fight to Save tbe Stikine, Skeena and Nass (Greystone, Oct. 2011). 
    The book could be a souvenir if you just look at the pictures—they’re stunning, not surprisingly, as this is one of the most drop-dead beautiful places in the world. The watershed of these three rivers forms an essentially roadless wilderness three times the size of Switzerland, bounded by the Alaskan border to the west, the grand canyon of the Stikine to the north, Highway 16 to the south, and the Tatlatui Range to the east. The headwaters themselves are just south of the Spatsizi Plateau, which was designated an ecological reserve for being the “Serenghetti of the north,” because of its abundant wildlife, including mountain goats, moose, deer, and black and grizzly bears, all represented in these fabulous plateaux smothered in wildflowers. 
    But the opening 30-page essay on the battle for this land—and what’s at stake—delivers a punch that would discourage any mining company executive from putting the book on his coffee table. With this book, Davis has stepped up another notch in a long, successful career of campaigner for, and storyteller of, the biosphere and ethnosphere (the term he coined for the landscape shaped by indigenous cultures). Fight is the operative word of the book’s title, for what has passed and what’s to come. This isn’t just the sacred headwaters and home of the Talhtan First Nation. It’s Davis’ home too, and he’s fighting hard for it. 
    The very, very, few of us lucky enough to have spent any time there can rarely communicate the emotional impact these places have on us. Like veterans coming home from the war, we don’t know where to start and the experience is too far from the daily lives of urban Canadians to find a connection—and increasingly so. With 90 percent of Canadians living in cities and over half the population having no cultural connection to the wild and the lure of the north, Davis identifies the increasing challenge to reach an audience, let alone evoke their outrage at the rape and plunder going on in the north in the name of our urban energy and consumer needs. 
    Davis’ intention was to use the emotional power of the photographs in the coffee table format, coupled with the words of Tahltan elders, to speak to the place. And they do—Carr Clifton, Paul Colangelo, Davis himself and the other photographers of the International League of Conservation Photographers who donated their time and images to the cause have created a powerful tribute. The Tahltan elders Rhoda Quock, August Brown, Peter Jakesta, Dempsey Bob and others provide equally strong words to accompany the images, words that ring true against the clutter and noise of our modern lives.
    But what saves the book from being just another captioned photo essay of a rich watershed inhabited by “wise elders” about to be pulverized (and God knows we have had too many of those in BC) is Davis’ essay. He has waded (no pun intended) into the taboo topic of how decisions over land and resources are currently negotiated, with tiny besieged aboriginal communities conveniently left alone to fend against the world’s largest energy and mining companies. 
    Davis’ mesmerizing essay is a day-by-day factual account of how individuals and families in these small communities are ripped apart by the massive machinery of globalization. It’s an important contribution to the national discourse about energy policy, aboriginal affairs, and land use decision-making in the north. 
    I questioned Davis about why he took on a subject few have wanted to touch. “Simple,” he said, “I believe that non-native Canadian understanding of First Nations is still stuck between the left’s idealized, untouchable noble savage and the right’s hateful images as featured in Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry. When in reality, we are just talking about the lives of people, some good, some less so, some with deep connections to the land, others who are simply opportunistic. The question is not mines or no mines, but rather how many, at what pace in what places and for whose benefit? There is a lot of talk about consultation and accommodation. But consultation with whom, and accommodation for whose benefit? And what if these areas have global importance?” The situation, according to Davis, appears to ultimately benefit only the companies who can move full steam ahead without the weight of full public review.
    The story of the ascendancy of Chief Jerry Asp, described by the Vancouver Sun as “government’s pro-development poster boy” reads like a textbook case study of complicit opportunism between Asp, the mining and energy companies, and government. The circumstances that led to the 2005 occupation of the band office in Telegraph Creek by 35 Tahltan elders, like Bobby and Roy Quock, who felt they were being misrepresented and their land getting trashed for a pittance, are now being repeated with the Gitksaan elders and the Enbridge deal. 
    In delving into the impacts of the 1999 Corbiere Decision that enabled all tribal members, not just those living on reserves, to vote in elections and the upheaval between resident and non-resident band members this has created, Davis has written a story that white urban people can understand. By drawing out these “complications” against the backdrop of the involvement of behemoth Shell Oil, Imperial Metals and Fortune Minerals—all comprised of armies of professionals and shareholders that will never set foot on these landscapes—on top of the $130 million dollar federal subsidy for a transmission line to the mine, he reveals our own complicity in the process. 
    A poignant moment in Davis’ account occurs when the elders participating in that 2005 occupation, speaking only in Talhtan, demonstrate their legitimate authority to speak on behalf of their nation. Asp doesn’t speak or understand his own language, which made his last bid to represent his nation, spoken in English, futile. Another memorable moment is when a geologist flies into the area and Davis overhears her speaking in amazement at the incredible beauty and richness of the wildlife. The un-noble savage and the un-evil corporate geologist metaphorically bump into each other in the general store of Telegraph Creek, and there’s the story. It isn’t easy to write about this stuff and not get trapped in cultural quick sand, which is why few non-natives or natives are doing it, especially in coffee table books. But Davis does, because these are his friends and this is his home. 
    Davis asks the questions: If these scarce and endangered landscapes have extraordinary value to all humanity, is it appropriate that we leave their defence to a handful of courageous locals? What should the nature of Canada’s involvement be? Should we be digging for copper in the Sistine Chapel?
    And he is saying, unequivocally, that in this pivotal time, when questions about energy policy are coming to the fore, and resource scarcity is putting power back into the hands of the resource holders, we resource holders should be standing up and screaming from the top of our lungs: “These places are too valuable to destroy.”
    Briony Penn, PhD is a naturalist, journalist, artist and award-winning environmental educator. She is the author of The Kids Book of Geography (Kids Can Press) and A Year on the Wild Side.

    Briony Penn
    January 2012
    It is a gorgeous Friday morning just outside of Bellingham. A flock of trumpeter swans are grazing in the fields, and I am with a large human flock hanging on every word of a hip young bee dude with a wicked sense of humour and two props—a collection of native bees and a bunch of sticks drilled with nest holes. The event is called Protecting Native Pollinators and there are farmers, students, scientists, teachers, grannies and young men jostling to learn the difference between a sweat bee and leafcutter bee; which native plants are best for bumblebees; and how to encourage mason bees (which mostly consists of doing nothing and being messy). 
    The organizers from the Xerces Society, dedicated to the conservation of insects, weren’t anticipating quite so many people from so many corners of this region on both sides of the borders, and they tell me that there are no signs of the interest waning. 
    Restoring and re-enchanting ourselves with the local and the native are becoming the most powerful antidote to globalization, inequity, corporatization, degradation, poverty and despair—of which there is no short supply. It is a simple mantra: stay local and support native in whatever you do and the structural foundations of inequity will begin to crumble, the water will flow, the meadow flowers will bloom, the neighbours will chat, and the birds and the bees will fill our lives again with music, food and sensuous times.
    As we buzzed our way through the workshop, briefly exploring why there are disappearing pollinators (no mean feat), then moving on to solutions, I had a thought. The story of bees could possibly be the great allegory for our times—the rise and fall of one worldview and the restoration of another, older one. 
    Take the characters first. The antagonists are largely humourless financiers who direct operations from their tall glass towers and send impoverished indentured labour to work long hours applying chemicals to genetically modified crops in ugly landscapes. As hedgerows and the last patches of habitat for our native pollinators—the bees, birds and butterflies—are wiped out, agro-industry has resorted to mono-pollinating with European honeybees. Mono-anything doesn’t work, and the poor overworked honeybees are now going down like flies (which they are not, flies have one pair of wings, bees have two). Viruses, the new synthetic pesticides, and general malaise from mall culture have caused colony collapse disorder in half of the hives already. There aren’t enough bees surviving to pollinate North America’s crops, so the industrialists have taken to importing bees from Australia (in China they hire children at $2/day to hand pollinate). But even the economists know that it all ends in tears. (And perhaps even the US Department of Agriculture, which has declared conserving pollinators a national priority due to the severity of the issue and allocated $30 million this year to subsidizing restoration of lands back to pollinator preserves.)
    The protagonists in this story are hip young bee dudes like our presenter. This is a guy raised by a Dakotan farming family. He’s one of a breed of independent researchers who have proven that a farm makes more money (not to mention all the other advantages) if one-third or more of the land is put back into native habitat. This is because native pollinators greatly increase yield, productivity and pest management. And because the cost of all the chemicals and jetsetting bees around is rising at an exponential rate. 
    The hip bee dude—whose name, by the way, is Eric Mader—has like many of his generation, discovered the correct formula for communication to the disenfranchised 99 percent—make it real, make it funny, make it local and make it a party, bro’. He talked about the various collective successes, like converting a pesticide-drenched blueberry farm in the middle of Michigan to a pollinator preserve (wildflower meadow) that also grows blueberries with a 30 percent increase in yield, or transforming his own working-class yard in Portland to an oasis that swarms with native blossoms, bees and girls.
    Now take this same story, with a different set of characters, north and west to the heart of native blueberry country where the bees and butterflies still thrive—Fish Lake in the Chilcotin. The antagonist this time is Taseko Mines with the biggest mining proposal in North America—New Prosperity Mine. Last month, Taseko failed to win their injunction against the Xeni Gwet’in First Nation for blocking their road, and the consequences are huge for resource extractors in this province. 
    The protagonist is Marilyn Baptiste, the new breed of hip young chief of the Xeni Gwet’in First Nation. She can catch a wild trout or tame a wild horse with the same skill as she wins over a court to stop Taseko’s application for exploration at Fish Lake. The case was won on the basis that the blueberry, trout and pollinators in the area would be threatened.
    From Bellingham to Fish Lake, the story is the same. Protagonists everywhere can win with their simple calls to a past ethic of the common good and the interconnectedness of life. What has changed from the old days is that the consequences for losing the wild are deadly, increasingly illegal, and decreasingly academic. 
    Most of our food relies on the preservation of the wild, directly or indirectly. If we fail with diversifying the pollinators, then we start losing our food and we die in droves. Simple. There is no technological fix, nor global domesticated commodity species, nor silver bullet shot by a white knight to solve the problem, only the diversified efforts of the many at the local level. 
    This is Mother Nature’s most basic kick-back. And it’s an easy solution to sell since the story also brings us back to discovery, action, beauty, companionship and joy. That is what the Occupy Movement has discovered and that is why they are so dangerous to the status quo.
    Also add on, for more good news, the increasing intolerance of the public for divide-and-conquer tactics by the vested interests in the status quo and the mainstream media’s role in exacerbating that division. Readers got angry last month when the media headlined a questionable and relatively minor Gitxsan First Nation deal with Enbridge while sidelining the real story—that over 130 nations spanning the province were now signed on to the ban against pipelines and tankers. 
    As a result, the issue backfired spectacularly and brought these tactics under the spotlight where they belong. The media erred in not checking the facts about alleged negotiator Mr Derrick, his ability to represent the Gitxsan nation and his connections with industry, before leading with his story; but their biggest mistake was in misjudging the public mood on this issue. 
    Closer to home, that public mood was reflected in Nanoose where residents challenged the government and TimberWest for trying to divide and conquer the locals and First Nations over the logging of one of the last patches of Crown old-growth Douglas fir. 
    Worldview is shifting because it has to. 
    Back in the field with the farmers, trumpeter swans, scientists, bumblebees, teachers, grannies, blueberries and cool dudes, I look around and feel mildly hopeful for this new year.
    For your new year’s resolution, pledge to protect or return any little patch you can back to native habitat for bees and butterflies.  Google Xerces Society or The Land Conservancy of BC for their pollinator programs.
    Briony Penn, PhD is a naturalist, journalist, artist and award-winning environmental educator. She is the author of The Kids Book of Geography (Kids Can Press) and A Year on the Wild Side.

    Briony Penn
    September 2011
    AS FOCUS HITS THE STREET on August 30, schools of salmon researchers, fishers, First Nations, and advocates from all over British Columbia will be converging around the federal courthouse in Vancouver for the next stage of the Cohen Commission inquiry. They are coming to bear witness to the release of key evidence into the collapse of Fraser River sockeye stocks in 2009. This month, testimony shifts to the highly-charged topics of the role disease and aquaculture played in the deaths. 
    Concurrently, upriver at Simon Fraser University, an enquiry is being made into declining herring stocks—with another school of researchers, First Nations, fishers and herring advocates.
    Both the inquiry and enquiry will provide forums to address the range of issues facing these two critical species on a food chain that ends with us. Linking herring and salmon is obvious from just about every angle. They are interdependent and have endured the same depredations: overfishing, mismanagement, destruction of habitat and food sources, climate change, etc. But this year, evidence in the field suggests a new shared issue: infestations of sea lice from fish farms, previously found just on wild salmon smolts, are now also being seen on young herring, increasing their vulnerability to viruses. The implications have been described by the Alaskans—who have banned these farms and are watching the results down here carefully—as “a ticking time bomb.”
    Most of the media buzz around the Cohen proceedings will centre around the testimony of two star women witnesses: the up-until-now muzzled federal fisheries researcher, Dr Kristina Miller, on August 24; and independent researcher Alex Morton on September 7. 
    Miller’s research, published in Science this January, identified a viral cause of premature death of the sockeye—probably from one of two viruses typically introduced and incubated through fish farms: Salmon Leukemia Virus (SLV), which is highly infective to sockeye and chinook, and Infectious Salmon Anemia Virus or ISAV. American researchers point to sea lice as vectors for the latter. ISAV is as yet undocumented in these waters, but incidences of it already arriving could be revealed through the release of the data. This will be the first time Miller has been allowed to speak since the release of her research in January. 
    Alex Morton has been doing research into sea lice/salmon interactions for years and will also be analyzing the fish farm disease records to determine occurrences and timings of outbreaks. These records were only released in the spring after public demonstrations around the same courthouse.
    The evidence from Miller’s work will be pivotal, not just for the sockeye but for informing the herring experts at their own workshop, starting on August 31. Hosted by Simon Fraser University, the workshop is expected to draw attention to the importance of herring, and to document historical declines from various causes and the enormous impacts to the cultural and biological vitality of the coast. There will be less media buzz around herring as they definitely play the ugly little sister next to the more iconic, colourful spawning sockeye, but the discourse at both inquiry and enquiry will strengthen the cause of the other. 
    Fish farms are interfering with herring in more ways than just disease vectors. Herring advocates will be back in the courthouse in October for a hearing against Marine Harvest, a fish farm corporation charged with illegal possession and dumping of herring for unspecified reasons. What binds the two schools of fish together is not just their interdependence and common foes, but their common advocates.
    It was Alex Morton, looking for sea lice infestations on salmon smolts, who started turning up unusual sea lice infestations on herring, and who notified the herring research community last month. 
    Morton is just one of thousands up and down the coast who are noticing the changes, sharing information, and galvanizing for action. This summer, during my own coastal travels by boat, I encountered people from Bella Bella to Masset and Hartley Bay to Sitka who are dependent on the wild fisheries and terrified about the potential impacts of these viruses to already compromised populations of salmon and herring. These are people who spend a lot of time on the water, watching fish and the other wildlife that follow them. They all know that Alaska has banned fish farms, BC hasn’t, and that therefore BC is jeopardizing the whole coast. These are the people who over the years have journeyed hundreds of miles to Victoria or Vancouver, to testify, bear witness and protest against fish farms—and who have been completely ignored. A wealth of experiences and local wisdom accompany those placard-carrying people you might see on the 6 o’clock news this month.
    So here is my plea. Losing herring and salmon isn’t just about disappointing a bunch of sportfishers in ball caps, or missing out on fish dinner on Fridays, or losing one animal off the totem pole. Without food the whole darn show on the coast shuts down; all three rings of the circus and all the acts. No more elephants, tigers, bearded ladies or trapeze artists on our high waters. When suddenly there is a good year, like the sockeye in 2010, the show goes on and we are all the happier  and better off for it.
    This year with optimal ocean conditions and a much better management record, Alaska is having a bumper year. One night this summer stands out as an example of life at its best on the fish-farm-free parts of the coast. It was around 10 o’clock, a midsummer’s night, and there were low rays of sunlight catching the ice-capped mountains and silver-splashed sides of herring, boiling in the otherwise calm waters. All around us were sockeye leaping out of the water; humpbacks lunged and fed on the salmon between blows and intakes of air. By midnight it was dark, but you could still track the movement of the herring ball and its predators from the sound of the blows, the splashes of the fish, and the accompanying bioluminescence of the diatoms that marked all their paths. The water began to mimic the starry sky above with all the flashes of light; the cosmos was one. Once the Salish Sea was like this—and could be again.
    Both inquiries will be historic and have ramifications for all of us on the coast. If you want to bear witness, here are the coordinates: The Cohen Commission is holding the aquaculture hearings until September 8 in Room 801 at the Federal Court Building, 701 West Georgia St. The herring workshop runs from August 31 to September 2 at the Halpern Centre of Simon Fraser University.
    Briony Penn, PhD is a naturalist, journalist, artist and award-winning environmental educator. She is the author of The Kids Book of Geography (Kids Can Press) and A Year on the Wild Side.

    Briony Penn
    MAY 2011
    NUU-CHAH-NULTH TERRITORY, the edge of the world where Captain Cook decided to anchor his boat and step ashore, is back in the news again—indeed it has hardly been out of the news over the last 200 years. It has a habit of making us reconsider how the West relates to aboriginal cultures and the rich natural environment that supports their commitment to self-sufficiency.
    The deep sheltered sounds and forests on the west coast of the Island have been branded as bonanzas for two centuries. From fur traders to sealers, miners to missionaries, and loggers to fish farmers, they come from all over the world. They come to conquer but inevitably fail. They come to domesticate and the wild inevitably wins. The priests’ feral cows, Cougar Annie’s dahlias, and the Norwegians’ Atlantic salmon don’t linger long. 
    From the “friendly” people Cook met at Yuquot to “friendly” whales, the Nuu-chaal-nulth have captured the world’s attention, but have never been captured themselves. These were also the first people to stand up against industrial logging at Meares Island and forge the first alliances with the environmental movement. Their protests led to the largest number of arrests for civil disobedience in Canada and the creation of a World Biosphere Reserve. 
    Now, the Nuu-chah-nulth are back in the spotlight again with news of a different sort: their potential logging of Flores Island by Iisaak, the Nuu-chah-nulth-owned logging company.
    On April 5, the Ministry of Forests issued a road permit for Iisaak Forest Resources to build 2.5 kilometres of logging road. Iisaak, meaning “respect,” jointly created in 1998 with Macmillan Bloedel, is now fully-owned by the five nations of the Central Region First Nations of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, including the three from Clayoquot Sound: Ahousaht, who have a reserve on Flores; the Tla-o-qui-aht, who are based around Meares Island; and the Hesquiaht in northern Clayoquot and Toquaht and Ucluelet to the south.
    Though once again testifying to the Nuu-chah-nulth’s indomitable spirit of self- determination, the road permit has rattled a memorandum of understanding forged in 1999 between five environmental groups (Greenpeace International, Greenpeace Canada, Western Canada Wilderness Committee, Sierra Club BC, and Natural Resources Defense Council) and Iisaak Forest Resources to avoid logging in pristine, intact areas like Flores Island. The agreement followed on the historic 1995 recommendations from the Clayoquot Scientific Panel.
    A lot has happened since then. In 2001, Iisaak made news with the first Tree Farm License (TFL 57) to become Forest Stewardship Council-certified. In 2005, the Central Regional First Nations bought out Weyerhauser (formerly MacBlo), making it the first 100 percent aboriginal-owned TFL. The last ten years have seen as many watershed plans following the guidelines of the Scientific Panel. In the last two years, the communities and environmental groups have been exploring possibilities of developing a conservation financing package to enable full conservation of intact areas and improvement of logging practices in valleys that are already partially logged. Everything from carbon credits to ecotourism is being discussed. 
    However, loans incurred in buying control of the TFLs from Weyerhauser and Interfor have put lots of pressure on Iisaak to log in order to service that debt—hence the Flores Island plan.
    Amongst the environmental groups, says Joe Foy of the Wilderness Committee, the news of the road permit “put everyone in a tough position.” Foy wanted to pull out of the agreement as his organization couldn’t support logging in these pristine areas. 
    Valerie Langer, formerly with Friends of Clayoquot and now with ForestEthics, characterizes Iisaak’s position as “between a rock and a hard place.” As she observes, the debt has led the First Nations to have to log in places that they didn’t originally want to log. She also points out that “the chiefs are taking the hit for all the terrible management of forests on the rest of the island.” The real culprit, Langer suggests, is the Province, which has prioritized getting plans in place that would open up logging in Clayoquot Sound’s intact old-growth areas rather than responding to science and facilitating conservation along with community well-being. “The Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations are leading in this regard, and government is dragging its heels,” she maintains.
    Groups like Ecotrust, under Neil Hughes, have been working with the Central Region First Nations for over two years to model different land use scenarios other than business-as-usual cut blocks, but have been hampered by lack of funds. “What we want to create is the financial analysis of doing things differently so that First Nations can make the best decisions,” he says. All of the work done to date on modelling the carbon and other values has been funded by infrequent grants and foundation money with no assistance from government. 
    Eli Ens, tribal administrator of Tla-o-qui-aht, says his community is moving ahead with long-term plans for a Tribal Park in its territory (which includes Meares Island, first declared a Tribal Park during protests in 1984). This designation would reduce the annual allowable cut and bring the best of science, traditional knowledge, and conservation financing to the concept. In order to make it work economically, the Tla-o-qui-aht have already established the ecotourism Guardian program, and are interested in bringing in additional revenue from other sources such as carbon and non-timber products. As Langer suggests, what is needed to make that happen is a government open to helping facilitate that in various ways: reforming old resource tenures, reducing the annual allowable cut, and, as a priority, establishing the legal framework around non-timber products, carbon and ecosystem services. Ens has also been encouraging regional relationships with other partners like the Ahousaht and the sharing of experiences.
    Thomas Paul, resource manager for Ahousaht says that they have embarked on talks with the environmental organizations to explore conservation financing in the interim to resolve the Flores Island issue. At press time, Paul was heading into a conference call. As Valerie Langer states, “The environmental organizations have never been the decision-makers; the chiefs are. We are trying to provide something that is beneficial for both the communities and conservation, but, at the end of the day, it is their choice.”
    Briony Penn, PhD is a naturalist, journalist, artist and award-winning environmental educator. She is the author of The Kids Book of Geography (Kids Can Press) and A Year on the Wild Side.

    Briony Penn
    March 2011
    SOUTHERN RESIDENT ORCAS are set to swim back into Canadian and US courts this spring with the hopes of jumping two major legal hoops that could finally protect the marinescape for these endangered species. 
    The Canadian courts are reconvening after the federal fisheries minister launched an appeal against Justice James Russell’s historic ruling in December 2010. That ruling said it was unlawful for the minister to exercise discretionary powers regarding the protection of critical habitat under the Species At Risk Act (SARA). 
    Meanwhile, across the border, the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has begun holding hearings into safety precautions around captive orcas, following last year’s death of trainer Dawn Brancheau. Brancheau was dragged into the water by Tilikum, the same whale who killed Kelsie Burns at Sealand here in Victoria in 1992. An October 2010 investigation found the marine park of SeaWorld Orlando had wilfully exposed employees to life-threatening hazards when interacting with orcas. The spring hearings may well impact the future viability of orcas in aquariums, and thereby have consequences for the multi-billion dollar industry that keeps them there. They may also improve Orca Lab’s bid to retire L Pod’s “Lolita” back to her home in the Salish Sea, after 40 years of jumping hoops in small tanks. 
    Two Victoria women are helping to lead the charge and raise awareness around each of these historic appeals. 
    Taking on the federal fisheries minister in the Canadian courts with Ecojustice lawyer Margaret Venton, and backed by eight other ENGOs, is applicant Misty MacDuffee of Raincoast Conservation Foundation (www.raincoast.org).
    MacDuffee, a long-time campaigner and researcher on salmon, bears and whales, has been blogging about the case from the original court hearings last summer to the appeal this spring. MacDuffee states: “We were arguing—as did the scientists who made the recommendations to government—that the threats to habitat need to be addressed if we are to put the whales on the road to recovery. We also argued that the federal Species at Risk Act obliged the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to do this.” 
    When Justice Russell ruled in their favour, MacDuffee says that they felt vindicated in their persistence to get the minister to follow the letter of his own law. The December ruling stated that “the minister of fisheries and oceans erred in law in determining that the critical habitat of the resident killer whales was already legally protected by existing laws of Canada.” He also ruled that it was unlawful of the minister to have excluded other elements of the definition of “critical habitat” from the scope of the Protection Order. “Critical habitat” had been defined by the minister’s own scientists as not only the geographical location, but the availability and quality of their food and acoustic environment, yet the minister had not encouraged his staff to implement the act correctly. 
    As MacDuffee wrote in her blog, “They [the minister and his office] first attempted to remove and dismiss the key elements of critical habitat in the recovery strategy. When that ultimately failed, they then interpreted their legal responsibility to protect habitat by stating that voluntary guidelines and non-binding or discretionary laws and policies were good enough. When that too was challenged, they issued an ‘order’ to protect habitat. But the order fails to address the declining food supply, the water quality, and the noise pollution that are causing the problem.”
    As soon as Justice Russell’s ruling was out on these two counts, the minister appealed the first decision, i.e., that it is unlawful to use discretion in implementing the Species at Risk Act. 
    MacDuffee points out two potential implications should the minister win the appeal. “First…it will set a dangerous precedent of a political appointee being able to decide whether or not they want to protect not just the orcas, but any endangered species.” The second worrying element, she says, is the degree of ongoing political interference in all aspects of enforcing this act. MacDuffee notes, “As the key arguments were put forward, we all wondered, including the judge as indicated in his comments, what on Earth we were all doing here? The law is very clear. In Section 58(5) of the Species At Risk Act it states that legal protection of critical habitat for aquatic species is mandatory. Why did we have to bring the minister to a courtroom to get him to do his job?”
    Justice Russell’s 127-page ruling bears reading in full for its critique of the minister for ostensibly wasting court time and public resources. “[161] Given the level of agreement on the merits of the Protection Order Application, the Court cannot help but wonder, why it has been resisted on technical grounds, and why the Respondents do not think the courts should deal with it. Had the Respondents clarified their agreement on the definition of critical habitat and corrected the relevant public documentation, where a different interpretation is evident, or at least possible, the Protection Order Application need never have come before the court.”
    The Department of Fisheries and Oceans were contacted with two simple questions: Why is the Minister appealing? And what is his response to the comment made by Justice Russell that the case need never have come before the court? Finally, after a week, a statement was released that since the appeal is before the courts, it would be inappropriate to comment. 
    The whales are evidently up against meddling at the highest political level, with politicians who ignore their own scientists’ definitions and recommendations. 
    In an upcoming month, I’ll report on the results of the minister’s appeal, the US hearings around captive whales and the Victoria woman who is an advocate in that campaign.
    Briony Penn, PhD is a naturalist, journalist, artist and award-winning environmental educator. She is the author of The Kids Book of Geography (Kids Can Press) and a A Year on the Wild Side.

    Briony Penn
    January 2011
    A NEW TERM HAS BEEN COINED to describe the disintegrating middle class of the western world—the precariat—who live a precarious and frantic existence of juggling jobs, families, mortgages and civic duties within a crumbling social and environmental net. 
    The British economist Guy Standing, who coined the term, suggests that half the British population—shortly to swell ever larger as another 300,000 civil servants are dismissed by the Cameron regime—would describe themselves as members of this class. 
    Once the enviable solid backbone of a society and now an increasingly insecure and anxious group, they/we aren’t to be confused with the other half of the population: the desperately poor or proletariat, whose lives have always been precarious, or the wealthy elite who are frantically trying to keep the precariat under control. Here in Victoria, the precariat is predicted to be growing daily as jobs, institutions and civil services disappear and people wake up and wonder what happened to that orderly life that they had expected to last a lifetime, and in fact felt entitled to. Welcome, all, to the precariat.
    One thing that British economists don’t realize is that even here on this far-flung, last-bastion of their old empire, where the edge of the continent is constantly being ploughed into by waves, and oceanic plates pile up logs and islands on the shores like conveyor belts pile up luggage—we are well-acquainted with the precariat through nature. Anyone familiar with the intertidal zone will be used to this world of uncertainty and changing conditions. In fact, that is all there is—periods of overexposure alternating with periods of inundation, constant lashings from waves and storms, changing salinity, fluctuating temperatures, changing water levels, vicious competition for real estate, predation, parasitism and forced marches from one pool to the next. 
    No one is more familiar with the precariat of tidepools than Fu-Shiang Chia, now living on Saltspring Island, but for decades one of the world’s renowned marine biologists and a frequent researcher at Bamfield and Friday Harbour marine stations. Fu-Shiang, considered by his many colleagues as the world’s foremost expert on sex in the intertidal zone, is a student of the planktonic larvae phase of marine invertebrates, but the breadth of his other interests spans cultures, generations and disciplines. 
    Fu-Shiang started out life in Japanese-occupied China, the grandson of a judge and feng-shui master in the 30s. During the turbulence of the Great Leap Forward, he wandered as a nomad, before getting smuggled into Taiwan in 1949 under the guise of a soldier. After being imprisoned briefly for allegations of being a communist spy, he left to do a graduate degree at the University of Washington, while China was moving towards the Cultural Revolution. 
    Fu-Shiang’s subsequent academic career spanned seven universities in six countries, ending up at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology where he taught the East’s first biodiversity course before retiring here and throwing himself full-tilt into his other great passion: Poetry, specifically the work of the great lyrical Confucian poets of China from 3,000 years ago. His latest books include a trilingual translation of the Shi Jing poets and another featuring his own prose and poetry in the tradition of the Shi Jing poets. He has an eye for diversity in life forms and cultures and a heart for the precarious edge of continents and tidepools. If this isn’t a man experienced in the precariat then who is?
    Recently, I accompanied Fu-Shiang and his wife Sharon, an artist, to a book signing in Friday Harbour. We stayed at the field station and wandered around the intertidal pools of San Juan Island, as well as the lab tanks of students’ specimens, one of which was the six-armed sea star Leptasterias hexactis. Fu-Shiang wrote his dissertation on these unique sea stars that brood their eggs and protect them until they hatch—a metaphor not lost on his large and well-nurtured brood of graduate students over the years. The event was attended by a loving circle of colleagues and students and there we were treated to a story of the vicissitudes of life—both as Fu-Shiang and as sea star. 
    The primary lesson of their stories was that the style of spawning behaviour and reproductive success of both is related to the precariousness of their existence. This helps explain Fu-Shiang’s lifelong interest in a poetic tradition which meshes with his scientific enquiry. According to an early Confucian teacher, Rien Ju, the Shi Jing provides students with training in three main areas: thinking and observing in nature; respect for generations; and learning the names of our plants and animals. As Fu-Shiang observes, “there is no art that can be divorced from the natural world. We need biodiversity. Nature’s creatures are necessary for human survival as well as our soul—as they are the soul of Shi Jing and the blood of 3000 years of literature.”
    So precariat, let me take you back 3000 years to another difficult time. Then walk into the natural world and draw some sustenance in this new year. 
    Owl, owl you have taken my children;
    Do not destroy my house.
    So long have I laboured, to raise a family.
    Before it is dark and raining,
    I must gather mulberry bark to repair the windows and doors
    “People down there, don’t you dare bully me!”
    My hands are worn to the bone,
    Collecting rush flowers for the building.
    My mouth is bloody and sore. Yet my house is unfinished.
    My wing feathers have lost their hue:
    My tail is plucked of plumes.
    My house shakes in the wind and rain.
    Terrified, scared, am I crying in vain.
    Fu-Shiang Chia’s books include: Returning Poetry to the Shi Jing's Poets: Chinese English Bilingual Essays and Poets, 2010, Bookman Books and Airs of the States from the Shi Jing: A New Trilingual Translation of the World's Oldest Collection of Lyric Poetry, translated by Fu-Shiang Chia, 2008, Bookman Books.
    Briony Penn, PhD is a naturalist, journalist, artist and award-winning environmental educator. She is the author of The Kids Book of Geography (Kids Can Press) and a A Year on the Wild Side.

    Briony Penn
    Heroes of coastal ecosystem protection are not extinct...yet.
    October 2010
    LAST MONTH, I wrote about unreported crimes against the natural world, and got feedback that the next column should be on the unreported heroes trying to prevent those unreported crimes.
    Some of you will have come across Laura Matthias before. She’s a Balkan Babe—one of the talented, young, all-female singing group that won a prestigious place in the national showcase of top Canadian singing ensembles this time last year. She’s also the author of ExtraVeganZa—a best-selling vegan cookbook that makes eating vegan a culinary adventure, not an ethical ordeal. 
    However, many of us living on the islands have met Laura as a field biologist with the Habitat Stewardship Program of the Salt Spring Island Conservancy and partners. She has spent the last four years showing us what lives in our backyards and how to conserve their habitat. Laura is definitely the sort of Canadian who maintains your faith in Canada.
    In an average week, she might be on a mountain top with school kids tromping around from bluebird box to bluebird box checking for signs of occupation as part of a bi-national initiative to reintroduce bluebirds to the Salish Sea after they disappeared in the ’80s; or swimming huge logs across a lake in her flippers to create basking habitat for the painted turtles, another species at risk; or building artificial snake hibernacula in rock walls for the tiny endangered sharp-tailed snakes; or climbing a 10-metre ladder to the rafters of an old barn to erect a barn owl nest box; or running after butterflies to ensure that our rare populations are still fluttering. I sleep better at nights knowing that there are people like Laura looking out for all of our best interests.
    Laura’s speciality is gastropods—a class of molluscs that includes slugs and snails. The gastropods have a special place in her heart because they are found in the comforting deep leaf litter or arboreal boughs of ancient bigleaf maples. Finding them in ancient maple groves is a great help in the PR of campaigns to protect the groves. Many an hour I have shared with Laura, sorting through leaf litter looking for snails that are 2mm in diameter and have names like the Oregon pygmy snail—not to be confused with its marine brother the Oregon hairy sea snail. 
    Every month, islanders get to read an article in our local paper, penned by Laura, about one of the 45 species at risk federally or provincially that she and her colleague Robin Anschild are monitoring. The article might be an update on how the great blue herons are doing on the island. Answer: Not great, but the odds are better for them now that we have a pair of local eyes watching their nests and alerting the landowner that they have the spectacular privilege of watching nesting herons.
    We also get local updates on the state of our rare amphibians. How are they doing? Again, not great, but the chances have improved for them now that we can tell a red-legged frog from a bullfrog. Bullfrogs are an invasive species threatening our native amphibians and if we can stop their release in our small lakes, they won’t eat our red-legged frogs. Whether it is tips on how to avoid disturbing the ground-nesting nighthawks on rocky bluffs, or how to best remove Scotch broom, islanders have their lives and connection to this place enriched by the work of these Saltspring Babes.
    Together, Laura and Robin have discovered six new rare or endangered species previously unknown to the island and found 30 more populations of other rare species. Both are only part-time biologists on a tiny budget padded out by bake sales and poetry readings. But since the program has started, the two have met with hundreds of people to answer questions about what lives in their backyard, and how to encourage and protect these animals, plants and ecosystems. 
    One of the results of their dedication is that locals are rallying around them in the face of meagre support. The federal funding for this program has been wavering on the brink of extinction for several years now and provincial assistance itself is extinct. Over 5300 hours of volunteer time were put to the various conservancy projects, including the award-winning Stewards-in-Training program for our school students. 
    But, unlike bigleaf maples, stewards cannot live on air and water alone. If we restore adequate funding to people like Laura they put enormous value back; from savings in fresh air and water, to getting our children connected to healthy activities, to protecting our pollinators, to protecting carbon sinks, to enriching our lives with our fellow creatures, to being active members of a community. 
    To put it in a larger context, this part of the world is, as Laura points out, the Noah’s ark of North America. As all the population ranges dwindle—from red-legged frogs to nighthawks—the Capital region takes on greater and greater global significance. The world is entrusting the west coast of BC to safeguard globally-significant populations. And our national and provincial governments are abdicating that responsibility, which then falls onto part-time Balkan Babes with hardly two pygmy snails to rub together. It ain’t right and it shouldn’t continue.
    We need to do two things: 1) Tell our politicians to restore government support of the scientists who lead community stewardship initiatives; and 2) Support the non-profits that are propping up the social net right now by joining or donating.
    In the Capital Regional District, check out your own local land trust and community steward programs on the website of the Land Trust Alliance of BC (www.landtrustalliance.bc.ca) and the Garry Oak Ecosystem Recovery Team (www.goert.ca). 
    Briony Penn PhD is a naturalist, journalist, artist and award-winning environmental educator. She is the author of The Kids Book of Geography (Kids Can Press) and a A Year on the Wild Side.

  • Create New...