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Rochelle Baker

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  1. FOR MILLENNIA, THE SALISH SEA—the shared body of water linking northwestern Washington state and southern BC and encompassing the Puget Sound, Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Strait of Georgia—was abundant with salmon. The keystone species is the bedrock of the entire ecosystem of the Pacific Northwest. All seven species of Pacific salmon populated the Salish Sea—sustaining a host of other iconic animals, such as bald eagles, southern resident killer whales, and grizzlies, along with their surrounding aquatic and terrestrial environments and scores of Indigenous nations and cultures. But, says Isobel Pearsall, director of marine science at the Pacific Salmon Foundation (PSF), beginning in the late 1970s, salmon survival, particularly for chinook, coho, and steelhead—which migrate to the ocean like salmon, but can spawn multiple times—began a mysterious downward slide, especially in the marine environment. Some populations in Salish waters have plummeted as much as 90 percent, says Pearsall, and limiting fisheries, restoring habitat, and improving hatchery practices weren’t making significant differences. It’s clear juvenile fish are particularly vulnerable, and that there is something particular to the Salish Sea impacting survival of the three species, which aren’t facing the same pattern of decline in other regions, she says. So, in partnership with Long Live the Kings, another non-profit foundation south of the border, PSF launched a five-year research initiative involving 60 different entities to understand what was driving some salmon stocks to extinction and what could be done to reverse it. A scientist involved in the Salish Sea Marine Survival Project scans juvenile salmon in Sansum Narrows in the Strait of Georgia (photo courtesy of Pacific Salmon Foundation) Pearsall believes that despite the dire situation salmon face, the key findings of the recently completed Salish Sea Marine Survival Project, which she co-ordinated, can act as a roadmap for priority action, research, and policy. “It’s very easy to get pulled down into the doom and gloom of what we’re seeing around salmon declines,” Pearsall she notes. “But the [survival project] has highlighted the areas that we really want to focus on and that we know are crucial.” The Salish Sea is weathering some significant changes due to the climate crisis, such as warming waters, increasing risk from harmful algae and pathogens, shifts in the marine food web, and the decimation of estuary and foreshore habitats, the study found. Many of the changes impacting salmon are interlocked, says Pearsall. “One might hope for a smoking gun and that there would be one major thing you could change to solve the whole issue, but that doesn't seem to be the case,” she says. However, the initiative concluded that salmon food supply and predation of young salmon are two key contributors to the declines of chinook, coho, and steelhead when they first enter the marine environment. The Salish Sea Marine Survival Project identified the key stressors causing declines of juvenile salmon. Changes to the Salish Sea affect when, where and how much food is available for young chinook and coho, which influences their growth and mortality. Drops in zooplankton and forage fish, especially herring, put young salmon at increasing risk, a situation compounded by the destruction of estuaries and nearshore habitat, which provide hiding spots and food for both the fish and their prey. The finding suggests that protecting and restoring estuary and forage fish habitats on the foreshores of the coast should be a priority, says Pearsall. As well, increased efforts to boost declining herring populations and study their distribution and movements are important. Young salmon are also under pressure from a growing number of harbour seals in the Salish Sea, the project found. While chinook and coho are a limited portion of the seals’ diet, the number of seals negatively impacts salmon survival rates, already under strain from human-caused climate change, notes Pearsall. The study doesn’t advocate for widespread culls, which would require the elimination of up to 50 percent of the seal population, and the constant removal of a significant proportion every year after, to have any real effect on salmon, she says. “It’s just untenable to make such a drastic move in an ecosystem that nobody fully understands,” says Pearsall, adding other pressures and changes are also at play since abundant salmon stocks existed alongside large seal populations in the past. “I think we need to look at the anthropogenic changes that we’ve made that make the salmon more vulnerable to predation,” she says. That could include removing infrastructure like log booms in estuaries where seals can hang out waiting for salmon without fear of being eaten themselves. Or by changing hatchery practices, such as the release of large groups of juvenile fish upriver, often in low water, which make young salmon easy pickings for all sorts of creatures, including raccoons or herons. Implementing solutions that could ensure higher river or stream flows to provide more cover and cooler water to young salmon would also give them a fighting chance against predators and increase their survival, Pearsall adds. The holistic, collaborative nature of the Salish Sea project has resulted in a framework for stakeholders on both sides of the border to respond more effectively in a co-ordinated manner to make gains in restoring endangered salmon stocks, says Pearsall. While the study tallies the range of pressures on salmon, it has also pointed out some practical action.“We’re letting people know that what they’re doing can have impacts, both negative and positive,” says Pearsall. “There may be some things that are out of our control, but there are many immediate actions we can take.” Rochelle Baker is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter with Canada’s National Observer. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
  2. DAVE NIKLEVA WALKS THE SHORELINE of a Cortes Island beach nudging oysters with the toe of his boot. “Dead. Dead. Dead,” Nikleva mutters as he goes along. The shellfish farmer stoops over to pick up one bigger specimen for inspection before tossing it back on the beach. The stench along this stretch of Gorge Harbour at low tide is tremendous. But it was even worse two weeks ago when a record-breaking heat wave cooked thousands upon thousands of oysters in their shells in the final days of June. “They still had meat in them then,” Nikleva said. Cortes Island shellfish farmer Dave Nikleva surveys the damage after a recent heat wave decimated his oysters. A perfect storm of extreme heat paired with extra-low midday tides left Nikleva’s south-facing oyster lease baking in the sun for six hours at a time. BC clams and oysters were reduced to stinky goop after they got cooked in a recent heat wave. Now many of the feathery shells of the baby spats and small to medium oysters are empty having already been picked clean by crabs and gulls. But some of the bigger oysters are still dying. Shells still mostly closed, they gush water and putrid goop when disturbed. Nikleva’s oysters are just a fraction of the one billion marine intertidal animals that likely perished on the shores of the Salish Sea during the extreme heat event. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Nikleva, who has been producing oysters and clams for 35 years. Oyster farmers on the front line of climate change BC’s shellfish producers have been struggling with the slow burn of climate change for years as warming waters spur harmful bacteria and ocean acidification, among other changes, in the marine ecosystem. “If you went back 20 years ago and told farmers they were going to experience 20 per cent mortality, they would have thought that was crazy,” said Jim Russell, executive director of the BC Shellfish Growers Association. “But now that's kind of normal. And this normal keeps changing.” But the record-breaking heat saw some areas on the typically temperate coast reach close to 40 C—double the seasonal average. And it led to some catastrophic losses for many shellfish farmers. But those losses appear to be varied, depending on local conditions, said Russell, adding a full understanding of where and who suffered the greatest hits won’t be known for another couple of weeks. In addition to the damages reported in Gorge Harbour, the hub of shellfish aquaculture on Cortes, there appears to be some big losses in Baynes Sound next to Denman Island and in Okeover Inlet on BC’s mainland. It’s concerning since Baynes Sound produces more than 50 per cent of the shellfish coming out of BC, Russell said. And Okeover Inlet is reportedly the hardest hit, with some farmers with beach leases reporting up to 100 per cent mortality. “It’s quite devastating for some of the farmers that have talked to me.” Shellfish producers already battered by COVID-19 BC produced 9,684 tonnes of shellfish, valued at 27 million, in 2019. Oysters alone generate 56 per cent of that revenue. The West Coast is big nationally, too, growing over half of Canada’s oysters and clams. It remains to be seen how badly the sector will be impacted by the heat wave, Russell said. But the nasty irony is that shellfish farmers had already been hobbled by COVID-19, which shuttered restaurants and export markets last year Many producers left last year’s oysters stockpiled on their beach to sell when markets improved as the pandemic lifted, Russell said. Now, some farmers will take a double hit. Plus, it takes two or three years to raise an oyster to market size. “It’s devastating when you consider the crop cycle, and they’ve lost all three years,” he said. “It’s going to be a major setback.” After preliminary surveys, Nikleva figures he has seen at least a 30 per cent die-off along his seven-acre stretch of beach. And mortality among the prized, smaller half-shell oysters destined for restaurants appears even greater. Nikleva lets out a sarcastic snort when asked if there are any government programs to help oyster farmers weather crop disasters. He figures he’ll lose a third of his income off this beach for the next three years. Yet, he considers himself somewhat fortunate since not all his shoreline oyster sites are directly exposed to the sun, and his deep-water oysters, growing on trays suspended from rafts, are OK. Despite his losses, Nikleva is glad the heat wave and its dire impacts have truly seized the wider public’s attention at last. “I’m glad we’re talking about climate change,” he said, “We’ve been breaking heat records year after year for decades. It’s happening, and we’re not immune.” All food producers are struggling to adapt to the changing climate, he said. If faced with low tides and extreme heat again, Nikleva is considering using a pump and to spray seawater over the oysters to cool them. Or experiment with mesh pouches or bags for the oysters to see if they provide extra shade and retain some pooled water. Scientists are also at work to mitigate the impacts of climate change on the shellfish industry. Ocean acidification, which occurs as increasing carbon in the atmosphere gets absorbed by the ocean, poses a problem for shellfish, said Timothy Green, a researcher at Vancouver Island University (VIU). Acidification drops the levels of calcium carbonate in the water that baby oysters and other shellfish need to build their shells. Oysters are also vulnerable to increased levels of bacteria and new pathogens brought about by warming oceans and global transport, said Green, a Canada Research Chair in shellfish health and genomics. Studying the genetics of shellfish adaptation to climate stressors and disease, Green is running a selective breeding program to make the Pacific oyster more resilient. Three years into the project, Green hopes he’ll see some results at the five- and 10-year mark. The research team is also experimenting to see if various types of farming practices can drop the mortality rates associated with climate change. “We need to come up with solutions,” Green said. “It hurts that we can’t help industry and say, ‘here’s the solution’ just yet. But that’s the end goal.” Rochelle Baker is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter with Canada's National Observer. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
  3. ENVIRONMENTALISTS STRUGGLING TO SAVE diminishing ancient forests on Canada’s West Coast are hopeful after BC announced a new old-growth advisory panel staffed by respected foresters and scientists. “The technical panel is a very welcome positive step forward,” said Andrea Inness of the Ancient Forest Alliance. “It really gives me a glimmer of hope the Province is going to listen to science around the state of old-growth forests.” The new technical panel will ensure the province is using the best science and data available to identify at-risk old-growth ecosystems and prioritize the areas slated for old-growth logging deferrals, said BC Minister of Forests Katrine Conroy on Thursday. “We are committed to a science-based approach to old-growth management, and our work with the advisory panel will help us break down barriers between the different interpretations of data that are out there,” Conroy said in a press statement. The panel includes ecologists Rachel Holt and Karen Price, forest policy expert and environmental economist Lisa Matthaus, and foresters Garry Merkel and Dave Daust. The appointments come as the NDP government is facing mounting public pressure, both at home and abroad, to make good on its promise to protect the most at-risk tracts of BC’s iconic ancient forests. Protests calling for action have been occurring across the province, and over 300 activists have been arrested at old-growth blockades in the Fairy Creek watershed on southwest Vancouver Island in Premier John Horgan’s riding. The choice of panellists suggests the Province is finally acknowledging the data and science behind the independent Last Stand report written by Holt, Price and Daust that indicates the dire state of at-risk forest ecosystems in BC, Inness said. The report, often cited by environmental groups (ENGOs), suggests that only three percent of BC’s remaining old forests support massive ancient trees. “To date, we have not seen or heard the Province accept those scientific findings or embrace and make decisions based on them,” Inness said. The inclusion of Merkel—an author of the old-growth strategic review that includes 14 recommendations the government has committed to implement to shift forestry away from a focus on timber extraction to prioritizing biodiversity—is also a positive sign, she added. “I hope this signals a turning point in the Province’s approach to implementing the old-growth [review] recommendations,” she said. “And that the Province understands we can’t get anywhere if we don’t see eye-to-eye on the crisis at hand and the state of old-growth forests.” The Province has come under fire by ENGOs, which suggest it has grossly exaggerated the amount of at-risk old-growth it protected through logging deferrals in nine areas across the Province made in September. Inness hopes the panel’s input will rectify the government’s claim it has protected 200,000 hectares of old-growth. “I still have concerns, because we continue to see the Province use misleading figures around the state of old-growth forests and what they’ve done so far,” Inness said. “You know much of that forest is not what the average British Columbia would consider old-growth. It is low-productivity forest with smaller trees, and much of that area is already protected.” The panel will be providing advice around high-priority areas for deferrals, but won’t be making any decisions, which will result from government-to-government discussions with Indigenous nations, Conroy said at a press conference on June 24, 2021. Ecologist Rachel Holt is a member of BC’s new old-growth technical advisory panel. In addition to identifying high-priority at-risk areas for deferral, the panel will help develop a common understanding of the broader issues around at-risk forest ecosystems, Holt stated. “We’re hoping along the way we can increase the understanding and transparency of information around the issues of old-growth forests in the province,” Holt said. There has been a lot of different or competing data presented from various stakeholders around old-growth forests, and it’s resulting in public mistrust, she said, noting the old-growth review called for better public information on at-risk forests. “We’re hoping the panel can clear up a lot of that miscommunication, and really help the public, so everyone has a baseline understanding of the state of old-growth in the province,” Holt said. “What really is and isn’t at risk. How much there is. You know, all these questions there’s been a lot of conversation about over the last couple of years.” However, Conroy would not clarify when or if the panel’s information around the priority deferral areas would become public, saying, eventually some information would be released. “The advice will be confidential, but it’ll help us to inform those really important government-to-government discussions on future deferrals,” Conroy said, adding more deferrals are expected this summer. Jens Wieting of Sierra Club BC said he hoped the panel appointment signalled the provincial government would no longer delay action around the promised paradigm shift in forest stewardship. Interim old-growth deferrals are vital to ensure the most at-risk forests aren’t being logged as discussions with First Nations occur, Wieting said. “But I’d like to repeat how important it is that the government act quickly, and announce funding with the explicit purpose to increase protections, and give First Nations and communities some hope they’ll be supported through this transition,” he said. That’s a sentiment echoed by activists leading the blockades in the Fairy Creek area. Caycuse old-growth, before and after logging (photo by T.J. Watt) Kathleen Code, a Rainforest Flying Squad organizer, said “Work should begin immediately to transition away from old-growth logging while the panel develops strategies to move forward.” She noted that the two-year timeline means hundreds of hectares of old-growth forest could disappear before the panel is able to develop a strategy for old-growth management. The Rainforest Flying Squad promises to continue to stand as the last line of defence for these rare old trees. Code said, “Really there has been enough research to demonstrate that all remaining stands of old growth forest need to be protected and in fact provide greater benefits overall when left standing.” Intact, endangered old-growth forest in Fairy Creek area (drone photo by Alex Harris) Logging has continued in areas adjacent to Fairy Creek since the two-year logging deferral was announced on June 9. Andy MacKinnon, forest ecologist, professional forester and professional biologist (retired) stated, “The Old Growth Technical Advisory Panel is an excellent panel with an excellent mandate. It’s composed of well known and respected scientists and they will make excellent recommendations. But it follows another excellent panel with an excellent mandate, the Old Growth Strategic Review Panel, that made excellent recommendations.” MacKinnon added, “There hasn’t been much will demonstrated to implement those recommendations. What is needed is a commitment to implementing the panel’s recommendations, otherwise it’s just stalling.” Holt hopes the panel’s work will mark a shift in forestry policy in the province. “The government taking the step of putting this group together really helps us move along that track,” she said, adding little progress has been made to date. “I want to be optimistic that this is the beginning of the paradigm shift. And time will tell us if that is correct.” Rochelle Baker is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter with Canada’s National Observer. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada. With files from Leslie Campbell.
  4. THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT RELEASED the broad strokes of its plan to save plummeting wild salmon stocks on the West Coast on June 8, 2021. Federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan outlined the initial framework and guiding principles for Ottawa’s $647.1-million Pacific Salmon Strategy Initiative (PSSI), announced as part of the recent federal budget. Four key areas form the foundation of the strategy: conservation and stewardship, enhanced hatchery production, harvest transformation, and integrated management and collaboration, Jordan said. Some BC salmon conservationists say the plan’s pillars and funding are positive, but the devil is in the details. Concerns raised include the use of hatcheries, the need to establish recovery plans, ensuring First Nations are true partners in the process, and that the entities steering the process are independent. “Overall, it’s a positive announcement,” said Aaron Hill, executive director of Watershed Watch Salmon Society. “We’re cautiously optimistic that it’ll move things in the right direction.” Many wild salmon stocks in BC and the Yukon are on the verge of collapse and bold action was necessary to reverse the trend, said Jordan, noting some populations have suffered declines of 90 percent. “The challenges facing Pacific salmon are enormous, but they’re not insurmountable,” Jordan said. “With the development of the historic Pacific salmon strategy, we will deploy the resources on a level that meets the scale of the crisis head on, and we will turn the corner.” The four pillars support a strategic and co-ordinated long-term response rooted in collaborative action, she added. “This is not a top-down approach,” Jordan said, adding Indigenous peoples, provincial and territorial governments, harvesters, stewardship partners, academia, environmentalists, and other stakeholders will be relied on to execute and guide the strategy. The plan aims to develop stronger science and habitat restoration, stabilize and grow salmon populations and sustainable and reliable fisheries, as well as deepen communication and co-ordination between partners. The funding is dedicated to conservation initiatives on the ground, Jordan said, adding the salmon strategy isn’t a new report or study. Ottawa is partnering with the BC government on conservation through the province’s Salmon Restoration and Innovation Fund (BCSRIF) to fund projects on the ground immediately, Jordan said. In the recent budget, Ottawa committed a further $100 million to the $143-million program. Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) will also begin planning and consultations to build new hatchery facilities to provide critical assistance for at-risk salmon stocks, Jordan said. “We’re starting work immediately to consult with First Nations and local organizations to determine exactly where these hatcheries should be located to deliver the biggest impact,” Jordan said, adding DFO will take strategic steps to ensure that hatcheries won’t compromise wild fish stocks. Strategic work with existing hatcheries will enhance their efforts where needed and aim to support economic opportunities for recreational fishers, she added. Aaron Hill, of Watershed Watch Salmon Society, is wary of using hatcheries as a tool to boost declining wild salmon stocks. Hill expressed concern that using hatcheries to support fisheries will further erode at-risk stocks by reducing the genetic fitness of wild salmon, and would see hatchery fish competing with endangered populations in the marine food web already under increasing duress. “There is a need for hatcheries in some cases to rescue wild salmon runs from extinction,” Hill said, adding he’s pleased Jordan suggested DFO will take a conservation approach to their use. “But the best way to do that is through a biological risk-assessment framework—something they currently have—but which is in a bit of a shambles and needs a massive overhaul,” he said. DFO also urgently needs to develop science-based recovery plans for specific at-risk salmon populations, as required by 2019 changes to the Fisheries Act, Hill said. Bob Chamberlin, a former vice-president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs and a longtime advocate for wild salmon, said he wants Ottawa to abandon just consulting First Nations and work at a government-to-government level to enact the strategy. Doing so is particularly relevant as Ottawa undertakes legislative changes to bring Canadian laws in line with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), he said. “This is one of those vital opportunities to get it right the first time, and create space for First Nations partnerships to develop and implement salmon restoration,” Chamberlin said. Work is already underway to co-ordinate a First Nation salmon restoration framework in BC to identify priorities, he added “That’s the work I’ve been doing for the past six months. I’ve talked to First Nations across BC and the support is overwhelming.” As part of the strategy, a federal Pacific salmon secretariat will be developed to caretake and integrate the data collected under the initiative, Jordan said. A restoration centre of expertise for Pacific salmon will also be created to provide technical expertise to support restoration efforts by salmon stewardship groups. “This [centre] will break down silos, increase communication, and we will learn from these groups to ensure we are focused in the right direction and the right areas, and adapting as time progresses,” Jordan said. To be effective, Hill noted, both the proposed secretariat or the centre of expertise shouldn’t be overseen by the DFO, which also regulates salmon farms in BC waters and might potentially ignore or suppress science suggesting the operations pose a threat to wild stocks. “The idea of a Pacific salmon secretariat could be a great thing, but I’m concerned it might just be a sort of administrative function within DFO,” Hill said. “We’d really love to see something that’s arm’s length. “I don’t think we'll see a good outcome if they’re the ones that are also in charge of rolling out this whole initiative and overseeing it.” Rochelle Baker is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter with Canada’s National Observer. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
  5. Fairy Creek old-growth activists are facing arrest but the injunction won't stop them defending some of the last tracts of ancient rainforest on southern Vancouver Island. DESCRIBING THE PROTESTERS AS “MISGUIDED,” BC Supreme Court Justice Frits Verhoeven granted forestry company Teal-Jones an injunction on Thursday prohibiting roadblocks at various entry points to its Tree Farm Licence (TFL) 46 near the community of Port Renfrew. But Fairy Creek supporters say the court order only fuels the fight to save the pristine forests and giant trees growing in the headwaters of Fairy Creek, as well as remaining groves near Gordon River, Camper Creek and in the upper Walbran Valley. Teal-Jones’ activities in TFL 46 are lawful and follow permits issued by the province, but blockades preventing logging activities are aimed at influencing government policy, Verhoeven observed. “It is clear that the defendants are dissatisfied with the forestry policies of the provincial government relating to logging of old- growth forests,” he said. But the blockades are illegal and violate the rule of law, he added. There is no disputing climate change is a grave threat to humanity’s future, but making a decision on the matter falls outside his jurisdiction, the judge said. “The effect of old-growth forests and logging on climate change and biodiversity is not before me, and is not for me to say,” Verhoeven said. “What is at stake in this court is the maintenance of law and order and respect for the rule of law,” he said. “The protesters are free to protest, demonstrate and attempt to influence the government in any lawful way they may choose, but no one has the right to disobey a court order, no matter how passionately they may believe in their cause.” In its application, Teal-Jones asked the court to prohibit the blockades until at least September 4 and grant RCMP the right to remove protesters violating the order. Court order a ‘flashpoint’ for public support The court order banning road blockades that prevent Teal-Jones logging activities is likely to build support for the Fairy Creek protest, say supporters. Photo by Will O'Connell Ultimately, the court’s decision is not a surprise, said Fairy Creek blockade supporter Kathleen Code, one of the defendants named in the injunction. Each individual protester will decide if they’re willing to risk arrest at the blockades, Code said, but the injunction won’t quash growing public support to save Fairy Creek. “We know the instant Teal-Jones has access to those trees, they will cut them down,” Code said. “I think the decision will actually serve as a flashpoint. People are tired of having a government that is willing to sacrifice the last remnants of our old-growth forests.” Case in point are the hundreds of people who turned up for the latest in a series of protests at the BC legislature in Victoria on Saturday calling for the end of old-growth logging in the province, Code said. Blockade supporter Will O’Connell agreed the injunction wouldn’t deter people from working to save Fairy Creek as an intact watershed. “The blockade has been going [for] eight months, but the court injunction is just the start of this story,” said O’Connell, who expects it will launch years of activism. “If anyone thinks this movement will be quelled by force, they have another thing coming.” O’Connell said he was compelled to support the blockades last summer because he couldn’t stomach watching the continued loss of ancient trees, some thousands of years old, to logging in the region. There’s a rapid groundswell of support for the blockade and protecting at-risk old-growth that feels different than in the past, O’Connell said. “This is not a fragile movement that people from a distance might think is just [the] status quo response by the environmental movement,” he said. “It’s not the passive grumbling about clear-cutting we’ve seen over the last decade where people make phone calls or write letters.” The final straw for the public has been the government’s inadequate response to meeting the recommendations of the old-growth strategic review, he said. “The NDP promised to change the way it approached old-growth, and it hasn’t,” O’Connell said, adding protecting big trees and forestry has long been mismanaged in a way that fails both the environment and sustainable industry. “It just feels like we’ve been documenting the collapse of our last ancient forests, but now there is a change that actually stands in the way of that being destroyed,” O’Connell added. Fairy Creek blockade supporter Will O’Connell said the movement to protect old-growth forest is getting stronger and more active. Photo courtesy of Will O’Connell In his decision, Verhoeven agreed the blockades threatened Teal-Jones’ legal right to harvest timber worth approximately $20 million in the region, as well as the operations and employment of 460 people at the company’s mills. The Pacheedaht First Nation is also aware of the forestry operations in its traditional territory, has agreements in place with various companies, and has not objected to logging activity in planned cut blocks, Verhoeven said. And while three individual members of the nation testified that they object to logging in Fairy Creek and support the protesters, none claimed to represent the Pacheedaht collectively, Verhoeven said. One of the members, Pacheedaht elder Bill Jones, said his spiritual practices are threatened because logging the Fairy Creek watershed would endanger important bathing pools. But most of the Fairy Creek watershed is already protected, said Verhoeven, and the Teal-Jones cut block in the upper elevation of the region has intermittent watercourses and no bathing pools. And any freedom of religion challenge must be directed at government, not Teal-Jones, he added. Ball is in premier’s court Torrance Coste of the Wilderness Committee said while the injunction decision reflects the law, it doesn’t necessarily mean justice was applied. “Those are not the same things,” Coste said. “If the legal system was based on justice, there wouldn’t be an injunction and the blockades wouldn’t be there in the first place.” Following the ruling, the outcomes and the next move are up to the Province, Coste said. “Really, the ball is in Premier [John] Horgan’s court,” he said. Horgan has the power to save Fairy Creek, which is in his own riding, Coste added. If he fails to do so, government will wear the results. “The consequences are the lack of public faith in this government, and that’s not the responsibility of a logging company to restore,” he said. “Horgan can step up and defer logging in this TFL and give some of the last, best old-growth forests like Fairy Creek some breathing room while government plans how to ensure these ecosystems survive,” Coste said. The strategic old-growth review called for a paradigm shift, moving away from a focus on old-growth timber harvesting to the protection of at-risk ecosystems and biodiversity, Coste added. “The reason that folks are taking it into their own hands is because the government's not providing that.” Rochelle Baker is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter with Canada’s National Observer. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada. See another story about the injunction by David Broadland here.
  6. A new environmental report card says the BC government is failing to enact recommendations it accepted to protect large old growth trees. A former Vancouver Island forest. Photo by TJ Watt Premier John Horgan is getting failing grades when it comes to protecting BC’s old-growth forests, according to a report card issued by a coalition of environmental groups on Thursday, March 11, 2020. The report card evaluates the Province’s progress at the six-month mark after its promise to act on 14 recommendations outlined in a report that followed a strategic review of BC’s old-growth forestry practices. Most urgently, the Province grades poorly around the call to take immediate action to protect at-risk old-growth and stem the loss of rare ecosystems, said Andrea Inness, a campaigner with the Ancient Forest Alliance (AFA), which issued the report card along with the Wilderness Committee and the Sierra Club BC. “They committed to act immediately to temporarily halt logging in the most endangered old-growth forest ecosystems,” said Inness. “The province still has a very, very long way to go to actually implement that critical recommendation.” When the government announced it would adopt a new approach to old-growth management in September, it temporarily deferred logging in 353,000 hectares of forest in nine regions until a new plan was developed. Andrea Inness, of the the Ancient Forest Alliance (AFA), said the BC government is not acting on its promise to act on recommendations to protect at risk, old-growth forests. However, various environmental groups and reports have questioned how much of the government’s deferred areas actually included at-risk, high-value, old-growth ecosystems, Inness said. “Those deferrals were highly problematic,” she added, noting the most at-risk areas of old-growth valued in terms of biodiversity were not protected. “They’ve really exaggerated that a lot to make it sound like they’ve done more than they have,” Inness said. Much of the forested areas covered in the government’s deferral fell within a number of parks, ecological reserves, or included already existing deferrals or poor grade timber and low-value ecosystems not at risk of logging, Inness said. Only about 415,000 hectares of old-growth forest with big trees remain in BC, mostly without protection, according to an independent report, said Inness said. “We try to look at this data and have determined that only 3,800 hectares of that 353,000 deferral was actually previously unprotected high-risk old-growth forests,” Inness said. As such, clear-cutting will continue in critical old-growth stands—such as the Fairy Creek watershed on Vancouver Island—destroying their bio-diverse ecosystems forever, she said. Activists blockading logging activity in the Fairy Creek watershed near Port Renfrew for the last seven months got a temporary reprieve after an injunction hearing to oust them was adjourned for three weeks in late February. “It would send a very strong signal if Premier Horgan announced within this three-week timeframe that [government] is going to set that forest aside,” Inness said. “Because, that would be consistent with what he’s promised to do.” Environmental groups have issued the BC government failing grades around it’s promises to take a new approach to old growth management. The report card suggests that the Province is also failing to adequately chart a new forest approach that prioritizes the integrity of ecosystems and biodiversity as called for by the review plan. During the October election, the NDP election platform committed to meeting the old-growth strategic review recommendations and protecting more old-growth forests—in addition to the original deferral—in collaboration with First Nations, labour, industry and environmental groups. And the Province also committed to protecting up to 1,500 individual, giant and iconic trees as part of its special tree regulations when announcing its forest deferrals. While the government has initiated conversations with First Nations around old-growth forestry, other steps need to be taken to fulfil the old-growth recommendations, Inness said. The new BC budget is slated for April and the Province should commit funds to support First Nations experiencing economic losses due to forestry deferrals or when choosing to protect ancient forests, she said. “Until that economic piece is addressed, it could be very difficult for First Nations to agree to temporarily halt logging or permanently protect old growth in their territories if there aren’t alternatives,” Inness said. Additionally, the Province has failed to tie its implementation promises to any timeline, nor has it signalled whether it’s on track to come up with a provincial transition plan within the next six months that prioritizes ecosystem health as promised, she said. Should the government make good on its promises to enact old-growth strategic review recommendations, it involves a complete paradigm shift in the way forests are managed, Inness said. “It means putting biodiversity and ecosystem integrity ahead of timber supply,” she said. “But [the Province] isn’t showing that they understand that. In fact, it feels more like they want to maintain the status quo.” Comment from the office of the B.C.'s Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development was unavailable before deadline. Rochelle Baker is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter with Canada’s National Observer. The LJI is funded by the Government of Canada.
  7. Judge rules that protesters must be given more time to defend themselves against Teal-Jones' application for an injunction. FAIRY CREEK BLOCKADE ACTIVISTS trying to protect some of the last stands of old-growth forest on southern Vancouver Island have won a three-week reprieve after a judge adjourned an injunction hearing on Thursday, February 25, 2021. BC Supreme Court Justice Jennifer Power granted a request by the blockade’s legal team for more time to assemble materials necessary for a defence against the injunction. Forestry company Teal-Jones had sought the injunction to remove the Fairy Creek blockades at various entry points to its Tree Farm Licence (TFL) 46 near the community of Port Renfrew until September 4. However, Power said it was in the interest of justice to allow the delay, so defendants could better prepare and the court could set aside more time to hear the matter. Additionally, Power was unconvinced a short delay would be problematic given the blockade started in August 2020, but the forestry company did not apply for the injunction until February 18, 2021. “I am not persuaded that I should find urgency or prejudice to the extent that the plaintiff now alleges,” Power said. “If, as the plaintiffs argued [that] there will be a prolonged civil disobedience campaign after a court order, it is, in my view, all the more important that any order that the court makes be made [based] on a full hearing.” The blockade activists want to save pristine old-growth forest at the headwaters of Fairy Creek with yellow cedars thought to be 1,000 years old, as well as other remaining groves near Camper Creek, Gordon River, and in the Upper Walbran Valley. Old growth forest in Fairy Creek watershed Pacheedaht First Nation elder Bill Jones, one of defendants named in the injunction application, says the Fairy Creek valley falls within the nation’s traditional territory and contains bathing pools with spiritual significance that are endangered by clear-cutting. It was also in the public’s interest to adjourn the hearing, said defence lawyer Patrick Canning. Demonstrators in solidarity with the Fairy Creek blockade gathered on the Victoria courthouse steps on March 4, and in various other communities on Vancouver Island prior to the court decision. Lawyers representing Teal-Cedar, a division of Teal-Jones, had argued that Power should grant the injunction immediately because a delay would endanger road building in the region necessary before logging could occur later in the spring and summer. Any further delays due to the blockades would threaten timber harvesting and jobs at its mills, said the company’s lawyer Dean Dalke. The elected council of the Pacheedaht Nation were also aware of and did not oppose the proposed logging activity in the region, Dalke said. The request for an adjournment by the defence was to raise issues that wouldn’t, in fact, be a defence to an illegal blockade, he added. Regardless of whether the defence arguments “would pass muster,” it was important to allot enough time to adequately hear them, Power said. A two-day injunction hearing is now scheduled to start March 25. Teal-Jones did not respond to a request for comment following the hearing decision before deadline. Rochelle Baker is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with Canada’s National Observer. LJI reporters are funded by the Government of Canada.
  8. Posted October 14, 2020 Image: Young wild salmon swim close to fish farm net pen. It goes against independent science and will endanger the survival of juvenile salmon, say ENGOs and First Nations. Go to story
  9. It goes against independent science and will endanger the survival of juvenile salmon, say ENGOs and First Nations. By Rochelle Baker, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter OPPONENTS OF OPEN-NET SALMON FARMS are disputing a recent finding by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) that farms in Discovery Islands waters pose little risk to wild salmon. Environmentalist groups and conservationists claim DFO ignored crucial independent science to downplay the risks to imperilled Fraser River sockeye salmon in favour of the aquaculture industry. Young wild salmon swim close to open-net fish farm in the Discovery Islands area (Photo by Tavish Campbell) The DFO studied nine different farm fish diseases and concluded they pose minimal risk to wild sockeye. However, the federal agency failed to consider scientific findings about the harm arising from sea lice, which can concentrate in farms and potentially endanger the survival juvenile salmon transiting the region, said Stan Proboszcz, science advisor with Watershed Watch Salmon Society. DFO boldly misled Canadians when finding Discovery Islands salmon farms—situated along a critical migration route for juvenile salmon—don’t threaten wild fish, said Proboszcz, a past DFO risk assessment steering committee member. “Their pro-salmon farming bias and disregard for BC’s wild salmon could not be more clear.” “It’s a joke,” said Proboszcz, adding DFO also failed to do a synthesis assessment that would evaluate the combined risk all the pathogens and sea lice pose for wild fish. DFO insists steps have already been taken to control sea lice problems. There’s already an extensive range of research available on sea lice which DFO relied on in February to update a sea lice management regime, said Andrew Thomson, DFO’s Pacific regional director of fisheries management. There are measures fish farms can take to control sea lice problems, and once they are in place, the farms meet the minimum risk threshold, Thomson said. This claim is misleading, said Proboszcz, adding DFO does require farms to manage one species of sea lice, Lepeophtheirus salmonis, which tends to infect wild pink and chum salmon. However, DFO doesn’t require them to mitigate Caligus clemensi, a species that unduly affect sockeye salmon. As a result of DFO’s findings, Federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan decided Monday the 18 fish farms, which raise Atlantic salmon, will remain open pending discussion with area First Nations. The farms were in danger of being shut September 30, a deadline set by the Cohen Commission report investigating the precipitous decline of Fraser River sockeye. The 2012 report identified a number of factors threatening sockeye including climate change, over-fishing, and loss of habitat. But it also focused on the potential danger fish farms might pose to migrating smelts and recommended the fisheries minister should remove open-net pen farms in the Discovery Islands unless DFO could prove they posed minimal risk to the health of migrating Fraser River sockeye. Jordan’s decision takes place as Fraser River sockeye salmon returns—which used to number in the millions—are predicted to be 293,000 fish, the lowest number since records began in 1983. DFO’s stance is contrary to independent scientist and peer-reviewed studies that indicate sea lice from fish farms threaten wild salmon, said Jay Ritchlin, David Suzuki Foundation director general for western Canada. “Science has established that fish farms  can  raise sea lice levels, and that these parasites can kill young salmon,” Ritchlin said. “If you want to protect  struggling salmon populations, you should start by getting these fish farms out of the water.”  DFO’s determination of low risk to sockeye from the Discovery Islands fish farms is not based on absolute findings, Ritchlin added. Seven of nine of the risk assessments admit some degree of uncertainty, with two reporting a high level of uncertainty, he said. Ritchlin agreed with Proboszcz that examining each disease individually doesn’t give a full picture of the risk salmon face. Given the precariousness of salmon runs, the fisheries minister should take a precautionary approach and pull the farms if the science is uncertain, Ritchlin said. NDP DFO critic Gord Johns agreed DFO has minimized independent peer reviewed science, particularly around the threat of sea lice and Piscine Orthoreovirus (PRV), a type of virus prevalent in net pen salmon that could put migratory salmon at risk of various diseases and pointed out the agency is in a conflict. “It’s abundantly clear that DFO cannot both be a promoter of salmon farming, and a protector of Pacific wild salmon,” said Johns, MP for Courtenay-Alberni. The federal government should declare a salmon emergency and establish a plan to remediate the Fraser River, a vital watershed for so many communities and First Nations, he said. “It’s extremely alarming to see a minister sit idle, when we’re watching a collapse of wild Pacific salmon happen right before our eyes,” Johns said. The salmon farmers jumped to defend DFO’s findings. DFO’s peer-reviewed risk assessments clearly show ocean-based salmon farms pose minimal risks to wild salmon in the Discovery Islands, said Shawn Hall, spokesperson for the BC Salmon Farmers Association. “Sound science will support stability and shared values our industry is bringing to the coast today and into the future,” Hall said in a press release. Salmon farming is part of the economic fabric of the province, he added. And the industry is working closely and openly with Indigenous people to create a shared future of economic opportunity and environmental stewardship, Hall added. Aquaculture operators are looking forward to participating fully in the upcoming consultations with area First Nations, he said. Bob Chamberlin, a former chief of the Kwikwasut'inuxw Haxwa'mis First Nation, said he had little faith in the upcoming consultations between DFO and the seven First Nations in the Discovery Islands region. “For me to hear the government say that they will have an outcome from all this by December, really shows what a farce this is,” said Chamberlin. Plus, all First Nations impacted by the loss of sockeye salmon need to have a say on fish farms, he added. A broad coalition of more than 100 BC First Nations, wilderness tourism operators, conservation organizations, and commercial and sport fishing groups all called on the federal government to cease open-net pen operations and move them on land last week, said Chamberlin, spokesperson for the group. “My question is, ‘who the heck is the federal government listening to?’”, Chamberlin said. “Because it’s not British Columbians but three fish farm companies. DFO isn’t operating in the interests of the environment or fulfilling its duty to protect wild salmon, he added. “And I think that’s something that Canadians really need to be upset about.” Rochelle Baker is a Local Journalism Initiative/Canada reporter with the National Observer
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