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Judith Lavoie

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  1. IN THE WILD, MINK HAVE A NATURAL TERRITORY of up to 2,500 hectares, where they swim, run, hunt and socialize. In BC’s mink farms, they live their whole lives in small cages which many British Columbians view as inhumane. In the past year, health experts have raised alarms about the spread of viruses, including COVID-19. For all such reasons, many organizations, as well as some NDP MLAs are urging the government to ban the farms. Scattered around the Fraser Valley are nine active mink farms, which, last year, contained 57,130 adult animals, bred to be killed and skinned. One chinchilla farm also continues to operate, while several mink farms are currently inactive. The mink are usually bred in March, with kits arriving in June—about five per female. Most are killed—or, in fur farm language, pelted—before their first birthday. In 2018, according to the BC SPCA, over 260,000 mink were killed for their fur in the province. Most of the fur is sold overseas, largely to countries such as Russia and China, where it is made into coats or trim for clothes. Some also goes into products such as eyelash extensions, cell phone cases or makeup brushes. American mink at Clover Point, Victoria (photo by Daniel Lacy) For years, troubling photos of animals, contained in wire cages for their entire life and often self-mutilating, have drawn criticism, and while animal welfare questions remain top of mind for many critics, COVID has given new resonance to pleas to shut down the farms. In January 2021, the same month 1,000 mink were culled on a BC farm following a COVID outbreak that killed more than 200 animals, the World Health Organization warned about the link between mink farms and COVID. Since then, COVID has been found in two more mink farms. At the most recent one, a total of five mink tested positive, with whole genome sequencing indicating that the B.1.618 variant (named the “triple mutant”) was detected in the animals. “The presence of this virus in the mink farms may have an important impact on livelihoods, public health and wildlife, contributing to widespread socioeconomic disruption,” says the WHO bulletin. As well as concerns about animal welfare and the danger of spreading COVID, fur farms pose a risk of spillover to native wildlife which may affect biodiversity, the WHO warns. “Why are we taking this risk when it is so unnecessary?” asks Lesley Fox, executive director of The Fur-Bearers. “These animals are not raised for food, there is no social or economic benefit of having fur farms. If anything, they have been a real drain because we now have three cases of COVID being found on BC fur farms and, every time that happens it’s more time and money spent and it pulls away resources that are needed elsewhere,” said Fox. Wire cages used for mink farming. The Fur-Bearers website has video footage here (warning: disturbing for animals lovers). The Canada Mink Breeders Association websites features videos of model mink farms, but they all use small wire cages. Fox also noted ongoing concerns about effluent from farms affecting food crops or entering local waterways. “There’s a lot of runoff. You have tens and thousands of individuals pooping and peeing all day long, living in wire cages little bigger than a sheet of paper,” she said. “With COVID, not only is there no social or economic benefit, it’s a flaming liability. This should raise the eyebrows of every politician in the province. This could have a catastrophic impact on our communities and our wildlife,” she said. A statement from the Agriculture Ministry said that the Province, with the help of WorkSafe BC, has ensured all mink farms have robust COVID safety plans in place, with surveillance for infection in mink and farm workers. “We have had a national risk assessment that shows, with these safety measures in place, risk is manageable,” it says. Ministry staff inspected the farms in summer and fall last year and will inspect them again this year, in addition to being in regular contact “to ensure that all necessary precautions are being taken to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 through human to animal or animal to human transmission.” Fox scoffs at the idea that all the animals are checked daily for their health and welfare as the organization estimates there is a ratio of one full-time employee for every 1,000 animals. Lesley Fox of The Fur-Bearers Association: “fur farming…has lost its social licence,” “It seems improbable that the requirements in both the National Farm Animal Care Council Codes of Practice and BC’s Fur Farm Regulations are being met with such a disproportionate staffing to animal ratio,” Fox said in a letter to the ministry. Other troubling questions about ministry oversight have been uncovered by The Fur-Bearers persistent freedom of information requests. One farm could not locate a COVID safety plan and there is no documentation of an animal health management plan for the chinchilla farm where the animals are killed by electrocution, Fox said. “How does this fur farm have a permit without having met the requirements?” she asked. “That is straight up non-compliance with their own legislation. It’s akin to giving someone a driver’s licence and then teaching them to drive.” Farm cash receipts for BC mink in 2018 totalled more than $12.8 million and the industry employs about 150 people, according to background information from the agriculture ministry. However, since 2014, the industry has received $6.5-million in taxpayer dollars from the AgriStability program adding to growing incredulity that the industry continues to have government backing. Claims that the $6.5 million amounts to a subsidy are denied by the ministry, which said the AgriStability program helps protect farmers from financial problems such as drops in market prices and increases in expenses. The fund pays out when there is a minimum 30 percent drop in profits compared to the previous five years. “The purpose of the program is to help farmers manage severe losses which may jeopardize the viability of their farm businesses,” says a ministry statement. Fox wonders why the government would help fund an industry which she believes is in its twilight years. “We don’t subsidize industries such as rotary phones and cassette tapes anymore and I would argue fur is in the same category,” she said. With few jobs at stake, many of which are seasonal and low-paying, fur farming is not an economic driver and it should be simple to transition the farms and workers to other agricultural jobs, Fox argued. “It’s low-hanging fruit,” she said. Sara Dubois, chief scientific officer for the BC Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) said fur farming should not be treated in the same way as other farm operations as it does not put food on the table and requires keeping a wild animal species in inhumane conditions. Sara Dubois of BC SPCA of mink farm conditions: “It’s the worst thing I have seen in my 20-year career.” COVID outbreaks, added to other problems, should have ended the conversation around government support for fur farming, she said. “I wonder why the Province is protecting them to this degree…I think we need to be very clear that this is not the sort of farming that British Columbians want to support with their tax dollars,” Dubois said. Among concerns is the ability for COVID to spread to wild mink or feral cats and, as there have been outbreaks on the farms, it is difficult to have faith in the bio-security measures, according to Dubois. Then there are the conditions under which the animals live. “It’s the worst thing I have seen in my 20-year career,” said Dubois, who takes particular issue with the cage space and methods used to kill the animals. Federal Codes of Practice allow mink to be gassed with carbon monoxide, while foxes on fur farms, which are more common in other provinces, are killed by anal electrocution to avoid marking the skins. Wire metal cages are often stacked on top of each other, with waste dropping from one level to the next, and, in hot weather, mink can die from heat stress, Dubois said. “These are semi-aquatic animals that love to swim and they are denied that natural instinct,” Dubois said. LAST YEAR, MORE THAN 19,000 British Columbians signed a petition calling for a moratorium on mink farming. A September 2020 poll, conducted in the US and Canada by Research Co, found that support for killing animals for fur stood at 12 percent in BC—the lowest number registered in both countries. “The public does not support fur farming and [the industry] has lost its social licence,” said Fox. Agriculture, Food and Fisheries Minister Lana Popham has deflected questions in the Legislature, pushing responsibility for the ongoing operation of the farms on to health officials. Agriculture, Food and Fisheries Minister Lana Popham “Currently we are focused on mink in relation to COVID. We will continue to take direction from the public health officer, but there are no other discussions at this time,” Popham said when asked earlier this month about the future of mink farming in BC. But as opposition to fur farming grows, even some New Democrat MLAs are distancing themselves from government support for the industry. New Democrat MLA Aman Singh, MLA for Richmond-Queensborough, questioned Popham in the Legislature about the future of mink farming and Tweeted: “We need to stop exploiting these animals in fur farms. The exploitation of animals for our vanity or as trophies is just inhumane.” Bowinn Ma, North Vancouver-Lonsdale MLA, Tweeted that she abhors fur farming of animals for cosmetics or fashion and said she has talked to Popham about the issue. BC’s fur farms have drawn criticism and pleas for government to shut down the industry from remarkably diverse groups beyond The Fur-Bearers, BC Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals—including the Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC), celebrity Pamela Anderson, infectious disease physicians, and scientists such as David Suzuki. UBCIC leaders questioned why, when other countries shut down mink farms, BC allowed the resumption of breeding at mink farms in March, including at quarantined farms. UBCIC vice-president Don Tom said BC should be following the lead of countries such as the Netherlands and France. “The time is now for the Province to follow suit and issue a moratorium on mink farming, including immediately suspending breeding programs,” he said in a prepared statement. About 20 countries have either banned or are phasing out fur farming. In Denmark, one of the world’s leading fur producers, 17-million mink were culled to curb a COVID mutation. Grand Chief Stewart Philip, UBCIC president, said fur harvesting should align with Indigenous ethics, conservation and stewardship and BC’s fur farming industry does not come close to those goals. “UBCIC does not condone the industrial breeding, confinement and slaughtering of minks for international luxury markets especially as, notwithstanding the current public health risks, mink farms have long been implicated in cruel and inhumane fur farming practices that have led to unacceptable animal welfare outcomes,” Philip said. ALAN HERSCOVICI, FOUNDER of TruthAboutFur.com usually speaks on behalf of fur farmers, but did not return phone calls and an email from Focus. However, in an opinion piece, published in May in The Province newspaper, Herscovici wrote that BC mink farmers follow codes of practice developed with veterinarians, animal scientists and animal welfare authorities, under the auspices of the National Farm Animal Care Council. “Claims that these hardworking BC farm families would mistreat animals or keep mink in unsafe or miserable conditions are unjustified and insulting,” wrote Herscovici. The Canada Mink Breeders Association also argues that mink farming is safe and humane, and that fur is a “green" product. Herscovici wrote that mink farming is part of BC’s agricultural heritage. But for Fox and other critics, it is not part of the province’s heritage that should be preserved—especially in light of the serious consequences to human health, animal welfare and the environment. “When animals are sick, we are sick. When we treat animals poorly, there is a real impact on humans and our environment,” she said. Critics of fur farming are puzzled that, even if government is not willing to shut down fur farms on animal welfare grounds, they are ignoring the concerns of infectious disease experts. A letter signed by 14 BC infectious disease specialists, sent in late March to Popham and Health Minister Adrian Dix, documents the risks of respiratory viruses being transmitted between humans and animals, especially in intensive breeding facilities where thousands of animals are confined. “We request that you urgently review the licensing and permits for the breeding and confinement of mink on fur farms in British Columbia, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the letter says. Mink in cage (photo by Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals) Dr Jan Hajek, an infectious diseases specialist at Vancouver General Hospital and clinical assistant professor of medicine at the University of British Columbia, said in an open letter that “the rapid accumulation of novel mutations as the virus has adapted to this new animal host, have raised local and international concern.” He cites the “large dense populations of animals on mink farms” as providing “favorable conditions for viruses to evolve toward more virulent forms and present an unnecessary risk.” Calling for a legislative ban on fur farming both in BC and the rest of Canada, Hajek said that, as mink are also susceptible to influenza, they could act as a “mixing vessel” for future pandemics. Still, the bottom line for many, including Hajek, is a matter of ethics. “In a society that values compassion and recognizes the need to avoid unnecessary suffering, keeping intelligent and sensitive animals in small wire-bottom cages to be used to make luxury coats has long been an ugly spot—and morally unjustifiable,” Hajek wrote in the BC Medical Journal. Judith Lavoie is an award-winniing journalist specializing in the environment, Forst Nations, and social issues. Twitter @LavoieJudith
  2. Photo: A typical image on the website of Guide Outfitters Association of BC makes it seem an unlikely ally of conservationists Habitat crisis sparks coalitions between trophy hunters and environmental groups despite tensions over wildlife management. Go to story...
  3. Habitat crisis sparks coalitions between trophy hunters and environmental groups despite tensions over wildlife management. ADVERSITY MAKES STRANGE BEDFELLOWS and few are stranger than two recently formed alliances between hunting and trapping organizations and environmental groups. Despite escalating battles over the ethics of trophy hunting, it seems the situation around diminishing habitats is desperate enough to have led to a couple of mergers around the topic. The Guide Outfitters Association of BC (GOABC), which is focused on big game hunting, has joined forces with Raincoast Conservation Foundation, the Commercial Bear Viewing Association of BC, and Stop Animal Brutality, under the Unlikely Allies banner. At the same time, the loosely-knit Fish, Wildlife and Habitat Coalition has formed joining pro hunting and fishing organizations, including GOABC, BC Wildlife Federation, Ducks Unlimited and several other bowhunting, trapping and angling organizations, with environmental organizations, including Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Georgia Strait Alliance, and Wildsight. Both groups aim to put pressure on the BC government to restore and protect wildlife habitat. Unlikely Allies’ terms of reference say the groups, despite traditionally opposing views, have agreed to work together for long-overdue improvements to habitat management, but emphasize that participation does not indicate any agreement other than the need for better protection and management of wildlife habitat. A typical image on the website of Guide Outfitters Association of BC makes it seem an unlikely ally of conservationists “The members of the alliance have agreed to set aside (but, not compromise or relinquish) their differences in order to advance common objectives,” it says. The Fish, Wildlife and Habitat Coalition position paper says that lack of habitat funding, resource extraction, and a growing population are jeopardizing the future of BC’s wild spaces. “Our mountains, rivers, lakes and forests are suffering from decades of mismanagement and unsustainable use. For example, in BC, there are over 700,000 kilometres of roads—a footprint large enough to wrap around the Earth more than 17 times. This has permanently impaired our landscapes, fish and wildlife,” says the position paper. The Coalition wants a new governance model for fish, wildlife and habitat and a permanent endowment for habitat stewardship. It calls for all hunting, guide-outfitting and trapping license fees, industry wildlife compensation dollars and a portion of royalties from new resource extraction projects to go into a dedicated habitat fund. Have they lost their marbles? However lofty the aims, the alliances are drawing heavy criticism from other conservation and environmental groups who say such partnerships weaken arguments against commercial exploitation of wildlife and could blur the increasingly-polarized fight against trophy hunting of predators such as wolves, cougars and black bears. Anne Sherrod of Valhalla Wilderness Society “What kind of misdirection or misinformation leads environmental groups to think they should join as allies with people trying to overturn our work,” asked Anne Sherrod of Valhalla Wilderness Society, pointing to efforts by the Guide Outfitters to scrap the provincial ban on grizzly bear hunting. Bear biologist and activist Wayne McCrory, in a blunt letter to Raincoast and the Commercial Bear Viewing Association, said everyone wants more habitat protected, but such partnerships are unnecessary “and most likely to come back to bite you in the ass in ways you cannot anticipate.” “As my English grandmother Diamond Lil used to say, ‘have you all lost your marbles?’” he wrote. However, Chris Genovali, Raincoast executive director, said ongoing catastrophic degradation and destruction of wildlife habitat in BC demands urgent action—whatever it takes. “Drastic times call for drastic measures,” he said, pointing to last year’s report by a team of independent scientists, led by Rachel Holt, that found less than one percent of the forest left in BC is old growth with massive old trees. The estimate is a far cry from the 23 percent touted by the Province, but Holt found most of that is high elevation tiny trees or bog forests. Genovali said, “We are in a situation where, if we don’t arrest out of control logging and the clearcutting of old-growth we are not going to have any viable populations of wildlife to argue about. It’s that bad and, because it is that bad, these divergent groups have agreed to disagree on the things we have traditionally disagreed on, but recognize how desperate the situation is.” No one is likely to suddenly change their views on topics such as wolf hunting, but the groups hope to get the ear of government and put forward alternate views on habitat to those expressed by the forest industry, Genovali said. “We figure we might have a fighting chance by joining forces rather than continuing on in our own individual silos…We have to do something about this final liquidation of old growth in BC,” he said. Chris Genovali of Raincoast Conservation Foundation Genovali is aware of the opposition from some groups, but believes it is essential to look at the big picture. “We have all been trying to stop the logging industry from this kind of destruction for so long and we haven’t been able to do it, so we need to try something different,” he said. Kathy MacRae, Commercial Bear Viewing Association executive director, said that for the organizations with opposing viewpoints to come together, underlines the importance of the issue. “The mission is to have guidelines for forestry companies that have not had them—ever—in BC,” she said. “We need to make a change and it needs to be done yesterday. The definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over and expecting to receive a different outcome. So why not bring our voices together and try to make change collectively,” she said. Jesse Zeman, BCWF director of fish and wildlife restoration, believes the alliances are a recognition that the groups have more in common than separates them. “There’s a synergy in that. There’s a place we could be working together and probably be far more effective,” he said. Jesse Zeman of BC Wildlife Federation BCWF, although largely a hunting and fishing organization, has always been involved in habitat conservation, while fees from hunting and fishing licences go towards conservation and habitat projects, he said. “It’s certainly not just hunting. It’s species at risk and sustainability issues,” Zeman said. Ministry biased towards consumption rather than protection of wildlife The urgency of protecting habitat in BC was emphasized this week with the release of a new study, published in the journal Conservation Science and Practice, that found endangered caribou of Western Canada have lost twice as much habitat as they have gained over the last 12 years, with logging, road building, forest fires and climate change identified as the major culprits. Caribou are on the road to extinction unless changes are made and predator reduction programs—such as the provincial wolf cull—will only delay that extinction “in the absence of well-considered habitat management,” the study says. “We have species that are endangered and blinking out and no one seems to want to talk about that,” Zeman said. “It will be a sad day when your grandkids realize we could have done something to have caribou in southern BC and we didn’t do anything.” But, that common interest does not dampen the concern of some environmental groups, which do not want to see organizations such as GOABC or BCWF—which see wildlife as a resource to be harvested—given more of a voice. Opponents say those organizations already have government’s ear to the detriment of wildlife protection groups and that the culture within ministries and the Conservation Officer Service swings towards hunting and commercial activities. Environmental organizations point out that programs and legislation tip towards the “consumptive” rather than the protective groups and, although both sides describe themselves as conservationists, many find it tough to accept that animals should be killed in order to conserve them. Valhalla Wilderness Society, which, like many groups, is not opposed to hunting for meat, but opposes trophy hunting and predator killing, points to government panels and hand-picked stakeholder groups that the organization believes are already dominated by hunter/trapper groups. For example, Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Minister Katrine Conroy recently said she would work to close loopholes in wolf-killing regulations in BC and that she would consult with the BCWF and the BC Trappers Association. That brought a flurry of objections from environmental and wildlife groups, which wanted to be included in the consultations. A ministry spokesman told Focus this week that Conroy is continuing to work with “stakeholders.” “We’ll continue to engage and work together to find a solution that works for everyone…The BCWF is an important partner in our wildlife stewardship and their interests and input into wildlife management are greatly valued,” he said. Sara Dubois, BC Society for the Protection of Animals chief scientific officer, said BCWF has had a significant influence on the ministry for the last two decades and, during that time, there have been few policy changes—with the exception of ending the grizzly bear hunt after inexorable public pressure. Sara Dubois, BC Society for the Protection of Animals chief scientific officer “It’s definitely not tied to politics, it’s tied to staff in the ministry,” said Dubois who, in 2012, was turned down when she applied to sit on the provincial hunting and trapping advisory team because, she was told, it would make other organizations uncomfortable. Wildlife management is not the same as conservation management and BC continues to manage wildlife by looking at the number of animals in a unit that can be hunted or trapped, even though it is often not clear how many animals are on the landscape, she said. Most British Columbians do not realize that BCWF wants healthy populations of wildlife in order to be able to hunt them and that the organization was adamantly opposed to ending the grizzly bear hunt, Dubois said. “That, of course, doesn’t align with some of the BC SPCA’s values,” she said. Zeman said the history of BC shows that it was the hunters and anglers that stepped in a century ago to demand rules to stop over-exploitation and the federation continues to work with government to ensure sustainability. “The reality is that if fish and wildlife is not managed sustainably you won’t get to hunt and fish in the future,” he said. BCWF programs include many programs that have nothing to do with hunting and fishing and a sizeable number of the 43,000 members do not hunt or fish, Zeman said. BCWF has played a central role in programs ranging from helping with the recovery of the Vancouver Island marmot to creation of the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, which has helped acquire 25,000 hectares of conservation land, Zeman said. “Hunters fund non-hunted species because they care and because it’s important,” he added. But, assurances that habitat is at the heart of concerns of groups such as BCWF and GOABC provide little comfort to Sherrod of Valhalla Wilderness Society. “We rely on the public and media to help us convince government of the need for environmental protection,” said Sherrod. “People make associations when they see the names of organizations linked to one another. I fear it sends a message to the public, media and government that trophy hunting and its associated predator culls must be ok.” Judith Lavoie is an award-winning journalist specializing in the environment, First Nations, and social issues. Twitter @LavoieJudith
  4. Image: Grey Wolfs on BC coast Many in the Sooke area are heartbroken that a wolf pack that no one was complaining about may have been wiped out. Go to story
  5. Many in the Sooke area are heartbroken that a wolf pack that no one was complaining about may have been wiped out. FOR MORE THAN A YEAR, naturalist and wildlife researcher Gary Schroyen followed the activities of five wolves that ranged around Metchosin and East Sooke. In many ways, images captured on Schroyen’s wildlife cameras demonstrated that the pack, which he named the Meteask wolf pack, could live harmoniously among humans. Most area residents were unaware of the proximity of the wolves, which lived on deer and small mammals, and Scott Norris of the BC Conservation Officer Service confirmed that there have been no reports of the pack killing pets or livestock. “We’re not really getting any [complaints]…Nothing more than a sighting or a potential sighting. We haven’t had calls from concerned people at all,” Norris told Focus. All of which makes the deliberate killing of the wolves more tragic, say residents and wildlife observers who are mourning the loss of the animals and pushing for the provincial government to tighten regulations around wolf hunting and trapping. “This is a prime example, a model example of a wolf pack that can co-exist with people,” Schroyen said. Naturalist Gary Schroyen The wolves were apparently trapped by trophy hunter Jacine Jadresko of Victoria, who goes by the name of the Inked Huntress and hunts animals around the world. Jadresko, who could not be contacted by Focus, previously said on social media she was aiming to remove an entire pack of wolves in the Sooke area because they were threatening people and attacking pets. She then posted photos of herself with two dead wolves. The loss is felt deeply by Schroyen, who uses a series of wildlife cameras, placed strategically in well-used wolf territory with the help of Shadow, his 13-year-old border collie who sniffs out wolf scat and identifies scent markings and scuffs. “I have spent maybe 1,000 hours researching these wolves,” he said. Over the last year Schroyen, who has also studied other wolf packs on Vancouver Island, has often heard howls from the Meteask pack—frequently close by—and has gathered numerous videos, photos and recordings, but has never encountered the animals face to face. “I was able to identify the different wolves based on their tail markings and it is clear there are five different individuals,” said Schroyen, who did not previously disclose information about the wolves for their own protection. But, after more than a month without any sign of the pack, he is convinced they are all dead and he has posted a poignant video with the introduction “In memory of the wolves that I have come to know as the Meteask Wolf Pack. The wolves that chose to co-exist among the people of Metchosin and East Sooke.” “The Wolves Among Us,” a short video by Gary Schroyen The video opens with a wolf joyfully playing with its food—tossing a dead squirrel in the air—and footage of the wolves at night, passing the camera in formation. It also includes pictures, taken February 6 and 7, of Jadresko with two dead wolves and concludes with images taken about 10 days later of a lone wolf panting, sniffing and walking slowly down a path. Schroyen believes that was the last wolf left in the pack and some of the final camera images show her heading towards the area where he knew snares had been set. The traps were on property close to Beecher Bay and, judging from blood on the rear leg of one of the wolves, Schroyen believes they were trapped and then shot. For days before the last images were taken, the lone wolf returned to the same area, he said. “It led me to believe she was searching for the rest of her pack and just doing loops around. It’s incredibly rare for the same wolf to keep coming back to the same area,” he said. Schroyen knows it would be unusual for the wolf to leave her territory and he believes she is dead, which is why he decided to post the video. “The pictures speak for themselves. I just wanted to show the public the side of wolves that the media don’t usually show,” he said. UPDATE Following initial publication of this story, a spokesperson for Jadresko told FOCUS that Jadresko has seen evidence on her own trail cameras as recent as two weeks ago (as of March 30, 2021) that the wolf pack is alive and well. Community outraged and heartbroken at wolf killing People have forgotten how to live with animals, said Schroyen, who is “sickened” by people who kill for the sake of killing and then glorify the deaths on social media. A 2017 CBC Fifth Estate story on Jadresko describes her hunting bears and giraffes and her desire to kill an elephant. She told the Fifth Estate that kill pictures demonstrate “respect for the animal.” After killing a lion she posted pictures of herself with the dead animal and then a post-taxidermy photo with the caption “Look who’s all stuffed and ready to come home with me.” Sooke Mayor Maja Tait has fired off a letter to Forests, Lands and Natural Resources Minister Katrine Conroy to share the community outrage at the destruction of the pack and to support an Oak Bay resolution calling for a moratorium on recreational wolf hunting. Sooke Mayor Maja Tait The resolution, which is going to the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities and the Union of BC Municipalities for support, asks the Province for a moratorium until there is a “scientific, data-driven and evidence-based study that includes consultation with the Island’s Indigenous communities, to re-examine the efficacy of unrestricted wolf harvesting practices and their impacts on the Island’s biodiversity, wildlife ecology and sustainability of the resident wolf population.” Many in Sooke were sickened by the “callous threat” by a Victoria big-game hunter to trap and kill an entire pack, especially as so many groups are working to protect wildlife and habitat, says the letter. The Sooke organization Project HOWL (Help Our Wolves Live), founded by teenagers Finn and Chloe Unger, has documented packs of Vancouver Island “sea wolves” roaming the Sooke Hills and looked at the role the wolves play in a balanced ecosystem while the Wild Wise Sooke Society and Coexisting with Carnivores have a living-with-wolves working group aiming to educate people on the importance of wolves as a keystone species. Sam Webb, Wild Wise president, said numerous people have shared videos or tapes of howling wolves, both from the Meteask pack and a couple of packs in the Sooke Hills. “We feel we got to know them, not necessarily on a personal level, but the community really started to love them,” she said. Sadly, Jadresko apparently killed the wolves legally and there is outrage in Sooke and surrounding communities and concern about the future of other packs, Webb said. “To take out a whole pack is just not good wildlife management,” she said, pointing out that controlling outside cats and keeping dogs on leash are better strategies. “You can see the comments of people who are just heartbroken that this happened right in our backyard,” she said. Sooke is growing and there is a concerted effort to make residents aware that, in a rural community, there is a need to co-exist with the carnivore population, said Tait, adding that most people thought it was cool to have a wolf pack in the area. “Then we find out that they have been trapped and murdered. How long have they been here, just co-existing peacefully?” Tait asked. “So then this one selfish person decided on her own to do this…What is it—boredom? You’re just going to kill these animals because you can’t travel and kill some endangered species elsewhere because of COVID. I’m so disgusted by it, it really makes me upset,” she said. Tait pointed out that people are fined for poaching crabs, but there is no penalty for killing wolves. “They have no protection. They are treated like vermin and there needs to be some level of protection and a consequence,” she said. Almost 72,000 people have signed a petition asking for a moratorium on wolf hunting and trapping, as population data is scarce and relies largely on reports from hunters. A new poll, conducted by Mario Canseco Research and commissioned by The Fur-Bearers, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, shows public opinion appears to swing solidly in favour of more controls. The survey found 87 percent of those polled disagree with hunting or trapping wolves to increase ungulate hunting opportunities, 90 percent disagree with killing wolves for fur and 91 percent disagree with “recreational” killing of wolves. A large majority of British Columbians also disagree with killing wolves with neck snares, leg hold traps, poison or aerial gunning—a tactic used by the provincial government to control wolves in areas where caribou are threatened—according to the survey. However, more than half of British Columbians surveyed agree with eliminating wolves when they kill unprotected livestock. The Province has no information about the distribution of wolf packs, but estimates there are about 250 wolves on Vancouver Island and the ministry says the population is not under threat. Hunters on Vancouver Island have a bag limit of three wolves for anyone holding a basic hunting licence, with no special tag required, meaning the Province relies on hunters self-reporting. There are 217 wildlife management units in BC where wolves are likely to live; 115 of those areas have no bag limits or closed season on wolves. Conroy has said she will look at closing “loopholes” in the wolf trapping and hunting rules. When asked whether the actions of Jadresko were legal and ethical, she pointed to a previous statement to Focus. In that emailed statement Conroy said “The hunters I know are conservationists too; they support activities that protect populations. This kind of story is something that most hunters would find offensive. This person is abusing the hunting regulations just to boost her own profile.” Repercussions of eliminating wolves The basic problem is that the government and conservation officers continue to treat wolves as vermin and encourage hunters to kill them, said Gary Allan of the SWELL Wolf Education Centre in Nanaimo. Valid scientific evidence is needed to justify killing wolves, not anecdotal information from hunters and ranchers, said Allan, describing hunting surveys, used to assess wolf populations, as useless. Allan also noted that eliminating an entire pack is likely to have unforeseen consequences. History shows that cougars will likely move into the vacuum until another wolf pack repopulates the area, said Allan. “If you get a younger wolf pack that is not as accomplished in hunting their traditional prey, experience has shown us they will predate on livestock,” he said. “So you see the damage that this one trapper/hunter will do to both the wolves, the livestock and humans in the Metchosin/East Sooke area,” he said. Many Indigenous communities revere wolves as an integral part of the culture, but the question of hunting and trapping is complicated and controversial according to Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, Union of BC Indian Chiefs president. “It’s very much a part of our spiritual connection to the land and our beliefs,” he said. “But a major concern to a lot of different groups, including Indigenous hunters, is a wolf sustains itself on 40 pounds of meat a day, so a pack of five can have a devastating effect on the population of deer and moose and caribou that sustain Indigenous people,” he said. The essential part of the equation is for the NDP government to consult Indigenous communities on any changes to regulations, Phillip said. Meanwhile, Schroyen has summed up his feelings with a quote from author Farley Mowat, which he used in the video. “We have doomed the wolf, not for what it is, but for what we deliberately and mistakenly perceive it to be—the mythologized epitome of a savage, ruthless kill, which is, in reality, no more than a reflected image of ourself.” Judith Lavoie is an award-winning journalist specializing in the environment, First Nations, and social issues. Twitter @LavoieJudith Video of Finn and Chloe Unger, Sooke residents, on wolves as a keystone species:
  6. Photo: Sea wolf photographed by Ian McAllister A growing number of British Columbians are pushing the provincial government to tighten rules around killing wolves. Go to story
  7. A growing number of British Columbians are pushing the provincial government to tighten rules around killing wolves. FORESTS, LANDS, NATURAL RESOURCE OPERATIONS AND RURAL DEVELOPMENT Minister Katrine Conroy said this month that she is looking at closing “loopholes” in wolf hunting and trapping rules. One of the few certainties is that Conroy will be walking an emotionally-charged tightrope. On one side, defenders of wolves point to the ethics of killing an animal with no intention of eating it. They also note the lack of reliable population figures and regulations that allow uncontrolled wolf hunting and trapping. The wolf’s role as an apex predator that helps maintain balanced ecosystems is also cited as a reason to stop the unregulated killing. On the other, hunters point to dramatically shrinking ungulate populations—caused in large part by logging that has given wolves easy access to prey. (In a rare point of agreement, both primary sides say that habitat protection and restoration is desperately needed.) Photo by Ian McAllister While the websites of legal guide-outfitters show piles of dead wolves in an effort to persuade tourists to take part in “trapline adventures,” wildlife watching businesses and environmental groups say killing BC wolves is scientifically unwarranted and gives the province an international black eye. The debate has become so heated that spokespeople for both sides say they have been subjected to threats of lawsuits or violence. “I get death threats all the time,” said Jesse Zeman, BC Wildlife Federation director or fish and wildlife restoration, adding that there are fringe elements on both sides. Less than two percent of hunters in BC identify as trophy hunters and most hunt because of the chance to spend time outdoors with friends and family and for food, Zeman said. However, according to a study published in Conservation Biology and written by researchers from Raincoast Conservation Society and the Universities of Victoria and Wisconsin, those hunters should be concerned their reputation is being tarnished by trophy hunters. Wolves and other large carnivores are rarely killed and eaten and that does not sit well with many members of the public who see it as gratuitous killing, said one of the study’s authors, Chris Darimont, a wolf researcher, University of Victoria professor and Raincoast Research Chair in Applied Conservation Science. “Large surveys tell us that the public generally show strong support for hunting to feed your family, but not to feed your hunger for status,” said Darimont pointing to the Province’s decision to end the grizzly bear hunt after persistent public pressure. There is certainly not much empirical data on wolves in BC, but, for Darimont, the issue does not revolve around the numbers and whether there is a harvestable surplus. Most opponents of wolf hunting and trapping would continue to be opposed even if the science showed healthy populations, said Darimont. “Why they are really opposed is not over conservation concerns, but rather because hunting an animal not to feed your family, but to feed your ego, grossly misaligns with most people’s values,” Darimont said. No real numbers—or regulations Grief and outrage followed the shooting of Takaya, the lone coastal wolf who for eight years lived on Discovery Island and adjacent islands off Oak Bay. His death put an international spotlight on BC’s wildlife regulations. Takaya, known as Staqeya by the Songhees First Nation, was legally shot by a hunter near Shawnigan Lake in March 2020 after being relocated to the Port Renfrew area by BC conservation officers. No one knew Takaya better than Cheryl Alexander, wildlife photographer, environmental consultant and former environmental studies teacher at the University of Victoria, who studied Takaya for much of his life and wrote the book Takaya: Lone Wolf. A sense of foreboding hung over Alexander after Takaya was relocated. Even though she believed Takaya had never lost his wildness and, like all wolves, was cautious around humans, she anticipated he would die in a trap or from a bullet because of BC’s Wild West attitude towards wolf killing. “I think most people do not understand that we have regulations that allow and even encourage hunters to kill wolves and that there is ostensibly no limit,” she said. “There’s an issue about the scientific management of wolves and the knowledge base and there’s also an issue around ethics and having a free-for-all and deciding to take out all the wolves.” Alexander feels the Province has turned wolf management over to citizens, letting them decide when to shoot or trap wolves rather than making the BC Conservation Service responsible. Alexander wants a moratorium on recreational wolf hunting until population numbers and the role of wolves in regional ecosystems are confirmed. She also wants to see compulsory reporting of wolf kills and a requirement for all hunters to obtain a species licence or tag to hunt or trap wolves. Alexander has recently written an open letter to Premier John Horgan to this effect. If a tag had been required, the Shawnigan Lake hunter may not have killed Takaya, Alexander believes. Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland have a bag limit of three wolves for anyone holding a basic hunting license, but in some other areas of the province there is no bag limit, no closed season, and no requirement to report wolf kills. British Columbians do not require a tag or special license to kill a wolf and non-residents pay a fee of $50. The lack of regulations makes estimating the number of wolves in the province—alive or killed—little more than a guessing game. Emails from the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, sent to Alexander as she was researching her book, confirm there is no information on the distribution of wolf packs on Vancouver Island and population estimates are “inferred.” The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, responding by email to questions from Focus, said wolf population numbers are not directly monitored, but the numbers killed by hunters, trappers or for government “control efforts” are recorded through hunter surveys. Wolf populations change quickly because of high reproduction and prey availability, said the spokesperson. “Staff know when populations are healthy and we know that, while there are not huge numbers of wolves on Vancouver Island—about 250—we know that the populations are not under any immediate threat,” he wrote. Ministry figures show that the Province itself has killed 1,208 wolves since 2015 in areas where caribou herds are in trouble—even though there is conflicting evidence whether removing wolves noticeably increases ungulate populations. In 2019 there were 695 reported kills by hunters and trappers, down from 939 the previous year—but that’s only the reported kills. On Vancouver Island there were no reported wolf kills in 2019 and 35 the previous year. The lack of scientifically verified information about the province’s wolf packs has convinced more than 71,600 people to sign a petition asking for a moratorium on wolf hunting until population numbers are confirmed. Also, in February 2021, a resolution going to Oak Bay Council calls for recreational wolf hunting on Vancouver Island to be re-examined for scientific and ethical reasons. The resolution underlines the scant information about the size of Vancouver Island’s wolf population and the effects of unrestricted harvesting on habitat and wildlife ecology. If it passes, the resolution will be sent to the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities and the Union of BC Municipalities Photo by Ian McAllister Indiscriminate killing—but no conservation concerns? Advocates believe the absence of regulation feeds the attitude of hunters such as Victoria resident Jacine Jadresko, who describes herself on social media as the InkedHuntress and posts pictures of herself with animals she has killed, including wolves in Sooke. Jadresko has posted that she is trapping wolves in response to a problem wolf pack threatening pets—believed to be feral cats in East Sooke—and wrote “full pack removal is always the goal.” Two years ago, Steve Isdahl, also from Vancouver Island, posted pictures of rows of dead wolves and, on his Facebook page, appealed to hunters and trappers to join him in killing as many wolves as possible. Isdahl attempted to raise money on-line for snares and traps. Conroy, in an emailed answer to questions from Focus, said most hunters she knows are conservationists who would find such an attitude offensive. “This person [Jadresko] is abusing the hunting regulations just to boost her own profile. We will be working with the BC Wildlife Federation and the BC Trappers Association to change the regulations to close this loophole so this type of behaviour is prevented in the future,” she said. “We’ll work with stakeholders to find a solution that works for everyone.” The idea that government will work with hunting organizations to tweak regulations has alarmed environmental groups. Conroy did not reply when asked which other stakeholders would be consulted. An open letter to Conroy, in February 2021, signed by 26 scientists and organizations, including the BC SPCA, environmental groups and wildlife tourism businesses, asks for a balanced review. “Surely your ministry would not select only two interest groups for consultation—and groups that have a vested interest in killing wolves at that,” says the letter, which also takes issue with a statement made by Conroy to the Globe and Mail, that “wolves breed like rabbits. There are no conservation concerns.” That, states the letter, is a “common fallacy that has long been promoted by hunters, trappers, and some wildlife managers who have failed to take note of the science of ecology.” (An open letter from senior wolf researchers Dr John and Mary Theberge also points out this faulty assumption.) “To the contrary,” the letter states, “we assure you that wolves have been wiped out over a vast area of the United States. They were nearly wiped out historically in parts of southern Canada from early trapping, strychnine poisoning and persecution.” Wayne McCrory, chair of the Valhalla Wilderness Society, which spearheaded the letter, condemned what he calls the indiscriminate killing of wolves. Urging the minister to ensure that “environmental groups, independent conservationists, independent scientists and non-consumptive wildlife viewing tourism businesses have standing equal to hunting and trapping interests in this matter,” the Valhalla letter noted, “hunters, trappers, and their organizations lobby constantly to have large carnivores regularly killed in order to increase ungulate populations, for no other reason than to make it easier for humans to hunt [ungulates themselves].” Lack of deer cited as justification for killing wolves An opposing open letter to Conroy and other cabinet ministers, from the Hunters for BC Interior Chapter-Safari Club International, says too much credence is being given “to the emotions of the anti-hunting movement,” and there is concern that could influence a decision to ban or limit wolf hunting and trapping. The letter, signed by Robin Unrau, president of the organization, accuses anti-hunting advocates of bullying and says that if people do not appreciate “thousands of years of hunting and trapping traditions,” they should not visit social media sites owned by hunters and trappers. For Zeman of the Wildlife Federation, the history of crashing deer populations on Vancouver Island illustrates why wolves must be “harvested.” Old-growth logging means predators move efficiently across the landscape and the deer have nowhere to go, he said. “In the 1960s hunters would have harvested 20,000 to 25,000 deer on Vancouver Island and now we’re down to 3,700,” he said. “That’s an 85 percent decline in deer harvest, so, in terms of food security, that represents red meat for close to 20,000 people on the Island…If we don’t manage wolves, we won’t have any deer,” said Zeman. But without accurate data, how can anyone be sure of this? Zeman admits there is a lack of accurate wildlife statistics because of BC’s scant funding for wildlife management. McCrory noted there is evidence from areas such as Yellowstone National Park that showed the reintroduction of wolves dramatically improved the ecosystem. “There is a lack of recognition that wolves are an arch predator and have evolved with ungulates in the ecosystem to keep it all healthy,” McCrory wrote. Others, like biologist Kyle Artelle, who reviewed 667 management plans for 27 species that are hunted and trapped in Canada and the US in 2018, have observed that it doesn’t make biological sense that if a food source—like deer—is crashing, the predator population would be increasing. He told the Narwhal that anecdotal information on declining deer populations and on increased wolf populations was being used to justify hunting and trapping practices on Vancouver Island and pointed to a study in southeast Alaska that found declining deer populations were the result of logging activities rather than wolf predation. With 16,000 kilometres of logging roads in BC giving access to predators and hunters, there are few places where ungulates can safely birth calves and forage. And, as the Valhalla Society letter noted, “Simply reducing wolf populations can have very negative ripple effects in ecosystems that can extend to wiping out other species.” McCrory also stated that disrupting wolf packs and killing alpha males or females means young wolves are more likely to get into trouble with preying on livestock or heading into populated areas. Regardless of the “loopholes” closed by the BC government, Indigenous rights and practices will likely be respected by all. John Henderson, vice-chairman of Kwakiutl Tribal Council on northern Vancouver Island, said, “There’s so much shortage of food everywhere whether it’s the fishing crisis or the wildlife crisis. [Wolves] are predators that we have protected for a long time, but now it’s time to start managing them.” Surveys have shown that deer populations have dropped from about 13 animals per square kilometre to 0.1 animal, said Henderson. Wolf trapping is now part of the training for young people from the eight nations who are learning the ways of their ancestors. “We train our kids to go out there and they’re actually trapping wolves and skinning them and using them for cultural purposes and that’s positive—what better way to treat a problem,” he said. Ultimately, it is logging and other forms of industrial incursion and urbanization that decimated the ungulates’ ability to forage and maintain healthy populations. But the wolf is, of course, easier to “manage,” especially when there are few rules, at least in settler society. In the letter that Cheryl Alexander wrote to Premier Horgan as founder & executive director of Takaya’s Legacy Project, she noted, “Trappers across BC are ‘encouraged’ to kill wolves, with no limit on the number that may be trapped.” She told of communication with a Vancouver Island trapper in 2019, who told her “he had taken 18 wolves off his single trapline in 2018, and that in the first three months of 2019, he had taken six. As well, sponsored wolf-killing contests in northern and interior BC encourage participants to kill as many wolves as possible, with prizes provided.” For Alexander, the question for people living in interface areas where wolf territory has been disrupted, is how to live with an iconic animal, rather than using traps and guns to wipe them out. “It’s our human responsibility to figure out how we can best live with them near us or around us and most people value that,” she said. McCrory agrees: “We have to reverse this freight train of wolf killing that has been going on in the province. They’re extremely beautiful, iconic animals and many of us who have worked in the Great Bear Rainforests for a long time have come to a deep appreciation of how important they are.” Judith Lavoie is an award-winning journalist specializing in the environment, First Nations, and social issues. Twitter @LavoieJudith
  8. More Langford citizens are expressing resentment over City Hall’s modus operandi. THE RAIN PAUSED AND, along a quiet side-street in Langford, residents are venturing out. There are no sidewalks, but a caregiver is pushing a wheelchair towards Veterans Memorial Park and a small dog strains at the leash, pulling a woman down the street. Fairway Avenue, the site of a contentious redevelopment proposal, is the latest Langford neighbourhood to mobilize against what residents see as out-of-scale development. In addition to complaints that two multi-storey towers are being shoe-horned onto a site which held five single homes, there is an undercurrent of concern about lack of council transparency, difficulty in obtaining timely information, and a perception that too much influence is being wielded by developers in the fast-growing city. Location of the proposed development (Image provided by City of Langford) Artists rendering of proposed development (Image provided by City of Langford) Langford has grown to more than 45,000 residents from 18,840 in 2001. The City projects it will have 56,000 residents by 2026, a growth rate of 123 percent within 25 years. In many ways, Fairway Avenue represents the remarkable changes seen in Langford over the last two decades. On one side of the street, single family properties back on to the imposing trees of Royal Colwood Golf Course, but, across the street, properties back on to Goldstream Avenue, which has become a busy, urban artery. Development became inevitable with the Official Community Plan designation of the area as “city centre,” a zone that has no height restrictions (the property still has to be rezoned). Still, residents were horrified when, at an informal meeting last summer with development consultant Mike Wignall, they were told the proposal was for two 12-storey buildings, one fronting on to Goldstream and the other on to Fairway, with all access from Fairway. J. Scott, who has lived on Fairway for 17 years, sprang into action helping form Fairway Neighbours Unite for a Livable Langford, a group that has written countless letters, organized a 246-name petition against the development, contacted the Province about the makeup of committees, and lobbied staff and councillors. By the time the proposal reached Langford’s Planning, Zoning and Affordable Housing Committee on Monday, January 11, the proposal was for a nine-storey and a six-storey building and, by the end of the meeting, developer DB Services, agreed to two six-storey buildings. Scott is grateful for that concession, but said the group will continue to push for four storeys on Fairway. Caller after caller to the phone-in committee meeting voiced concerns and, at the conclusion, Councillor Denise Blackwell, committee chair, said staff will be asked to look at concessions such as a sidewalk along the entire length of Fairway, instead of only in front of the development, and the possibility of an entrance/exit on Goldstream – something Fairway residents are adamant is needed to prevent the quiet street from becoming a busy thoroughfare. “It should not be a life-threatening experience to walk down Fairway Avenue,” Scott said, pointing out that wheelchair-bound residents of The Priory, a complex care centre, frequently use the street, in addition to neighbourhood children and dog-walkers. An additional niggling worry for residents is that the developer, Design Build Services, is the same company that developed Danbrook One, a 90-unit Langford highrise that was evacuated a year ago after being deemed unsafe. However, Blackwell said the fault with Danbrook One lay with the engineer, not the company. “I don’t think it’s appropriate to just say because they built Danbrook One they shouldn’t be allowed to build anything else,” she said in an interview. The Fairway plan will go to council for first reading Monday, January 18 and then to public hearing, but some residents have little faith the changes will be sufficient to stop the neighbourhood being obliterated. Chris Peterson told Focus he had planned to retire on Fairway Avenue, where he has lived for six years, but is now reconsidering. “What can you say about Langford Council—committed to no tree left standing and a concrete jungle of ugly looking condos,” Peterson said. “We understand development will happen and accept that, but, when everything around you is three or four storeys and council says it doesn’t see a problem with a new six or 12-storey building blotting out your access to sunlight or the total loss of privacy at your family dwelling, then it is time to ask what gives,” he said. Like others, Peterson questioned why cumulative impacts are not considered during rezonings and pointed to plans for another large development at the end of Fairway Avenue. But, Blackwell said, as that plan has not yet come to councillors, it could not be part of the discussion. “Developers put in proposals all the time, but that doesn’t mean that what they are proposing is going to be the final product,” she said in an interview. That was little comfort to Peterson. “Council always has time for developers, but, if you are a private citizen, complaining about a proposal, council is quick to let you know they don’t care or your complaint isn’t relevant to the proposal,” he said. Citizens resent being left in the dark—and out of decisions Like others in Langford who have fought the scale or density of developments, the Fairway group has found the major obstacles are obtaining timely information and unearthing what was discussed at meetings. “I got my notice on Thursday afternoon which was three days before the [Planning and Zoning] meeting and you’re supposed to have 10 days,” said Scott, who was then told she needed to have her submission in by the previous day to have it included in the agenda package. Fairway resident Petra Bezna said she received a notice the same day as the meeting. “There are no details and the map of the development on the back of the letter is not very helpful in my opinion.” she said. Scott said the first time the neighbourhood saw the plans was three days before the Monday meeting. “It’s unacceptable, we have been asking to see the plans since last spring,” Scott said. True to form, Langford Council released its agenda package for the upcoming January 18 council meeting late on Friday, January 15. Running to 572 pages, Scott noted that it includes public hearings for no less than five developments, three of which are contentious (e.g. 11- and 12-storey buildings planned for Costin and Carlow)—plus numerous bylaw changes including one to rezone the Goldstream/Fairway properties as “city centre,” allowing for two multi-storey buildings. Scott was dismayed to see that the package still portrays the buildings as six and nine storeys—rather than the two six-storey ones the developer agreed to at the committee meeting . There is simmering resentment at the lack of information and records, apart from bare-bones minutes, and even those are not available until shortly before the next meeting. “They don’t put an agenda up for Monday meetings until 3 pm Friday and then City Hall is closed, so you can’t ask questions,” said a resident of South Langford, where a group is battling for green space and traffic mitigation after finding out about a proposal to put 25 duplex lots on a semi-forested area, with traffic routed through a previously quiet cul-de-sac. A Whimfield Terrace resident, speaking at the Planning and Zoning Committee meeting, said hundreds of Langford residents are frustrated because they feel that, by the time a proposal goes to committee, City staff and developers have worked together and the development is a fait accompli. “People just don’t feel like our voices matter and I would really encourage the planning committee, City staff and council to consider that residents would like to have a say in how their community is being developed—not just the developers,” she said. Blackwell responded that residents’ views are taken into consideration, pointing to the height concessions on Fairway, but acknowledged staff work with developers to hone proposals before they come to committee. “Our staff is very professional and very good and that’s one of the reasons why we pay so much attention to their reports,” she said. Public delegations are usually referred to a standing committee, rather than full council. But Langford’s standing committees do not meet the requirements of the Community Charter, which says standing committees must be made up of a majority of councillors, said Scott, who asked for the Planning and Zoning Committee meeting to be postponed because the discrepancy. Langford’s standing committees have only two councillors and, adding to the discomfort, the makeup of the Planning and Zoning Committee has come under criticism by residents for the preponderance of appointed members associated with the development industry. In an email to Scott, Marie Watmough, Langford manager of legislative services, said, although the committees are referred to as standing committees, they operate as advisory committees, which require only one councillor, and the City is in the process of changing the website references. Lauren Mulholland, spokesperson for the Ministry of Municipal Affairs said the ministry is aware of concerns about committee structure and has contacted Langford staff to offer support. Langford lags on livestreaming and recording meetings At the heart of much of the discontent is the difficulty in obtaining information if someone cannot phone in to committee and council meetings—or wants to refer back to what was said. Unlike most municipalities, Langford does not livestream or tape the awkwardly-timed 5:30 pm meetings, and despite a $4.8-million grant from the provincial COVID Restart Fund to ensure municipalities were able to keep residents informed during the pandemic, Langford voted at an in camera meeting in December to delay debate about live-streaming until this year’s budget discussions. Under growing pressure, Mayor Stew Young, who has led Langford since 1993, agreed earlier this month to ask staff to post audio recordings of council meetings—but, that does not extend to committee meetings. Mulholland said the ministry is aware of citizens’ concerns. “Local governments are required…to make best efforts to keep the public informed and able to participate in their council and board meetings, including committee meetings,” she said in an emailed response to questions. “Local governments must also review or develop a resolution with respect to open and electronic meetings and state how they will continue to meet the principles of openness, transparency and accountability in the current circumstances,” she wrote. Langford’s opaque behaviour exasperates John Treleaven, chair of the Grumpy Taxpayer$ of Greater Victoria. “They are increasingly at odds with what motivated, educated residents and taxpayers expect as a modus operandi,” he said. Treleaven believes it would benefit councillors to livestream meetings and allow the public to see how they balance decisions. “It seems to us that Langford does what it can to make the voice of the community easier to ignore,” he said. And he was appalled that council met in camera to discuss transparency and livestreaming. “How in God’s name can you meet in secret to discuss transparency. To me that’s a red flag that something is fundamentally wrong and it should be called out…There is no institutional memory in a format that is easily accessible to taxpayers,” Treleaven said. Blackwell, who voted in favour of livestreaming, said that she was told the meeting was held in camera because it was a new service. “We did ask the question,” she said. It is strange that Young wants livestreaming to be part of budget discussions given the provincial grant and directives that are clearly geared to access, Treleaven said. “So, you have the money, the need is obvious—be a hero. It’s 2021,” he said. Judith Lavoie is an award-winning journalist specializing in the environment, First Nations, and social issues. Twitter @LavoieJudith
  9. On the eve of renewing aquaculture licences for farms in the Discovery Islands, it seems more of an absolute definite maybe, with a new plan…by 2025. Young wild salmon swim around a salmon farm’s open-net pen in the Discovery Islands (Photo by Tavish Campbell) IN THE POLITICAL WORLD, news releases are carefully crafted to offer leeway for government shifts. The evolution of statements on the future of BC’s salmon farms is a case-study in allowing wiggle room. Last year, during the election campaign, the federal Liberal Party’s campaign literature promised to “work with the Province to develop a responsible plan to transition from open-net pen salmon farming in coastal waters to closed containment systems by 2025.” There was elation among those who had argued for years that fish farms were threatening shrinking stocks of wild salmon because of the transfer of sea lice and diseases from farmed fish, while the salmon farming industry pointed to economic and employment losses, technological problems, and the additional costs of closed containment. Then came the mandate letter issued to Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan to “work with the Province of British Columbia and Indigenous communities to create a responsible plan to transition from open net-pen salmon farming in coastal British Columbia waters by 2025.” Hmm—note the disappearance of closed containment systems. In November came an announcement from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) that “the Government of Canada is committed to developing and delivering a real and concrete solution for transitioning open-net pens in coastal British Columbia waters.” So, what does transitioning mean? And transitioning to what? It is a slippery word, said Aaron Hill, Watershed Watch Salmon Society executive director. “Does it mean you’ll have the farms out by 2025 or you will have a transition plan in place by 2025? We don’t know yet,” he said. And does transitioning mean getting salmon farms out of the ocean? Well, not necessarily right out of the ocean and not necessarily by 2025. Jane Deeks, press secretary for Minister Jordan, said nothing is set in stone and multiple options for transitioning will be considered. “I can’t say what is going to be done by 2025. We’re not going to rush the process. It needs to be done really well and responsibly in a way that takes into consideration all of the factors and jobs at stake,” she said. BC Salmon Farmers Association says salmon farming supports 7,000 direct and indirect jobs in coastal communities and contributes about $1.5-billion annually to the provincial economy. A report commissioned by the Association says that, with clearer government policy, the industry could invest $1.4-billion in technology and infrastructure and create 10,000 new jobs by 2050. Terry Beech, parliamentary secretary to Jordan (and MP for Burnaby-North-Seymour), made it clear at a news conference last month that options now under consideration are wider than moving farms on land and could include “area-based management” that would look at the timing of wild salmon runs and cumulative impacts, as well as looking at new technology. The key must be sustainability, Beech said. That could include hybrid systems such as a semi-closed containment system, now being tested by Cermaq Canada in Clayoquot Sound. The system is fitted with a polymer lining that wraps around the net pen and eliminates lateral contact between wild and farmed fish. Salmon farmers are also looking at increasing the time salmon spend in land-based systems before being transferred to ocean pens. The joint federal-provincial study released earlier this year, State of Salmon Aquaculture Technologies, which will help inform the transition plan, concludes that both land-based pens and hybrid systems are technologies ready for commercial development in BC. Other systems such as floating closed containment systems need more evaluation, it says. Beech acknowledged it is going to be tough to find a balance, but emphasized the need to not simply protect wild salmon, but to restore runs to historic levels. “We know that the long-term success of the economy is completely reliant on the long-term success and health of the environment,” he said. At the same time, almost half the fish consumed by people today comes from aquaculture and aquaculture could be a clear driver of a future blue economy, Beech said. “I am passionate about making our aquaculture sector as sustainable and viable as possible,” he said. Beech will be in charge of consulting with BC First Nations, the aquaculture industry and “environmental stakeholders,” with an interim report going to Jordan this spring, The big test: will Discovery Island fish farm licences be renewed? The Watershed Watch Salmon Society’s Aaron Hill said delaying action for yet another report is frustrating because wild salmon cannot wait: “They’re now just starting the consultation process, which is something they should have gotten going a year ago. The outcome is just going to be a report by next spring and next spring a record low number of small, young wild salmon will have to swim past the usual gauntlet of salmon farms and all the viruses and parasites that they spew out. Another report won’t be much help in getting the lice to stop chewing their faces off,” he said. Fraser River sockeye returns hit a historic low of less than 300,000 fish this year. Fraser River sockeye salmon may be going extinct, judging by 2020’s record low numbers Biologist Alexandra Morton, a tireless advocate for wild salmon, has done extensive research on the effects of sea lice and pathogens spreading from salmon farms and believes Beech understands the impact of the farms and the importance of wild salmon to British Columbians and especially to First Nations. “But this is a difficult situation, particularly in COVID where no job loss can be seen as being promoted by government,” said Morton, who has lobbied strenuously for closed containment. She points out that, in Norway, where most parent companies of BC operators are located, closed containment is now seen as the way to protect the industry. “The sea lice and the viruses are attacking the farm fish [in Norway] so badly, they have to get them out of the water,” she said. Alexandra Morton sampling farm salmon (Photo courtesy Sea Shepherd) Morton also noted that the aquaculture branch within Fisheries and Oceans has considerable influence and seems intent on barrelling ahead to promote and protect the fish farming industry. However, on the political side, there appears to be an understanding that Fraser River sockeye are actually going extinct and action is necessary. The biggest test will come on December 18 when 18 federal aquaculture licences for farms in the Discovery Islands expire. A DFO spokesperson said that, since September, the department has been focusing on consultations about the licence renewal with the seven First Nations with traditional territory in the Discovery Islands. “The outcomes from the consultations will inform the minister’s decision regarding the renewal of aquaculture licences,” she said. Almost one-third of BC’s wild salmon migrate through the Discovery Islands and, in 2012, the Cohen Commission report on declining Fraser River salmon stocks called for the prohibition of Discovery Islands fish farms by September 2020 unless there was proof they posed “only minimum risk of serious harm to the health of migrating Fraser River salmon.” However, in September, DFO concluded the farms presented little risk to Fraser River salmon stocks, even though studies had not looked at the effect of sea lice. The lack of consideration of sea lice drew an outcry from conservation groups and while further consultation with First Nations in the Discovery Islands area was announced, the process came under fire for not including First Nations on the Fraser River who depend on wild salmon. Fish farms should never have been put it such a critical area, said Morton, who is hoping the dramatic drops in wild salmon numbers will help persuade the federal government to cancel the Discovery Islands licences. “But I have learned not to have confidence in anything around salmon, people always seem to cave in,” she said. “Now, the salmon of British Columbia are hanging in the balance.” In September, more than 100 First Nations, wilderness tourism operators and fishing groups demanded that the farms be removed and, in early December, the First Nations Leadership Council called on DFO to fully implement the precautionary principle and revoke the Discovery Island licences. (The precautionary principle recognizes that, in the absence of scientific certainty, conservation measures should be taken if there is a risk of serious harm to the environment or resources.) Chief Dalton Silver, UBCIC fisheries representative, said only between one and four per cent of out-migrating juvenile salmon return to spawn and, with this year’s historic low returns, the returns four years hence are likely to be dire. “We cannot afford to wait any longer. We need to act now and protect and rebuild from what’s left of the remaining salmon stocks,” he said. The other part of the salmon policy equation is the provincial government, which grants tenures and, in 2018, the BC government adopted a policy that, from 2022, the Province will grant tenures only to fish farm operators who have negotiated agreements with the First Nations in whose territory they want to operate. Now, wild salmon advocates are watching to see whether Premier John Horgan’s newly-minted government will put protection of wild salmon at the top of the priority list. The appointment of Fin Donnelly as Parliamentary Secretary for Fisheries and Aquaculture is viewed as an encouraging sign and Donnelly’s mandate letter includes “working with the federal government to develop new strategies to protect and revitalize BC’s wild salmon populations.” That sounds good, said Hill, but, in the past, the NDP government has sometimes shown a regressive approach to wild salmon. “My main question is, will Premier Horgan let him do his job,” he said. Judith Lavoie is an award-winning journalist specializing in the environment, First Nations, and social issues. Twitter @LavoieJudith Learn more:
  10. Posted November 24, 2020 Image: New Residuals Treatment Plant at Hartland Landfill Residents worry as Capital Regional District prepares to spread sewage biosolids at Hartland Landfill. Go to story
  11. Residents worry as Capital Regional District prepares to spread sewage biosolids at Hartland Landfill. THERE’S A GUT REACTION to the idea of spreading processed human poop on land, whether to grow bigger trees, better tomatoes, or cap off a landfill. Suspicions remain even after sewage sludge is treated to remove pathogens and pollutants. Following sewage treatment at the Capital Regional District’s new McLoughlin Point Wastewater Plant, “residual solids” in the form of sludge are piped to the new Residuals Treatment Facility at Hartland Landfill. There, the sludge is treated by anaerobic digestion, dried, and turned into Class A biosolids, a granule-like substance, along with biogas which is used onsite. The new Residuals Treatment Facility at Hartland Landfill The CRD has developed a plan to spread the biosolids on about five hectares of the Hartland Landfill, contrary to an earlier commitment to prohibit land application. While CRD staff insist the plan is safe, residents near Hartland are increasingly anxious that, despite treatment, toxins flushed down Greater Victoria’s toilets and drains will blow on to nearby properties—or leach into fields, gardens or wells. Some living in the area of scattered small farms and acreages are worried that chemicals such as flame retardants, PCBs and other hormone disrupters will find their way into the environment. A particular concern is PFAS—per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances found in items ranging from frying pans and rain-jackets to dental floss—known as “forever chemicals” because they are almost indestructible. Hartland Landfill, location of new Residuals Treatment Plant, forested area and surrounding neighbourhood and lakes (click to enlarge). A group of citizens in the vicinity of Hartland formed the Mount Work Coalition. It has condemned the lack of consultation around the reversal of the CRD’s previous ban on spreading treated sewage residual on land. In 2011, the Capital Regional District voted to prohibit spreading such biosolids on land, because of concerns it could contaminate farmland and food with chemicals, heavy metals and pharmaceuticals. Directors reaffirmed that decision in 2013. But earlier this year, with a new $775-million sewage treatment system on the verge of completion, the CRD board, somewhat reluctantly, agreed to partially lift the biosolids ban. The change of heart allows about 700 tonnes of biosolids to be spread on closed areas of Hartland Landfill as a short-term contingency plan starting in 2021. For between four and six weeks a year, the biosolids will be mixed with wood chips and sand and used to fertilize trees and as a dump cover to help capture methane gas, which will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The rest of the year, biosolids will be trucked to the Lafarge cement plant in Richmond and used as fuel in cement kilns, with the CRD paying the company about a million dollars annually. The plant shuts down for maintenance twice a year, which is when the biosolids will be distributed on land at Hartland. The CRD had planned to simply landfill biosolids while the cement plant was closed, but that proposal was nixed by the Province which told the CRD to find a beneficial use for the product. With provincial grants at risk, the board opted for land application at the dump until a better solution is found—ideally a local “beneficial use” of the product. The current plan was approved by the Province in September, and the CRD is working on a Long-Term Biosolids Strategy, which will require provincial approval by June 2024 and “will include comprehensive public consultation,” said a ministry spokesperson. Hugh Stephens, a Willis Point resident and spokesman for the Mount Work Coalition, scoffs at the idea that the land dispersal is a temporary solution. “Once you spread it, it’s spread. No one is going to get down on their hands and knees and put it back again,” he said, suggesting alternate solutions such as sending the biosolids to a biochar plant in Prince George or using mines or remote areas for disposal. CRD director Mike Hicks, who represents the Willis Point area, voted against the plan to spread biosolids on land. “I don’t support it and I am not alone. I thought we could store it for a couple of months, but I was told it was too explosive to store,” said Hicks who is concerned particles could become airborne. “Absolutely there’s a concern and as the crow flies, Butchart Gardens is totally within striking distance,” he said. Hicks admitted it is difficult to assess which of the scientific studies bear the most weight. “But, I adopt the attitude of ‘why risk it?’” he said. BOTH SIDES POINT TO SCIENTIFIC STUDIES bolstering their viewpoints, and there seems a startling lack of research consensus. For example, a 2016 “Open Letter on the Danger of Biosolids,” from four scientists emphasizes the lack of information about many of the chemical contaminants that remain after sewage treatment. The scientists conclude that the supposed benefits are more than offset by risks to human and environmental health: “An unimaginably large number of chemical and biological contaminants exist in these materials and they persist in the product up to and after land disposal,” says the open letter from Sierra Rayne, John Werring, Richard Honour and Steven Vincent. “Governments are playing Russian roulette with sewage sludge. Over time, there is a high probability this game will be lost at the public’s expense,” they conclude. Their letter was quickly followed by a rebuttal from four Canadian university professors, with backgrounds in biosolids research, who accused the opponents of stoking fear and equating chemicals, at any level, with unacceptable risk. “As any thinking individual knows well, any chemical can be harmful to humans if exposure is high enough; two acetaminophen tablets can cure your headache, but too many taken at once may harm or kill you,” it reads. “The weight of evidence, when examined fairly and from an unbiased perspective, does not support a moratorium on biosolids. It would simply be wasteful to disregard the benefits that can result from responsibly and safely recycling this important resource.” Biosolids are widely used in the United States and the US Environmental Protection Agency has endorsed land dispersal, but, illustrating the ambivalence, the EPA is currently seeking applications from researchers to study “potential risk from pollutants found in biosolids” and to develop standards and policies for biosolids management. Complicating the research, the effect of biosolids spread on land varies with the type of soil, amount of water and concentration. Moreover, jurisdictions have a variety of standards and use different chemicals to treat the sludge. Glenn Harris, CRD senior manager of environmental protection, said land application of biosolids occurs around the world and problems rarely occur. He noted that organizations that have endorsed spreading biosolids on land include the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, the US Environmental Protection Agency, and the European Commission on the Environment. “Globally, they all say that land application is safe if it is done properly,” he said. Stephens of the Mount Work Coalition, however, said, “There are lots of studies to indicate that there’s potential for airborne pollution and it has been shown to be dispersed for up to 25 kilometres,” and notes that the dump is less than a kilometre from Prospect Lake School and from Durrance Lake, a popular recreational area. They also worry about agriculture in the vicinity. Said Stephens. “These residuals get into the soil and there’s all kinds of documented cases of crops grown with polluted soil and how it gets into the food chain.” Stephens said residents also fear that pollutants, ranging from pharmaceuticals and heavy metals to microplastics and dioxins, will get into the water table in an area where most homes rely on well water. Fears were exacerbated in October when a temporary pipe failed and 130,000 litres of sewage sludge leaked from the Residuals Treatment Facility at Hartland Landfill and escaped through a culvert into Mount Work Park. “The CRD says it has a membrane down, so it can’t leak, but that membrane has already leaked several times with leachate coming out and once it gets into the water table it will get into the drainage and then into Tod Creek or Durrance Lake,” said Stephens. As the CRD has not yet started producing biosolids, the exact makeup of the sludge is not known, but decades of monitoring wastewater quality gives a pretty good idea, Harris said. Concentration of most contaminants will be at a negligible level and environmental regulators have concluded that trace concentrations of contaminants such as pharmaceuticals do not pose unacceptable risks, Harris said. UBC engineering professor Dr Don Mavinic, considered one of BC’s top experts on sewage treatment, told Focus in 2016, “The fact is that there really isn’t any effective technology out there in the marketplace yet to deal with these other contaminants [such as pharmaceuticals, caffeine and endocrine disrupters, the latter found in many household and industrial products]. It’s coming, but it isn’t there. This is a very young science…the jury is still out.” Opponents to the CRD plan also point to the Halifax Project study, conducted between 2012 and 2015, that linked cancers to low dose exposure to chemicals in the environment. “There is no such thing as a safe amount of exposure,” says a fact sheet compiled by one of the Coalition members. The CRD’s Harris admitted that metals are not destroyed or degraded through any treatment process. “However,” he said, “given the low levels of metals in our wastewater, the quality of the biosolids produced at the Residual Treatment Facility will more than meet Class A standards.” Harris said ferric chloride will be used as a coagulant for treating the sewage at the wastewater plant (and some will remain in the sludge) and there is no anticipated risk as the material occurs naturally in the Earth’s crust. “We see the benefit of this. We know it is completely safe,” said Harris, emphasizing the practice is widely used around the world, including in BC and other regions of Canada. Land application of biosolids is regulated by the provincial Organic Matter Recycling Regulation and a graph on the Environment Ministry website shows some countries, such as Finland and Sweden, using 100 percent of biosolids for land application. Hartland already has dust suppression measures and anything blowing off site would have such minute concentrations of pharmaceuticals or pollutants that they would be almost undetectable, Harris said. Groundwater traps collect leachate from the dump, which is then collected in ponds and piped back to the McLoughlin Treatment Plant, he said. “We have a pretty extensive monitoring program to ensure nothing goes off site,” said Harris, who believes the opposition comes from a perception of risk versus true risk assessment and risk management. THE MOUNT WORK COALITION has concerns beyond the land application of biosolids, including a proposal to switch trucks heading to the landfill from Hartland Avenue to Willis Point Road and the expansion of the garbage pit at Hartland, which would mean logging and blasting about 30 hectares within the landfill boundaries over the next 80 years. The CRD announced on November 18 that it is developing a new solid waste management plan to reduce how much material is sent to Hartland Landfill and guide how the region’s waste is managed. The Coalition says the proposed expansion plans would remove the last stands of old-growth Douglas fir on the Peninsula, though the CRD describes the area as primarily a young, second-growth Douglas fir forest. “Tree removal will begin in approximately 2030 to prepare this space for future landfilling unless the region significantly reduces its waste per capita rate or new technology for waste management emerges,” Harris said. The tree-removal will be offset by reforestation of closed areas of the landfill to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, he said. The Coalition wants the CRD to look for more innovative solutions. Incineration, gasification and waste reduction should be top of mind, instead of digging a bigger hole, Stephens said. Finally, given the exponential growth of Langford and the Malahat area, the Coalition has urged that a landfill closer to Westshore be considered. For more information, check these relevant websites: https://www.mountworkcoalition.org and https://www.crd.bc.ca/project/biosolids-beneficial-use-strategy . People can view the draft plan of the CRD’s new solid waste management plan at crd.bc.ca/rethinkwaste and provide comment using an online form until January 15. There will be a live-streamed information session on the CRD’s YouTube channel on December 14. Judith Lavoie is an award-winning journalist specializing in the environment, First Nations, and social issues. Twitter @LavoieJudith
  12. Posted October 12, 2020 Image: Kitchen scraps on the counter Seven years on, Victoria area kitchen scraps are still taking a long, costly journey to compost facilities. Go to story
  13. Seven years on, Victoria area kitchen scraps are still taking a long, costly journey to compost facilities. CHUCK THAT APPLE CORE into the kitchen container designated for organics, take the can outside and tip it into the green bin in time for garbage pickup, feeling satisfied knowing your household food waste is being turned into compost that will help grow more fruit and veggies. The routine is familiar to most Greater Victoria residents who, after 2015 when the Capital Regional District banned kitchen scraps from Hartland Road Landfill, slowly came to see the benefits of separating organic waste. However, in Greater Victoria, that apple core is starting a long, carbon-emissions-full journey. While efforts have been made to bring kitchen scrap processing closer to home, they appear to be years away from fruition. The apple core will first travel to Hartland Road where it is tipped on to a loading station, then trucked up-Island to Fisher Road Recycling at Cobble Hill. While most kitchen scraps are composted on site, when the Fisher Road facility reaches capacity, the remainder is put on a barge to the mainland and trucked to a composting facility in Cache Creek in northern BC. Russ Smith, CRD senior manager of environmental resource management, agrees it is not ideal to have Greater Victoria’s kitchen scraps travelling around the province, but it’s certainly preferable to scraps ending up in the landfill and more realistic than expecting all residents to do their own backyard composting. “It’s the pragmatic middle ground that is better than landfilling, but not as good as the ideal of backyard composting with everyone doing their own—and, of course, you have a lot of multi-family condo dwellers where they don’t have those opportunities,” Smith said. In 2013, there was an ill-fated attempt at local processing when the CRD contracted Foundation Organics to deal with kitchen scraps on a Central Saanich farm. It was forced to pull the operating licence in less than a year after neighbours complained about the smell. Since then progress has crawled along at a snail’s pace. It seems to have taken five years to make the next move towards local processing. In 2018, the CRD invited expressions of interest from proponents wanting to establish a processing facility “within or in close proximity to the Capital Region.” A facility could be built either on two hectares of cleared space at Hartland or on other sites, says the request for initial bids The current system of processing outside the region “requires extensive transportation and is inconsistent with the Region’s long-term objective of managing the kitchen scraps locally to the extent possible,” it says. More than a dozen responses were received, but the shortlist has not yet been compiled. Meanwhile, a new request for proposals for hauling and processing kitchen scraps closes this month with the successful bidder holding the contract until March 2025. That allows the successful bidder on the main contract time to construct a new facility, said Smith, who is expecting a staff report to go to the CRD board next spring. “Even if we get very clear direction in the spring of 2021, by the time the procurement finishes and construction starts you are certainly looking into 2023 and likely into 2024,” he said. A stumbling block is that no decision has yet been made by the CRD board on whether to opt for composting or the more expensive choice of building a biogas plant at Hartland. Biogas is produced when organic matter biodegrades without oxygen. The gas can then be filtered and, if done on a large scale, can be used to generate electricity or refined and fed into the gas grid. The cost of building a biogas plant at Hartland was estimated by CRD staff at between $25- and $40-million, compared to $2- to $8-million for composting. The capital cost could drop to zero if composting was done at a private site owned by one of the bidders. In addition to deciding what kind of technology should be used for kitchen scraps, there’s also the problem of getting municipalities to commit to sending their scraps to a new facility as operators need to know they would receive sufficient material Currently the CRD sends about 12,000 tonnes a year to Cobble Hill, but Victoria and Saanich have separate contracts with Fisher Road Recycling. Victoria collected about 2,000 tonnes of food scraps through its green bin program in 2019 and is expecting to collect more this year because of 25 zero waste stations installed around the downtown core and in City parks. City staff “continue to work closely with CRD staff on regional solid waste management initiatives,” said an emailed statement from the city. Saanich is the only local municipality to accept yard trimmings in the organics cart and collects between 8,000 and 9,000 tonnes annually. About 30 percent of that is food waste and the mix with garden waste provides the ideal carbon and nitrogen mix to make top-grade compost, said Jason Adams, Saanich operations supervisor. Adams, who has an extensive background in recycling, wants to see the CRD get on with a decision. “They just need to build it and get on with it and the tonnage will follow,” said Adams, who would like to see a model based on economics, rather than subsidies, and is hoping the CRD avoids an “over-engineered” system. One advantage of the many delays has been that the technology of composting has evolved over recent years, Adams said. Technology is a cause close to the heart of Peter Brown, a member of Malahat Organics, a consortium which made a bid to the CRD in 2018 proposing a rotary composter, meaning the material is contained inside a large drum—a method that controls odours and dust. “You put the kitchen scraps in one end and this thing very, very slowly rotates and it comes out the other end about seven days later and you have got beautiful compost. We’ve got an absolutely crackerjack proposal for the CRD and it would cost them nothing,” said Brown, who is puzzled by the delays. Example of a large rotary composter used to create compost from kitchen scraps The proposal envisages the facility being set up on Malahat Nation land, which is zoned light industrial. The CRD would pay a tipping price, which would be less than they are currently paying and the operators would require a guaranteed amount of tonnage each year. At the end of the contract, the facility would be transferred to the region at no cost. Hartland currently accepts kitchen scraps at $120 per tonne, but it costs the CRD about $145 a tonne for the composting. It is frustrating that it has taken so long to consider the proposals and, in the meantime, between the discrepancy in costs and trucking some of the scraps off-Island it is costing the region money, Brown said. “Isn’t it crazy?…It’s our money that’s going out into the wind and, in the last few years since we submitted our proposal, you could have had the plant operating right here,” he said. Brown fears that CRD staff are slanting recommendations towards biogas rather than composting even though a biogas plant is expensive and will take up a large chunk of land at Hartland. “Compost is a wonderful thing if it’s done properly like with these rotary composters that give you the very best quality compost. It’s valuable, not something to be sent away,” he said. Highland councillors Gord and Ann Baird also fear that there is a tilt towards biogas in staff reports and last year, in separate presentations to a CRD committee, both questioned why the Hartland site is apparently already being prepared for biogas. “The pathway towards more biogas production goes contrary to eliminating hydrocarbons as a fuel source as laid out in IPCC reports and the Climate Emergency declarations,” said Gord Baird, who is running for the BC Green Party in Langford-Juan de Fuca. There is no social licence for the old methods of composting, with all its shortcomings, but there is a social licence for new methods with no odour, no dust and no access to vermin, said Baird, who calculated that the value of finished compost, sold at $50 a tonne, would far exceed the value of biogas produced by anaerobic digestion. Jutta Gutberlet, University of Victoria professor in the Department of Geography, agrees that compost is a valuable resource and believes the ideal solution would be decentralized composting centres, which would eliminate the problem of greenhouse gas emissions from transportation. “This could relatively easily be done with community gardens,” said Gutberlet, a director of the Community-based Research Laboratory.More space is being provided around Victoria for community gardens and the compost could be used on site, Gutberlet said. “They would not just produce organic composts, but they could become centres where people meet—centres of community, which is something we also need in our neighbourhoods,” she said. Judith Lavoie is an award-winning journalist specializing in the environment, First Nations, and social issues. Twitter @LavoieJudith
  14. Posted September 30, 2020 Photo: Founder of the Creating Homefulness Society, Richard Leblanc, at Woodwynn Farm in 2017. Despite the homelessness and opioid crises, BC Housing has failed to employ Woodwynn Farm during its 2 years of ownership. Go to story
  15. Despite the homelessness and opioid crises, BC Housing has failed to employ Woodwynn Farm during its 2 years of ownership. THE ROLLING MEADOWS and picturesque barns of Woodwynn Farm on West Saanich Road remain in a serene time-warp. There’s no outward sign of activity despite a two-year-old pledge by the provincial government to establish a therapeutic recovery community on the 193-acre site. While the acrimonious Central Saanich controversy that divided the community and occupied countless hours of council time has faded to a whisper, simultaneously, the opioid crisis has tightened its grip on the province. In July a near record-breaking 175 deaths occurred with calls for more treatment beds and options beyond detox for those struggling to remove themselves from an increasingly toxic supply of street drugs. In the past 6 months, overdose deaths have numbered 750, while those from COVID-19 hover just over 200. So, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, with reduced treatment options and escalating homelessness problems, what has happened to the promise to turn the historic Woodwynn property into a therapeutic recovery community? Richard Leblanc, founder of the Creating Homefulness Society, at Woodwynn Farm in 2017. Selina Robinson, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, said, at the time of the purchase in July 2018, that the farm would provide a therapeutic environment for people experiencing mental health challenges and substance-use issues. “The purchase of Woodwynn Farm means we can provide more services for people living in supportive housing who will benefit from access to extended therapeutic care,” she said. Fast-forward to 2020 and a ministry spokesperson told Focus that planning for the site is on hold until discussions are held with Tsartlip First Nation and Ministry of Indigenous Relations. “The Tsartlip First Nation expressed interest in being part of the discussions around the use of the land and the Province recognizes the importance of Woodwynn Farms to the Nation,” the spokesperson wrote in an emailed statement. Tsartlip Chief Don Tom did not return calls from Focus. In the meantime, BC Housing has completed $160,000 of renovations, including new roofs and demolition of the pig barn, according to the ministry. The Province budgeted $6.9 million to buy the farm, with $5.8-million going to the purchase price and $1.1-million for renovations, fees and consulting costs. The Province bought the 78-hectare property from the Creating Homefulness Society, which was mired in debt after trying in vain to persuade Central Saanich Council and BC’s Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) to allow on-site housing for 40 residents who would work as temporary farm hands while receiving addiction treatment. The society’s original plans called for 98 people to be housed at the farm, but, between neighbourhood and council opposition and ALR regulations that stipulate any housing must be necessary for farm use, the idea foundered. The Province skirted the housing problem by saying there would be no housing on site, but BC Housing would be working with Central Saanich and regional housing providers “to make this opportunity available to supportive housing tenants” (i.e. people living elsewhere). At that time, Our Place expressed interest in helping operate a therapeutic recovery community, but has received no recent information about provincial plans, said Grant McKenzie, Our Place communications director. McKenzie expressed skepticism about the project’s success. “Unless you are allowed to build some housing on that property to house people in therapeutic recovery and farming the land, not much is going to happen with it,” predicted McKenzie. The property would be useful, but busing people in would not be successful, he said. “I would say it’s probably a non-starter because [council and the ALC] would oppose it…The neighbours don’t want to see homelessness existing,” he said. Richard Leblanc, founder of the Creating Homefulness Society, no longer has any input into the future of Woodwynn, but, as the overdose death toll rises, he believes a properly run therapeutic recovery centre could be saving lives. The power and strength of a therapeutic community program at Woodwynn should be helping those who are struggling, he said. “It should be helping people deal with the root causes, rather than shuffling people around,” Leblanc added. However, there is no obvious solution to the remaining impasse over housing. Echoing McKenzie, Leblanc believes people should be living on site for an extended length of time and it is not realistic to bus people in. “The odds of a person showing up the second or third day in a row are almost zero,” he said, adding that people need to see rehabilitation successes among their peers to give them a sense of hope and the impetus to make changes. It is a wasted opportunity on so many levels, Leblanc said sadly. *December 18 UPDATE: The BC government has turned over the Woodwynn Farm property to the Tsartlip First Nation which once harvested medicines and hunted in its former cedar forest. Judith Lavoie is an award-winning journalist specializing in the environment, First Nations, and social issues. Twitter @LavoieJudith
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