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Briony Penn

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  1. May 14, 2020 Photo: An old-growth forest slated to be logged on Quadra Island The movement to conserve more of BC's forests based on their ability to sequester carbon gets a new tool. Go to story
  2. May 14, 2020 A new tool allows citizens to measure the carbon storage and health of their local forests—before they are cut down. FOREST SCIENTIST Dr. Nicholas Coops from UBC and his two colleagues, Dr. Joseph Landsburg (Australia) and Dr. Richard Waring (Oregon), recently won the equivalent of the Nobel Prize in forestry—the Marcus Wallenberg Prize—for their work on an open-source model that allows anyone to predict how their forests are growing in real time. The tool, called 3PG (Physiological Principles Predicting Growth), can be set up on most computers and will tell you how your local forest is doing and predict what the future might be as climate conditions change. Using available data sets from weather stations that measure temperature, moisture and tree level information from long-term forest plots, coupled with remote sensing data from satellites or LIDAR, we can now answer questions like: How much carbon is being sequestered by this patch of trees? How much carbon was released by that clearcut? How will biodiversity hot spots do in the future? How can we prevent insect outbreaks? How are certain species doing through spring and summer droughts? What if we increase the number of nurse logs in this patch? Is it helping the stressed trees? The model can be scaled from my tiny patch of forest of 60-year-old Douglas-fir to diverse tracts of forest across the planet. Any student or planner with an interest in forests and climate can adapt the model to local forest data. It was a tool originally devised for forestry managers to manage plantations, but has much wider applications, according to Coops, including understanding what our Douglas fir forests are going to look like in the future. To understand why this is hopeful, it is important to start with a refresher on forests and climate change. Currently the only things on the planet that remove carbon dioxide from our atmosphere are plants—either on land, in water or sea. CO2 is sequestered by the forest through everything that photosynthesizes: trees, shrubs, moss, etc and is then processed into carbon which the forest stores in what we call carbon pools: trunks, branches, bark, roots, leaves, shrubs, soil, litter and coarse woody debris (nurse logs, wildlife trees). The plants pull out the carbon and release the oxygen (O2) to the atmosphere. The rate at which they they do that and how they store it, is the complicated part. Storing carbon depends on complex ecological relationships between species of trees, other plants, lichens and fungi, the soil, the forest litter and detritus, aspect, moisture, temperature and nutrients. It is a big dynamic system and taken at a provincial, national or international level has a great many complexities. At the forest stand level, however, it becomes far more understandable and relevant. Using the new 3PG tool on my acreage, we assess how each of the different tree species are doing, their height, age and diameter and how much carbon they pull out of the atmosphere on a daily to annual basis and have stored over the last 60 years, and where it is stored. My forest stores about 1,468 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) per hectare (it is actually stored as just carbon but it is expressed as CO2e so we can understand the implications if it is released back into the atmosphere). Two hundred tonnes of that is in the soil, another 200 tonnes in the detritus, about 500 in the trunks/stems and the rest in the branches, bark and shrub layers. Every hectare of my forest is pulling about 14 tonnes of CO2e out of the atmosphere a year. There is always some natural decaying going on, where the carbon isn’t stored but released back into the atmosphere. This relationship between decay and sequestering is expressed in a figure called “forest growth minus decay.” In a healthy forest like mine, forest growth far exceeds forest decay. In an unhealthy forest where drought decreases the moisture retained in the soil and increases the respiration of carbon back into the atmosphere, that figure can reverse. There are die-offs already starting in my western red cedars on south-facing, dryer slopes so I’m anticipating that these figures will change. The model works by using key measurements of certain species acquired from long-term research plots, like the ones around southeastern Vancouver Island of coastal Douglas fir forests from old growth to young ones. Provincial forest ecologist Andy Mackinnon and federal forester Tony Trofymow set up forest plots in 1992 in response to concerns about the effects of clearcutting and the conversion of coastal old-growth to managed forests. The plots provide information about the growth, structure, diversity and carbon storage of forests at different ages, on different aspects, terrains and microclimates. In 2002, research towers were added to fine tune our understanding of fluxes of carbon and water from different pools based on temperature and precipitation. Fluxnet Canada has three forest plots of different aged coastal Douglas fir, one of which is very similar in age and composition to mine, at Oyster River. Pulses of carbon dioxide are measured from processes like soil respiration, decomposition, litterfall and microclimate changes in soil which change with the time of day, the season, and the year. It allows us to attribute specific events and features to fluxes of ecosystem carbon. The 3PG model is able to apply this information to whichever forest an enquiry directs it to (small to large) by using remote sensing, like satellite and LIDAR. Finally, it uses climate forecasts to let you ask questions about what it will look like in the future. Coastal Douglas fir is uniquely suited to these kinds of tools because it is such a wide-ranging tree, from California to Vancouver Island. If I want to know what my forest will look like in a warmer world, the benchmark data from California forests is there to draw from. The reason this is important is because if you go to the latest (2017) BC Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventory you will discover that over the last 27 years, more than half of all CO2e emissions come from the “Forest Management” sector. Because of a historic federal decision at Kyoto to not include forest management emissions in our inventory, these figures are only included in an appendix. This raises a critical question about how we should respond to these huge emissions and better understand the complex interplay of warming temperatures, greater insect predation, changes in traditional burning practices by First Nations, and modern industrial approaches of salvage clearcut logging. The immensity of the problem requires better tools that can peer right into the different patches of forest and then go back up to 30,000 feet and see the patterns. To further appreciate the magnitude of the climate crisis as it relates to forestry, remember there are two sides of a carbon equation: on one side is our need to reduce our emissions; on the other is our need to protect and increase our sinks. Ignoring emissions from forestry is a double hit to climate change as we send our emissions skyrocketing while removing our sinks. And I haven’t even added in another sector that is included in our official inventory called “deforestation,” when sinks are converted permanently to non-forest use. Deforestation emissions take the overall number up another 2.5 million tonnes. But before we unpack these numbers, remember this story started as good news. I have been writing about climate change and the problematic forest industry for over 30 years and it has mostly been bad news for climate, wildlife, water, fire and flood risk, and cultural survival. No amount of science seems able to shift governing parties away from the status quo and corporate exceptionalism so what will get us to a different future? Coops’ colleague, Dr. Gary Bull, head of the Forest Resources Management Department at UBC who has equal international standing in his field of forest policy and sustainable economic models that integrate climate change, indigenous rights and ecosystem services, suggests that 3PG gets us one step closer. Putting a forester’s tool in the hands of local people who love their forests and want to improve their resilience to drought, fire and loss of wildlife is a key part of the solution. It used to be that only forest carbon scientists hired by companies could calculate these complex carbon equations. This led to a lot of carbon myths, myths that provincial forest ecologist Jim Pojar has done a great job of refuting. (https://sierraclub.bc.ca/7-myths-about-forests-carbon-and-climate-change/ ) If you don’t want to take his word for it, though, now you can see for yourself. With this tool, anyone should be able to figure out that if I clearcut even a hectare of my forest, I will immediately release at least half a thousand tonnes of CO2e from the different carbon pools into the atmosphere through various processes: slashpile burning, increased respiration, and decomposition as the forest floor dries. In the carbon pool called “trunks,” a good proportion would end up as my firewood, and also go up with the smoke. Some might make it as timber for construction, but the emissions from cutting, trucking and processing it would offset the carbon stored in the few pieces of timber that made it into house beams. Within 15 years, most of the carbon in that hectare of forest would be back in the atmosphere. I would also have shrunk the world’s carbon sink by a hectare and made adjacent forests more vulnerable to rising soil temperature, wind throw, and fire through loss of moisture in the forest. Replanting my forest is not mitigation. It will be 17 years before the clearcut is not still emitting carbon. And it will be 105 years before I have even caught up with the storage that I had before I cut it down, if ever. I could have travelled 250 times to Baja in a jet and still not exceeded those emissions, so why are we not taking these actions into our carbon accounting? Once you get your head around your own local forests, it is much easier to scale up and make sense of the provincial numbers. In the BC inventory, decomposition from clearcutting accounts for 42,034,000 tonnes (this is probably conservative). Slashburn piles account for another 3,990,000 tonnes. Then there is the big whammy for 2017 of wildfire—176,550,000 tonnes. (Spread over the last 27 years, emissions from fires average out to 20,000,000 tonnes a year.) Wildfire is a bit of misnomer because within this category there is no distinction between fires that burn in unlogged forests and fires that burn through clearcuts, but are not technically accounted for under slashburns. An Oregon State University study found that the 2013 Douglas Fire took off when it “hit a sea of clearcuts.” It makes sense, as the driest tinder for any fire is in a clearcut. They are now called “clearcut firebombs” in the research parlance. (See David Broadland’s The Forest-Industrial Complex’s Molotov Cocktails) Having a fine-tuned tool that can operate with local data is critical to discern exactly what’s going on. This forest on Quadra Island is slated to be logged, but its carbon sequestration capacity, critical to global efforts to reduce emissions, has not been taken into consideration by government when it determined the area could be logged. Now local citizens will have a tool that allows them to do the carbon calculation and add another science-based argument for conservation. Bull points out that these new tools and forest research typically take at least a decade to translate into policy, “but,” he adds, “we could adapt pretty damn quickly if we had the political support, legislation and resources to devolve more power and tools to local communities and First Nations.” He has long believed that the path to climate change mitigation and reconciliation of First Nations land issues is through ensuring the economic benefits flow to those that tend the forests. He is working on innovative economic streams from forest stewardship. The development of open source tools such as 3PG brings down the biggest obstacle in the past: the costs of planning, management and inventory. For communities and regions to assess alternative economic models for rural communities, the right set of tools in the toolbox is critical. Bull states, “Dr. Coops’ tools are essential.” Coops is enthusiastic about the potential for the model as it puts a free tool into the hands of local people which is the scale that forest management is best done at. Because it is open source, it can be adapted and developed to reflect the amazing research that has gone on already. One of the improvements Coops hopes to see in the tool, is a way to improve measuring the below-ground carbon and fuel loads across clearcut landscapes. Coops believes this is possible using drones and satellite imagery. He and Trofymow also examined and compared methods for estimating the amounts of woody residues left after harvest of one of the long term forest plots. In 2017, Trofymow remeasured (after 25 years) the carbon in aboveground forest and woody debris on the four east Vancouver Island sites; soils were remeasured in 2019 and are currently being analyzed. The results will be ready in a year or two. 3PG is currently the most widely-used forest growth model of this type in the world, but not here in BC. Asked what his ultimate dream for the model is, Coops responded: “I want to alert citizens about how they can take care of their forests/carbon sinks.” See https://3pg.forestry.ubc.ca/software/ for the 3PG software tools. Briony Penn is the award-winning author of non-fiction books including The Real Thing: The Natural History of Ian McTaggart Cowan, A Year on the Wild Side, and, most recently, Following the Good River: the Life and Times of Wa’xaid, a biography of Cecil Paul (Rocky Mountain Books).
  3. January 2020 Concerns over slow progress lead to questions about campaign donations from developers. SEVERAL YEARS AGO, Saanich resident Merie Beauchamp and her husband bought a large lot overrun with invasive species. It had subdivision potential but was also subject to the Environmental Development Permit Area (EDPA) bylaw. Under the EDPA, they would be required to work with Saanich planners and biologists, should they want to subdivide, in order to minimize the impact to the endangered Garry oak ecosystem. Both Beauchamps had biological backgrounds and were curious about what lay under the brambles and daphne. Said Merie: “We removed the invasives and the land came back to life. The native wildflowers began to reappear, the Garry oaks suppressed under the invasives started to take off, the butterflies, birds and other wildlife returned and we realized that we could help restore the natural diversity of this piece of land.” Saanich resident Merie Beauchamp The couple decided that they had an opportunity to manage this restored area, which lies adjacent to a protected area. Conventional thinking would describe them as having cost society in foregone development values. “True cost accounting,” however, would value their actions in terms of averting the rising costs of the biodiversity and climate change emergencies. Beauchamp wants people to get excited about true cost accounting and to educate people about the harm of the business-as-usual approach, but it is a hard thing to do with a council that is mostly stuck in an old paradigm. In May, the UN Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) released a report that gave humanity a dire prognosis. A million species are now threatened with extinction, and our own species may follow if we don’t do something about the threats. In the District of Saanich, over 90 of those species are at risk along with the ecosystems that support them. As one of the most affluent, well-educated, and still biologically-rich urban/rural districts in Canada, Saanich could be playing a leading role in reversing this trend. However, this region has lost ground—literally and figuratively. Garry oak meadows have been blasted into oblivion for everything from swimming pools to subdivisions ever since Saanich scrapped its progressive Environmental Development Permit Area (EDPA)—a bylaw and planning tool that had, since 2012, a proven record of guiding development away from, and around, endangered ecosystems. A byelection in late 2017 had resulted in a pro-development majority on council, which moved quickly to rescind the EDPA—though a replacement was promised. A battle for sustainability was waged in the suburbs, with lawyered-up landowners and developers on one side, and Saanich residents who supported the bylaw on the other. Since then, the battle has continued with divisions growing deeper. And the casualties of the lack of regulation are evident all over Saanich—endangered ecosystems wiped off their last remaining spots on Earth: at Mount Douglas Cross Road, Rainbow Road, Ten Mile Point, Gordon Head Road, Milner Road, Holland Avenue. Until journalist Wolf Depner was moved from the Saanich News to a new beat in Oak Bay, you could read regularly about yet another endangered meadow getting ploughed under by a bulldozer. The public discourse has only grown more heated. The College of Applied Biology permanently rescinded the membership of Ted Lea, a key player in the opposition to the EDPA, for violation of the college’s code of ethics stemming from his role in the matter. Councillor Nathalie Chambers urged her fellow council members to reinstate the EDPA given its removal was, in part, based on faulty reports from the biologist—or at least place a moratorium on Garry oak removals. (She failed.) University of Victoria faculty and students have weighed in on the science. Citizen’s groups, like the Falaise Community Association, have gathered people at a Tree Love Town Hall this spring “because of a growing concern for the protection of the residual Garry oak ecosystems under threat.” Citizen watchdogs, like Katherine Whitworth, are tracking what appears to be the increasing control of council by developers through electoral donations to councillors— and Chambers is calling for a ban on such donations. A perusal of the political donors to councillor campaigns reads like a who’s who of the local development industry, studded with family names like Jawl, Miller (Abstract Developments), Mann, Vanderkerkhove, Geric, and Knappet. Though donations from corporations are prohibited, and individual donations capped at $1200/year ($2400 in an election year), there’s nothing to stop multiple family members and a company’s staff from donating (this has also been noticed in other municipalities). The industry benefits when it controls the land-use planning process and has every incentive to populate council with people who share their views. That is not news. What is news is that according to the authors of the UN’s IPBES report, the key driver of extinctions worldwide is changes in land use. It also notes the trend is reversible. “Nature can still be conserved, restoredand used sustainably.” The authors stress the necessity of transforming governance and accountability, so that the full costs of not conserving or restoring natural systems and of notusing land sustainably are assessed. Accountability also entails the rigorous uncoupling of politics from land use change and its biggest driver, the development industry. Not surprisingly, the conflict in Saanich is exacerbated by highly confusing narratives being put forward by pro-development councillors in which citizens are told that they must choose: housing versus nature; public versus private land stewardship; farming versus conservation; restoration versus conservation; wetlands over Garry oak; emissions reduction over carbon sink expansion. Claiming that one action over another is prudent and efficient is far easier to sell politically—especially if it retains the status quo. From where the researchers of our climate and biodiversity crisis sit, however, choice is a luxury that the world doesn’t have. If we are going to avert this emergency, then we actually have to transform our thinking and figure out a way to integrate all these components of the crisis, now. Dr Eric Higgs As Dr Eric Higgs of the University of Victoria’s School of Environmental Studies puts it, “Every effort matters. We have to stem the loss and restore. For example, if we are at roughly five percent remnant Garry oak habitat presently, what would it take to get to six percent or 10 or 20 percent? What could happen if citizens were encouraged to take action in their front and backyards, new developments had stringent offset requirements, old trees were cherished, and Saanich really took seriously the need for nature-based solutions?” BEAUCHAMP WAS AGAINST SCRAPPING THE EDPA, and says the impacts of its loss have been immediate and unnecessary. The move has also devalued and demoralized other efforts for conservation and restoration on private land. She cites as an example, the controversial 4355 Gordon Head Road property where an endangered ecosystem that had previously been protected under the EDPA (through restricting building to an already existing building footprint) was destroyed for a swimming pool by moving the development closer to the cliff to take advantage of ocean views. “Why, when an alternative existed, would we allow an endangered ecosystem to be destroyed for someone’s swimming pool? The cost is borne by the next generation.” The scrapping of Saanich’s EDPA bylaw allowed this property, which includes an endangered Garry oak ecosystem, to be redeveloped. In the Milner Road development, four city lots of Garry oak woodland were razed with the lifting of the EDPA. Lauraine Derman, former Councillor Vic Derman’s widow, wrote to Saanich, stating, “At present, we see the ‘Sustainable’ Saanich moniker being abused and ridiculed as we witness some developers flaunting regulations and racing to destroy unique, ecological sensitive areas previously under EDPA protection. A case in point (among others)…is the well-publicized Milner/Leveret incident.” Against this backdrop of ecological destruction, many citizens wanted to see some sort of replacement for the rescinded EDPA—and quickly. Saanich staff had been working to create the “Natural Saanich” Environmental Policy Framework—which would include polices and regulations related to addressing climate change, biodiversity and stewardship—and envisioned the Framework being completed by 2022. But they also suggested some possible interim measures to address gaps left by the loss of the EDPA. These potentially included an enhanced tree bylaw (protecting other at-risk species), an enhanced fill bylaw (stopping wetland infill), and an adjusted development application. These were considered by staff as “low-hanging fruit as they are easily achievable and relatively effective,” according to meeting minutes. But the Framework, particularly its interim regulatory measures, was questioned by some councillors, including the Chair of Saanich’s Environmental and Natural Areas Advisory Committee, Rebecca Mersereau. Minutes of a June 2019 meeting show she questioned the effectiveness of regulatory measures. In this, her views were at odds with the committee she chaired. Saanich Councillor Rebecca Mersereau Mersereau argued in a July Facebook post that “developing and administering regulations also consumes resources and limits our ability to use other strategies to achieve the same goals, or other environmental goals we consider important. As much as it would be nice, resources are not available in an unlimited supply to help us achieve our environmental goals. If we were more cognizant of all these challenges, and if biodiversity conservation is truly a priority in Saanich, I believe we would have long ago invested more resources into protecting and even enhancing biodiversity in our extensive protected parks network.” Beauchamp has disagreed on development-related issues with other members of Saanich council, but nowhere has the narrative been more confusing for her than with Mersereau, who has degrees in biology, education and water resource management; was mentored by former Councillor Vic Derman; and once supported the EDPA. Beauchamp now draws a clear relationship between councillors’ decisions and their financial backers, and believes that rules around conflict of interest and disclosure must be tightened to ensure land- use decisions serve wider interests. She cites four donors from the development industry to Mersereau’s campaign, and adds “politics shouldn’t be mixed with science.” Dr Higgs has also responded to Mersereau on the interim regulatory measures question: “We need regulatory capacity to limit negative actions, and reward virtuous ones. This is why I support very strongly the kind of integrated package of initiatives comprising the Natural Saanich project. Stripping out the potential for discouraging or stopping heedless actions on private lands, or focusing only on remaining jewels [parks] that make up such a tiny fraction of historical habitat, will result in a future Saanich that is like every other municipality that failed to address issues sooner.” Higgs points to the March 1, 2019 United Nations General Assembly 2021-2030 declaration of the Decade of Ecosystem Restoration and suggests, “It would be unfortunate and ironic if Saanich were now to turn its back on the power and promise of hundreds of projects on public and private lands. Yes, environmental conditions are changing—a fact I know too well from my own research on novel ecosystems—but this is hardly an argument for letting the perfect stand in the way of good outcomes, especially those that support innovative approaches to biodiversity conservation and restoration. Every remnant patch of biodiversity that can be conserved or restored makes a difference to climate adaptation and flourishing ecosystems, whether natural, novel, or hybrid.” At the heart of Higgs’ analysis is the fact that 75 percent of the world’s land base has now been “significantly altered by human actions” and an international consensus of biologists advocate Nature Needs Half—a goal already in the CRD Regional Parks Strategic Plan. There is no research that comes to the conclusion that we will survive the political expediency of scrapping regulations on private land use for protecting endangered ecosystems. Landscape ecologist Jan Kirkby, who worked on Saanich’s original Sensitive Ecosystems Inventory mapping, notes “with strong, forward-thinking leadership and public education, landowners and land managers can embrace these conservation-based planning tools as they have in many other jurisdictions. EDPAs provide guidance and opportunities to enhance both natural and property values of the land. There are also tools like the Natural Area Protection Tax Exemption Program (NAPTEP) for conserving special features and sensitive ecosystems on private land.” Local governments are indeed free to change zoning to achieve conservation goals without compensation. But that is rarely done and only as a last resort. Kirkby emphasizes “most developers and property owners labour under a critical misconception, that there is such a thing as ‘development rights’ in Canada, that people ought to be able to do whatever they want on their land, and no local government has or should have the right to restrict development. These beliefs and views originate in the US and are supported by their constitution; however, Canada’s constitution supports the collective over the individual.” TWO YEARS HAVE PASSED SINCE THE DEMISE OF THE EDPA. And now some fear that Saanich council will further delay measures that would hopefully fill the gaps left by its loss. Mersereau, however, assured Focus in an email: “Council has approved an expedited timeline for the development of the EPF, so I’m hopeful that by mid 2020 we’ll all have a better sense of at least the scope of it.” Yet even the original process was to take until 2022, so any further delays are worrisome to those witnessing ecosystem destruction as the development boom continues. For now, a technical group to advise the process has been approved. But no “interim measures” (as the staff report advocated) to protect endangered ecosystems are likely in the near future, says Councillor Nathalie Chambers, who has repeatedly asked for them to deal with the biodiversity emergency. Saanich Councillor Natalie Chambers She is also advocating tighter accountability of councillors. Under the Community Charter, council members have to declare their own personal investments and may not vote or exercise influence over them. Chambers suggests, “They should also have to recuse themselves when voting on development issues when they receive developers’ donations.” She suggests accountability might have prevented some other recent moves that were developer-friendly: a proposed new bylaw raising development cost charges (DCC) was delayed, denying Saanich taxpayers $2 million; Local Area Plans were halted in favour of fast-tracking housing; and Abstract Developments, which has eight downstream applications, was granted special privileges on the Mayor’s Standing Committee on Housing Affordability, having access where Chambers, for example, has none. Chambers’ concern over the development industry’s “undue influence” has led her to propose a resolution for the Union of BC Municipalities to eliminate developer donations. Councillor Mersereau did not address Focus’ questions regarding Higgs’ challenge of her ecological rationale or Chamber’s comments of undue influence, but referred us to her July Facebook post which asserts: “Yup —that’s right! We’re in a process to discuss a process…If we have a good process set up to objectively evaluate how effective each option will be at helping us achieve our goals—whether they are voluntary, financial, or regulatory options (which the EDPA is one example of)—I can support the options that emerge at the top, regardless of what form they take.” Higgs responds, “We should not be caught in the midst of spats that result in inaction, but leading with the framework, policies, legislative action, and public programs that result in the very kind of Saanich that people will value in the future.” What do we need to get there? Beauchamp suggests “a conflict of interest bylaw for municipal donations might be a good start. Then let’s get Natural Saanich back on track.” Briony Penn is an award-winning writer of creative non-fiction books including The Real Thing: The Natural History of Ian McTaggart Cowan, A Year on the Wild Side and, most recently, Following the Good River: The Life and Times of Wa'xaid, a biography of Cecil Paul (Rocky Mountain Books).
  4. November 2019 West Coast wildlife depends on herring—and there’s a model for bringing them back to the Salish Sea. THE WILDLIFE IN SPILLER CHANNEL, just north of Bella Bella, is alive and well this fall. Over a thousand bald eagles on their southward migration were feeding on the returns of chum and pink salmon alongside other top predators—black bear, grizzly and wolf. Sea lions, Dall’s porpoise, several humpbacks and northern resident killer whales worked the channel edges. At the entrance, where the breakers roll in, sea otters have returned, triggering a rebound of kelp forests. Juvenile fish are surviving better in these underwater nurseries. Overwintering sea ducks, like harlequins and surf scoters, fished alongside 500 Western grebes, listed as threatened. Along the channel, small buoys and lines tied to trees mark the traditional non-kill fishery of herring roe of the Heiltsuk First Nation. The foundation for the health and well-being of everyone in Spiller is herring; Spiller Channel is famous for them. Herring spawn off the south end of Denman Island (Photo courtesy Jake Berman) Spiller is also famous for the Heiltsuk Nation’s prolonged stand-offs against the commercial “kill” herring fishery (which mostly is used for fish farm feed and pet food). It is an important place—a coastal Standing Rock—where the nation has stood up to pressures that push species and cultures to the brink: overharvesting, overhunting, overfishing and overlogging. Spiller is also close to where the Nathan E. Stewart oil spill occurred in Seaforth Channel in 2016, for which the nation launched their own emergency response. With their success in stopping the commercial “kill” fishery, the trophy hunts, and commercial logging, along with winning the court case against the Texas Kirby Corporation responsible for the fuel spill, the Heiltsuk have set a course for how to bring life back to the land, the sea and the culture, with herring as the foundation. They have shown the way that abundance can return here too, in the Salish Sea. All around the Salish Sea there are Spiller Channels waiting to rebound; bays where the open ocean has been calmed by the geography of granite and forests of kelp. People have tended these fish for millennia as they return year after year to spawn on the lush eelgrass meadows. The young fish follow the older fish back to a spawning site (what elders refer to as the scouts) and typically remain loyal to that site. The Salish Sea had dozens of spawning bays with different spawning windows from Ganges SYOWT, the first place the herring come in spring, according to WSÁNEĆ hereditary chief Eric Pelkey, to the late spawners of Cherry Point near Bellingham. Some herring leave on their migration to the coastal shelf, some never leave, and with this mix of diversity of locations, timing and behaviours, the rest of the coastal community can thrive all the way up the food chain, through chinook to the Southern Resident killer whales and the human communities. For many elders like Pelkey, whose chieftanship runs from STAUTW (Tsawout) on the Saanich Peninsula to SYOWT (Ganges) on Saltspring Island, the decimation of these herring stocks indicates a fundamental flaw with the fisheries model being used by Fisheries and Oceans (DFO). “It seemed like as soon as there was a sign that herring were starting to come back again and into Ganges Harbour, DFO would open it up commercially and seine boats would come in and just scoop them up. Eventually that just killed off that herring run.” The fight that began with his grandfather, Louie Pelke, has been long and lonely—and repeated by every coastal nation. In Lekwungen territory, the Gorge was their Spiller Channel until the commercial fisheries of the 1930s wiped them out. Ross Bay, James Bay and Ogden Point lost their herring to the reduction fisheries by 1938; Juan de Fuca in 1940, Hotham Sound and Redonda, pre-1950. In WSÁNEĆ territory, Saanich Inlet, Coles Bay, Deep Cove, Patricia Bay, Goldstream and Finlayson Arm all lost their herring to the next wave of commercial fisheries of the ’50s and ’60s, and so it continued around the Salish Sea. Howe Sound, 1966; Malaspina Strait, 1975; Jervis Inlet, 1978; Fraser River, Bedwell Harbour, Campbell Bay, Lyall Harbour and Winter Harbour in 1979; Sechelt, Pender Harbour, Cowichan Bay, Ganges and Fulford Harbours, 1983; Powell River, 1988; Boundary Bay, 1992. Some bays, like Nanoose and Yellowpoint, lost their spawns during the “wild west” herring bonanzas of the ’80s, rebounding temporarily in the ’90s, only to disappear again. These local extinctions usually followed the winter or spring fishery. In 2011, Simon Fraser University archeologist Dana Lepofsky started the Herring School forum, recording elders from Alaska to Washington who told of seiners coming into their bays at night, taking every last fish and silencing their spring. Today, the only place that herring have continued to spawn at any scale is Baynes Sound around Hornby and Denman Island. Yet DFO persists in its claim that it has a workable model and a well-managed fisheries maintaining “historic levels.” Few outside of DFO and industry seem to agree with the model, which is based on taking 20 percent of the total weight (biomass) of the fish predicted and comparing it to a baseline catch in 1951 to assess “historic highs.” Pelke lists its flaws: it treats all the herring in the Salish Sea as one big population; it targets bigger fish; it doesn’t consider the ecosystem or cultural stewardship; it uses 1951 as a baseline which, as he points out, was a low point for herring during the excess of the reduction fisheries. Even with an announcement this October from federal scientists that the model is predicting a decline of what they call the Strait of Georgia (SOG) population by one third, there is no move to end the winter or spring fisheries. The WSÁNEĆ Leadership Council (WLC) of Tsartlip, Tseycum and Tsawout First Nations, like the Heiltsuk, are inviting others to join them in calling for changes. The WLC states that, “Herring have been under increased pressure from commercial fishing interests since the 1960s when herring populations reached a critical low. Since then, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and Coastal First Nations, including the WSÁNEĆ, have been unable to agree on policies that prioritize the health of the herring population over commercial fishing interests.” Inspired by the Heiltsuk’s successful lobbying efforts to have DFO agree to a moratorium on commercial herring fishery in places like Spiller, the WLC are cohosting an advocacy event this November called HELIT TTE SLON,ET (Let the Herring Live) with 25 local First Nations, and 50 community organizations invited. As the WLC state: “This is the first time in the Strait of Georgia’s history that such a large and diverse group of interests have joined together to oppose the questionable practices of DFO.” Part of the gathering will be hearing elders and independent researchers who have worked together for a decade in research forums providing the evidence to refute DFO’s position. They will also explore case studies like the Heiltsuk for recovery efforts. Another historic first is that all political representatives of Saanich and the Gulf Islands from the Islands Trust up through Adam Olsen MLA and Elizabeth May MP are supporting this initiative. Co-hosts like Conservancy Hornby Island, which gathered over 96,000 signatures to stop the herring fishery last spring, say DFO didn’t listen to the decades of warnings, including the latest protests when stocks could have been left to recover. Director Grant Scott, an ex-commercial fisherman, states “it took a collapse of Strait of Georgia (SOG) herring to finally show up the flaw in DFO’s modelling. To be precautionary, there should be no commercial herring fishery here until the populations of herring recover throughout the SOG, not just between Parksville and Comox.” Like Scott, co-host Vanessa Minke-Marten, a fisheries scientist with Pacific Wild, is “supporting First Nations to assume their rightful control and place in herring management.” That includes the integration of traditional and Western science for the full ecosystem: fish, sea birds, mammals, and cultures who rely on herring for their survival. Management models that incorporate spatial population dynamics, it seems, are being used everywhere on the coast but here. When Washington State saw their 21 distinct spawning stocks, like Cherry Point, flicker out, they stopped the herring fisheries in the early 1980s. Lepofsky’s archaeological evidence backed up elder testimonies prompting a call for changes in policy to align with Indigenous inherent and legal rights. The SFU work expanded into the Ocean Modelling Forum (OMF) in 2015 with 20-plus institutions, including a DFO researcher, joining First Nations in inter-disciplinary research. DFO has responded to calls for policy changes from the Heiltsuk, Haida, Nuu-chaal-nulth, and in small closures with the Q’ul-lhanumutsun Aquatic Resources Society (QARS). With this sizeable body of evidence, researchers Andre Punt and his co-authors are unequivocal that the old model has “consequences throughout the social-ecological system, including loss of trust in management bodies and conflict...” Loss of trust is top-of-mind for co-host Lockhart MacLean of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society: “There is an issue here that DFO is whitewashing harvest rates based on fictional biomass. The 20 percent harvest rate is a joke with these wild predictions. DFO’s lack of precaution is driving the last viable spawn in the Salish Sea to extinction.” Another research team under Daniel Okomoto recently found that managing stocks the way Pelkey advises, watershed by wateshed, “diversifies community benefits.” And the benefits need diversifying. The herring industry is controlled by one man, Jimmy Pattison, and all profits flow to his private empire which, according to BC Business, earned $10.6 billion in 2018, padded out by fuel subsidies for his seine boats. Pattison is counting on a reallocation of tonnage from the spring to the winter fishery which is supposed to start November 21. The social licence doesn’t appear to be on Pattison’s side. Ocean Modelling Forum researchers have identified the variety of factors having impacts on herring, which range from pollution to climate change, but the unique threat, which only exists on the Canadian side of the Salish Sea (and is easily remedied), is the fishery; a fishery that is now proven to cause local extirpations. The WSÁNEĆ response is CENENITEL, which means “helping one another to restore home.” CENENITEL could look like a comprehensive herring recovery program that supports local nations and communities in recovery efforts to improve water quality and eelgrass, traditional reseeding of bays with herring roe, or assistance to displaced herring fishermen. Spiller Channel is returning, and the Salish Sea has one last chance to do the same. Briony Penn is an award-winning writer of creative non-fiction books including The Real Thing: The Natural History of Ian McTaggart Cowan, A Year on the Wild Side and, to be released in the spring, Following the Good River: The Life and Times of Wa'xaid, a biography with Cecil Paul(Rocky Mountain Books).
  5. September 2019 A retired physics professor ground-truths the tanker traffic at Burnaby’s Westridge Terminal. FROM HIS LIVING ROOM WINDOW above Westridge Marine Terminal on Burnaby Mountain—the terminus of the Trans Mountain pipeline—retired SFU professor emeritus David Huntley can see the oil tankers coming in to pick up or offload cargo. It’s August and Huntley hasn’t seen a crude oil tanker at Westridge since June 30. Pulling out his iPad with Vesselfinder.com, Huntley finds the large orange icon that is the closest crude oil tanker and pulls up its information—size, draft, speed, destination, location, port of origin and so on. The next anticipated one, the Nordbay, is drifting west of Juan de Fuca Strait, and is not due in until the middle of August. Nordbay’srecent port of call is Martinez, California, where there is an oil refinery. “California is where most oil tankers are headed,” says Huntley. He tells me only 20 crude oil tankers have left Westridge for China since 2014. Twelve of these were in late 2018 when the Canadian crude price was as low as $11 US per barrel due to a glut of oil in Alberta. When the Alberta premier ordered a curtailment in production, the price jumped back to normal and shipments to China stopped. Westbridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby Why is a professor with two degrees in engineering and physics and doctoral studies at Oxford tracking these tankers? “Because,” states Huntley, “initially what the tankers were doing was inconsistent with the rules on the Vancouver Port Authority website. Now, Trans Mountain and politicians are telling us things that are not true.” For instance, as he notes in a recent report, “The numbers commonly quoted from them are an increase from 5 [tankers] per month to 35 per month, an increase of a factor of seven. In the two years before the application, there never were five per month (i.e. 60 per year) as claimed.” It was more like 3.4. Since the application the rate has varied between a low of 1.2 per month in 2016 and 3.6 in 2018. In 2019 (to date) the rate has been 1.0 per month. Huntley, who built his career on facts and (amongst other things) helping reconstruct the Earth’s climate through dating sediments using the physics of sand grains, has turned his focus from understanding this planet’s paleoclimate to finding the evidence to protect its future climate. “What got me interested in the tankers—besides living next to them—is the lack of good solid data on them,” he says. “How can we evaluate the effects of the proposed increase of tanker traffic in the Salish Sea that would accompany the TMX [Trans Mountain Expansion Project] without this information?” he asks. Huntley’s findings are in direct contradiction to what we have been led to believe: Kinder Morgan’s 2015 business case presented to the NEB stated that “access to Pacific Basin markets is almost non-existent…” Implied is that being able to ship oil to Asia would realize higher prices for Alberta bitumen. As Huntley points out, “These claims about a lack of access to ‘tidewater’ are without merit since there is—and has been—guaranteed access to tidewater. And that access is—and has been—severely underutilized.” Huntley’s research has been rigorous, and he has appeared at NEB hearings in the capacity of intervenor, commenter and observer. He has assembled data—names, dates, and destinations—on crude oil tankers from 1974 to the present using various sources: the Pacific Pilotage Authority, Port of Vancouver annual reports, Trans Mountain submissions to the National Energy Board, a document ironically known as CRED (Conversations for Responsible Economic Development) published in 2013, and AIS (Automatic Identification System) with navigational tracking software like Vesselfinder. With these he has done that indispensable form of research called “ground-truthing,” i.e., observing first-hand which tankers use the terminal, where they are heading, and whether they leave loaded or empty. It should strike anyone as strange that this information has to be assembled by a retired physics professor instead of the pipeline owner, the Government of Canada, to substantiate the business case for buying a $4.5-billion pipeline that requires a further $9.3 billion for expansion, including that of the Westridge Terminal. It seems the government relied on Kinder Morgan’s own business case, which was prepared by Neil K. Earnest of Muse Stancil, a Texas oil and gas consultancy. Earnest provided no evidence for his claim that there was “almost non-existent” access to Asian markets—probably because there is no such evidence. Yet the Government of Canada seems to have bought that. The Westridge Terminal is currently capable of loading over 100 Aframax or 200 Panamax tankers per year. So far this year, the rate is only one per month. And on average, only 30 to 40 tankers a year are loaded, with virtually all of them heading to California, according to Huntley’s research. He notes, “It has been rare for Kinder Morgan to exceed 50 percent of [Westridge’s] loading capacity, and in 2016 and 2017 it was using less than 15 percent of its loading capacity.” The capacity of the current Trans Mountain Pipeline is 300,000 barrels per day. About 55,000 stays in BC, refined for BC usage. About 170,000 barrels per day—over half of the current capacity—heads south via the Puget Sound Pipeline to four refineries in Washington State. (Some of the refined products are sold back to BC.) Reportedly, the US is interested in bringing in a lot more this way. In an April 2019 podcast interview, the CEO of the new Trans Mountain Crown agency, Ian Anderson, said that new capacity of the expanded pipeline might be soaked up by markets in BC, Washington State or California. He admitted he did not have contracts requiring shipping in tankers. “I’ve got contracts to move barrels down my pipeline, but those could go to different places, not necessarily over water. So the market will decide how many ships move,” said Anderson. The oft-quoted—and for many coastal citizens, worrisome—34 bitumen-laden tankers per month plying coastal waters apparently refers to the maximum physical capacity of the terminal once expanded from its one berth to three. Another researcher, a 32-year veteran of the Geological Survey of Canada, scientist J.David Hughes, has shown that historically there has been no appreciable price differential between what oil commands from North America versus Asia, making the main case for expansion seem dubious. As Earnest’s report for Kinder Morgan put it, TMX “enables Canadian crude oil producers [access to] higher-priced Pacific Basin markets.” He projected Asian markets would pay $5–8 more per barrel from 2018 to 2038. Hughes, however, writes “the price in the Far East is $1–3 per barrel lower, plus the transport costs via TMX and tankers will be at least $2 per barrel higher to Asia. Hence building the expansion would mean a loss of $3–5 per barrel compared to shipping oil via new pipelines that will be built long before TMX.” In a recent article, Hughes explains there is a pipeline bottleneck due to the 376 percent growth in oil sands production since 2000, but that “the Line 3 and Keystone XL pipelines…will provide double the export capacity of TMX before its earliest completion date and yield higher prices on the US Gulf Coast compared to the Asian markets that TMX is allegedly being built to access.” Huntley notes, “If there were higher-priced Asian markets, the tankers would be going there.” He writes, “The existing pipeline and Westridge terminal are capable of supplying world markets with far more oil than they have been doing, at least since 2014.” From Trans Mountain’s perspective, one of their most strategic errors was locating a pipeline terminus on the same mountain as a university community of over 20,000 residents. There are a lot of smart people living on that mountain who like facts—starting with biochemistry professor Lynn Quarmby, who successfully led the first challenge to Kinder Morgan back in 2014, and Gordon Dunnett, a retired structural engineer who released a report on the high risk of a catastrophic fire to the 66-year-old storage tanks in the event of an earthquake, and the failure of Kinder Morgan to adequately assess them for failure. There’s also John Clague, professor emeritus at SFU, emeritus scientist for the Geological Survey of Canada, and past president of the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of the Province of BC, whose work substantiates the lack of risk assessment. Huntley and these other academic heavyweights are just some of those providing contradictory evidence to claims made by the company and government—evidence which has been underreported by the mainstream media. Vancouver Sun reporting has “bordered on nonsense,” says Huntley, as do op-eds by industry shills like Stewart Muir from Resource Works, a PR arm of the resource sector. But if facts aren’t guiding the process, then what is? Huntley answers: “Politics and money.” If there is no plausible business case, what company is going to invest in the expansion, unless it is heavily subsidized by the taxpayer? Currently, the pipeline and some or all of the associated costs are being paid for out of the Canada Account, which allows the federal government to make large investments in higher-risk ventures if they are deemed in the national interest. In April 2019, the international Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) produced a report characterizing the project as “built on quicksand and clear as mud” with “no full accounting of ongoing operations” (see http://ieefa.org). It states: “The government has an obligation to tell its citizens how much the Trans Mountain Pipeline Project is costing.” Perhaps with the October federal election coming, Canadians will demand such answers. But the IEEFA report also notes that getting answers might prove difficult: “The Canadian government has already routed payments to fund and develop the pipeline through a maze of government agencies with different missions, reporting mechanisms and accounting standards.” The other question is: What exactly is in the national interest? Email huntley@sfu.ca for David Huntley’s report on tankers at the Westridge Marine Terminal. Briony Penn is an award-winning writer of creative nonfiction books including the prize-winning The Real Thing: the Natural History of Ian McTaggart Cowan, and most recently, Stories from the Magic Canoe with Wa’xaid (Cecil Paul).
  6. July 2019 An appeal before the courts should spark debate about whether Trans Mountain is compatible with a stable climate. AS THE FIRES BURN, storms rage, ice melts, and drought warnings go into effect, a rising tide of climate policy supporters from professional ranks are demanding change. Insurance company CEOs, health professionals, and journalists (like Bill Moyers) are joining scientists and academics to name the threat posed by climate change and continued burning of fossil fuels. Retired Vancouver civil litigation lawyer David Gooderham is one of the latest to put his reputation and his freedom on the line. He is one of the 229 arrestees who defied court injunctions to block the gates of the Trans Mountain Pipeline in 2018 and could face jail time. He is hoping to bring a novel concept to the attention of the courts—evidence of the magnitude of the threat of climate change. Gooderham, at 74, spent his career constructing cases from evidence of catastrophic losses involving flooding, fire, structural failures, and such. He discovered that no Canadian court or parliament has ever considered the evidence about whether the emissions from the expansion of oil sands production in Canada are consistent with keeping the warming of the Earth below the internationally-accepted increase of 2°C. Jennifer Nathan and David Gooderham (Photo by Holly Nathan) In other words, every large infrastructure project like the Trans Mountain pipeline has been approved without a single inquiry or environmental review considering their implications on the global emission target of the Paris Agreement—or our own national goal of reducing domestic emissions 30 percent by 2030. The Ministerial Panel on the Trans Mountain Pipeline of 2016, appointed by the Minister of Natural Resources, found that the question, Can construction of a new Trans Mountain Pipeline be reconciled with Canada’s climate change commitments? had not been answered. The National Energy Board never asked this question. Environment and Climate Change Canada, when tasked with reviewing emissions estimated for the Trans Mountain Expansion Project, admitted that the answer was “not clear.” Yet the cabinet still passed an Order in Council in 2016 authorizing the building of the expanded Trans Mountain Pipeline declaring, with no evidence, that it was consistent with our commitments. This failure to answer the question has left Canada pursuing a very dangerous course. Even for those whose concern is only around fiscal matters, it leaves us vulnerable to legal challenges or ending up with stranded assets, including the Trans Mountain Pipeline. With the June 18 federal government decision to green-light the pipeline, more of these types of appeals are inevitable. As Jessica Clogg of West Coast Environmental Law stated on the CBC about her reaction to Trudeau’s decision: “We’ll see you in court.” Gooderham didn’t arrive lightly at the decision to get himself arrested. He had spent the last six years engaged in lawful political activity to “encourage, persuade and induce the Government of Canada to reconsider its plans.” It was the failure of the political process to examine evidence that pushed him into getting himself arrested. At least in a court of law, where there are rules, expert witnesses, cross examination, and consequences of perjury, Canadians might at last have an opportunity to learn whether the government’s plans to continue expanding oil sands production can possibly be compatible with a world that is in dire need of cooling down. But there is a long row to hoe before he gets that particular day in court. On December 3, 2018, Gooderham made his first court appearance with co-accused, science teacher Jennifer Nathan. They informed the court, under Judge Affleck, that they wished to use the defence of necessity. This common law defence recognizes that in rare circumstances, we can be excused from criminal liability if we are faced with an “imminent peril” and where the wrong of disobeying the law can be “justified by the pursuit of some greater good.” Necessity is one of the few legal remedies available for climate supporters around the world, since it enables a legal exploration of what constitutes “imminent peril” and “greater good.” Encouragingly, across the border, in April of this year, the first favourable decision from a state court in Washington permitted the necessity defense to be raised in a climate protest case called the “valve turner’s case.” The conviction of US citizen Ken Ward, who shut off the oil by turning a valve in a pipeline, was reversed, and he will return to court for a new trial where he is able to bring his evidence and expert witnesses forward. Gooderham, like Ward, is arguing for simply that—a fair trial with the right to call evidence on matters of climate science. This is where Gooderham’s civil expertise teamed up with Nathan’s training as a science educator to brief an uneducated judiciary on climate science. For the December court hearing, they prepared an Outline of Proposed Evidence that includes projections over the next 12 years based on current policies, where the concentration of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will exceed 450 parts per million CO2 equivalent, bequeathing us all to “a dire future”—or in legal terms, “imminent peril.” The 119-page report, filed with the Court of Appeal, is persuasive and sets this global expansion within the context of Canada’s failing domestic efforts to meet the Paris Agreement of cutting 200 million tonnes by 2030. Their central argument is that the Trans Mountain Pipeline has a pivotal role globally in increasing emissions. Canada’s plan is to continue expanding oil sands production to 2040, but the evidence from the International Energy Association (IEA) and other reports show unequivocally that global oil consumption must start to decline in 2020, or else by 2030 the world will be irreversibly committed to warming above the 2° Celsius limit. Canada is one of the world’s six largest suppliers to the world oil market. Our country’s largest growth in emissions is coming from the oil and gas sector—offsetting most of the reductions in all other parts of the economy. The proposed evidence lays out oil sands production and emissions; the technology available to reduce emissions during extraction, and per barrel; proposed carbon capture and storage; political caps on emissions, gas sector emissions, methane emissions, and other additional measures proposed in climate plans. Findings are brought forward from the National Energy Board inquiry, Trans Mountain upstream emission report, IPCC reports, global oil consumption projections, mitigation scenarios, the global emissions gap with Canada’s commitment, and consequences of climate change. It isn’t easy bedtime reading but will likely illuminate “the magnitude of the threat.” On January 17, 2019, Judge Affleck predictably rejected their request to call climate evidence at their trial—which was held March 11, and at which they were convicted. The judge has rejected three other applications to put forward a defence of necessity, but Gooderham is the first to appeal. In Affleck’s 39-page Reasons for Judgement, he stated: “Despite a historical lack of initiative to curb emissions over these same decades, adaptive social measures may be taken to prevent such a dire outcome. Whether government, private industry, and citizens take these measures is a contingency that takes these consequences outside of ‘virtual certainty’ and into the realm of ‘foreseeable or likely.’” For Gooderham, this ruling was gold. It meant that an appeal to the BC Court of Appeal could focus directly on the crucial question. The judge appears to agree that we are on a path of a 2° Celsius rise in temperature, but asserts, with no evidence, that there is “a contingency” and that our imminent peril is not “virtually certain.” The contingency, however, according to Gooderham’s evidence, would require unprecedented cuts of emissions on a global scale starting in six months, including an immediate halt to the growth of global oil consumption. The question for the Court of Appeal then would be whether a contingency of that kind has, what is called in legal terms, “an air of reality.” That was enough to act on, and following their conviction, Gooderham and Nathan filed their Notice of Appeal to overturn Affleck’s decision. The appeal is due to be heard sometime in the fall by three judges. I asked Gooderham what he anticipates as success. “The best possible outcome will be that Justice Affleck’s decision will be overturned, and we can have a retrial where we call our expert witnesses.” The Crown would have the right to call their own expert evidence to try and show there is no imminent climate threat. If he is not granted a retrial at the provincial level, then he plans to take it to the Supreme Court of Canada. If he succeeds with a retrial with a suitable set of facts, a defence of necessity would apply. Whatever the final outcome, it will still have been a success for Gooderham “to open the public discourse on a subject that has largely been treated with silence.” If in the best case scenario, a defence of necessity is accepted, Gooderham indicates that it would not trigger “some kind of anarchy.” The most dramatic thing that could happen would be parliament abolishing the ancient common law and thus pushing climate change and the evidence for immediate action back into some messy, but better-informed, public debates—something that should have happened long ago. Ironically, just at the same time Gooderham and Nathan brought their case to court in Vancouver, the Federal government found itself obliged to file evidence about climate science in the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal, where the Government of Saskatchewan has challenged the constitutionality of the Trudeau government carbon-price scheme. The Federal government, in order to defend its carbon tax, has had to provide the court with evidence about the risks of rising carbon emissions, and to persuade the court that it is urgent to reduce Canada’s emissions. The evidence did not, predictably, extend to the prospect of failing to meet the Paris Agreement; that would have been risky to their own climate policy on pipelines. The Saskatchewan court ruled 3-2 that the federal carbon price is constitutional. The case will be appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada. It appears that suddenly, the issue of climate change has found its way into the courtroom, and that it might be “our last chance to help people grasp the magnitude of the threat”…if it can all happen in the next six months. A funding site for the appeal has been launched at www.gofundme.com/help-fund-addressing-climate-change-in-the-courts Briony Penn is an award-winning writer of creative non-fiction books including the prize-winning The Real Thing: the Natural History of Ian McTaggart Cowan, and most recently, Stories from the Magic Canoe with Wa’xaid (Cecil Paul).
  7. March 2018 Or was the battle fought over an invented crisis? IN THE KEYNOTE SPEECH at a recent conference on the value of nature in urban areas, Don Luymes, director of strategic initiatives in Surrey, cited a refrain that had many of the participants, like Saanich resident Carmel Thomson, nodding. “The battle for sustainability will be won or lost in the suburbs,” said Luymes. The suburbs of Saanich have become one of the most watched of these battlegrounds, because the stakes have never been so high: one of the hottest high-end real estate markets in the world vs. one of the most endangered ecosystems in the country. Emotions run high on both sides. Nowhere in Canada is there a place so rare and ecologically-important pitted against a global luxury housing market so aggressive. A new house under construction in Saanich amidst a Garry oak ecosystem, the kind of property subject to Saanich's EDPA bylaw Just as Premiers Notley and Horgan face off over a fundamental disagreement on what constitutes the national interest and constitutional rights (protecting oil investments or the coastal environment), Saanich residents engage in similar clashes over what is more important: protecting their property rights, or nature. Some, like Mayor Richard Atwell, are asserting that there is agreement that nature is valued, but disagreement on the best way to protect it on private property (or if, in fact, it can be protected on private land at all). Others are arguing that the biggest problem is leadership—a failure to listen and bring opposing groups together to work out a less polarized solution. For people like Carmel Thomson, a local landowner who has been at the forefront of sustainability initiatives in Saanich and is one of the members of SAFE (Saanich Action for the Environment), the 33-year battle for Saanich’s “rare ecosystems and vital habitat” lost a lot of ground it couldn’t afford to lose on November 6, 2017. That night, Mayor Atwell, and councillors Susan Brice, Karen Harper, Fred Haynes and Lief Wergeland, voted to rescind a bylaw and planning tool called the Environmental Development Permit Area (EDPA). Their one-vote majority was the result of the September by-election to fill Vic Derman’s seat (Derman died suddenly last year). Carmel Thomson and Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell Adopted by Saanich Council in 2012, the EDPA bylaw identified environmentally sensitive areas like Garry oak ecosystems in the municipality, putting them under a special set of guidelines, and requiring a permit before you could alter them (for example the construction of a new building or dock). The areas—representing about five percent of the 40,000 private properties in Saanich (and 52 percent of public lands)—were determined by various inventories of sensitive ecosystems, wildlife trees, and conservation data. Though a permit for alteration was required, numerous exemptions were allowed, for everything from hazardous trees to existing gardens and landscaping to small outbuildings and slope stabilization. If a permit was required, certain guidelines were to be employed. While proponents saw it as inoffensive and helpful, critics claimed it was heavy-handed and an invasion of privacy. Thomson traces Atwell’s decision to rescind the EDPA back to a pledge he made publicly to represent a group of anti-EDPA landowners called SCRES (Saanich Citizens for a Responsible EDPA) who were successful in convincing the mayor, at the start of his mayoral career in April of 2015, with their claims that an EDPA designation “places an undue burden on homeowners while not protecting the environment.” Atwell defends his loyalty to the anti-EDPA side: “I pledged to give a voice to the issue at the council table. This is what we do as elected representatives.” According to Thomson, this loyalty has led to a “failure” in public process that might have brought some clarification to these claims, and the bylaw itself. The issue has certainly attracted a more-than-average amount of controversy. The biologist who supported SCRES’ claims is now facing disciplinary hearings from his professional association over possible conflict of interest. With regard to public participation, the $50,000 independent review of Saanich’s EDPA (called the Diamond Head Report) described the process as “an acrimonious social discourse” and pointed to “confusion and misunderstandings about the bylaw and its implementation.” The acrimony and confusion seeped into town halls, open houses and the by-election to replace Derman, who had been pro-EDPA. Rather than clear up the misunderstandings or implement the recommendations of the Diamond Head Report, Mayor Atwell and council passed a motion to rescind the bylaw on November 6, 2017. The toxicity of the process pushed one frustrated citizen, Dr Lynn Husted (in support of the EDPA) to file a legal petition through the Canadian Charter for Rights and Freedoms, just for the right to express her concerns without interruption from Atwell and some members of council. According to Chris Tollefson, who is the executive director for the Pacific Centre for Environmental Law and Litigation and who took Husted’s petition forward, his rationale for supporting this case is “to stand up for due process and the rule of law when we see things going so sideways.” What he means by “sideways” can be seen on a video of that November 6 meeting, available on the Saanich Council website. What viewers will see is Husted trying to deliver her arguments for why Saanich should have waited before passing a motion to rescind the EDPA, pending results of the disciplinary hearing of the biologist. After being cut off on several occasions by the mayor and Councillor Haynes on what they perceived as a point of order, Husted was ordered to stop. Atwell apologized in a settlement out of court, but is not initiating any changes in the chilly climate of debate around EDPAs. According to Atwell, “The rules that currently exist have been in place since we began webcasting council meetings and remain in place unchanged.” When asked why he didn’t implement the recommendations of the Diamond Head Report (which was commissioned by Saanich) instead of rescinding the bylaw, Atwell stated: “The overwhelming response is that the EDPA is not working as intended, is burdensome and achieving little in the way of measurable results.” Thomson argues that Atwell’s position is inconsistent with the findings of the report which “confirmed the high level of interest, knowledge and passion Saanich residents have towards environmental protection in their municipality…there is support in the community for protecting the natural environment using the EDPA, but that improvement in the Bylaw is required.” The 77-page Diamond Head Report provides ample evidence that the EDPA is supported by the public, along with 15 recommendations on how to improve it. The consultation was extensive, and included a review of all public feedback from open houses, town halls, questionnaires, and interviews with landowners, staff members and council—as well as a review of economic impacts of the bylaw, and best practices in other local governments. Atwell’s reference to “measureable results” seems unclear, as the only measureable data available is what staff collected for 2016 on 20 permits for restoration. Those permits resulted in the successful planting of native trees and shrubs in all 20 cases, and removal of invasive species in half of them. AT THE HEART OF THE ISSUE is whether the battle for sustainability is losing ground because of the limited tools available, or the deteriorating state of public discourse—with real estate prices skewing the debate further. EDPAs are one of the few legal tools that a municipality has to influence how natural areas on private land are protected. It is the same kind of tool that has worked reasonably well for stream and tree protection, flood control, and hazardous slopes where the development permit designation provides restrictions, but also some flexibility to negotiate development design through the permit process. The tool has been available under the Local Government Act and Municipal Act since 1985, but it took Saanich Council 27 years—after a lot of lobbying from citizen groups and people like Thomson—to add ecologically-sensitive areas like Garry oak ecosystems to more conventional stream and slope protection measures. The Province kick-started the process in the early 1990s in the Capital region by leading the Sensitive Ecosystems Inventory Mapping project—a necessary first step to establishing this bylaw, and following on BC’s international commitment to biodiversity. The municipal role of protecting ecological values has only slowly been embraced, because the development industry has influenced, perhaps unduly, local government agendas. Understandably, those who had fought for this hard-won planning tool are not happy with the reversal, especially in light of the fact that the independent consultants found the majority of the public was in support of it. Part of the problem, Thomson suggests, is the misinformation that was generated by “well-lawyered landowners.” Much of the recruiting for SCRES appears to have emanated from Ten Mile Point. Eight properties that applied for removal from EDPA and were identified in the disciplinary hearing for the biologist’s “failure to undertake proper due diligence and ground work with respect to the preparation of reports” all came from two streets: Tudor and Seaview. Residents on both sides of the issue declined to comment, due to the toxic nature of the conflict. When trying to find a spokesperson for SCRES, Focus was directed to the biologist named in the hearings. On the SCRES website, a key resource listed is the Fraser Institute’s Stealth Confiscation: How Governments Regulate, Freeze and Devalue Private Property without Compensation, which claims that property values are lowered by these types of designations. SCRES’ campaign was launched in 2015 on that assumption. Leaflets were distributed stating “it punishes thousands of homeowners without compensation” and “Not only does it impact true property development or subdivision but it also impacts the enjoyment, use AND the resale value of thousands of private properties whose owners just want to plant gardens, add patios and build fences.” Yet a BC Assessment Authority report of January 2016 (obtained through a freedom of information request) stated there was no evidence that an EDPA designation devalued property in Saanich. Was this report ignored by those opposed to the EDPA? A January 2017 report conducted by Rollo and Associates concluded that in only a few extreme cases would the EDPA guidelines impact property values. These impacts could be eliminated by Saanich relaxing the EDPA guidelines for these very few properties. The authors noted that there was “quite a bit of confusion, uncertainty and misunderstanding regarding the impact of EDPA guidelines on land use and property development.” Again, we have to wonder whether this report, too, was ignored by EDPA opponents. Thomson doesn’t buy the idea that this is an unworkable bylaw. The Diamond Head Report points out that “similar EDPAs are implemented in many other BC municipalities without incident.” This includes North Vancouver, West Vancouver, Kelowna, Nanaimo, Campbell River and Surrey. Though “broadly comparable…none had the degree of protest seen in Saanich.” The consultants reviewed the use of EDPAs in nine other local governments and identified key elements that Saanich might want to adopt and improve on. Some of those strategies (outside of the EDPA), Saanich council is already endorsing. When mayor and council passed a motion to explore rescinding the bylaw on October 28, they also requested their staff “report as soon as possible on the potential of developing a Saanich program which includes the topics of Climate Adaptation, a Biodiversity Conservation Strategy, and Stewardship Program to serve as a policy framework for other Saanich environmental policies and programs and a new Environmental Development Permit Area be considered part of this program; and the Diamond Head Report recommendations be considered as a component of this report.” But by November 6, a resolution was moved by Karen Harper to rescind the EDPA. Dozens of citizens spoke forcefully on the matter—on both sides—and councillors opposed (Brownoff, Murdock, Plant and Sanders) made the point that it was imprudent to ignore the consultants’ recommendations, throw aside a bylaw that had been years in the making, and act contrary to the goal of a sustainable Saanich. Throwing the baby out with the bathwater doesn’t make a lot of sense to Lynn Husted either. “How can a close vote be able to overturn a bylaw that various reports found to be at least as good or better than others studied, that has been in place for six-plus years, and where most of the recommendations for improvements could be implemented within a year.” Atwell, on the other hand, seems attached to his voluntary approach to stewardship: “The municipality cannot police private property in any practical way. To accomplish that, it needs an incentive-based approach towards stewardship that gains social license and can be easily understood by residents. The EDPA took the opposite approach, and failed for that reason.” Stewardship programs have been underway in Saanich for years, with an Environmental Education Officer who administers programs like Naturescape; Our Backyard quarterly newsletter; the Garry Oak Restoration Project that showcases best practices; workshops; control of invasive species; and a native plant salvage program. Saanich has been leading the pack provincially in this regard, but voluntary measures have not halted the downward decline of this vital ecosystem. The Sensitive Ecosystem Mapping Inventory was completed over 20 years ago, and at that time, less than five percent of Garry oak ecosystems still existed, with over a third of these remnants in Saanich (of which roughly half were on private land, and half in Saanich’s parks). One thing almost all municipal planners will agree on is that tracking the success of policy is essential, and that voluntary measures only go so far before laws need to kick in at a critical level—and Garry oak ecosystems are at a critical level. Thomson and Husted are hoping that there will be some changes in the process: more education, more use of data about the current state of the environment, and building on the information and ideas generated through earlier consultation (i.e. research and reports like Diamond Head). “We could be engaging the wider community in identifying issues, generating ideas and, together, developing workable solutions that could include notions such as tax incentives for those who have natural areas.” In the Gulf Islands, for instance, the Natural Area Protection Tax Exemption Program (NAPTEP) provides a tax rebate of 65 percent of a landowner’s annual property tax on the portion of their land protected by a NAPTEP convenant. There are lessons to be learned from the wider community. According to Thomson, “the battle for sustainability can be won if Saanich shows true leadership, and lives up to its Official Community Plan’s commitment to being ‘a sustainable community where a healthy natural environment is recognized as paramount for ensuring social well-being and economic vibrancy for current and future generations.’ Preservation of our fragile ecosystems depends on it—and our children and grandchildren are depending on us.” Briony Penn’s most recent book, The Real Thing: The Natural History of Ian McTaggart Cowan, won the Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize and the inaugural Mack Laing Literary Prize. She now lives on Salt Spring Island, but she grew up in Saanich and worked on mapping Garry oak ecosystems in the Sensitive Ecosystem Inventory over two decades ago.
  8. September 2017 The practice may have played a leading role in creating some of BC’s most high-profile environmental blunders. FIFTEEN YEARS AGO, as a reporter for CHUM TV (aka The New VI), I got a call from a professional wildlife biologist in Port Alberni called Mike Stini. He’s an Island guy to the core—understated, drives a pickup, knows the bush like the back of his hand and, more than anything, loves this place and isn’t afraid to share his knowledge. He was clearly upset. The BC Liberals had changed all the rules on forest management, and suddenly wildlife experts like him, who were hired by government prior to harvest plans to identify the old growth where elk and deer overwintered, or find and map the bear dens and the goshawk nests, were being shoved out the door. His concern wasn’t about losing the work; he could always go back full-time to taxidermy. It was about what was going to happen to his habitat on McLaughlin Ridge, the forested mountains that were about to be levelled by industry. But the government seemed to reason that biologists like him were dispensable. If what was standing between a company and profit margins was a bear den, an ungulate winter range, or a goshawk nest, then the best thing to do was to get rid of the people who have that knowledge. My reporting crew travelled all over McLauglin Ridge to do the story, looking at the hard-won designations of old-growth management areas, riparian zones, wildlife trees, and habitat for species at risk. We even crawled right up to one bear den that Stini had been monitoring for years, to check out the condition of the bear who looked out at us in a torpid state from the old-growth tree that served as his home for six months. Stini had data stretching back decades on the bear dens that he had found in the region. Up on the south-facing slopes of the ridge, under the big old Douglas-firs laden with arboreal lichens, he pointed out the signs of the deer and elk that overwintered there, surviving on lichens that blew down from their canopies in each winter storm. All these areas, under the old designations, were about to be put under the control of logging company biologists—in a system that was referred to as “professional reliance.” The Forest Practices Code had been gutted, and the discretion to manage 45 million hectares of our public forests for the public’s interest, which included the protection of wildlife, water, recreational opportunities, cultural sites, subsistence hunting and so on, was now in the hands of industry. Under the new regime, there was no legal requirement to have the forest surveyed for ecological or cultural values prior to logging; it was up to the professionals hired by industry to judge. If the public wasn’t happy with “the results” in this “results-based system,” they could take issue. But what use would taking issue be after the fact? And how did one assess results when the evidence for what had been there was gone? Especially when no one had been mandated to collect it. Stini forecast that all the places that we visited would be logged under the new system. In 2015, I revisited those sites and he was right—everything was levelled, from the bear den to the winter range. Even worse, under the current designation of working forest, there is no chance the forest can even recover. In an industry-led cutting cycle of under 50 years, the trees will never mature long enough to produce a tree with a suitable diameter for a bear den, goshawk nest, or arboreal lichen to grow. Logging on McLauglin Ridge As Stini said in 2002 for the TV show, “Basically the wildlife is being punished by changing the rules all of a sudden. We are removing the checks and balances and turning it over to industry that is in the business of making money. All the habitat biologists feel strongly that this is backwards; they need to review the plans prior to logging, because once an area is logged, the habitat is gone forever. The real big danger is we are going to lose so much and no one will know. This legislation is so far-reaching that it will make it difficult for future generations to rebuild wildlife habitat. It is going to be a major problem. This legislation is wrong. It shouldn’t be happening.” The government extended the practice of relying on resource extractors’ own professionals to evaluate the environmental aspects of mining and other projects. “SILENT BUT DEADLY,” is how Green MLA Sonia Furstenau describes professional reliance. “Most people have no idea what it is. It’s only when you encounter it that you recognize it for what it is.” What is professional reliance for those who haven’t encountered the beast? After 17 years in the media following this slippery, seemingly innocuous monster that couldn’t make a headline if it drove itself off a cliff, I describe professional reliance, at best, as an elegant euphemism for deregulation and privatization. At its most egregious, it is this century’s master weapon for white-collar crime. Those who utilize these weapons—knowingly putting the public interest at risk—are referred to by David O. Friedrichs, a Distinguished Professor of Criminal Justice, as “trusted criminals.” Wendell Berry, land reformer and activist, calls them “professional vandals.” How do the proponents of professional reliance define it and defend it? And why is reviewing it one of the top four priorities in the 2017 Confidence and Supply agreement between the BC Green and NDP caucuses? With all the issues they could have picked, why did it push its way to the top? Forest Practices Board legal counsel Mark Haddock, who was with the UVic Environmental Law Centre in 2015 when he did a lengthy analysis of the failures of the professional reliance “experiment,” says it is a grey term and has multiple interpretations that can easily mislead. His definition is “the substitution of professional opinion from experts inside of government for that of professionals in the employ of the [resource development] proponents.” He suggests renaming it “decision-making reliance.” Furstenau thinks it should be rebranded for what it is—conflict of interest. British Columbians are not unfamiliar with how deregulation, with a loosening of standards around conflict of interest, can spiral into corporate white-collar crime. The Mount Polley disaster is a case in point of how badly it can go wrong with no third party oversight. The fact that the company, Imperial Metals, can continue to operate with no penalties, after destroying a lake for generations, clearly pushes citizens to the edge. Citizen groups are pursuing private prosecutions, and Premier Horgan has now committed to determine why a deadline was missed by the BC Liberals to lay charges against the company. Furstenau feels the blame should lie in the failure of government to protect the public interest by handing over the responsibility to industry. Over the years, corporate spin-doctors have found devious new ways to shed rules and government oversight, but professional reliance was a stroke of pure genius. Many were lulled into thinking that handing the management and oversight of our public lands and interest to a coterie of smiling, reliable professionals, with their reputations and professional associations hovering above to keep them in line, was a grand solution. After all, it was expensive to fund government-hired professionals. MLA Sonia Furstenau Furstenau’s close encounter with professional reliance was over the issue of South Island Aggregates and Cobble Hill Holdings filling an active quarry in the Shawnigan watershed with contaminated soil. She realized that not only could industry legitimately hire people who had a personal stake in that business (as employees, business partners or shareholders) to assess the environmental impacts of their activities, but there was no way to stop harm as long as those people were “up front” about their relationships. If the case hadn’t found a “deliberate concealment” of the discussion of ownership with the company hired to conduct the environmental assessment, South Island Aggregates might still be shovelling dioxins, hydrocarbons and furans onto what an independent hydrogeologist warned was fractured limestone “that provides no natural protection for the established drinking water sources in the region.” In the last 17 years, virtually every news story about damage to public forests, lakes, rivers and oceans, affecting wildlife, water, air, soil, climate, and First Nations rights, with repercussions on every aspect of our health, can be traced to flaws in professional reliance. The big issues like Mount Polley, the Testalinden Creek landslide, and Shawnigan Lake are what catch the headlines, but they represent a fraction of the damage to our forests, communities and wildlife that Mike Stini predicted. Citizens’ only recourse is to take the matter into their own hands, which is what they did in Shawnigan Lake. Haddock summarizes this state of affairs this way: “The deregulation takes government out of the picture and leaves health, safety and environmental protection outcomes to the ‘social license’ to operate for a given proponent or industry.” Removing that “social license” at Shawnigan Lake cost local citizens $2 million in legal fees and thousands of volunteer hours with the very real possibility, still, of a contaminated watershed. As Furstenau says, “I want to be able to live my life without having to monitor and watchdog every aspect of my life from the water I drink, to the bridges I drive over. This is the main reason I got into provincial politics—to build trust in government again to protect its citizens.” The lack of trust pervades not just government, but the professional associations themselves. As Furstenau points out, it isn’t their job to look after the public interest. And in a deregulated environment, with narrow terms of reference, there are virtually no laws to break, therefore no disciplinary actions to be taken. The whole thing is a Machiavellian bag of worms. Haddock, along with a recent report by Evidence for Democracy, both revealed the level of concern that many professionals themselves have with provincial decision-making on natural resources. Few professionals are willing to talk openly. But, under protection of anonymity, they told Haddock of the many problems: “expert shopping”; clear conflicts of interest, but no way to address it; lack of checks and balances; loss of expertise in government; lack of confidence in government monitoring; problems with independent monitoring; lack of confidence in the disciplinary process of professional associations; reduced formal public involvement; greater user conflicts; no one out in the field who knows what is going on; filtering of information by proponents; too many grey areas; inexperienced crews operating; cavalier approach to risk…and the list goes on. With the professional reliance model no longer being tied to the public interest, many professionals found it intolerable to work in an environment in which the term “stewardship” has largely been stripped out of their duties. And now, at least one has resorted to legal action: Professional forester Martin Watts has accused the Province of blacklisting foresters for raising concerns over the quality of inventory data. Watts is spending his retirement savings to fund a case he might not win, but which will certainly lose him clients. Furstenau, now overseeing the professional reliance file for the Green caucus, is at the information-gathering stage, helping Minister of Environment and Climate Change George Heyman set out a direction for the review. For her, citizen involvement is essential. It is important to hear from everyone who has been impacted by professional reliance, both within the professions and as citizens who have fought these issues. As she says, “this needs to be a robust review.” As for predicting the outcome of the review, she can’t speculate, but one thing is certain: She wants an outcome in which she can return to her community and not feel as if all the responsibility for safeguarding the environment is in the hands of volunteers like herself on the Shawnigan Lake issue. It is a powerful motivator, and biologists like Stini will be cheering from the sidelines. Briony Penn has been reporting on regional environmental issues for over 20 years. In the 2000s, she hosted the TV show “Enviro/Mental” which was nominated one of the top three magazine shows in Canada. She lives on Salt Spring Island.
  9. April 9, 2020 Do the construction of future pipelines, mining, logging, fish farms and other resource industries qualify as essential services? Are enough precautions against virus transmission being employed? WHILE JUST ABOUT EVERYONE but grocery and health care workers are staying home and practicing social distancing to the point of losing jobs or businesses, there is one sector that seems to be immune to any national effort to contain the virus. The resource sector is still being mandated to work by their companies on a directive from government that they are essential services. According to the Council of Canadians, “Across BC and Alberta, over 100 energy megaproject work camps are continuing to operate, including Site C and the Trans Mountain and Coastal GasLink pipelines. Each of these camps houses hundreds of workers in close proximity…At least one worker has already tested positive for COVID-19 at LNG Canada, the destination of the Coastal GasLink pipeline. Site C, which has over 1,000 workers on site, recently isolated 16 workers who exhibited flu-like symptoms.” (April 4, 2020) Site C's 1600-room Two Rivers worker accommodation facility. It experienced at least one virus outbreak in 2017. Just how does the construction of future pipelines, mining, logging, fish farms and other resource industries qualify as essential services? These industries have been handed guidelines that provide, at best, minimum measures: restricting only foreign travel; mandating self-isolation for returned travellers; social distancing; increased cleaning and sanitization in workplaces; and instructing employees who work remotely to reduce interpersonal contact. But even these measures, according to workers, are impossible to meet with the existing conditions and no attempt is being made by their employers or regulators to bring them into line with what the rest of the population are doing. For many, the fact that resource companies are asking for bailouts for their “hardworking families” while putting those same families at risk and the rest of us, doesn’t sit well. In Victoria, BC Tradeswomen Society Board member, Robyn Hacking, has sent a letter to Premier Horgan about the conditions of her work and the failure of her employer, general contractor and Worksafe BC to ensure even minimum measures. “On a busy construction site with multiple trades working in enclosed spaces together, social distancing is very difficult to maintain and almost every surface gets touched by multiple people hundreds of times a day. (Consider access tools like ladders and scaffolding). Hand washing is impossible when workers don’t have access to soap and clean water, which is certainly the case on most new construction sites, even though it has been a WorkSafeBC requirement since 2005…The reality is the last time I personally had access to hand washing facilities on the job was over three years ago…The workforce is calling on you, our government, to remedy poor working conditions that have been accepted standards on construction sites for far too long.” Hacking’s concerns are evident just about anywhere you look. A fish farm worker on Vancouver Island, who has asked to remain anonymous says: “social distancing requirements in the boats and fish farms are impossible to meet. We share small kitchens, small bathrooms, eating and sleeping areas; we can’t practice social distancing, yet we are being told we must go to work.” He went on to describe how crews regularly use planes to fly in and out for work returning to their homes between shifts. These shifts are typically less than two weeks—shorter than the required period of self-isolation should symptoms appear. Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the BC Union of Indian Chiefs has sent an open letter asking governments to halt pipeline projects to protect remote communities with limited services and elders increasingly at risk from workers returning home. A quick review of different company websites doesn’t provide a lot of confidence. For example, in the camps of LNG Canada, which number in the hundreds, “juice machines are cleaned every 15 minutes” and “hand sanitizer usage remains mandatory prior to entering the dining halls.” LNG did not respond to Focus on how they were social distancing in the workplace nor how self-isolation is managed with shift workers. Canfor simply reports they will reduce operating hours. Prime Minister Trudeau, when questioned about concerns that workers and communities might have for the spread of the virus through this sector, said companies are to be trusted in implementing these measures. Grand Chief Phillip states: “Corporate exceptionalism cannot become a pandemic response strategy for the Governments of BC and Canada.” Concerns from the communities into which workers travel or return have led to self-quarantining in places like Haida Gwaii and Bella Bella. The fish farm worker noted that before the Heiltsuk took their own initiative to shut down the airport to anything but real essential services like food and medical supplies, his crew members had flown into the community and could potentially have exposed villagers to the virus. “Why is everyone else being asked to stay home and I’m not? Am I really an essential service? Are exported industrial foods that put local food supplies at risk essential?” He challenged Transport Canada about why he is an essential service and hasn’t received a reply. Dr. Bonnie Henry, who has deflected questions from the media about the “essentialness” of the resource sector, also didn’t respond to Focus. Calgary airport, the hub through which potentially thousands of workers pass on their way back and forth to northeast camps and Vancouver Island, doesn’t appear to be taking any special measures to monitor or advise passengers, according to a Vancouver Islander coming back through Calgary on March 31. She reported that the only recommendation for 14-day self-quarantine came from “a table of volunteers.” Sixty-one percent of Alberta’s COVID infections are in Calgary, and one in six Albertans polled believe the crisis is overinflated in the media. The legal definition of essential services under the government’s own Public Service Labour Relations Act, is “any service facility or activity that will be necessary for the safety or security of the public or a segment of the public.” Corporate exceptionalism now appears to be corporate essentialism in this time of crisis. Briony Penn has been living near and writing about the Salish Sea pretty much all of her life. She is the award-winning author of non-fiction books including The Real Thing: The Natural History of Ian McTaggart Cowan, A Year on the Wild Side, and, most recently, Following the Good River: the Life and Times of Wa’xaid, a biography of Cecil Paul (Rocky Mountain Books).
  10. March 5, 2020 Recent protests in support of the Wet’suwet’en could be a teachable moment, if only we study history and listen. THE RECENT PROTESTS AND OCCUPATION of the BC Legislature by young members of the Wet’suwet’en/Gitxsan First Nations, other First Nations, and settler allies, continues a 140-year tradition of reasonable requests being met by unreasonable responses from government. It seems crucial to hear these reasoned requests, so here, for the record, we invited some young protesters to explain what’s at stake and how they are upholding not only their own laws and rules of honour—but Canadian laws. Shaylynn Sampson “My name is Shaylynn Sampson. I grew up in the Wet’suwet’en community hearing about the Delgamuukw court case. It was before my time, but my great aunt was closely linked to the folks that were doing that. The court case is so closely related to what we are doing, which is continuing to defend this land. It isn’t something new, defence of this land has been going on for a very long time—since settlers first came to our territories. My ancestors have been fighting for this for hundreds of years. “There is a failure to understand the difference between the band council and hereditary leaders. The band councils were set up under the Indian Act to police people. It is helpful to recognize that the band council and that system was put in place specifically to undermine the hereditary chief, which continues still to this day. Traditional governance is all done in the feast hall and has witnesses and it is so much more. It is so important that an understanding of this is correct. “Red dresses [hanging at protest sites] are there to symbolize missing and murdered indigenous women [MMIW]. [The hereditary chiefs] are filing a complaint against the government’s Environmental Assessment Office permit process, for not taking into account the statement in the MMIW report that specifically links man camps [such as Coastal GasLink is building] to the violence. I grew up on Highway 16 so I know how serious that issue is. We can’t think about the violence against the land and violence against ourselves as not intrinsically linked. “What happens on Wet’suwet’en territory is integral because it can happen to any Indigenous Nation. We want to drive this idea forward. The state is willing to commit violence against us and where they have done it once, they can do it anywhere.” Gina Mowatt (photo by Lauren Sortome) “My name is Gina Mowatt. I’m Gitxsan, and my Nation is right beside the Wet’suwet’en Nation, we’ve been allies forever, and support each other and have been very close prior to colonization and beyond, and now we stand with each other in struggle against the violence against our land, our peoples. We have also worked together in court cases. “This is a struggle that we’ve inherited as Indigenous people, so for me, being here is my responsibility and role as an Indigenous person who knows our laws. I know who I am as a Gitxsan person so I have to stand up for the land, I have to stand up against colonial violence against our people and the animals and the water to ensure that there will be a future for coming generations, so that’s why I’m here. “I live in Victoria and there are so many opportunities here to put pressure on the colonial government and to make sure that we do everything that we can here to take pressure off the folks up north who feel the brute force of the colonial violence…and we can’t stand idly while ‘our’ government chooses over and over again to enact violence against people as if they’re not human and they don’t have human rights. “Canada has implemented UNDRIP and the TRC and they go in and rip people off their homeland and throw them into jail cells; we cannot stand by and let that happen. My main reason for being here is to try and bring the front line of resistance to Victoria where it should be because this is where the problem resides. Hannah Carpendale (photo courtesy Ancient Forest Alliance) “My name is Hannah Carpendale; I am a settler ally. The suggestion that the only acceptable way to advocate for change is through lawful means, as suggested by BC Premier John Horgan, ignores the years of work spent by Wet’suwet’en land defenders opposing severe injustices through ‘acceptable’ channels that have proven ineffective. This position also shows an ignorance of the way in which many social changes from which we benefit have come about through the course of history—namely, through disruption of the status quo in ways that were not, at the time, considered acceptable. “When considering the land defenders who have contributed so much to these efforts because it is the only clear, morally responsible path forward, the inconvenience of a missed appointment, an hour’s wait at a highway blockade, or a missed train connection seems a small price to pay. In contrast, the inconvenience of colonization, cultural genocide, and Coastal GasLink’s continued attempts to bulldoze their way over unceded Wet’suwet’en territories—damaging cultural sites, healing spaces and intact ecosystems—seems immeasurably greater.” Kolin Sutherland-Wilson (photo by Lauren Sortome) “My name is Kolin Sutherland-Wilson. I am Wet’suwet’en. We have to deconstruct this narrative Canada is creating regarding the elected band councils and Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs. Even the English language is so problematic when applying to this—the leaders of the Wet’suwet’en are the Dinï ze’ and Ts’akë ze’. [The term] ‘hereditary chiefs’ is a colonial imposition on Indigenous leadership—in no way are the Dinï ze’ and Ts’akë ze’ a form of monarchy, there is so much accountability and responsibility to the people. “How would Canada feel if we infringed on its sacred spaces? This space here is on stolen land; it is the territory of the Lekwungen Nation. We are reclaiming this space and pointing out the real colonial origins of Canada. Canada acts as a colony using military force to invade nations, displace people, and extract wealth from their territories.” KOLIN SUTHERLAND-WILSON’s words echo an 1884 declaration by Gitwangak chiefs reacting to the imposition of the reserve system. The declaration included a question: “[W]e would ask you, would it be right for our Chiefs to give licenses to members of the tribe to go to the district of Victoria to measure out, occupy, and build upon lands in that district now held by whitemen as grazing or pasture land? Would the whitemen now in possession permit it, even if we told them that, as we were going to make a more profitable use of the land, they had no right to interfere? Would the government permit it? Would they not at once interfere and drive us out? If it would not be right for us so to act, how can it be right for the whiteman to act so to us?” As the century turned, those questions remained unanswered and leaders from many Nations continued to petition governments for meetings, but it wasn’t until the McKenna/McBride Commission in 1915 that those requests were granted. In 1915, the Commissioners arrived at a reserve near Hazleton for the afternoon and asked leader Edward Souk/Spoukw why he was there, to which he responded: “We want to get our own land back, that is all.” The commissioners stated that he was wasting their time and left shortly after. By 1926, Indigenous leaders had formed the Allied Tribes of BC, taking their petitions to governments in Victoria, Ottawa, and London. When that alliance was undermined, the Native Brotherhood of BC formed in the 1930s to continue the cause, sending more delegations to the three centres of government, all unsuccessful. The BC Union of Indian Chiefs took up the banner in 1969 to continue the land question and Wet’suwet’en leader Misilos/Victor Jim became a key leader of the Gitksan-Carrier Tribal Council to advance legal action stating that their “hereditary lands” be set out in a map. Two years after neighbouring Nisgaa leader Frank Calder had successfully sued BC—seeking a declaration that aboriginal title had not been extinguished—the federal government agreed to negotiate comprehensive land claims over territory outside the reserve system, and the Wet’suwet’en began a process of mapping their boundaries to accompany their claim. Neil Sterritt, Gitxsan member, writes in his book Mapping My Way Home about the subsequent 14-year process of mapping the Gitsxan/Wet’suwet’en territories. Thirty-four elders born between 1890 and 1920 travelled throughout their territory while Sterritt and others helped record the place names and history. One of the Wet’suwet’en elders was Gisday Wa/Alfred Joseph, who played a major role. Another was Albert Tait from Kispiox—Delgamuukw himself. As Sterritt describes it, “they had grown up on the land and knew their histories, territories and laws. Their memories reached back to and beyond the time first Europeans started to settle our lands. We recognized that within a few short years, the legacy of those witnesses would be lost.” Originally, the maps were to provide the key evidence for their comprehensive land claim, but that eventually turned into a lawsuit out of frustration with the delays and the continued industrial encroachments on their territory. In 1984, while blockading CP Rail lines to try and stop the clearcutting of their territories, the Nations decided to pursue a lawsuit. It took three more years to get into court and then they had 318 days to put forward their maps and testimony. Peter Grant was their lawyer. The elders were subjected to humiliating and exhausting cross-examination by Provincial Justice Allan McEachern who infamously dismissed these extraordinary oral witnesses as “vagrants” whose lives were “nasty, brutish and short.” According to Grant, McEachern “did not have the capability of understanding or hearing what was being said.” It took another six years before the Supreme Court of Canada overturned most of McEachern’s opinions in its 1997 ruling on Delgamuukw. During that time many of the elders like Delgamuukw had died. The appeal court unanimously ruled that the Province had no jurisdiction over their territory without consent from the government of the First Nation. It was established that the Indigenous Nation had a system of law that predates the days of elected band councils enacted under Canada’s Indian Act. The elected band councils’ authority is limited to decisions about reserve lands. Under traditional Wet’suwet’en law, hereditary chiefs are responsible for decisions regarding ancestral lands. And as Wet’suwet’en Dinï ze’ Frank Alec/Woos stated in a CBC interview on February 12, 2020: “We have always maintained our stance on this. The hereditary chiefs are just saying no to all the pipelines on the territorial lands.” As lawyer Grant stated in a February CBC interview (in response to the media framing of the issue as one of complexity, internal division, and inconvenience): “It is not complex. The Supreme Court of Appeal and subsequent court cases recognized that the legal title carriers are the hereditary chiefs—when we are speaking of the Wet’suwet’en—and that is in Delgamuukw. There is no question that the proper title holders recognized now, and later in a 2014 decision, were the hereditary chiefs. The BC Supreme Court in the recent Canfor decision recognized that the system of government includes the feast hall, as chief Woos told you, and that the feast system is tied to territory.” In that same CBC interview, Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Scott Fraser was asked how he justified only listening to elected leadership given Delgamuukw. He stated: “The court didn’t go quite as far enough in my opinion to clarify that…There is no question that it confirmed that there is aboriginal title, it just didn’t say who and what. I guess it was going to require subsequent court action that did not occur…The courts are one way of dealing with it, but they have been telling us it is not the right place. They have been asking government to get on with legislation.” BC’s Select Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs has not met since 2001 despite calls for two decades from the Wet’suwet’en, and many others, to follow up, given continued industrial intrusions into their territory. Fraser and Premier Horgan refused to meet and speak with these young people, educated in both legal traditions, who brought the concerns of their community one more time to the steps of the Legislature—and were snubbed yet again. Minister Fraser has since announced that for the first time since Delgamuukw, a committee will meet with the leadership. We have been given yet another chance to hear from a governance system that is based on accountability and responsibility to future generations, with a foundation that doesn’t distinguish human health from the health of land and water. This time the stakes are so high that we fail to listen at our peril. For a timeline of the history of the Gitxsan/Wet’suwet’en territories, see www.gitxsan.com/culture/culture-history/gitxsan-history-of-resistance/ and a good “explainer” on legal issues can be found at www.firstpeopleslaw.com. Briony Penn is an award-winning writer of creative non-fiction books including The Real Thing: The Natural History of Ian McTaggart Cowan, A Year on the Wild Side and, most recently, Following the Good River: The Life and Times of Wa’xaid, a biography of Cecil Paul (Rocky Mountain Books)
  11. January 5, 2020 Concerns over slow progress lead to questions about campaign donations from developers. SEVERAL YEARS AGO, Saanich resident Merie Beauchamp and her husband bought a large lot overrun with invasive species. It had subdivision potential but was also subject to the Environmental Development Permit Area (EDPA) bylaw. Under the EDPA, they would be required to work with Saanich planners and biologists, should they want to subdivide, in order to minimize the impact to the endangered Garry oak ecosystem. Both Beauchamps had biological backgrounds and were curious about what lay under the brambles and daphne. Said Merie: “We removed the invasives and the land came back to life. The native wildflowers began to reappear, the Garry oaks suppressed under the invasives started to take off, the butterflies, birds and other wildlife returned and we realized that we could help restore the natural diversity of this piece of land.” Saanich resident Merie Beauchamp The couple decided that they had an opportunity to manage this restored area, which lies adjacent to a protected area. Conventional thinking would describe them as having cost society in foregone development values. “True cost accounting,” however, would value their actions in terms of averting the rising costs of the biodiversity and climate change emergencies. Beauchamp wants people to get excited about true cost accounting and to educate people about the harm of the business-as-usual approach, but it is a hard thing to do with a council that is mostly stuck in an old paradigm. In May, the UN Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) released a report that gave humanity a dire prognosis. A million species are now threatened with extinction, and our own species may follow if we don’t do something about the threats. In the District of Saanich, over 90 of those species are at risk along with the ecosystems that support them. As one of the most affluent, well-educated, and still biologically-rich urban/rural districts in Canada, Saanich could be playing a leading role in reversing this trend. However, this region has lost ground—literally and figuratively. Garry oak meadows have been blasted into oblivion for everything from swimming pools to subdivisions ever since Saanich scrapped its progressive Environmental Development Permit Area (EDPA)—a bylaw and planning tool that had, since 2012, a proven record of guiding development away from, and around, endangered ecosystems. A byelection in late 2017 had resulted in a pro-development majority on council, which moved quickly to rescind the EDPA—though a replacement was promised. A battle for sustainability was waged in the suburbs, with lawyered-up landowners and developers on one side, and Saanich residents who supported the bylaw on the other. Since then, the battle has continued with divisions growing deeper. And the casualties of the lack of regulation are evident all over Saanich—endangered ecosystems wiped off their last remaining spots on Earth: at Mount Douglas Cross Road, Rainbow Road, Ten Mile Point, Gordon Head Road, Milner Road, Holland Avenue. Until journalist Wolf Depner was moved from the Saanich News to a new beat in Oak Bay, you could read regularly about yet another endangered meadow getting ploughed under by a bulldozer. The public discourse has only grown more heated. The College of Applied Biology permanently rescinded the membership of Ted Lea, a key player in the opposition to the EDPA, for violation of the college’s code of ethics stemming from his role in the matter. Councillor Nathalie Chambers urged her fellow council members to reinstate the EDPA given its removal was, in part, based on faulty reports from the biologist—or at least place a moratorium on Garry oak removals. (She failed.) University of Victoria faculty and students have weighed in on the science. Citizen’s groups, like the Falaise Community Association, have gathered people at a Tree Love Town Hall this spring “because of a growing concern for the protection of the residual Garry oak ecosystems under threat.” Citizen watchdogs, like Katherine Whitworth, are tracking what appears to be the increasing control of council by developers through electoral donations to councillors— and Chambers is calling for a ban on such donations. A perusal of the political donors to councillor campaigns reads like a who’s who of the local development industry, studded with family names like Jawl, Miller (Abstract Developments), Mann, Vanderkerkhove, Geric, and Knappet. Though donations from corporations are prohibited, and individual donations capped at $1200/year ($2400 in an election year), there’s nothing to stop multiple family members and a company’s staff from donating (this has also been noticed in other municipalities). The industry benefits when it controls the land-use planning process and has every incentive to populate council with people who share their views. That is not news. What is news is that according to the authors of the UN’s IPBES report, the key driver of extinctions worldwide is changes in land use. It also notes the trend is reversible. “Nature can still be conserved, restored and used sustainably.” The authors stress the necessity of transforming governance and accountability, so that the full costs of not conserving or restoring natural systems and of not using land sustainably are assessed. Accountability also entails the rigorous uncoupling of politics from land use change and its biggest driver, the development industry. Not surprisingly, the conflict in Saanich is exacerbated by highly confusing narratives being put forward by pro-development councillors in which citizens are told that they must choose: housing versus nature; public versus private land stewardship; farming versus conservation; restoration versus conservation; wetlands over Garry oak; emissions reduction over carbon sink expansion. Claiming that one action over another is prudent and efficient is far easier to sell politically—especially if it retains the status quo. From where the researchers of our climate and biodiversity crisis sit, however, choice is a luxury that the world doesn’t have. If we are going to avert this emergency, then we actually have to transform our thinking and figure out a way to integrate all these components of the crisis, now. Dr Eric Higgs As Dr Eric Higgs of the University of Victoria’s School of Environmental Studies puts it, “Every effort matters. We have to stem the loss and restore. For example, if we are at roughly five percent remnant Garry oak habitat presently, what would it take to get to six percent or 10 or 20 percent? What could happen if citizens were encouraged to take action in their front and backyards, new developments had stringent offset requirements, old trees were cherished, and Saanich really took seriously the need for nature-based solutions?” BEAUCHAMP WAS AGAINST SCRAPPING THE EDPA, and says the impacts of its loss have been immediate and unnecessary. The move has also devalued and demoralized other efforts for conservation and restoration on private land. She cites as an example, the controversial 4355 Gordon Head Road property where an endangered ecosystem that had previously been protected under the EDPA (through restricting building to an already existing building footprint) was destroyed for a swimming pool by moving the development closer to the cliff to take advantage of ocean views. “Why, when an alternative existed, would we allow an endangered ecosystem to be destroyed for someone’s swimming pool? The cost is borne by the next generation.” The scrapping of Saanich’s EDPA bylaw allowed this property, which includes an endangered Garry oak ecosystem, to be redeveloped. In the Milner Road development, four city lots of Garry oak woodland were razed with the lifting of the EDPA. Lauraine Derman, former Councillor Vic Derman’s widow, wrote to Saanich, stating, “At present, we see the ‘Sustainable’ Saanich moniker being abused and ridiculed as we witness some developers flaunting regulations and racing to destroy unique, ecological sensitive areas previously under EDPA protection. A case in point (among others)…is the well-publicized Milner/Leveret incident.” Against this backdrop of ecological destruction, many citizens wanted to see some sort of replacement for the rescinded EDPA—and quickly. Saanich staff had been working to create the “Natural Saanich” Environmental Policy Framework—which would include polices and regulations related to addressing climate change, biodiversity and stewardship—and envisioned the Framework being completed by 2022. But they also suggested some possible interim measures to address gaps left by the loss of the EDPA. These potentially included an enhanced tree bylaw (protecting other at-risk species), an enhanced fill bylaw (stopping wetland infill), and an adjusted development application. These were considered by staff as “low-hanging fruit as they are easily achievable and relatively effective,” according to meeting minutes. But the Framework, particularly its interim regulatory measures, was questioned by some councillors, including the Chair of Saanich’s Environmental and Natural Areas Advisory Committee, Rebecca Mersereau. Minutes of a June 2019 meeting show she questioned the effectiveness of regulatory measures. In this, her views were at odds with the committee she chaired. Saanich Councillor Rebecca Mersereau Mersereau argued in a July Facebook post that “developing and administering regulations also consumes resources and limits our ability to use other strategies to achieve the same goals, or other environmental goals we consider important. As much as it would be nice, resources are not available in an unlimited supply to help us achieve our environmental goals. If we were more cognizant of all these challenges, and if biodiversity conservation is truly a priority in Saanich, I believe we would have long ago invested more resources into protecting and even enhancing biodiversity in our extensive protected parks network.” Beauchamp has disagreed on development-related issues with other members of Saanich council, but nowhere has the narrative been more confusing for her than with Mersereau, who has degrees in biology, education and water resource management; was mentored by former Councillor Vic Derman; and once supported the EDPA. Beauchamp now draws a clear relationship between councillors’ decisions and their financial backers, and believes that rules around conflict of interest and disclosure must be tightened to ensure land- use decisions serve wider interests. She cites four donors from the development industry to Mersereau’s campaign, and adds “politics shouldn’t be mixed with science.” Dr Higgs has also responded to Mersereau on the interim regulatory measures question: “We need regulatory capacity to limit negative actions, and reward virtuous ones. This is why I support very strongly the kind of integrated package of initiatives comprising the Natural Saanich project. Stripping out the potential for discouraging or stopping heedless actions on private lands, or focusing only on remaining jewels [parks] that make up such a tiny fraction of historical habitat, will result in a future Saanich that is like every other municipality that failed to address issues sooner.” Higgs points to the March 1, 2019 United Nations General Assembly 2021-2030 declaration of the Decade of Ecosystem Restoration and suggests, “It would be unfortunate and ironic if Saanich were now to turn its back on the power and promise of hundreds of projects on public and private lands. Yes, environmental conditions are changing—a fact I know too well from my own research on novel ecosystems—but this is hardly an argument for letting the perfect stand in the way of good outcomes, especially those that support innovative approaches to biodiversity conservation and restoration. Every remnant patch of biodiversity that can be conserved or restored makes a difference to climate adaptation and flourishing ecosystems, whether natural, novel, or hybrid.” At the heart of Higgs’ analysis is the fact that 75 percent of the world’s land base has now been “significantly altered by human actions” and an international consensus of biologists advocate Nature Needs Half—a goal already in the CRD Regional Parks Strategic Plan. There is no research that comes to the conclusion that we will survive the political expediency of scrapping regulations on private land use for protecting endangered ecosystems. Landscape ecologist Jan Kirkby, who worked on Saanich’s original Sensitive Ecosystems Inventory mapping, notes “with strong, forward-thinking leadership and public education, landowners and land managers can embrace these conservation-based planning tools as they have in many other jurisdictions. EDPAs provide guidance and opportunities to enhance both natural and property values of the land. There are also tools like the Natural Area Protection Tax Exemption Program (NAPTEP) for conserving special features and sensitive ecosystems on private land.” Local governments are indeed free to change zoning to achieve conservation goals without compensation. But that is rarely done and only as a last resort. Kirkby emphasizes “most developers and property owners labour under a critical misconception, that there is such a thing as ‘development rights’ in Canada, that people ought to be able to do whatever they want on their land, and no local government has or should have the right to restrict development. These beliefs and views originate in the US and are supported by their constitution; however, Canada’s constitution supports the collective over the individual.” TWO YEARS HAVE PASSED SINCE THE DEMISE OF THE EDPA. And now some fear that Saanich council will further delay measures that would hopefully fill the gaps left by its loss. Mersereau, however, assured Focus in an email: “Council has approved an expedited timeline for the development of the EPF, so I’m hopeful that by mid 2020 we’ll all have a better sense of at least the scope of it.” Yet even the original process was to take until 2022, so any further delays are worrisome to those witnessing ecosystem destruction as the development boom continues. For now, a technical group to advise the process has been approved. But no “interim measures” (as the staff report advocated) to protect endangered ecosystems are likely in the near future, says Councillor Nathalie Chambers, who has repeatedly asked for them to deal with the biodiversity emergency. Saanich Councillor Natalie Chambers She is also advocating tighter accountability of councillors. Under the Community Charter, council members have to declare their own personal investments and may not vote or exercise influence over them. Chambers suggests, “They should also have to recuse themselves when voting on development issues when they receive developers’ donations.” She suggests accountability might have prevented some other recent moves that were developer-friendly: a proposed new bylaw raising development cost charges (DCC) was delayed, denying Saanich taxpayers $2 million; Local Area Plans were halted in favour of fast-tracking housing; and Abstract Developments, which has eight downstream applications, was granted special privileges on the Mayor’s Standing Committee on Housing Affordability, having access where Chambers, for example, has none. Chambers’ concern over the development industry’s “undue influence” has led her to propose a resolution for the Union of BC Municipalities to eliminate developer donations. Councillor Mersereau did not address Focus’ questions regarding Higgs’ challenge of her ecological rationale or Chamber’s comments of undue influence, but referred us to her July Facebook post which asserts: “Yup —that’s right! We’re in a process to discuss a process…If we have a good process set up to objectively evaluate how effective each option will be at helping us achieve our goals—whether they are voluntary, financial, or regulatory options (which the EDPA is one example of)—I can support the options that emerge at the top, regardless of what form they take.” Higgs responds, “We should not be caught in the midst of spats that result in inaction, but leading with the framework, policies, legislative action, and public programs that result in the very kind of Saanich that people will value in the future.” What do we need to get there? Beauchamp suggests “a conflict of interest bylaw for municipal donations might be a good start. Then let’s get Natural Saanich back on track.” Briony Penn is an award-winning writer of creative non-fiction books including The Real Thing: The Natural History of Ian McTaggart Cowan, A Year on the Wild Side and, most recently, Following the Good River: The Life and Times of Wa'xaid, a biography of Cecil Paul (Rocky Mountain Books).
  12. May 2017 Management of public forests by the forest industry isn’t in the public interest. BC’s forests have become a vast patchwork of roads, clearcuts and mainly young trees. Of the latter, critics say, there has been no reliable inventory. As well, the Province has relied less on its own scientists and more on forest industry professionals to conduct management of public forests, blurring the distinction between public and private interest. FORMER GOVERNMENT FOREST SCIENTIST Andy MacKinnon’s battle cry, as he knocks on doors as a Green Party candidate in the upcomming provincial election, is: “Wake up British Columbians!” He’s one of an increasing number of scientists who are getting into politics to raise the alarm about what happens when proper government oversight is put at risk through budget cuts and political interference. MacKinnon believes the threat to BC’s greatest public asset—tens of millions of hectares of forests—should be one of the election’s foremost issues. “We have rapidly disposed of it for too few jobs and too little money,” MacKinnon says, “and this is all happening within our provincial model of ‘professional reliance,’ as the BC government sheds scientists of all sorts—professional foresters, biologists, engineers—and hands responsibility to professionals employed by the forest companies. Some have called this ‘the fox guarding the henhouse’ model.” This apparent loss of ability to properly manage BC’s forests isn’t just Green Party rhetoric. “We were hearing this from scientist after scientist,” says Katie Gibbs, one of the co-authors of an April 2017 report, Oversight at Risk: The State of Government Science in British Columbia. The report, commissioned by Evidence for Democracy, an Ottawa-based watchdog for promoting the transparent use of evidence in government decision-making, interviewed scientists across BC ministries. The aim was to assess their independence and capacity to produce and communicate reliable data. Highlighted in this review was the scientists’ response to the BC Liberals’ Orwellian term “professional reliance,” which is described in the report as “outsourcing both research oversight and decision-making activities that were formerly done by government.” Evidence for Democracy chose the BC situation for its first provincial review, says Gibbs, “because there had been lots of rumours that BC’s public sector was particularly dysfunctional in Canada and badly in need of an independent review.” When she and her co-author started interviewing, she says, “I couldn’t believe what I was hearing from these scientists: That monitoring was outsourced to the professionals who were contracted by the very companies that they were monitoring? Was this for real?” It appears to be. The 64-question survey was circulated to 1159 government scientists this past November, with most of the responses coming from the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (FLNRO). The report provides the historical context for the survey, which includes the dramatic reduction of provincial staff-scientists starting in 2001. BC now has the smallest public sector per capita of all Canadian provinces, despite its wealth of natural resources. Of those government scientists still working for the Province who were allowed to participate in the survey (and not all were), around half “believe that political interference is compromising their ministry’s ability to develop laws, policies and programs based on scientific evidence.” One FLNRO scientist wrote, “The reduction in staff and financial resources has caused us to not be able to conduct the scientific work that would best support changes in policy. Instead, policy is most often developed as a result of political pressure from select interest groups, in particular forest industry stakeholders.” The survey didn’t include scientists who are members of the BC Government Employees Union which, according to Gibbs, denied a request to distribute the survey to their members because “it was not in line with their priorities at the time.” IN A BRISTLING REPORT delivered to the Coastal Silviculture Committee this spring, authors Anthony Britneff and Martin Watts, non-partisan forest professionals, dug deep into the structural details of how “professional reliance” without independent third-party oversight has set off a domino effect of poor policy decisions affecting everything from stumpage rates, tree planting and water quality to the health of moose and grizzly populations. Britneff describes the resulting and ongoing grab of timber as “the rape of the land.” A 40-year career forester with the provincial government, Britneff says that during his last ten years in government, “[I experienced] radical budget cuts and changes in policy that I saw as being detrimental to the forests and to the life within them.” Katie Gibbs Anthony Britneff Diane Nicholls Andy MacKinnon The biggest problem, according to Britneff, is the corrupt data and unreliable models for determining the inventory of the forests—known as the “Timber Supply Review”—that’s used by the Chief Forester to determine how much forest can be cut each year, the “Annual Allowable Cut” (AAC). “If this information is wrong, which it is,” Britneff says, “then we put whole communities at risk. Job losses, mill closures, community hardships, very little stumpage [royalties] flowing back to the community, have all resulted because there is no reliable inventory or analysis to determine [appropriate] rates of cut.” One of the clearest indicators that there is a problem is the discrepancy between the allocation of timber in the AAC and what is actually cut. As Britneff puts it, “Industry can’t even find the wood allocated to them for the cut because the Timber Supply Review is an economic fiction, supported and informed by unvalidated computer models. Companies are pushing further and further into previously protected areas like the wildlife habitat areas and right up to the edge of provincial parks. They are making no provisions for climate change, and have used beetle kill to escalate the cut. To add insult to injury they are giving it away at 25 cents for a telephone pole.” In response to Britneff’s allegations, Chief Forester Diane Nicholls told Focus: “The people of BC can have complete confidence in Allowable Annual Cut (AAC) determinations as they are based on robust complex analysis of many factors that pertain to timber supply and other forest values. The process that supports my AAC determinations is open to public and First Nations for review and comment. All documents generated, including a detailed description of how I arrived at my decision, are available online.” Nicholls also noted, “The uncertainties in the analysis and data are managed through sensitivity analyses that allow me to assess the impact of these uncertainties on my decision. We continuously improve and update our data and analysis based on field audits and assessments and new or additional information.” But Britneff takes issue with Nicholls’ defence. He notes that “uncertainty” is a technical term used in the international accounting world when measurements “are based on estimates, judgments, and models rather than on exact depictions.” The absence of independent auditors to verify the data means there is no sound basis upon which to trust Nicholls’ numbers. Britneff and Watts also believe that the sensitivity analyses to which Nicholls refers are incorrectly applied. Remarkably, there is no legal requirement for Nicholls to conduct an actual inventory of provincial forests. That used to be a statutory responsibility of the chief forester, but changes to the Forest Act in 2002 transferred the inventory function to what was then called the Ministry of Sustainable Resource Management. When that ministry was disbanded, inventory staff returned to the Ministry of Forests and Range but the legal requirement to conduct inventories didn’t. It simply disappeared. Both Oversight at Risk and Britneff point to problems beyond the uncertain timber supply, including insufficient capacity and budget within the Ministry to do an inventory. There is also no legal requirement for foresters working outside of government to maintain their data and records. There is also evidence that a political agenda at least partially determines the Annual Allowable Cut. This is perhaps best illustrated by an historic directive issued in 2006 by then Minister of Forests Rich Coleman to “maintain and enhance” the timber supply. This directive is still in force and, in effect, means that the AAC would never go down. This approach has left towns like Merritt with no timber and a long wait until the trees grow back. As Britneff notes: “It isn’t AAC that’s ‘maintained and enhanced,’ it is forests!” Foresters on the ground are the only ones who can determine whether what grows—or doesn’t grow—lines up with what the models predict. As Britneff argues, “When one has a centralized high priesthood of timber supply analysts, inventory gatekeepers and ivory-tower computer modellers, most of whom are out of touch with what the forestry staff on the ground are observing, then, by convenient omission, timber supply estimates and AAC determinations become economic fiction and AACs are maintained fraudulently high to align with Coleman’s directive—to keep raising the cut.” While Gibbs and her co-authors don’t use the word “fraud” to describe what they found, they do note, “The results from our survey show that around half (49 percent) of government scientists surveyed across ministries believe that political interference is compromising their ministry’s ability to develop laws, policies and programs based on scientific evidence.” As Gibbs states, “This ‘professional reliance’ system is a huge public interest issue but it hasn’t received the attention it should because it is a difficult thing to communicate precisely. It sounds all fine, and people think that qualified professionals are looking after their interests.” But the growing record of scrutiny of professional reliance—by bodies including the Centre for Public Policy Alternatives, the Environmental Law Centre, and the Auditor General in his scathing 2016 report—suggests otherwise. Professionals aren’t able to look after the public’s interests when they have no legal requirement to do so; they are employed by the companies they are expected to monitor; and their professional organizations are not at arm’s length from the forest companies that employ them. Last year, only one disciplinary case was brought to the Association of BC Forest Professionals—and it was thrown out. The year before, five cases were brought forward; three were thrown out and two are still in play. The findings of Oversight at Risk suggest that the professional reliance experiment has not only failed but should be scrutinized for fraud. Industry and government remain complicit and unaccountable to the public. Fifty-seven percent of BC government scientists are concerned that government’s reliance on external professionals compromises the ability of their Ministry to use the best evidence or information in decision-making. One forester wrote: “Decisions and objectives are fettered to the industry interests due to government/industry working groups. The industry-sympathetic administration does not always permit us to assess evidence, and even when we have evidence it does not easily accommodate providing direction to industry or changes in policy that may negatively impact (even in a small way) existing mainstream industry and their interests.” Another scientist working in FLNRO reported, “government rarely or perhaps never suppresses scientific findings. They do, however, by way of lack of funding, suppress research and data collection which are necessary for proper science based management.” Cases like the Mount Polley disaster, the green-lighting of the Site C project through exemptions of the Wildlife Act, and Elk River selenium risks are cited in the report as the most egregious examples of the failure of professional reliance, so the problem extends well beyond forest management. On the issue of being free to communicate their concerns to media, only 3 percent of scientists stated they could do so without approval from their bosses; 32 percent said that they were not able to communicate at all with media; 42 percent had to seek approval; the rest didn’t know. During my own 16 years of writing on the subject, no permissions have ever been granted to speak to a government scientist without public relations approval, even for data as seemingly apolitical as the population of black bears. COURT CHALLENGES—at both federal and provincial levels—are tackling the issue of scientific muzzling. A recent court case initiated by Martin Watts against the Province of BC is over “blacklisting” professional foresters for raising concerns with the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations over the quality of inventory data, and being excluded from contract opportunities and given only limited access to information. On May 11, a judge in the Supreme Court of BC will decide if the civil claim will proceed. As Britneff states: “Couple this apparent negligence with the fact that the chief forester is operating without a statutory mandate to maintain an inventory of the lands of the province, and one has a pernicious boondoggle of proportions sufficient in seriousness to cut rural jobs, close mills and harm forest-dependent communities, which is exactly what has been happening over the last 15 years.” Another insider scientist, who spoke to Focus on condition of anonymity due to fear of being fired or blacklisted, makes even stronger allegations: “Industry and government are inextricably bound, providing the conditions and potential for monkey business at every level. This failure has gone unseen for 16 years by bullying the civil servants who found problems with this model. Untouchable teams moved, fired and ignored people who did not support this model. Some districts simply suspended all staff meetings for years to hide this fact. One need only look as far as the way that volumes used for cutting permits are calculated. The Province uses outdated tables, ‘Loss Factors,’ which date back to the sixties. The more precise ‘Call Grade Net Factor’ volumes are also collected, but not used to assess stumpage volumes because business prefers lower taxes. This speaks to the influence that business has over government policy.” WITH LITTLE ABILITY TO GET EVIDENCE, no jurisdictional oversight to even enforce against fraudulent activity, and little confidence that the current government wants to change the status quo, some scientists like Andy MacKinnon are turning to the political sphere. Yet, strangely, the management of public lands (94 percent of this province) is not a big election issue. Raw log exports have grabbed more attention, but their revenue impacts are small compared to the scale of the economic problems created by the diminishment of proper government oversight. NDP leader John Horgan, who comes from a forestry background on the island, released his party’s forestry platform in April. Aimed more at top-of-mind issues like curbing log exports and job creation, it doesn’t mention reforming the professional reliance system, raising stumpage, or bringing back the scientific research branch—not surprising because it is hard policy to explain. MacKinnon admits the communications challenge of this issue. “What I have found works, though, is that if you tell someone that our vast provincial forests and wildlife are being looked after by just a handful of foresters who work for the companies that cut them down, they get that there is a problem.” Katie Gibbs, a scientist herself, feels a better job needs to be done in connecting the dots for people. “Public science affects all of us—from clean drinking water to making sure bridges and roads are safe—it’s in all of our best interest to ensure that government science is independent, robust and openly communicated.” Briony Penn’s most recent book, The Real Thing: The Natural History of Ian McTaggart Cowan, won the Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize and the inaugural Mack Laing Literary Prize.
  13. March 2015 The federal government seems intent on propping up corporate fish farming despite the high costs. ON THE AFTERNOON OF FEBRUARY 10, a whale watching boat docked at Port McNeill, packed to the limit with 48 Malcolm Islanders from the small village of Sointula. They weren’t whale watchers; well, not the usual type. These were shrimp fishermen, fishing lodge operators, First Nations people, residents, members of local organizations, and biologist Alex Morton, who were coming to an open house of Grieg Seafood, the company that is proposing an expansion of two salmon farms in the Broughton Archipelago that would set a precedent of replacing shellfish tenures with finfish. The reason the islanders were delivered by a whale watching boat was because their ferry doesn’t run passengers on Tuesday afternoons; the meeting was scheduled at the time when it only carries dangerous cargo. Some might argue that the residents were the dangerous cargo. According to Gord Curry of Living Oceans Society, the islanders, determined to have their voices heard, found their own transportation to Port McNeill and delivered their message loud and clear: No more open net salmon farms; closed containment systems are the answer. Locals pointed to the Namgis First Nation down the road that has set up the first land-based closed containment systems in the region and has been delivering farmed salmon for nearly a year with no risk to wild salmon. The open house was intended to be a little tête-à-tête with industry reps, but it quickly changed into a town hall meeting where people voiced their concerns collectively. The same calls of alarm that were raised at that meeting are echoing around the coast as the industry is poised to expand open-net salmon farming four-fold. With the recommendations of the $26 million Cohen Commission (tasked to find answers to the disappearing Fraser sockeye in 2012) still mostly unimplemented, the increasing volatility of viruses and other pathogens, the declining efficacy of sea lice drugs, the slashing of federal regulations to allow indiscriminate use of new chemicals to fight the lice and the continued muzzling of government scientists, there are reasons to be concerned. On the lower mainland, Stolo First Nation activist Eddy Gardner is gathering steam encouraging groups to boycott Costco, Walmart and other stores with his online Farmed Salmon Boycott kit with easy instructions for anyone to get started to stage your own boycott. The Change.org petition to ban salmon feedlots is at 106,000 and rising. Back in Port McNeill, Curry pointed out the obvious to officials, given that one of the strongest recommendations of the Cohen Commission was to put a moratorium on salmon farm expansion in the Discovery Islands—south of the Broughton—to assist the Fraser sockeye migration: “It isn’t a stretch of logic that what’s good for Fraser salmon is good for Knight Inlet salmon.” And that is what’s at stake with the Grieg applications: a safe migratory route for the Knight Inlet salmon, as well as the loss of productive shrimping grounds. Fishermen of Sointula who rely on that productivity stand to lose their livelihoods with no compensation. Meanwhile, over on the west side of Vancouver Island, Clayoquot Sound fish farm watchers, like Clayoquot Action’s Bonny Glambeck, continue to tussle with the planned expansion of two new Atlantic salmon feedlots in Millar Channel and Herbert Inlet. There are currently 21 fish farm sites in the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, and Cermaq, a big player in the Sound, wants to add another farm to Millar Channel, which already suffered major die-offs from infectious hematopoietic necrosis virus (IHNV) in 2012, and from an algal bloom in 2014. Herbert Inlet is at the gateway to the Moyeha River, one of the last intact watersheds on Vancouver Island, through which spawning fish enter and smolts leave. According to Glambeck, the issue is simple: “Salmon populations are crashing in these otherwise pristine watersheds—coincidentally where all the fish farms are. So why wouldn’t we be implementing everything we learned from the Cohen Commission before we start expanding this industry? The recommendation of Cohen was not to have farms on migration routes and Herbert Inlet, for one, is on a migration route.” One of Cohen’s recommendations was for DFO to review and change the siting criteria and analyze all current licenses to meet the new criteria. According to the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), it is now poised to release its new licencing regulations and will be open for business. DFO will now be evaluating new marine finfish aquaculture applications (other than the Discovery Islands area and the north coast where the provincial 2008 moratorium is in place) “through the lens of environmental sustainability and engagement with First Nations and other stakeholders.” The industry stakeholders’ lens is consistent with how salmon farms have been viewed since they first appeared on the coast in the ’70s, when they were “mom and pop” operations and the rationale of feeding the world with farmed salmon seemed viable. As Grieg writes in a letter this February to the Campbell River Mirror “wild stocks cannot keep up with growing global demand… and farming fish, like we farm other food, is the only way to meet this urgent need.” There is, however, much more than altruism behind the drive for expansion. The industry’s European farms have been hit by escalating problems due to disease, sea lice and storm-caused escapees. Last autumn, the Norwegian government sold out its shares in Cermaq (a dominant player in BC’s industry) to Mitsubishi, ostensibly to privatize the state asset. But that move might also have reflected a desire by Norway’s government to shed a troubled and troublesome industry—getting out before the storm, so to speak. On January 10 this year, a hurricane force wind hit the Norwegian coast and caused the escape of over 60,000 farmed Pacific coast steelhead. Norwegians were outraged, not only because the fish were found to be suffering from what industry calls PD (or pancreas disease that has plagued Norwegian and Irish farms), but they, like British Columbians, fear these introduced species are putting their native wild salmon stocks at further risk. There are less than a half million wild Atlantic salmon left in Norway. Meanwhile, farmed Atlantic salmon are threatening Pacific species. The irony, however, might be lost only on Canada’s federal minister of Fisheries and Oceans Gail Shea. In an effort to expand the social licence for fish farming, DFO set up the Aquaculture Management Advisory Committee (AMAC). Craig Orr, long-time advocate with Watershed Watch, was invited to serve on the committee but quickly dropped out, claiming it was “a sham.” He stated, “We came to an early meeting but disagreed with their terms of reference. In particular, that there wasn’t a broad enough science input into AMAC. DFO said that their own scientists would be the only representation. The Cohen Commission specifically identified that DFO’s science mandate was too narrow and conflicted in terms of them wanting to expand the industry and that is exactly what they are doing now. We cannot sit at a committee that ignores the Cohen recommendations and dismisses our research with academics. In the meantime they are expanding farms and they don’t have their advisory committee together.” DFO refutes these allegations. It claims the federal government respects the 2008 moratorium in the north and that it takes a “science-based approach to the management of aquaculture in British Columbia, including consideration of both DFO and non-DFO research.” DFO also states it has “not dismissed any of the Cohen recommendations, particularly those related to the consideration of peer-reviewed research.” It evaluates the research through the Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat, which it claims includes “non-DFO science.” One can understand the frustration of people like Orr and Glambeck. Glambeck also turned down a seat on the advisory committee which hosts seven industry reps, two industry associations, two local government reps, seven First Nations and, ostensibly, three environmental non-governmental organizations’ (ENGOs) representatives. No ENGOs have accepted the invitation. Why? The advisory committee is tightly controlled, as are the questions that come before it for review. One of the independent scientists whose questions and research have been rejected by the Science Advisory Secretariat is Morton, who has published extensively in highly-regarded peer-reviewed journals like Science and posts monthly updates on her work with viruses and sea lice. She has been continuously testing for one of the most dangerous viruses, Infectious Salmon Anemia, a strain of which hit Chilean fish farms with devastating results in 2007-2009. The Cohen Commission revealed evidence of strains of ISA in farms from Clayoquot Sound (reported by a DFO lab). As Morton attests, “We have learned from the Cohen Commission that several government labs have produced positive tests for the ISA virus in BC. We haven’t heard from those labs again. They are silent but we have the exhibits [from the Cohen Commission]. Last fall the Canada Food Inspection Agency made a big announcement that they couldn’t find ISA virus on the coast. I’ve asked them to detail their methods but they won’t provide them. I continue to do work with the eastern lab [that tested positive results for ISA in supermarket-bought fish] and I hope to publish the results. The thing about viruses is that they won’t remain silent. The ISA virus pattern is that it gets to a new place, kicks around harmlessly for 8 to 10 years and then—boom—there is a mutation that takes off. Chile couldn’t believe how quickly their ISA virus variant HPR7b spread.” In order to bring attention to the severity of the problem, Morton launched a new lawsuit with Ecojustice last December based on a 2007 confidential memo in which the provincial vet in charge of farmed salmon told the minister that BC is at low risk from ISA because BC doesn’t import live salmon eggs. He wrote that memo at the time when his colleagues in DFO were filing reports on the importation of 28 million live Atlantic salmon eggs into BC. As Morton recounts, “I asked the College of Veterinarians to investigate twice and they refused, so I went to Ecojustice. The reason I have done it is because vets and biologists are under so much pressure from these companies. That is why you need colleges that will come down strongly if members do things like this—then vets can simply say: ‘I have to adhere to these standards.’ It isn’t punishment then, it is back-up. This is Canada—it’s a tough place to be a scientist right now.” Morton’s early research focused on the sea lice issue. As she notes “The salmon fish farm industry is in a drug war with sea lice that they are losing around the world. There is a myth in BC that says sea lice are not a problem here, but it is not true. They are currently using drugs to suppress them. The sea lice are still there but at lower levels, because for the moment the drugs are working and that has saved wild stocks of salmon, specifically the mainland Area 12 pinks where I live. But a life on drugs never works. Companies are certainly looking for new drugs. There’s a guy going to jail for supplying illegal drugs to the fish farm industry on the east coast that killed a vast number of lobster. The prawn and shrimp fishermen are not happy because the drug SLICE does impact anything trying to make a shell [like lice].” Currently the government is giving the industry permits to use hydrogen peroxide baths for farmed salmon, but these are released directly into wild salmon habitat. Grieg Seafood’s 2013 annual report outlines its efforts, both chemical and biological, to control lice. The report indicates a rising trend in the use of oral medicine and hydrogen peroxide. There is also an increased use of antibiotics for infections like mouth rot in BC. Reading these documents as a shareholder, one wouldn’t have confidence that chemical solutions are either long term or profitable. Such concerns haven’t stopped the federal government from gutting Section 36 of the federal Fisheries Act, which stopped companies from “putting deleterious chemicals into the ocean frequented by fish.” In response to diseased fish invading Norwegian sportfishing waters and apparently intractable sea lice drug problems, the Norwegian parliament is tightening up their regulations related to water. Unfortunately, that sends Norwegian companies to the wild frontier of BC where licenses and rents are virtually free, regulatory oversight is minimal, government compensation is provided in case of die-offs from disease, and the Canadian government is accommodating industry expansion. ACCORDING TO GLAMBECK, the federal government seems to be more than happy to subsidize this beleaguered industry. “We are treating the fish farm industry like Alberta is treating the companies in the tar sands, by giving the resources away, or polluting our oceans for nothing.” In Norway, salmon farm licenses cost $1.69 million dollars each. With 1400 of them, substantial revenues are generated. Compare that to DFO’s proposed flat fee of $100 per license which will come into effect in 2015 for 115 federally-listed aquaculture licences. BC takes $2.50 per tonne of produced farmed fish. With 787,000 tonnes produced annually, that means about $2 million is coming in—not much considering it costs $6.3 million to run the BC Aquaculture Regulatory Program, $54 million to run the Sustainable Aquaculture Program, and $6.5 million is spent on regulatory research. The Province, under the new federal/provincial harmonized Aquaculture Application, now just handles the renting of Crown seabed under a farm, a role which the Stolo’s Eddy Gardner refers to as the “slum landlord of the coast.” He has a point: Industry rents farms at a little over $700 per hectare per year. With a total of 4575 hectares, that brings BC another $3.3 million in annual rent. The BC Salmon Farmer’s Association argues that their industry “provides 6000 direct and indirect jobs while contributing over $800 million annually to the provincial economy.” It is hard to know where those numbers come from. In their recent Fisheries and Aquaculture Sector report, BC Statistics counts only 1700 people as employees of either finfish or shellfish farms (at least 20 percent are in shellfish). The report notes both forms of aquaculture contribute a total of $61.9 million to the GDP (from $496 million in direct sales of farmed fish and shellfish). According to the government report, the multiplier for the aquaculture sector is 7.83 jobs per $1 million of direct sales of salmon sold, which at $496 million means there are, at most, an additional 3883 jobs. But the numbers seem high. The award-winning environmental reporter D.C. Reid, in his Fish Farm News and Science, claims he could only find 795 actual employees of all fish farms in BC. Regardless of which set of data one uses, aquaculture doesn’t come close to the economic benefits of even sport fishing. This sector contributes $325.7 million to GDP, $936 million in gross revenue with 8400 direct jobs, according to BC Stats. The government uses an 11.36 multiplier effect in the sports fishing sector, for 10,633 additional jobs. This is an industry that is detrimentally impacted by fish farming. If you add the data for the commercial capture fishery, which still generates $102 million to the GDP and 1200 direct jobs, plus the subsistence fishery for First Nations, aquaculture—which threatens all three—is blown out of the water in terms of jobs generation. One figure the BC Salmon Farmer’s Association doesn’t like to talk about is the number of taxpayer dollars its members get from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency for their diseased fish. Last year, after weathering an injunction against releasing compensation figures, D.C. Reid reported payments of $2.64 million to Cermaq Mainstream for 959,498 diseased salmon at its IHN-infected Clayoquot Sound farms and $201,000 for infected equipment and supplies. Grieg Seafood’s open-net operation in Sechelt received $1.61 million for 312,032 IHN-diseased fish and $152,000 for infected equipment and supplies. Adding BC figures to those in Atlantic Canada, Reid said, “Here’s the bottom line: In little more than a year, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency paid fish farms almost $50 million taxpayer dollars for diseased slaughtered fish across Canada.” There are other administrative and legal costs associated with fish farms. When you do the back-of-the-envelope addition of basic costs to Treasury—running departments, holding inquiries, and compensation for diseased fish, the costs easily outstrip the benefits. Compare this to sport fishing and the economic justification for endangering wild salmon is even more baffling. Why is the federal government catering to three foreign companies who employ few people, bring relatively few dollars into the economy, and cause high administrative and legal costs—let alone the incalculable ecological damage of devastated wild stocks that create far more jobs and economic benefit? If Canadians are not benefitting, who is? The shareholders of Marine Harvest, who are mostly European and American banks. So is there any good news on the horizon? When Marine Harvest failed to honour their agreement with ENGOs to do a full-fledged land-based closed-containment pilot project, the Namgis First Nation set up their own and the first harvest took place last April. (See Focus, July, 2014). Other First Nations are exploring Namgis’ lead. Meanwhile, Watershed Watch is giving advice to other First Nations who are working with their lawyers to get area-based management plans that scientifically evaluate impacts of extending aquaculture in their territory. As Orr says: “The juggling of balls goes on.” Back in Sointula, Morton is “heartened to see more and more scientists ending up speaking out. It wasn’t our original role, but if you are the person who is on the ground with your hands on these fish and see the effects that the viruses and sea lice have on them, if you don’t stand up then who will?” Briony Penn PhD has been reporting on the environment since her first article in The Islander in 1975 on Garry oak meadows and has been a columnist in Victoria publications since 1993. She has just completed a biography of Ian McTaggart Cowan.
  14. November 2013 Permits for development over First Nations’ burial grounds raise the question: Would the government ever say “no”? IN THE HEART OF VICTORIA lies a peaceful sanctuary of century-and-a-half-old gravestones and trees called the Pioneer Square Cemetery, the “Old Burying Ground” for pioneer families. Currently underway are respectful repairs to its gravestones, paths and landscape. Meanwhile, Grace Islet, a tiny picturesque ancient Coast Salish burial site amongst ancient oaks and juniper, just off Salt Spring Island shores, lies desecrated by proposed residential development. British Columbia’s Archaeology Branch, after a year of deliberation, chose Reconciliation Week to extend a provincial heritage site alteration permit to an Albertan businessman so he could build his luxury waterfront vacation home atop this First Nation cemetery. The alteration permit enables him to build his house on posts over the burial islet, with the intention of “preserving” the ancient burial cairns underneath the house footprint, patio decks and landscaping. This permit was issued despite the strongest objections from many local Coast Salish First Nations. Chief Earl Jack of the Penelakut Tribe called the proposed building atop the cemetery “a cynical and vulgar notion.” Grace Islet, part of the large ancient village of Shiya’hwt waht at the head of Ganges Harbour, has long been a recorded archaeological site. An archaeological assessment study confirmed two separate locations of ancient human remains and at least 15 other burial cairn features amongst the camas lilies of this half-hectare rocky islet. Last July, the Penelakut Tribe wrote a complaint to the Salt Spring Island RCMP about the property owner’s reported bulldozing and clearance of the burial islet. Archaeology Branch staff confirmed the land clearance was in breach of existing permit conditions. In a subsequent visit to Grace Islet, First Nations documented the desecration—the vegetation and soils stripped to bedrock by use of a small excavator, and several burial cairns left pedastalled within the proposed house footprint. In his letter this June to Minister Steve Thomson, Chief Jack repeated his request for “upholding our customary laws, beliefs and aboriginal rights to protect our ancestral dead from further disturbance by private development at this burial islet.” Considering the whole islet to be an ancient and historical First Nation cemetery, he pleaded “We believe this sacred place must be publicly respected and preserved, not allowed by your Ministry to be developed and desecrated.” As archaeologist Eric McLay, a specialist in Coast Salish heritage, stated after the permit was issued, “There is a perceived fundamental discrimination against First Nations peoples in such bureaucratic decisions by the Archaeology Branch—that First Nations people and their deceased ancestors aren’t being treated like human beings, but objects that can just be dug up, bulldozed and built over with no consequences. The message sent to First Nations is that they aren’t equal, that their heritage sites—even their cemeteries—aren’t worth preserving, and don’t deserve respect, even long after death.” Archaeology Branch Director Justine Batten, in a written response to Focus’s question on the branch's interpretation of the Heritage Conservation Act, states the goal is to conserve heritage “but in a reasonable balance with other land uses.” One wonders what type of development in one of Victoria’s pioneer cemeteries would be considered reasonable by the Archaeology Branch. Batten claims that in the Grace Islet case, “the landowner had the requisite permit, redesigned his house to ensure there would be no contact with any of the rock features that are believed to be burial cairns and a restrictive covenant will be registered on the certificate of title to ensure future owners of the property have notice of the presence of the site.” But change “rock features”to “gravestones” and “the site” to “Pioneer Square Cemetery” and one can understand the moral outrage felt by Coast Salish peoples. Batten states her mandate is “to achieve a compromise acceptable to both that allows the development but protects the contents of the archaeological site to the extent possible.” At Grace Islet , no compromise was acceptable to First Nations. As Penelakut Elder and hereditary grave worker August Sylvester stated, “This is a shmukw’elu—a cemetery—a place to take care and avoid out of respect for the dead and their spirits.” Batten’s response is, “If the protection sought is more than avoidance and the desire is to preclude any alteration of the lands, then purchasing the property may be the best solution.” The Penalakut Tribe had appealed to Minister Thomson last year to assist in a purchase to preserve Grace Islet as a memorial parkland or cemetery, but the province dismissed the request due to lack of finances. Buying back the burial site themselves would be especially galling considering Coast Salish people never relinquished title to Grace Islet in the first place. Yet buying back a burial site is what the Musqueam First Nation was recently forced to do at the Marpole village site in Vancouver—another ironic Reconciliation Week announcement. Wade Grant, councillor of Musqueam, described his mixed feelings that this ancient village and burial ground—long ago designated a National Historic Site—had to be purchased with $4.8 million that the Musqueam had received as part of a separate payment from the Province for other projects in Vancouver. As part of the sale agreement the Province also provided $5.3 million directly to the property owner for foregone development costs. This purchase came after the Musqueam had exhausted all other political avenues to protect the site from a proposed $100-million condominium development, including a six-month occupation of the site, a blockade of the Arthur Laing Bridge, the lobbying of the premier’s office, public petitions, an intensive social media campaign, and countless meetings and negotiations over a year. Grant said the Musqueam attempted, unsuccessfully, to implement Section 4 of the Heritage Conservation Act, which is a special enabling power that the Province could have used to protect the burial site. The Province’s response to why they didn’t use Section 4 was that, “A working group has been formed to look at the feasibility of developing a mandate to implement Section 4 of the Heritage Conservation Act. This work is not completed and no Section 4 agreements have been developed to date.” Grant questions why “a 1000-year-old Viking burial site is declared a World UNESCO Heritage Site while a much older Musqueam burial site is declared an inconvenience.” For Grant, the Marpole site in the heavily urbanized Vancouver location is the “last undeveloped heritage site of our traditional Musqueam culture—as much part of Canadian heritage as Viking sites.” The Musqueam purchase is the latest in a series of high profile burial site fiascos. The destruction of the burial site at Poet’s Cove on Pender Island in 2006 led to the first fines for altering without a permit, but still resulted in what was called by Robert Morales, chief negotiator for the Hul’qumi’num Treaty Group, “one of the worst desecrations of an aboriginal burial ground by development in the recent history of Canada.” A year later, the Snuneymuxw First Nation was faced with the destruction of the Departure Bay burial site. The site wasn’t issued a stop order until 80 individuals had been dug up and the premier was directly lobbied. The Province eventually withdrew the permit and protected the site directly by providing the $2.5 million in funds to buy it. Such effort required to preserve First Nation heritage places in BC is worrying. Archaeologist McLay says a chronic lack of political will and investment to uphold the principles of the provincial Heritage Conservation Act over the past decade has led to this crisis. The dismantling of the BC Heritage Trust in 2003 led to the current absence of any role for government to publicly invest in provincial heritage site conservation, research, education or heritage site stewardship across the province. Despite strong legislation, the Archaeology Branch’s narrow interpretation of the Act has had the effect of aiding development of archaeological sites rather than conserving them. The lack of any provincial policy or guidelines on decision making over the issuance of alteration permits is of key concern and has led to what McLay calls a “morally-bankrupt” system: “they have no principles, policies, or ethics to responsibly ground a decision to ever say ‘no’ to development—site preservation is always an ad hoc political decision, often made after-the-fact of development.” When designated ancient burial sites and National Historic Sites are greenlighted for development, then our provincial heritage law is rendered meaningless—which means Pioneer Square Cemetery might not be far behind. McLay suggests we need to move beyond existing narrow bureaucratic thinking and implement new mechanisms other than “permits” to regulate—for instance, a provincial heritage legacy fund to help negotiate the purchase of archaeological sites in conflict with development, or an independent provincial heritage advisory board to study, provide advice, and report on current provincial heritage issues. Otherwise, cautions McLay, the status quo will continue where “no First Nation’s archaeological site is safe from the wrecking ball.” Reconciliation Week might have started to build some public awareness of the extent and depth of systemic discrimination of First Nations peoples, but there is a long way to go. Briony Penn PhD has been reporting on the environment since her first article in The Islander in 1975 on Garry oak meadows and has been a columnist in Victoria publications since 1993. She lives on Salt Spring Island.
  15. February 2013 Climate policy experts are speaking out against various schemes to export more carbon from BC’s coastal ports. TRUCK DRIVER JOHN SNYDER retired to bucolic Fanny Bay to live the life, only to wake up one morning three years ago to find a notice on his doorstep—an invitation to an information session on the Raven Coal Mine, proposed five kilometres upstream of his home. After attending the meeting, Snyder launched into his new career as a citizen researcher on the impacts of coal mining on his community. With others, he set up the group CoalWatch. As he says, “It started with concerns about how the mine might contaminate our wells, and took off from there.” The coal underlying the Comox Valley is a soft bituminous coal that is only marketable at the moment as a metallurgical coal for steelmaking—at least if it is blended with better quality metallurgical coal. The Asian market for coal for steel production has been so hot in recent years that companies around the world have been looking to mine just about anything black to satisfy demand. But the Raven project wouldn’t be producing just coal. More than half of what gets mined will be left behind as waste rock—over a million metric tonnes a year proposed for Raven. It will also produce methane off-gases—over 127,000 cubic metres per day is projected. Snyder explains it this way: “The proposed waste rock will fill up a three-storey football field every year, and to offset the mine’s emissions, every person in the Comox Valley would have to park their cars each year it operates.” The combined leaching of acidic materials from the waste rock and the increasing effects of carbon on ocean acidification are another key worry in Fanny Bay, a community that derives its main revenue from shellfish farming. Impacts from acidification have already hit Snyder’s neighbours, the downstream shellfish farmers of Baynes Sound, a story that recently made national news. The Globe and Mail reported that farms like Island Scallops can’t grow their shellfish larvae in the ocean anymore; they die as the shells fail to form in the acidic water. Snyder isn’t budging from his mission to educate his community. “You either stick your head in the sand, move, or stand up for the place where you live.” But both federal and provincial governments are very supportive of the export of coal—as they are of the export of other fossil fuels. The resulting greenhouse gases—from both the mining and the burning in foreign lands—seems to trouble them little. ACROSS THE WATER from Fanny Bay, Dr Mark Jaccard, a high-profile SFU expert on energy economics who has been vocal on the pricing of carbon, was arrested for trying to stop coal trains from the US reaching Vancouver ports. Flanked by other briefcase-toting professionals, he told the media that “the current willingness of—especially our federal government—to brazenly take actions that ensure we cannot meet scientifically- and economically-sound greenhouse gas reduction targets for Canada and the planet, leaves me with no alternative.” At UBC, Dr Kathryn Harrison, an MIT chemical engineering graduate who worked in the tar sands before obtaining her PhD in political science, has co-founded an advocacy organization, UBCC350, focused on drawing attention to “one of the most underappreciated and worrisome gaps in BC’s climate policies”—the exporting of climate change in the form of coal, oil and gas. Harrison and Jaccard are referring to federal and provincial goals of turning BC, and particularly the coast, into a giant conduit for exporting fossil fuels from both BC and elsewhere on the continent. As Harrison points out, there is a huge policy disconnect: “BC has got some laudable targets for reducing internal emissions, but has gone in the opposite direction in its export of emissions.” Potential exports from the new projects, she says, will “completely negate and even overwhelm BC’s internal greenhouse gas emissions.” These include proposed coal projects like Raven and their associated ports, coal coming from the US, proposed shale gas projects with their pipelines, liquefied natural gas (LNG) processing facilities and their ports, and, of course, bitumen coming from the tar sands through the proposed pipelines and port infrastructures. As UVic climate scientist (and Green Party candidate in the upcoming provincial election) Andrew Weaver has written, “The idea that we’re going to somehow run out of coal, natural gas, and other fossil fuels is misplaced. We’ll run out of our ability to live on the planet long before we run out of them.” How much carbon are we poised to export from British Columbia? This was the central question pursued by Harrison and her newly-minted group of faculty, students and staff who, like Jaccard and Weaver, are bravely defying the usual strictures of the ivory towers. The figures are astonishing. Assuming everything we export is burned, BC is set to nearly triple our current exported annual emissions from 172 million tonnes to 461 million tonnes. Compare this to our current in-province emissions of 67 million tonnes based on the 2009 provincial carbon accounting figures. The Northern Gateway alone would increase carbon exports a further 86.4 million tonnes—which is more than all of BC’s in-house emissions alone. The next question, then, is why this sudden rush to ramp up and get it off the continent? “The fossil fuel industries are like dogs to a bitch in heat,” says Arthur Caldicott, an energy researcher out of Victoria who has been tracking this issue over the last ten years. “One day they are all rushing to shale gas. The next day they are all rushing to LNG.” He explains that when natural gas shortages hit North America 12 years ago, the price hit all-time highs, luring investment into developing unconventional shale gas. By 2008, as the recession hit, natural gas production was increasing and the prices were collapsing. Investment in tar sands bitumen extracting and processing was well established and production was ramping up. And at the same time, the market for coal was dropping as electrical generation shifted to cheap natural gas. Says Caldicott, “All three fossil fuel industries—gas, oil, and coal—in North America are now caught in this position of being heavily invested, having lots of ‘product’ coming on stream but having a limited North American market to sell it to. There is a big pressure to justify the big debt, so they have to get the stuff to Asia to sell fast. If they don’t, the whole thing collapses.” As David Hughes, geologist and Fellow of the Post Carbon Institute states, “You just have to follow the money, with the current price of natural gas hitting $18/1000 cubic feet in Japan and $3.40 in Canada.” This offers an explanation for the increasingly bizarre schemes being proposed to coastal residents: five to eight (depending on who’s counting) LNG processing terminals in Kitimat, coal shuttle ports at various places including Surrey Fraser Docks, Texada Island and Port Alberni, not to mention pipelines through seismic zones and tankers travelling through narrow channels and the wild waters of Hecate Strait. “Don’t expect the dogs to be thinking a lot about what they are doing in the long term,” suggests Caldicott. AT UBC, Kathryn Harrison raises the sticky policy question of how to deal with this issue. “We don’t use these fossil fuels, we export them, and get very wealthy off it, but this is like continuing to prosper by exporting tobacco or asbestos. It is legal but the ethics are questionable.” There are definite parallels to the asbestos issue. On one hand, the international treaties around climate assign responsibility to each country for the emissions that occur only within its borders. It’s a pragmatic policy based on what those countries can most easily measure. Still, some countries have more climate-friendly policies than others. Reminiscent of Canada’s asbestos exports, what happens when a jurisdiction like BC, with a regulatory framework and carbon tax, simply offloads our carbon-intensive manufacturing emissions to China, which doesn’t? Given that China’s emissions have been rising in part due to increased demand from North Americans for Chinese manufactured goods, where in this loop are we, the consumers, responsible for our carbon consumption? Harrison believes “consumers share responsibility, as do taxpayers because we are funding public enterprises through it.” However, unlike asbestos, our fossil fuel exports come back to kick us—and BC clamshells—in the teeth; there are no international boundaries in the atmospheric and oceanic commons. Someone who has taken a stab at a policy directive around exporting emissions with our resources is Matt Horne at the Pembina Institute. He recently floated the idea of a carbon tax on all exported emissions to raise revenue for global climate change solutions. Exporting carbon to countries without strong climate policy, he notes, “simply moves the planet closer to dangerous and irreversible climate change.” Horne argues in his proposal that although BC can’t force policy on other countries, we “could nudge things in the right direction.” If a $70 per tonne carbon tax was placed on exports, the province would raise about $3.5 billion per year. He points out that they do this in Norway in the oil and gas sector and the funds go directly to international aid focused on climate. He advises: “Just make [the tax] modest and put it back into the sectors where they need investment to retool…With LNG you could also get the limited number of national producers to agree to the tax, just like OPEC.” Minister Terry Lake, in a written response to Horne’s proposal specifically for LNG exports, claims that British Columbians would never allow the tax dollars collected to be sent overseas and that LNG represents “an opportunity of a lifetime for BC.” He even argues that LNG provides “climate solutions for Asia.” Critics beg to differ on both counts. Horne points to emerging research into LNG markets that shows that while LNG might offset some coal use somewhere, it mostly increases emissions when it goes to Korea and Japan to replace nuclear, other regions to replace the more expensive alternatives like solar, and new regions to boost manufacturing capacity. “One thing we really know is that whatever we export will end up in the atmosphere and the argument that it will substitute more carbon-heavy fuels is simplistic.” Harrison argues that the added internal emissions from processing the coal or shale gas into its transportable form of LNG will make it virtually impossible for us to meet our BC 2020 emissions reduction targets. Current proposals to significantly increase shale gas production and build the first three LNG terminals on the coast are expected to contribute up to 16 million tonnes of CO2 per year, a 25 percent increase in our provincial emissions alone. The governing Liberals and NDP opposition have embraced both shale gas development and LNG exports, but have yet to say how they will reconcile the resulting greenhouse gas emissions with BC’s legislative target to reduce within-province emissions by one-third by 2020. UBCC350 has sent a letter raising the issue to the Premier but she hasn’t yet responded, “which is striking,” Harrison adds, “because most of us live in her riding.” Critics also counter Lake’s “opportunity of a lifetime” characterization. Caldicott sums it up this way: “Support from the provincial government is an act of desperation. The BC government is now caught in the dilemma of where to obtain revenues. There aren’t any options left in natural resources. There’s no pot of gold for us with wood, electricity, coal, or with natural gas. The rush to LNG is coming from an industry which is over-invested in unconventional gas projects and has no market for its product. All the gas-producing regions, including the United States, are rushing to export their heavily subsidized LNG. That is partly why the NDP sound like the Liberals; they have no place else to turn. In the end, any government will continue to reduce regulatory and royalty requirements for these industries to such a degree that there will be no financial benefit to British Columbians to go with the environmental costs.” The Post Carbon Institute’s Hughes elaborates on those costs: “British Columbians will take the collateral damage for the impact of the vented methane, the environmental impacts of water use, disposal of fracking fluids, and carving up of the forest for pads, pipelines and roads, while the corporations will take the profit. Christy Clark would argue that we get royalties, taxes and jobs, but these are short-term benefits compared to the longer-term energy security and environmental interests of Canadians, which are being sold out.” Dr Harrison admits, “there is no magic bullet.” The policy choices are complicated—ranging from taxing exports to just saying no. The first step is “to acknowledge and talk about it.” Snyder and the citizens at CoalWatch are certainly ready to talk about it. The public comment period for the Raven Coal application comes up next month when the proponent, Compliance Energy Corporation, submits its application for the 180-day review. “One thing for sure,” says Snyder, “there will be no decision made on this mine until after the election, so we want to make it an election issue.” There will be many British Columbians wanting to make these burgeoning projects and the export of fossil fuels an election issue. With the kind of expertise lining up to debate and the high stakes, it will be something to watch. Briony Penn has been reporting on the environment since her first article in The Islander in 1975 on Garry oak meadows. She thinks the situation for the environment has never been so bad, but the forces for change have never looked so good.
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