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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.
  16. April 2012 Links between election fraud and oil interests are so thick, it appears bitumen itself is lubricating the connections. OVER TWO DAYS in January, 2010, the Manning Centre for Building Democracy held a campaign school at Delta Ocean Pointe Resort in Victoria in preparation for the 2011 election. Revelations of what went on during those two days has yielded intriguing insight into what might lie behind the current robocall scandal. The Manning Centre is a Conservative think-tank operating out of Calgary, headed by Preston Manning, and board members include Gwyn Morgan, ex-CEO of EnCana Corp and other luminaries of the oil and gas industry. Organizers of the campaign school had sent invitations to various Conservative and former Reform party members and campaign teams, encouraging them to attend. One such invitation eventually found its way into the hands of John Fryer, a former Green Party federal council member and campaign manager for Elizabeth May. Fryer is not the kind of politico you might expect to be attending a Manning Centre event, having won the Order of Canada for his work on international labour policy. Fryer’s experiences at the two-day event were described in a letter to the Globe and Mail on March 3, 2012, as the election fraud scandal unfolded. Fryer wrote, “Topics covered included voter identification. Discussion ensued about suppression techniques. Instructors explained voter suppression tactics were borrowed from those used by the US Republican Party. Many kinds of suppression calls were canvassed. Another instructor gave detailed explanations of how robocalls worked, techniques for recording messages, plus costs involved. He distributed his business card upon request. Instructors made it clear that robocalling and voter suppression were an acceptable and normal part of winning political campaigns. With election ethics like this, a more compelling case for changing to a system of proportional representation where each and every vote counts is hard to imagine.” Vancouver Observer reporter Emma Pullman had also interviewed Fryer. Pullman works for DeSmogBlog, investigating the climate denial industry and its financial backers in the oil industry. In her article, details of the workshop were elaborated upon, including the names of the instructors: Dimitri Pantazopoulos, a former pollster for the federal Conservatives, now the Principal Secretary to Premier Christy Clark; Richard Ciano and Nick Kouvalis of Campaign Research, both long-term Conservative party operatives; and Kory Teneycke, Prime Minister Harper’s former director of communications, and the main booster for Fox North TV. Following the media exposure, both Fryer and the Observer received libel threats. Fryer was asked by a Campaign Research lawyer to publish a letter saying his comments were not intended to suggest that “Mr Couvalis, Mr Ciano or Campaign Research provided, discussed or made suggestions to participants regarding any illegal or unethical campaign or election tactics,” which he did. The Observer was asked to print disclaimers throughout its article, which they did. Fryer declined to speak with me. When Manning Centre for Building Democracy was asked for its response to Fryer’s comments, Director of Com-munications Olivier Ballou stated that Fryer’s retraction letter spoke to the issue. But Pullman says, “Focusing on Fryer’s apology letter to the instructors misses the point. As I wrote in the article, it was the attendees who discussed using the methods that were being taught to make misleading phone calls.” The Manning Centre’s Ballou countered that no other attendees seemed to be corroborating Fryer’s story. According to a list of those who attended obtained by Pullman, most attendees were from federal conservative campaign teams in local ridings, such as those for Troy de Souza and Patrick Hunt of Juan de Fuca and Victoria. In an interview, Hunt denied there was any reference to voter suppression during the course. Preston Manning, in a recent speech, stated: “Any political strategy, tactic, or technology which deliberately employs a lie to misdirect or mislead a voter is deplorable ethically and for the damage it does to the democratic process and public confidence in all parties and politicians.” But Hugh Kruzel, an independent municipal candidate from Victoria who attended the Delta Ocean Pointe campaign school says, “By and large I swallowed some of the kool aid about what the potential lessons learned from the US were, but it didn’t have any sticking power for me. If I heard something that I would never be involved in, I got up and had a coffee. Ethically, I would rather get out the vote than work to ensure other voices are snuffed. Can I remember exactly discussions about voter suppression? I believe some of that was discussed, even at the round table level.” The Manning Centre and oil So what is the Manning Centre for Building Democracy and who funds it? Started in 2005 by Preston Manning, its website says it’s “a national not-for-profit organization supporting research, educational, and communications initiatives designed to achieve a more democratic society in Canada guided by conservative principles.” Manning’s Ballou says “private donations” fund the organization. However, Preston Manning’s own speeches on the website identify some of these “private donors” including Canadian Natural Resources, Shell Canada, Spectra Energy, and TransCanada among others—large publicly-traded oil sector companies. One private donor identified is Gwyn Morgan. Morgan, in addition to his long affiliation with EnCana, is a colleague of and former fundraiser for Harper and the Conservative Party, advisor to Premier Christy Clark, and chair of the board of SNC Lavalin. SNC Lavalin is currently negotiating the purchase of the nationally-owned Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) who make Candu reactors. Nuclear energy has long been proposed as a key future power source for the bitumen extraction process. The Harper Record (published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives) notes that AECL is working with Shell to explore nuclear potential in the tar sands. Other directors of the Manning Centre include Chairman Cliff Fryers (no relation to John Fryer) a tax litigator, general counsel for Mobil Oil Canada Ltd, governor of the Canadian Tax Foundation and a director of the Canadian Petroleum Tax Society; and secretary and treasurer Blair Nixon, tax counsel to a number of natural resources companies. The connection between the interests of oil companies and the Manning Centre is clear. The connection between the Manning Centre and activities which would lead to electoral fraud are becoming clear. The result of such connections to, and funding from, oil companies for the Manning Centre—and other such organizations—is a skewed democracy in which petrodollars help elect politicians, usually Conservative, that are oil-patch-friendly. This can happen directly or indirectly, with oil revenue funding politicians or institutions that work to create an oil-friendly culture. The power of big oil to influence public policy in the area of climate change has been well documented by such watchdog groups as DeSmogBlog, who have been tracking the financing of fake science institutes that deny climate change and obfuscate policy. And Morgan himself gave Harper’s old advocacy group, the National Citizen’s Coalition, $20,000 for fighting Stephane Dion’s carbon tax plan prior to the 2008 election. The aim is to get and keep Conservatives in power, preferably with a majority. The Alberta experience Andrew Nikiforuk, an award-winning journalist and author of Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent and a long-standing critic of Albertan petrostate politics (where the Conservative party has been in power for over 40 years) says, “A government that has access to the enormous stores of hydrocarbons can use the money to manipulate the process and keep themselves in power, and that means subverting the election process and undermining the electoral institutions.” He goes on to describe the various ways in which oil revenue lubricates the subversion process. “First there is the ability of a government running on oil revenue with no savings plan to cover up mistakes, bribe citizens and institutions, lower taxes and fund expensive infrastructure programs to win votes.” He also suggests: “There are no institutional watchdogs in petrostates, they only appoint puppies.” The non-puppies tend to get fired, Nikiforuk says, recounting the case of Alberta’s Chief Electoral Officer Lorne Gibson. In 2007, Winnipeg-born Gibson made his first mistake by recommending charges in nine cases of illegal electoral funding where schools and municipalities had funded the Conservative Party, all of which were curiously dropped. In 2008, Gibson followed up after the provincial election with a scathing report documenting election irregularities. These included a lack of impartiality by the governing Conservative Party in appointing large numbers of electoral returning officers having ties to the Conservatives. Gibson’s report described tactics used to appoint electoral officers, which were sometimes delayed until the day before the election, thus preventing a quarter of Alberta’s voters from getting pre-registered. The ensuing delays, confusion, jammed websites and other voter suppression tactics were well documented in Gibson’s report. He made extensive recommendations for electoral reform and then was promptly fired for his efforts by a legislative committee stacked with Conservatives. Subsequent to Gibson’s firing, Paula Simons, a columnist with the Edmonton Journal, wrote: “The sequence of events sends a terrible message to other independent legislative officers, such as the auditor general, the information and privacy commissioner, the ethics commissioner and the ombudsman. Are they to understand that they too might lose their appointments if they criticize and embarrass the government?” Gibson is currently in court appealing wrongful dismissal. Nikiforuk notes, “That culture of bending the rules has expanded beyond the borders of Alberta now into the rest of Canada with the petrostate party winning its federal majority.” Ground Zero: Saanich–Gulf Islands Locally, Saanich–Gulf Islands’ residents have experienced at least two elections in which irregularities occurred. Viewed as a swing riding in both the 2008 and 2011 federal elections, it was targeted by robocalls apparently trying to suppress the vote for non-Conservative candidates. As the Liberal candidate in the 2008 election, I have personal experience with questionable third-party funding and robocalls. Gary Lunn, Harper’s then-Minister of Natural Resources, was the incumbent. The riding’s strategic location at the edge of the Pacific put it at the heart of the national debate on whether bitumen could be safely distributed from our shores via pipelines and tankers. Lunn’s campaign was well supported by the oil patch gang, including Gwyn Morgan, who chose to retire in the area and whose wife headed a third-party advertiser (she also sits on the Council of Advisors for the Manning Centre). There were five such third-party organizations registered to support Lunn in that election, four of whom had the same address—a law office under the name of lawyer Bruce Hallsor. Hallsor is a prominent Conservative operative. A former member of the BC Chief Electoral Officer’s Advisory Committee, vice-president of the Conservatives’ Saanich–Gulf Islands Electoral District Association, and former director of Fair Voting BC, he was also named in Election Canada’s investigation of a so-called “in-and-out scheme” in his capacity as co-chair of the Conservative campaigns in BC in 2006. The in-and-out scheme was an illegal mechanism whereby the Conservative Party shifted national advertising money in and out of local riding campaign accounts in order to claim it as local spending. On March 12, 2012 the Conservatives lost their federal court appeal and were found guilty of illegal election financing during the 2006 election. They were fined $52,000 although they exceeded spending limits by $1.3 million. In the 2008 election, third-party advertisers—each allowed to spend $3666—flooded the Saanich–Gulf Islands riding with pro-Conservative ads. Under the Canada Elections Act such advertising could only come from third- party groups that were at “arm’s length” from campaign workers. But at a meeting convened by Elections Canada officials prior to the election for all candidates, their managers, agents and riding association presidents, Hallsor was sitting next to his Conservative candidate. It’s also illegal to split one third-party group into multiple organizations to increase funding, yet four third-party advertisers shared Halsor’s law office address. Besides the ad expenditures, on the eve of the election a robocall went out to thousands of NDP supporters, purporting to be from Progressive Voters Association of Saanich–Gulf Islands, urging them to vote for the NDP candidate. No mention was made in the call that the candidate had stepped down, or that his withdrawal had been too late to have his name removed from the ballot. In effect, it split the progressive vote enough for Lunn to win the seat. Fast forward to the 2011 election. Saanich–Gulf Islands was again viewed as a close race and complaints of robocalls aiming to suppress the vote were again heard. The Green Party’s leader Elizabeth May, who defeated Lunn, has called the robocall scandal “a genuine emergency with regard to the essential integrity of our democratic institutions,” and called (unsuccessfully) for an emergency debate on the matter. Local political support for a pipeline from Alberta’s tar sands to the coast, and for tankers to transport bitumen through hazardous narrow passages along BC’s coast, has come solely from the Conservatives. In both recent Saanich–Gulf Islands’ elections, the Northern Gateway pipeline had been a central campaign issue. The very first public demonstration—ever—in Sidney was held to protest the northern Gateway pipeline. It was supported by Liberals, Greens and the NDP—as was the moratorium on tanker traffic on the northern coast. With a Conservative minority government, there was no way the pipeline was ever going to fly. But a majority government would be a game changer. The oil could flow. Jim Harris, writing for Huffington Post, claims, “Harper won his ‘majority’ with 6848 votes. That’s the difference between a Conservative candidate getting elected and the second-place candidate in the 14 closest races that the Conservatives ‘won.’” Can Elections Canada be trusted? Elections Canada is now combing through at least 700 individual complaints (31,000 counting those sent through internet forms organized by advocacy groups) in dozens of ridings stemming from the current robocall scandal. The experience in Saanich–Gulf Islands does not inspire confidence that Elections Canada will get to the bottom (or top) of who misled citizens about polling stations in an effort to suppress non-Conservative votes. After the 2008 election, both Liberal and NDP Saanich–Gulf Islands riding associations sent a complaint package to Elections Canada about the irregularities. On March 2, 2009, Elections Canada responded: “Our investigator found no one who had actually been influenced in their vote because of the purported telephone call. Nor was he able to identify the source of the person or persons who actually made the calls. As a result of the foregoing, our investigation has now been concluded.” With regard to the third-party advertisers, they wrote “it is within the discretion of the Political Financing and Audit Directorate to refer the matter to the Commissioner for his consideration.” As far as I know, no follow-up ever took place. After the 2008 experience, it was clear where all this would lead. Duff Conacher of Democracy Watch saw evidence of collusion between third-party groups. He said, “If they are allowed to get away with this [in Saanich–Gulf Islands] what happens if there’s a case where the candidate is still there? Someone could do bulk calling on behalf of whichever candidate you think will split your candidate’s vote.” Conacher had completed an analysis of Election Canada’s enforcement since 2004 “revealing that the main problem is no one can tell whether Elections Canada has been enforcing the law fairly and properly because it has failed to report details of how it has investigated and ruled on 2284 complaints in the past years.” In 2009, Will Horter of the Dogwood Initiative, a public-interest non-profit that has been lobbying against oil tankers on the coast, wrote “If someone with subpoena powers doesn’t step up with some investigative muscle, I predict many more Karl-Rove-like black-op operations in future elections.” Given the Saanich experience, and Alberta’s record before that, is there any reason to be confident Stephen Harper’s Conservative government will not interfere with Elections Canada as they try to investigate the robocall scandal? Will the details be made available? Will the scandal be contained by making “Pierre Poutine” the fall guy? Where is the deeper analysis in the corporate media of the structural erosion of the country’s democratic processes? And who is tracking the oil money lubricating the decline? These are all question that need to be answered, and soon. Andrew Nikiforuk considers this a political emergency for the country. “Once petrostates seize power, the bar is lowered on everything and it is very difficult to raise it back up.” He cites eroding labour health and safety standards like that which led to two Chinese temporary workers being crushed to death at the Canadian Natural Resources Horizon project. Chinese company Sinopec is appealing to the Supreme Court of Canada to overturn a ruling that would force CNRH to stand trial for the deaths and face 53 safety charges. This November— if Harper doesn’t stop the process prematurely—the Joint Review Panel for the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project will be in Victoria to hear appellants’ comments on the pipeline. Two of the panel are from Calgary and the third is a manager of a mineral exploration company out of Ontario. Given the money at stake and the way petrodollars are subverting democracy, it’s hard to have much confidence that the panel will be free of political interference. Andrew Nikiforuk warns, “Petrostates won’t tolerate any kind of democratic intervention, as they see it as a threat to their power.” But as citizens, we have to try, don’t we? Briony Penn, PhD, is a fifth-generation Vancouver Islander, artist, journalist, environmental educator and mother who believes the rising petrostate is an emergency for both democracy and the planet.
  17. October 2011 Both the Fraser River sockeye and Pacific herring stocks are, by many accounts, on the verge of collapse, just as East Coast cod stocks did in the late 1980s. In the case of the cod, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans ignored early warnings from scientists and threatened some with loss of their jobs if they spoke out. Is that pattern repeating itself on the West Coast? THE UNFOLDING PRESENTATIONS at the Cohen Commission Inquiry into the 2009 Fraser River sockeye collapse, as well as at a recent symposium on the collapse of the BC herring fishery, suggest that history may be repeating itself. By the time the federal government imposed a moratorium on the eastern cod fishery in 1992, it was too late. Many questioned why the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) didn’t warn the government earlier. The answer was made clear in 1997 with the publication of an article in the Canadian Journal of Fish and Aquatic Science. Entitled “Is Scientific Inquiry Incompatible with Government Information Control?” its authors, scientists Jeffrey Hutchings, Carl Walters and Richard Haedrich—two formerly with DFO—provided evidence of the suppression of and political interference with research by industry-influenced government officials. The article concluded: “The present framework for linking science with management can, and has, led to abuses that threaten the ability of scientists to understand fully the causes of fish declines, to identify means of preventing fishery collapses from recurring, to incorporate scientific advice in management decisions, and to communicate research in a timely fashion to as wide an audience as possible. The existing framework of government-sponsored fisheries science needs to be replaced. It has failed to ensure viable fish resources and thereby sustain the fishing people and fishing communities upon which successful fisheries management depends. The economic and societal cost of this failure to Canada has been enormous.” Similar issues with government scientists were expressed frequently at the recent and concurrent Cohen Commission and Simon Fraser University symposium on the herring collapse. Sifting through thousands of pages of documents, memos, emails, scientific papers and transcripts, it is hard to find reassurance that DFO has begun to separate research from industry collusion and not interfered in scientific conclusions. Nor has DFO allowed its scientists to communicate publicly about their research, except in controlled situations. Independent researchers and representatives of coastal First Nations are showing signs that they will not tolerate a catastrophe of the scale of the eastern cod fishery here on the west coast—but it’s an upstream swim. Muzzled Miller Much of the attention at the Cohen Commission has centred around the testimony of DFO scientist Dr Kristi Miller. Miller heads a $6-million salmon-genetics project at the federal Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo. She had an article published in the prestigious journal Science this past winter—but was ordered by her superiors not to do media interviews around it. Miller uncovered what she described at the Cohen Commission as potentially the “smoking gun” for the sockeye collapse. In the course of running genomic profiles on sockeye, she discovered the vast majority of them were carrying the signature of a “novel” virus or parvovirus that could weaken the fish and make them vulnerable to a host of symptoms—variously called marine anemia and plasmacytoid leukemia. She stated that there were many elements of the history and timing of these diseases that potentially implicated this parvovirus in declines of other species of salmon—for example, Chinook in fish farms between 1988 and 1991—and that this is what tipped her to look at the possible linkages of this virus to the sockeye collapse. Under questioning at the Commission, it was revealed that Dr Miller had prepared a report in 2009 that included her hypothesis that this virus may be suggestive that hatcheries and aquaculture were playing a role in the decline of the sockeye. But she was asked by her employer to remove this reference from her report. When asked why, Miller stated, “I honestly don’t remember the dialogue that occurred associated with that, but I think that many felt that to be highly speculative and not really well supported.” She was also restricted from presenting at an earlier Simon Fraser think-tank into the sockeye salmon collapse. When asked about that, she stated, “I think that to be precautionary, they [DFO] would limit the exposure of scientists to any meetings that were likely to attract public attention and media.” While she stated that she is not prevented from publishing her research, she added, “What we have been told is that we’re not to speak about our findings until we testify here in the Cohen Inquiry. I don’t know at what point that ban in speaking to the public will be lifted. I don’t believe it is lifted yet.” Why didn’t Miller’s smoking gun, when first reported within DFO, trigger the highest red alert and demand the full cooperation of industry? Greg McDade, the lawyer representing biologist Alexandra Morton, only had 15 minutes to determine why some obvious vectors for this mystery virus weren’t explored. He asked Miller why there had been no testing of Atlantic salmon in the fish farms, especially in light of the evidence (eventually released under public pressure) that symptoms of the anemia appeared in sampled farmed fish. Miller responded that she was approached by the BC Salmon Growers Association and told that, “The [fish farm] vets weren’t comfortable with testing for a signature” in their farmed Atlantic salmon, so to-date, none have been tested. It came as a surprise to some that a DFO scientist cannot insist on testing farmed fish when there’s even a small chance that a lethal virus might infect wild stocks. Miller’s appearance at the Cohen Commission, besides confirming how government scientists are prohibited from speaking freely, validated what critics have said about the aquaculture industry having too much power. During the week of Miller’s testimony, the fish farms did agree to allow testing to proceed. But Miller may not be able to take advantage of their accommodation. As she stated at the Commission hearings: “Right now, I actually have no departmental money or outside money to work on sockeye salmon from the Fraser River.” That statement confirmed another major public concern: scientists unable to conduct needed research due to lack of funding. Morton at the Cohen Commission On the stand at the Cohen Commission, Alexandra Morton proudly proclaimed her independence: “I don’t work for a university, the government, the industry, or a First Nation—I’m completely independent.” Damien Gillis, who observed the Cohen Commission, wrote after Morton’s appearance: “The fact is, throughout the aquaculture and disease hearings of the past several weeks, most of the Commission’s scientific experts either work for or have worked for the industry or government—a point Morton made clear in the final, heated exchange of the day.” A biologist, Morton has worked and lived in the Broughton Archipelago for decades, before and during the period when it became home to a good portion of BC’s fish farms. She observed first-hand their practices and impacts—from the disappearance of the whales she had first gone there to study, to the rise of sea lice infestations on salmon. She has become an expert on sea lice—which often occur in the crowded conditions of fish farm pens, and can carry diseases between farmed and wild stocks. Morton has published articles in scientific journals—including Science—on the subject. In the course of her research, she has become both a passionate advocate for wild salmon and an articulate and severe critic of the aquaculture industry and the government. As a person with a “substantial and direct interest in the subject matter of the inquiry,” Morton was granted official standing at the Cohen Commission. This allowed her to access the Commission’s databases—but not, much to her dismay, to divulge her findings, even when she discovered information she believed was critical to the health of salmon stocks. At the Cohen Commission, she was questioned (some would say challenged) more about her credentials and her “disrespect” of other scientists than the 60-page report she prepared based on her analysis of the 500,000 pages of government documents that Cohen collected on the Fraser sockeye decline since 1992. She says her research led her to a clear understanding of what is happening to the sockeye, an understanding of why stocks declined in 2009 and rebounded in 2010. When she tried to submit her report to the inquiry, she says, “the lawyers for Canada and the Province of BC blocked me, saying it was ‘hearsay.’ They demanded I use my ‘living voice;’ when I tried to do that they blocked me, saying I am not a vet and therefore my opinion was not allowed.” (“Living voice” is a legal term referring to verbal presentation, as opposed to a document.) Because of the way the Commission works—insisting that all documents gathered by the Commission be kept confidential unless a legal ruling is made or they become exhibits at the proceedings—Morton’s report is not available to us, fuelling the key public concern about access to information. The Commission has not put up transcripts of Morton’s testimony as of press time, but on her blog Morton notes: “Only the sockeye that closely passed salmon farms collapsed. DFO science found evidence of a virus in the ones that were dying. The clinical condition of these fish and genomic evidence pointed to a mystery sickness that began in Chinook salmon farms on the Fraser sockeye route in the early 1990s, exactly when the sockeye began to collapse. The pale gills, swollen kidneys and tumour-like lesions were found in both the farm Chinook salmon and the sockeye. When the Norwegian companies quietly removed the Chinook farms mid-2007, the first sockeye generation that went to sea since 1992 without being exposed returned in historic numbers in 2010. This is what Canada and the Province of BC would not let me talk about. This is the uncomfortable truth that defies the policy that salmon farms do not kill wild salmon. I told the courtroom that when push comes to shove, the government hands it to the industry, not the wild salmon.” She says that at the Commission, “The lawyers for Canada and the Province of BC did not want to hear about the emails where DFO scientists were talking about the dying sockeye in the Fraser River. They were trying to figure it out, but had no money. The government lawyers did not want to hear that the provincial vet examining farm salmon is meticulously documenting new lesions. He reports these lesions are similar to the dangerous Norwegian Salmon Alphavirus, Heart and Skeletal Muscle Inflammation (which causes the farm salmon to die of heart attacks as they are being harvested), Pancreatic Disease and Infectious Salmon Anemia virus. They did not want to hear that the province is developing tests for viruses they say are not here. They refused to meet me on the battlefield, opting instead to throw rocks from the bushes. They attacked my education, my Registered Professional Biologist standing, our freedom to move over the ocean freely in a boat, and the right to free speech.” With so much at stake, at an inquiry that is perhaps the last chance to prevent the salmon from going the way of the cod, it doesn’t seem a wise way to treat an independent scientist. Up the river from the Cohen Commission, another key coastal fishery on the verge of collapse was being discussed, but with no lawyers badgering witnesses. While DFO’s past ineffectiveness was condemned there as well, the fact that some DFO scientists joined in the discussion with independent scientists and First Nations was viewed as a big step forward. Herring mismanagement causes a cultural genocide In late August, academics, First Nations and media joined with several scientists from DFO for Simon Fraser University’s three-day research symposium (brilliantly named The Herring School Workshop) “to digest and discuss the dismal fate of herring in the Pacific Northwest.” Michelle Washington of the Sliammon First Nations set the mood for the days ahead. With tears pouring down her cheeks, she recalled the day when a way of life—one that had endured for thousands of years—ended. She was 14 years old when the commercial fleet of herring boats arrived in front of her village of Teeshoshum (“waters white with herring spawn”) on the Sunshine Coast. “There were so many boats that they blocked our view to the island across the bay.” That was 27 years ago and the herring, which provided both food and livelihoods, have never returned. Throughout the conference, representatives from First Nations for the entire coast stood up for the first time, one after the other, sharing their common experiences, traditional knowledge, grief and frustration. Each pinpointed the year and cause of the loss of the distinct herring populations on which these cultures and ecosystems were built. Barb Wilson, a Haida grandmother and Parks Canada employee, was a little girl when the commercial herring fleet came to fish the spawning herring in her village bay off Skidegate. She remembers the way the boat lights lit up the bay as they fished through the night. That was in the 1950s, and the herring have never returned in numbers since. Frank Brown, Heiltsuk First Nation, spoke of the intense frustrations his people had in trying to change the herring management practices in the once-vital spawning grounds of Spiller Channel. “For five years, we went to fisheries and science meetings of DFO with our own herring fishery management plan, as it is a communal aboriginal right affirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1996. Then we went out on to the grounds as a nation to try and stop the fishery in 2003, 2004, 2005. Canada sent in the RCMP and a paramilitary force with snipers to enforce the law. Whose law are we talking about enforcing now? The highest law in the land gave us the highest priority access. At the end of the day, the fishing fleet fished through the night and got their quota in Spiller Channel.” Cliff Atleo, Nuu-chah-nuulth First Nations, repeated a similar story about the once-rich herring spawning locations in his territory on west Vancouver Island over the last 40 years, and the specific years in which the sac-roe fisheries came and cleaned them out from Barkley to Clayoquot sounds. Arvid Charlie of the Cowichan Tribes recounted how the herring spawns disappeared from Cowichan Bay, Genoa Bay and Gorge Harbour when he was a little boy in the ’40s from the reduction fisheries. “They came and caught the herring by the scowfuls and the herring never came back.” Cliff Atleo argued that the mismanagement of herring is causing a cultural genocide of coastal people. “These are strong words but they are true, as herring are a cultural keystone species upon which all life and cultures depend.” Frank Brown said the fact that scientists from DFO had actually come to participate was an important step in the right direction. He also acknowledged restrictions that scientists might work under because of industry interests, and said: “If we agree that herring is a keystone species, then we have to come together and try to overcome the fear around issues related to people’s employment, whether it is through allocations of herring or their jobs within the civil service.” Research doesn’t support DFO’s assumptions The smoking gun of the herring declines that indigenous representatives at the Herring School pointed to was the commercial fishery. First, the reduction fisheries that were closed in 1967, and then the current sac-roe fishery which kills the spawning fish. The commercial herring fishery and processing operations are now entirely owned by Jimmy Pattison (Canfisco); and Canfisco’s senior director of fishing operations, Chris Cue, sits on advisory boards for the fishery. At the Herring School, Dennis Chalmers, a fisheries manager all his career, first for the federal government and now at the provincial level, outlined past fisheries management, admitting the reduction fisheries were a disaster until their closure in 1967. But he defended current management practices for the sac-roe fishery. “We scientifically estimate pre-roe harvest biomass and only take 20 percent of the total, which is low by fisheries standards.” If biomass drops below a dangerous threshold in a large management section, which it has in four out of five regions, they don’t allow a fishery. Coastal First Nations people believe that the management model used by DFO, which treats the herring population as a single, undifferentiated mass that can move around within five large management units, is too simplistic. They have been arguing for decades that herring have behaviourally distinct bay populations, differentiated by geography, migratory behaviour and/or by time of spawn. For example, there are early spawners like the Gorge and Ganges populations, and some are late, like the Cherry Point population across the Strait of Georgia—all of them on the brink of extinction. Not paying attention to this variability in behaviour and numbers has enabled the sac-roe fleet to aggressively target each last substantive bay population to get their quota—which has remained the same percentage, despite a decline in overall biomass. The stories from Sliammon to Haida Gwaii point to the fact that once fished out, these local bay populations fail to recover even after decades have passed, and the main cause has been the sac-roe fishery. Local populations have flickered out everywhere, even in Baynes Sound, which is still being fished by Pattison’s fleet. However, DFO claims they haven’t found evidence that local populations are distinct, nor that the 20 percent quota of estimated biomass is a factor in the decline. Jake Schweigert, DFO herring scientist, says herring move, and he points to historical highs of the Strait of Georgia Management Unit at Baynes Sound and the Sliammon population moving around to Savary Island—although there’s been no research or catch in this section since 2000. DFO scientists have been advocating this “moving herring” hypothesis for years, with no real evidence. And now there is new, independent evidence emerging that they’ve been wrong. Dr Dana Lepofsky, who heads up the Herring School of researchers at SFU, has been working on the archaeology of herring for the last five years. Through excavations of village sites like Teeshoshum and Namu on the Central Coast, they have uncovered 7000 years of herring ecology and DNA in herring bones which could confirm what elders have been saying all along—that there is long-term site fidelity if these specific locations are not overfished. Abundance at these sites corresponds well to oral traditions that identify places of high concentrations of herring spawn. Lorenz Hauser of University of Washington, Donga Yang at SFU, and Camilla Speller at University of Calgary have now figured out how to get nuclear DNA from the ancient bones and believe that this research direction might help us to better understand possible genetic differences between herring populations from place to place. If this proves to be the case, DFO would have to accept an alternative hypothesis and embrace traditional practices—which have long been ignored but reflect this diversity. The first task, according to Arvid Charlie, would be to call for a moratorium on the herring fishery to give the last spawning groups a rest. For Karri Humchitt, Heiltsuk First Nation, the only solution is true co-management with the people who live with and understand the fish. At the symposium, DFO’s Schweigert defended current management and suggested that declines and failure to recover are linked to many causes. But his first choice of cause was predation by growing numbers of sea lions and humpback whales, as well as climate change. When he presented this argument, there were audible gasps from the audience, one that would have fully remembered a similar argument proffered to explain the cod collapse. They would also have recalled the 1995 muzzling of DFO scientist Ransom Myers over the causes of the cod collapse. Myers had found no evidence that predation by seals or environmental conditions were responsible for trends in total mortality of the 1985-87 cod stocks, yet his findings were removed from the pivotal Stock Status Report of 1995 and virtually none of the evidence that fishing was an important cause of the stock declines was included. When Myers spoke to the press directly in 1995 and stated categorically that the collapse of the cod fishery had nothing to do with seals and everything to do with overfishing, he was reprimanded and threatened with the loss of his job. Many of the speakers at the Herring School Workshop knew of the Myers case and had long exposure to the problem of an industry-captured agency. So they weren’t buying Schweigert’s hypothesis. Yet, once again, the fact that DFO scientists were participating was cited as progress. Two points of agreement were reached by the group. First, Steve Martell from DFO affirmed the criticism that there were information gaps in the old modelling and problems in making reliable stock assessments. Second, everyone agreed that in areas where there hasn’t been any fishing for years, the herring aren’t recovering and it isn’t clear why. But there are precious few people to answer that question. As Dr Ashleen Benson of SFU noted, Canadian science policy budgets have been cut by 40 percent and a third of the staff cut. Benson pointed out that they have 48 other species—in addition to sockeye and herring—for which stock assessments are required, but there is neither the staff nor budgets to do them. And there appears to be no political will to change the situation. A recent example of what the federal government really cares about was their virtual scuttling—after a decade of work—of the multiple-stakeholder Pacific Northern Coast Integrated Management Area (PNCIMA), because some funding was going to come from the conservation-oriented Moore Foundation. Many believe the federal conservatives feared the agreement could negatively affect Enbridge Inc’s proposed $5.5 billion Northern Gateway pipeline. What’s at stake At the end of the herring symposium, Heiltsuk representative Frank Brown summed up the events and made a call for collective action. “We are in a crisis—ecological and economic. Climate change is upon us. We are all aware of the games that get played. So we have to look really long and hard in order to build a solid foundation to move forward. We need a call to action. The stocks haven’t come back. Why? Why? The question should be a collective call to action of why?” Summing up his feelings, elder Edwin Newman said, “We have been at war with DFO for decades, but we are all at the end now. Unless we all work towards saving these stocks together, and rebuild the trust, the herring will go extinct and so will everything that depends on them, from the salmon to our cultures.” A couple of days after her Cohen Commission appearances, Alex Morton headed out in her boat to Blackfish Sound. As she wrote in her blog, she wondered: “How could government and their lawyers be so blind to such wealth of the natural systems. Without the natural resources, BC would be poor, and yet we are destroying it so fast we will leave only the ruins to the next generation…These lawyers prevented the terrible truth from coming forward—DFO did nothing while millions of sockeye died at their feet. Fisheries were closed, salmon became scarce in some years to the people whose bodies require it. And then when one of their own stumbled on the answer to ‘Why?’ DFO prevented her from attending meetings, speaking to media, and she has no funding to work on sockeye salmon.” One might think the devastation of the cod fishery—and the subsequent findings of lack of responsible action—would have had more impact on us and our government. Briony Penn lives in Fulford Harbour, Salt Spring Island, where the last big spawn was 1983 and, despite local protests, charity and bait fisheries were still allowed. The wildlife have disappeared, and for her too, a way of life as a naturalist.
  18. July 2010 The combination of a gutted Forest Service, vast areas of not sufficiently restocked forestlands, a quirky loophole in the Kyoto Protocol and a provincial government ideologically driven to sell off public assets has created the perfect opportunity for forest industrialists to burn down the last barriers to privatization of BC’s Crown forests. ON AUGUST 20, 1910, a strong wind blew down off the Cascades and whipped hundreds of forest blazes into an inferno that extinguished towns and three million hectares of forests from Washington to Montana. The fires came at a critical time in United States history, when the timber barons, including Weyerhaeuser, were swaying public opinion towards privatizing the country’s public forests. The timber barons had attacked Teddy Roosevelt’s new forest service and its backbone—the forest rangers. The mandate Roosevelt gave the US Forest Service, that “the forest reserves should be set apart forever for the use and benefit of our people as a whole and not sacrificed to the short-sighted greed of a few,” was undermined by claims that Roosevelt’s “green rangers” (led by chief forester Gifford Pinchot) were “google-eyed, bandy-legged dudes, sad-eyed, absent-minded professors and bugologists.” But when the big fires came, Teddy’s forest rangers fought against all odds, saved thousands of lives, and turned the tide of public sentiment against privatization. That led to the strengthening of the US Forest Service and its duty of stewardship. It was called the year of the Big Burn, and out of its ashes came the creation of the British Columbia Forest Service, with a similar mission and structure. A century later, history seems to be in a kind of rhythmic regression in BC. The Forest Service has suffered through a decade of cuts, rendering it unable to do its job. And now the pressure for privatization is coming—from some of the same companies that Roosevelt beat back 100 years ago, like Weyerhaeuser—to meet 21st century demands for cheap, so-called “green” biofuel. And this time round, the champions for keeping our forests public—the latest generation of “green rangers”—are a cohort of influential and well-respected professional foresters from the Forest Service (hardly “absent-minded professors”) led by Anthony Britneff, who recently retired after 39 years as a senior professional in the forest inventory, silviculture and forest health programs of the service. These green rangers are blowing the whistle on an overly industry-friendly government and are poised to put out what threatens to become BC’s own Big Burn. In June, after the latest in a long series of drastic cuts to the Forest Service, Britneff wrote in an op ed in Victoria’s Times Colonist: “This government might think that by rendering the Forest Service dysfunctional and by not investing in the renewal of forestlands, it will eventually rationalize the privatization of provincial forests at fire-sale prices. Enclose the commons? Wake up BC!” Besides the emasculating cutbacks, there’s another threat that our green rangers are battling: “tenure reform” that puts “investor security” before the public interest. Some argue it amounts to de facto privatization of public lands. And not just any public lands, but the most abundant valley bottoms that will meet the needs of a growing international demand for biofuel. All this is playing out against a backdrop of unprecedented forest-health impacts due to climate change and a growing international call to conserve standing forests as carbon sinks for both mitigation of, and adaptation to, global warming. Massive cuts to the Forest Service How deeply is the provincial government cutting the Forest Service? From the 42 district offices that used to exist before the Liberals took office in 2001, only 22 remain. According to the BC Government Employees Union, 1004 employees have been cut since 2002—well over half of these among the district staff that were providing on-the-ground stewardship, forest management, recreation, monitoring, enforcement and compliance services. The ministry has been unable to provide the total number of staff remaining. Insiders speculate that staffing levels are now at record lows, possibly below half the staffing level in 1981 at the bottom of the last major recession in BC. Each district office, with only a handful of field staff, is now responsible for over two million hectares—1000 times more forest per forester than in Sweden. As Roosevelt observed, without a corps of rangers, the land goes unprotected and the laws that set the land aside become meaningless. Since 2002, in addition to staff cuts, most forest management programs have had budgets slashed by over 50 percent. The Forest Stewardship Division has been gutted and, in a sign of the times, its remnants have been absorbed by the new Competitiveness and Innovation Division, which is being led by an assistant deputy minister with no previous experience in forestry matters—a political appointment made directly by the Premier’s office. Harry Drage, a green ranger with 32 years in the forest service in the Southern Interior as district manager, provincial recreation officer and certification inspector, observes, “If you take it one step further and look at the staffing in both the ministries that are charged with stewardship—forest and environment—it is down by well over a half of what it was. This creates a lack of public oversight and so the checks and balances are not there anymore. We aren’t protecting the public interest. Is the public comfortable with that?” This question was put to the Minister of Forests and Range, Pat Bell, an ex-salvage logger from Prince George. He makes no apologies for the cuts or change in institutional culture. With a 35 percent reduction in harvest levels and dropping government revenues from forestry, he feels a nine percent reduction in staff (referring to only the June round of cuts) is not unreasonable. “The public expects us to manage our fiscal resources, and that is what we are doing.” He points to the Forests for Tomorrow program at $40 million dollars for 2010-2011 as making a significant contribution “by any measure” to reforestation. Anthony Britneff argues that government cannot justify these cuts by the need for fiscal restraint alone because the bulk of the budget cuts were made in 2002, before the recession. He thinks the Forests for Tomorrow program is a tiny drop in a dangerously empty bucket. The amount of public spending on reforestation dropped by 93 percent in 2002 and has only recovered to about 40 percent of what was being budgeted in the ’90s. Meanwhile the amount of land that needs reforestation has increased more than 50-fold. Minister Bell finds these kind of comments “disappointing,” and he maintains that core services to the ministry have been protected and that it’s easy for critics to manipulate numbers. Fact-checking the numbers is challenging. The political decision to strip out a requirement for resource analysis reporting from the Ministry of Forests and Range Act has left the public with limited and confusing facts. After 2002, the ministry’s annual reports shrink to half their previous length, and reporting on forest management activities takes a downward dive. John Betts, head of the Western Silvicultural Contractors’ Association, observes that the last time there was such a slim annual report was when the forest rangers were fighting on the Western Front during World War II. Anthony Britneff argues that it is precisely such lack of reporting that prevents even a coherent discussion about the numbers because they aren’t available. “How can you reliably determine timber supply for annual allowable A clearcut on Vancouver Island awaiting replantingcuts if you don’t have a good inventory of what is there and what isn’t?” he asks. He points out that no one knows anymore how much land is not stocked or requires replanting. Britneff estimates that nine million hectares, an area three times the size of Vancouver Island, is not stocked adequately with trees—lands that are outside of licensee responsibilities and therefore the responsibility of the province. The critics are not confined to internal Forest Service “bugologists.” In Williams Lake, forest contractor Jane Perry, past president of the Association of BC Forest Professionals, describes the impact of the recent cutbacks on beetle-affected areas as a huge loss to the much-needed research and expertise required to deal with the immense problem. “Morale in Williams Lake,” she sighs, “couldn’t be lower.” John Betts confirms Perry’s portrayal of what’s happening. “People come up to me and say, ‘Boy, you guys must be really busy with all the burned lands and mountain pine beetle.’ Well, actually, we aren’t. We have lost 30 percent of our work and guys are losing their jobs. The lumber market has collapsed so there is no work with the companies. But the point is we should be busier than ever from government because we have a major restoration project that is being neglected.” Change of mission Our publicly-owned forests are a provincial icon and the envy of the world. Since the passing of the Forest Act in 1912, a public role in managing our forests has been enshrined in legislation to defend against what was then characterized as “destructive lumbering.” Some might argue that record is blemished, but British Columbians still enjoy a public asset that is unequalled in the world. Native forests with a tremendous diversity of ecosystems, large, still-intact watersheds, and a public freedom to enjoy them are a part of every British Columbian’s identity. This is very different than the experience of Europe, Australia and New Zealand, where native forests have long been converted to plantations of commercial exotic species with a corresponding loss of biodiversity and a limiting of public access. Since 1978, the Forest Service’s mission statement has stressed integrated management of the many values we ascribe to our forests, with a commitment “to manage, conserve and protect the province’s forest, range and outdoor recreation resources to ensure their sustainable use for the economic, cultural, physical and spiritual well-being of British Columbians, who hold those same resources in trust for future generations. In respecting and caring for public forest and range lands, the ministry is guided by the ethics of stewardship and public service.” Apparently, that’s now all history. A recent internal Ministry of Forests and Range document titled “Response to the Changing Business Environment” lays out the new mission for the ministry as “To provide a superior service to resource stakeholders by supporting competitive business conditions” and gives priority to “Enhancing industry competitiveness” and “Identifying clear outcomes for investors.” An earlier internal memo dated June 9, 2009 from Jim Gowriluk, regional executive director, to his district managers, titled “Re: Advocating for the Forest Industry in the Coast Forest Region,” clearly articulates the new single-function mandate of the Forest Service of “fulfilling our role as advocates for the forest industry.” Protecting the public interest has disappeared. In Smithers, another retired green ranger, forest ecologist Jim Pojar, an internationally-regarded specialist on BC’s ecosystems with 25 years in the Forest Service under his belt, refuses to become a “stooge of industry.” He believes the Liberal government wants to deregulate and effectively privatize our public forests, presenting “hard times” with forest die-off and declining revenue from forestry as a convenient rationale to impose their ideology. “Their vision seems to be to maximize the net present value of forest resources, liquidate as much wood as quickly as possible, manage only for fibre or biomass, sell off forest land to industry and let them deal with the hassle—and maybe make some extra money in real estate. If that is your vision, you don’t need a Forest Service and you don’t need a regulatory and management regime.” Del Meidinger was the chief provincial forest ecologist for 30 years. His work with forest classification systems led the world as a management tool and won him the Premier’s Legacy Award. Meidinger points to the axing of the field ecologists who implement this tool. “Why are they de-emphasizing forest stewardship? The forests support so many ecosystem services. Really what is at stake is the protection of the public interest in our forests.” Alan Vyse, adjunct professor of forestry with an Emeritus position in the Forest Service, speaking from his office at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, affirms the concerns of the green rangers: “The facts stand for themselves. There are lots of concerns out there about the change in culture surrounding our public forests and I share them. What we need now with all the challenges of increased pests, fire and other climate change issues is an informed and proactive Forest Service to identify and solve the problems.” The problems are as big as all outdoors. While the political winds were changing at the turn of the millennium, the climatic winds were blowing in profound effects on our forests. Interior forests have experienced huge hits from record wildfires, mountain pine beetle, other large-scale insect infestations like western spruce budworm, and diseases like Dothistroma. The mountain pine beetle alone damaged 15 million hectares, 30 to 60 percent of which staff estimate is not satisfactorily restocked (referred to as NSR lands). Fires burned over a million hectares. A third of a million hectares have been left unstocked from small-scale salvage logging carried out without any obligation to reforest. As Vyse asks, “How do you meet these challenges when you reduce your staff and researchers? In the various cuts, including the latest one, they have eliminated 1500 years of accumulated expertise in technical issues. How can you be proactive…?” Jim Pojar, in his recent peer-reviewed scientific report, New Climate for Conservation, highlights the challenges facing our forests: “Climate change is already significantly impacting healthy ecosystems in British Columbia and will likely cause more dire consequences for fragmented or degraded ecosystems.” He notes that future projections for forest health and supply of timber require analysis by people who are arms-length to industry. This is not the direction the BC government seems headed. Biofuels and tenure reform BC’s forest industry is in the process of diversifying from producing softwood pulp and paper and dimensional lumber for the United States housing market to a new range of products—most notably feedstock for the bioenergy sector. The main requirement of the bioenergy industry is secure, long-term tenures on productive lands close to markets, ostensibly to provide assurance to investors that there will be a long-term return on capital. To provide that security, BC’s Forests and Range Minister Pat Bell has called for a new form of tenure called “commercial forest reserves.” Bell maintains there are no plans to privatize Crown forests, but it’s no secret that A hybrid poplar plantation in Oregon that supplies feedstock for production of cellulosic ethanol.the commercial forest reserve concept involves setting aside certain areas, likely the most productive ones, for a single use: intensive silviculture aimed at producing biofuels. Britneff and other green rangers argue that the granting of long term leases that preclude any other uses amounts to at least de facto privatization. The public would lose control of those lands. What would Bell’s commercial forest reserves look like? “That is difficult to answer at the moment,” Bell says. “We are in discussion with various stakeholders, industry, ENGOs and First Nations. We envision them as smaller geographical areas where you don’t have complications of species at risk, traditional-use areas, and other values.” That the most productive forestlands are valley bottoms where, in fact, all those “complications” are present is not addressed, nor is the process by which these areas are to be selected. Industry is definitely pushing for tenure reform. Last October, headlines in the Vancouver Sun—“Get government out of forests”—accompanied the release of the Woodbridge Report that was presented in a BC Business Council of BC 2020 Summit co-chaired by David Emerson and past finance minister for the Liberal government, Carole Taylor. Written by Peter Woodbridge, the central recommendation is to reform tenure and put investment interests as the top priority. The recommendations of the Woodbridge Report echo exactly those of the Working Roundtable on Forestry, set up by Bell, which published its report the year before. These recommendations are a reflection of the membership of the Roundtable, which, as one of their press releases states, is “not intended to represent forest sector interest groups [or the public] because it would be impossible to have a Working Roundtable of a reasonable size and at the same time represent all forest sector interests.” Of the 15 members, 12 were industry representatives, two were First Nations and there was a lone academic, Derek Thompson. Thompson, also a long-time civil servant and a former deputy minister of Water, Land and Air Protection, was candid: “Tenure reform dominated the discussions, but we couldn’t even get consensus with just industry folk at the table.” He also notes, “There was a great deal of trepidation from government about taking the discourse into the public realm because of the potential for uncontrollable controversy.” Fear of “uncontrollable controversy” seems to be at the heart of why the provincial Liberals have steered away from open talk about privatization. For very good reasons, British Columbians aren’t comfortable with changes to Crown lands without a full public debate. Liberal MLA for Nechako Lakes, John Rustad, is parliamentary secretary to the provincial Committee on Silviculture. He runs a consulting firm for the forest industry and, like Bell, was also born and raised in Prince George. Rustad acknowledges that “Engaging in all those topics with a broad sector of society would elicit a broad response and is a good idea.” But his more immediate concerns are creating opportunities for the industry’s recovery, and he believes the province needs to move in a new direction: “What I have been asked to do is figure out how to maximize and support the fibre needs of industry today and tomorrow, including for bioenergy and biofuels. I need to find the next regime for silviculture to look at the province differently.” And what would that recovery look like on the ground? Rustad sketches out a model that would utilize one-third of the province’s land base as intensive commercial forests. “We are not trying to do something on every square inch of the land base. Even if we have intensive silviculture values, that doesn’t restrict other values. Having said that, you would have it on a subset of the land base and it would happen over a 10- or 20-year period and the rest of the land base would be managed as it is today.” He identifies new intensive silviculture technologies as playing a central role because they increase fibre yield by 20 percent on productive sites, and points to pilot projects, such as the hybrid poplar plantations in the Fraser Valley area by Kruger (Scott Paper), on private lands as the future direction of the forest industry. There are other examples of this shift in focus among forestry companies. Woodbridge highlights the recent Weyerhauser-Chevron venture company called Catchlight Energy. Catchlight is “combining Weyerhaeuser’s expertise in innovative land stewardship, resource management and capacity to deliver sustainable cellulose-based feedstocks at scale with Chevron’s technology capabilities in molecular conversion, product engineering, advanced fuel manufacturing and fuels distribution.” Clark Binkley, the ex-Dean of the Faculty of Forests at UBC who proselytized privatization of Crown forests before returning to the USA and setting up his own investment company, is touting GreenWood Resources, a Portland-based company that develops intensively-managed hybrid poplar plantations for biofuels. Industry forest geneticist Dr Jean Brouard labels the land management strategy that partitions the land base into thirds, “Triad.” “Investors are most interested in concentrating on the most productive growing sites, typically about a third of any land base, that are close to mills with high existing roading density and low emissions on haulage. On these productive growing sites—with more intensive site preparation and genetics—you can meet the 20 percent increase in yield. On the average growing sites, you might have a business-as-usual or with more focus on ecosystems-based management, and then the least productive third is left for conservation. Triad is currently being used on a pilot basis in Quebec by the government as forestry was almost at a standstill.” Does this kind of land management strategy take into account climate change, forest health, biodiversity and other public interests? Brouard doesn’t seem to think that’s possible: “Essentially these go on in the less-intensively managed areas. But you can only grow trees like poplars profitably in moist bottom valley lands and that might coincide with species at risk or fish habitat values. There are also big concerns with pathogens [diseases like Septoria musiva] in hybrid poplar plantations that could jump to native cottonwoods and create a problem for our native forests. Conservation needs to be in all ecosystems and at all scales and that might not coincide with industry’s needs for the most productive lands.” Woodbridge admits, “Plantations are a dirty word for some Canadians.” But he argues there is no alternative; BC has to follow the more competitive suppliers of fibre and biofuel feedstock—the intensive plantations in the United States, Europe, New Zealand and Australia. “To remain competitive, BC has to lower wood costs and this is not done through selling indigenous timber cheaper. Because our labour and transport costs are going up, we have to farm fibre and feedstock for biofuels more intensively. We need to find a secure tenure system to do this.” The delusion of biofuels To fully understand where the pressure for tenure reform is coming from, you have to follow the money. Bell and Rustad are clearly putting their money on biofuels, which are being promoted as one of the next great alternative energy sources, a cure for what ails the planet’s warming atmosphere. You might wonder how burning forests—a fuel high in carbon—can possibly be good for the atmosphere. And that’s a perfectly reasonable question to ask. In fact, promoting the use of biofuels as part of the solution to global warming seems a bit delusional. The biofuel idea goes back to a strange loophole in the Kyoto Protocol rules that enables a tree to be cut down, turned into wood pellets, shipped overseas and then burned as fuel without having to account for any of the carbon that is released through all these activities. If that loophole is plugged, BC would be forced to account for emissions from logging and burning, which, according to the 2007 BC Greenhouse Gas Inventory Report, creates the single largest source of emissions in the province, larger even than the energy sector. If the loophole disappears, the dream of rescuing BC’s forest industry by developing the biofuels sector would go up in a puff of wood smoke. But right now, that loophole remains and is proving to be a powerful impetus for revamping the forest industry. Ontario is already taking the lead on exploiting this loophole with its proposals to revitalize ailing pulp mills and send wood pellets to its coal-fired power plants, which have been legislated to stop using coal by 2014. It’s one way to keep traditional forestry jobs in economically-depressed forestry-dependent towns. But it’s risky, and it’s exacerbating climate change. Growing biofuels in an intensive way would degrade the health of the air, water and soil quality. Biodiversity would be severely compromised. Recreation and public access would be denied. The use of forests as needed carbon sinks and repositories of cultural values would go out the window. These rich, valley-bottom lands are what everyone wants—from wildlife to the international real estate companies, as witnessed in the sell-off in the last decade of Crown parcels along eastern Vancouver Island. Conversion of these lands to intensive plantations would increase our emissions and decrease our ability to adapt to climate change. And, ironically, it would be done under the guise of mitigating climate change. If the province does go forward with tenure reform to support the biofuel industry and the Kyoto loophole is closed, what then? That would depend on exactly what the new form of tenure was. Bell has likened it to being something like the Agricultural Land Reserve. But the ALR has proven itself susceptible to the predations of the real estate industry and one can easily imagine the Kyoto loophole closing and real estate developments moving into the failed plantations. Public interest and consultation With potentially a third of the province being considered for a form of tenure that might well be seen as de facto privatization, “uncontrollable controversy” seems inevitable—but only if the public becomes fully informed. So far, though, the government has managed to keep a pretty tight lid on its plans. Minister Bell says his focus is the decline of revenue in forest communities like Prince George, and the need for the ministry to take a “new direction.” “We are changing the way we are doing business. It is in the public’s interest to have a strong forest industry, and I’ve been very clear in the direction we need to go: better utilization of the resource, including bioenergy; intensive silviculture; growing the Chinese market; and promoting wood first.” In response to suggestions by his critics that the public expects government to manage not just fiscal resources but the physical values of a forest as well, Bell simply says: “With workforce adjustments, it is always difficult.” Bell’s counterpart sitting on the other side of the legislature disagrees with him on how to regain economic health in forest communities and what kind of Forest Service is needed to get there. Norm Macdonald, NDP MLA for Columbia River/Revelstoke and Opposition Forest Critic says, “This is the most valuable asset that the people of BC have—just the timber value of the forest alone is a third of a trillion dollars—and, if we don’t maintain that investment with regard to reforestation and research, matters will become progressively worse. [Our Forest Service] has been gutted to the point that the work that is needed to be done isn’t getting done.” Macdonald sees the change in direction as the thin end of the wedge toward privatization of public forests. “This is cronyism at its worst. The memorandum sent out to all the forest managers to only focus on industry interests has had no public discussion. Has the public interest been considered? Is access going to be denied? To have that agenda without public discussion is deeply disturbing. After nine years on this file, you would think there would be a public plan. At best it is incompetence; at worst there is something more nefarious, like a privatization agenda for our public lands.” It seems obvious that the public does need to be consulted about the shift in direction and about what could be lost by converting natural forests to intensive plantations and potentially to real estate. Forest geneticist Brouard says the real lesson from Quebec is that for the Triad process to succeed, it must take place with public consultation. Short-circuiting public consultation leads to more wars in the woods or to industry negotiating their own agreements with ENGOS and First Nations “leaving government [and therefore the public] to play catchup.” The public, like industry, won’t invest in something it has no say over. Brouard also notes another “must have” before the Triad system can work: “The first thing you need, of course, is good inventory of all your lands.” Precisely what we don’t have because of all the cutbacks. Even investors are nervous about the lack of consultation and oversight. Peter Woodbridge notes, “I am recommending that government also beef up the Forest Service oversight. Let companies have their own sand box and manage their fibre as they see fit, but they have to stay within the confines and rules set by government. I am an advocate for good planning and strong government oversight, and in this regard I have some criticisms of government.” Bell’s ministry seems to be ignoring the potential for conservation-type carbon offsets. Some First Nations are developing these through reduced harvesting, hoping to sell the offsets on international carbon markets—exactly the opposite of industry’s drift to intensification. These types of carbon offsets do have climatic and biodiversity benefits, unlike the biofuel offsets proposed by Bell in his vision. In order to sell these credits and meet international standards, there have to be tenures that guarantee the conservation of carbon in these forest sinks for 100 years. That means tenure reform, and First Nations are pioneering some of the ideas for how this could be done. Unfortunately, no one in the ministry is talking about it. Derek Thompson, who is now negotiating carbon conservation projects in the tropics for World Wildlife Fund and indigenous groups, says that what amazes him about the government is the sheer lack of public discussion about the potentially huge revenue source of conservation carbon projects for rural communities. Last words With no legislated commitment to planning, no budget to do so, and a new mandate to respond to only industry demands, the government has left the public out of the discussion. Only “the google eyed, bandy-legged dudes” once on the inside, seem to know what’s happening. What they are saying is that we can anticipate losing control over our choicest Crown lands—sacrificing them to single, intensive industrial uses with an accompanying loss of access, watershed and biodiversity protection. Regardless of the type of future business interests—from biofuels to ecosystem services—all roads lead back to the basic message of the green rangers. Says Alan Vyse, “Sure these market forces might build into them some public interest, but where is the discussion about what those public interests are? It is way past time for some fairly significant discussions on the future of our public forests.” Will it create an “uncontrollable controversy”? It is hard to imagine anything more controversial than not consulting with the people. A good place for the government to start that consultation would be with the green rangers and their 1500 years of experience. To manage healthy forests, Britneff’s first step would be to get forest rangers back into the bush and decentralize services away from city offices to forest-dependent communities. His second step would be to restore adequate funding for forest management and for research, including exploring international market opportunities that build on environmental stewardship, resiliency and sustainability. Finally, his third step would be to grant the province’s chief forester independent statutory powers for auditing forest management in 100 local Forest Service offices by the holders of community forest tenures and First Nations tenures, thereby restoring a stewardship ethic to local forest models. Without such measures, a Big Burn of BC’s public forests seems imminent. Briony Penn, PhD is a naturalist, journalist, artist and award-winning environmental educator. She is the author of The Kids Book of Geography (Kids Can Press) and A Year on the Wild Side.
  19. May 2012 IN THE LAST 10 YEARS ALONE, Vancouver Island has had more severe flooding problems damaging homes, infrastructure and fish habitat than in the last 50. In the last five years, we’ve seen disaster-level flooding in central and southern Island (Dec 2007), Sooke and Langford (Jan 2009), Duncan (Nov 2009), central and north Island (Sept 2010, Dec 2010), and southeast Island (Nov 2011). Every year, sometimes twice a year, severe events are causing damages. The once exceptional has become the norm. The tab for the worst damage is picked up by the federal/provincial Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangement—the public purse. Since 2008, the federal and provincial governments have provided $125 million dollars for 137 flood mitigation projects in BC with a sizeable chunk of this going to Vancouver Island—money to build dykes, pump stations, flood boxes and other engineered facilities. But what is causing the flooding and who should pay? That is the question that Rick James, a Courtenay resident, a 25-year tree planting veteran who lives just above the Tsolum floodplain has been asking. And he wasn’t satisfied when a hydrologist’s report on key factors affecting the pattern of high flows on the Tsolum River fell on his desk last year. The report emphasized the role of climate change on downstream flooding of Courtenay, and downplayed the significant logging in the watershed by TimberWest. The report states that harvesting had decreased since the heyday of the ’60s, and therefore was unlikely to have increased the frequency and intensity of flooding. James’ first thought was, where is the detailed data to prove this? The report included only one sentence about TimberWest’s assessment that 20 percent of the Tsolum watershed was clearcut. James asks, “What about the accelerated logging practices in headwaters of the valley’s rivers and streams over the past 10 years, which is essentially stripping bare the higher elevation forests where the biggest impacts to flooding occur?” The watershed in question can be seen clearly from the slopes of Mount Washington, looking to the northeast. The clearcuts stand out prominently when the snowpack builds up, next to the darker patches of the forested area. These are the upper basins of the Tsolum River. James knows the watershed inside and out since he worked many years restoring its clearcuts as a tree planter. “I’ve seen the scale of the logging taking place; I’ve flown over it and to say that logging has no impact on the flooding just doesn’t make sense.” In an editorial to the local newspaper, James pointed out that TimberWest, which owns two-thirds of the watershed, paid for a third of the hydrology report and set the terms of reference. “How could there be any objectivity?” James’ objections are not alone. Concerned groups and politicians from Port Alberni, Oyster River, Campbell River, Qualicum Beach, Sooke and other communities downstream of private land logging are also asking the same questions. Part of the problem is they can’t get answers on the rate of cut in their watersheds because these are private lands and owners are under no obligation to publish accurate data and maps of the cut area. Secondly, there are no restrictions on the amount cut on private lands. The Private Managed Forest Land Act is “results-based” with vague goals about conservation and fewer regulations than even private land in municipalities. For example, only a certain number of trees in the riparian zone have to be left. The only checks are a monitoring presence by the Private Managed Forest Land Council—which many critics refer to as “the fox watching the chicken coop.” The public can lodge a complaint about how things are being done on private forest land, and technically the Council staff should investigate. But the Environmental Law Centre has judged this process ineffective. And who dares complain? In small communities, most people and institutions have relationships with the logging corporations (aka asset managers). Municipalities and local stewardship groups receive funds from these companies; people are directly employed by them or hired as consultants and contractors. Understandably, there is often a reluctance to speak out against them. As Rick James attempted to get clarity on the hydrology report, many of these inherent problems were highlighted. Government scientist Peter Tschaplinksi was asked to comment on the report and declined, though not before stating, “For watersheds that have eroding soils and steep slopes, it is hard to discount human development as a major factor out of hand. That would raise red flags for me.” Greg Phelps, Courtenay’s ex-mayor who called for the study in the first place, was candid: “Concerns were raised when we received this report and we wondered if it was as comprehensive as it could have been. The City of Courtenay is on the funnel end of all these watersheds and there is no question that the combination of logging and climate change are impacting the Courtenay floodplain. How do we know TimberWest hasn’t greenwashed the whole thing? It is a huge liability.” (Phelps was one of the incumbents ousted from office shortly after the release of the report by a pro-development slate of candidates.) Staff hydrologist for TimberWest, Domenico Iannidinardo, stands by the results. “The report concluded that although forest harvesting can impact peak river flows in some circumstances, large climatic cycles outweigh the effects of modern forest management practices as they relate to the most significant flood events.” When asked why recent data wasn’t included, he released some data to Focus on logging and roading in the watershed. Dave Gooding, past provincial hydrologist and consultant to the local river restoration society (that has received assistance from TimberWest), did a preliminary analysis of this data. He points to one sub-basin that is approaching high risk of damaging water flows, with 26 percent of the area clearcut. According to the provincial guidelines, logging anything over 20 percent moves into “significant risk” and over 30 percent is “high risk” of flooding. Moreover, he notes, the logging has mostly gone on in the transient snow zone (the area that you see from Mount Washington), which experiences the rain-on snow events that cause the greatest peaks in flows, so they have a higher than normal impact. TimberWest’s Iannidinardo argues that his model adjusts for this and puts it in the context of clearcutting averaging 22 percent across the whole watershed he manages. But Gooding notes, “Small impacts are important, especially if it’s only the top five percent of a flood that is crossing your road or living room.” He calls the area “a watershed on the edge, for both its fisheries and its capacity to handle extreme flows.” Illustrating what this could mean, Rick James says: “If two successive two-year cycles of pink salmon spawn are flushed out by floods, it probably means the death knell for this run.” Gooding laments the already mighty effort needed to deal with damages from historic logging to the Tsolum, both for fish egg and fry survival, and to increase the channel’s capacity to handle extreme flows—and worries about TimberWest’s future plans, In its literature for shareholders (many of whom are government pensionholders), TimberWest states it will be continuing with its accelerated rate of cut for another five years at least. Ianniddinardo states, “We retain the management prerogative to adjust plans in consideration of markets while always meeting our commitments to sustainable forest management.” Rick James feels this translates to “business-as-usual—more flooding, more damage to our fish, and more public monies picking up the tab.” Briony Penn, PhD is a naturalist, journalist, artist and award-winning environmental educator. She is the author of The Kids Book of Geography (Kids Can Press) and A Year on the Wild Side.
  20. March 2012 “THIS ISN’T A SOUVENIR COFFEE TABLE BOOK that the mining companies will take back home under their arms,” says Wade Davis about his new book, The Sacred Headwaters: The Fight to Save tbe Stikine, Skeena and Nass (Greystone, Oct. 2011). The book could be a souvenir if you just look at the pictures—they’re stunning, not surprisingly, as this is one of the most drop-dead beautiful places in the world. The watershed of these three rivers forms an essentially roadless wilderness three times the size of Switzerland, bounded by the Alaskan border to the west, the grand canyon of the Stikine to the north, Highway 16 to the south, and the Tatlatui Range to the east. The headwaters themselves are just south of the Spatsizi Plateau, which was designated an ecological reserve for being the “Serenghetti of the north,” because of its abundant wildlife, including mountain goats, moose, deer, and black and grizzly bears, all represented in these fabulous plateaux smothered in wildflowers. But the opening 30-page essay on the battle for this land—and what’s at stake—delivers a punch that would discourage any mining company executive from putting the book on his coffee table. With this book, Davis has stepped up another notch in a long, successful career of campaigner for, and storyteller of, the biosphere and ethnosphere (the term he coined for the landscape shaped by indigenous cultures). Fight is the operative word of the book’s title, for what has passed and what’s to come. This isn’t just the sacred headwaters and home of the Talhtan First Nation. It’s Davis’ home too, and he’s fighting hard for it. The very, very, few of us lucky enough to have spent any time there can rarely communicate the emotional impact these places have on us. Like veterans coming home from the war, we don’t know where to start and the experience is too far from the daily lives of urban Canadians to find a connection—and increasingly so. With 90 percent of Canadians living in cities and over half the population having no cultural connection to the wild and the lure of the north, Davis identifies the increasing challenge to reach an audience, let alone evoke their outrage at the rape and plunder going on in the north in the name of our urban energy and consumer needs. Davis’ intention was to use the emotional power of the photographs in the coffee table format, coupled with the words of Tahltan elders, to speak to the place. And they do—Carr Clifton, Paul Colangelo, Davis himself and the other photographers of the International League of Conservation Photographers who donated their time and images to the cause have created a powerful tribute. The Tahltan elders Rhoda Quock, August Brown, Peter Jakesta, Dempsey Bob and others provide equally strong words to accompany the images, words that ring true against the clutter and noise of our modern lives. But what saves the book from being just another captioned photo essay of a rich watershed inhabited by “wise elders” about to be pulverized (and God knows we have had too many of those in BC) is Davis’ essay. He has waded (no pun intended) into the taboo topic of how decisions over land and resources are currently negotiated, with tiny besieged aboriginal communities conveniently left alone to fend against the world’s largest energy and mining companies. Davis’ mesmerizing essay is a day-by-day factual account of how individuals and families in these small communities are ripped apart by the massive machinery of globalization. It’s an important contribution to the national discourse about energy policy, aboriginal affairs, and land use decision-making in the north. I questioned Davis about why he took on a subject few have wanted to touch. “Simple,” he said, “I believe that non-native Canadian understanding of First Nations is still stuck between the left’s idealized, untouchable noble savage and the right’s hateful images as featured in Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry. When in reality, we are just talking about the lives of people, some good, some less so, some with deep connections to the land, others who are simply opportunistic. The question is not mines or no mines, but rather how many, at what pace in what places and for whose benefit? There is a lot of talk about consultation and accommodation. But consultation with whom, and accommodation for whose benefit? And what if these areas have global importance?” The situation, according to Davis, appears to ultimately benefit only the companies who can move full steam ahead without the weight of full public review. The story of the ascendancy of Chief Jerry Asp, described by the Vancouver Sun as “government’s pro-development poster boy” reads like a textbook case study of complicit opportunism between Asp, the mining and energy companies, and government. The circumstances that led to the 2005 occupation of the band office in Telegraph Creek by 35 Tahltan elders, like Bobby and Roy Quock, who felt they were being misrepresented and their land getting trashed for a pittance, are now being repeated with the Gitksaan elders and the Enbridge deal. In delving into the impacts of the 1999 Corbiere Decision that enabled all tribal members, not just those living on reserves, to vote in elections and the upheaval between resident and non-resident band members this has created, Davis has written a story that white urban people can understand. By drawing out these “complications” against the backdrop of the involvement of behemoth Shell Oil, Imperial Metals and Fortune Minerals—all comprised of armies of professionals and shareholders that will never set foot on these landscapes—on top of the $130 million dollar federal subsidy for a transmission line to the mine, he reveals our own complicity in the process. A poignant moment in Davis’ account occurs when the elders participating in that 2005 occupation, speaking only in Talhtan, demonstrate their legitimate authority to speak on behalf of their nation. Asp doesn’t speak or understand his own language, which made his last bid to represent his nation, spoken in English, futile. Another memorable moment is when a geologist flies into the area and Davis overhears her speaking in amazement at the incredible beauty and richness of the wildlife. The un-noble savage and the un-evil corporate geologist metaphorically bump into each other in the general store of Telegraph Creek, and there’s the story. It isn’t easy to write about this stuff and not get trapped in cultural quick sand, which is why few non-natives or natives are doing it, especially in coffee table books. But Davis does, because these are his friends and this is his home. Davis asks the questions: If these scarce and endangered landscapes have extraordinary value to all humanity, is it appropriate that we leave their defence to a handful of courageous locals? What should the nature of Canada’s involvement be? Should we be digging for copper in the Sistine Chapel? And he is saying, unequivocally, that in this pivotal time, when questions about energy policy are coming to the fore, and resource scarcity is putting power back into the hands of the resource holders, we resource holders should be standing up and screaming from the top of our lungs: “These places are too valuable to destroy.” Briony Penn, PhD is a naturalist, journalist, artist and award-winning environmental educator. She is the author of The Kids Book of Geography (Kids Can Press) and A Year on the Wild Side.
  21. January 2012 It is a gorgeous Friday morning just outside of Bellingham. A flock of trumpeter swans are grazing in the fields, and I am with a large human flock hanging on every word of a hip young bee dude with a wicked sense of humour and two props—a collection of native bees and a bunch of sticks drilled with nest holes. The event is called Protecting Native Pollinators and there are farmers, students, scientists, teachers, grannies and young men jostling to learn the difference between a sweat bee and leafcutter bee; which native plants are best for bumblebees; and how to encourage mason bees (which mostly consists of doing nothing and being messy). The organizers from the Xerces Society, dedicated to the conservation of insects, weren’t anticipating quite so many people from so many corners of this region on both sides of the borders, and they tell me that there are no signs of the interest waning. Restoring and re-enchanting ourselves with the local and the native are becoming the most powerful antidote to globalization, inequity, corporatization, degradation, poverty and despair—of which there is no short supply. It is a simple mantra: stay local and support native in whatever you do and the structural foundations of inequity will begin to crumble, the water will flow, the meadow flowers will bloom, the neighbours will chat, and the birds and the bees will fill our lives again with music, food and sensuous times. As we buzzed our way through the workshop, briefly exploring why there are disappearing pollinators (no mean feat), then moving on to solutions, I had a thought. The story of bees could possibly be the great allegory for our times—the rise and fall of one worldview and the restoration of another, older one. Take the characters first. The antagonists are largely humourless financiers who direct operations from their tall glass towers and send impoverished indentured labour to work long hours applying chemicals to genetically modified crops in ugly landscapes. As hedgerows and the last patches of habitat for our native pollinators—the bees, birds and butterflies—are wiped out, agro-industry has resorted to mono-pollinating with European honeybees. Mono-anything doesn’t work, and the poor overworked honeybees are now going down like flies (which they are not, flies have one pair of wings, bees have two). Viruses, the new synthetic pesticides, and general malaise from mall culture have caused colony collapse disorder in half of the hives already. There aren’t enough bees surviving to pollinate North America’s crops, so the industrialists have taken to importing bees from Australia (in China they hire children at $2/day to hand pollinate). But even the economists know that it all ends in tears. (And perhaps even the US Department of Agriculture, which has declared conserving pollinators a national priority due to the severity of the issue and allocated $30 million this year to subsidizing restoration of lands back to pollinator preserves.) The protagonists in this story are hip young bee dudes like our presenter. This is a guy raised by a Dakotan farming family. He’s one of a breed of independent researchers who have proven that a farm makes more money (not to mention all the other advantages) if one-third or more of the land is put back into native habitat. This is because native pollinators greatly increase yield, productivity and pest management. And because the cost of all the chemicals and jetsetting bees around is rising at an exponential rate. The hip bee dude—whose name, by the way, is Eric Mader—has like many of his generation, discovered the correct formula for communication to the disenfranchised 99 percent—make it real, make it funny, make it local and make it a party, bro’. He talked about the various collective successes, like converting a pesticide-drenched blueberry farm in the middle of Michigan to a pollinator preserve (wildflower meadow) that also grows blueberries with a 30 percent increase in yield, or transforming his own working-class yard in Portland to an oasis that swarms with native blossoms, bees and girls. Now take this same story, with a different set of characters, north and west to the heart of native blueberry country where the bees and butterflies still thrive—Fish Lake in the Chilcotin. The antagonist this time is Taseko Mines with the biggest mining proposal in North America—New Prosperity Mine. Last month, Taseko failed to win their injunction against the Xeni Gwet’in First Nation for blocking their road, and the consequences are huge for resource extractors in this province. The protagonist is Marilyn Baptiste, the new breed of hip young chief of the Xeni Gwet’in First Nation. She can catch a wild trout or tame a wild horse with the same skill as she wins over a court to stop Taseko’s application for exploration at Fish Lake. The case was won on the basis that the blueberry, trout and pollinators in the area would be threatened. From Bellingham to Fish Lake, the story is the same. Protagonists everywhere can win with their simple calls to a past ethic of the common good and the interconnectedness of life. What has changed from the old days is that the consequences for losing the wild are deadly, increasingly illegal, and decreasingly academic. Most of our food relies on the preservation of the wild, directly or indirectly. If we fail with diversifying the pollinators, then we start losing our food and we die in droves. Simple. There is no technological fix, nor global domesticated commodity species, nor silver bullet shot by a white knight to solve the problem, only the diversified efforts of the many at the local level. This is Mother Nature’s most basic kick-back. And it’s an easy solution to sell since the story also brings us back to discovery, action, beauty, companionship and joy. That is what the Occupy Movement has discovered and that is why they are so dangerous to the status quo. Also add on, for more good news, the increasing intolerance of the public for divide-and-conquer tactics by the vested interests in the status quo and the mainstream media’s role in exacerbating that division. Readers got angry last month when the media headlined a questionable and relatively minor Gitxsan First Nation deal with Enbridge while sidelining the real story—that over 130 nations spanning the province were now signed on to the ban against pipelines and tankers. As a result, the issue backfired spectacularly and brought these tactics under the spotlight where they belong. The media erred in not checking the facts about alleged negotiator Mr Derrick, his ability to represent the Gitxsan nation and his connections with industry, before leading with his story; but their biggest mistake was in misjudging the public mood on this issue. Closer to home, that public mood was reflected in Nanoose where residents challenged the government and TimberWest for trying to divide and conquer the locals and First Nations over the logging of one of the last patches of Crown old-growth Douglas fir. Worldview is shifting because it has to. Back in the field with the farmers, trumpeter swans, scientists, bumblebees, teachers, grannies, blueberries and cool dudes, I look around and feel mildly hopeful for this new year. For your new year’s resolution, pledge to protect or return any little patch you can back to native habitat for bees and butterflies. Google Xerces Society or The Land Conservancy of BC for their pollinator programs. Briony Penn, PhD is a naturalist, journalist, artist and award-winning environmental educator. She is the author of The Kids Book of Geography (Kids Can Press) and A Year on the Wild Side.
  22. September 2011 AS FOCUS HITS THE STREET on August 30, schools of salmon researchers, fishers, First Nations, and advocates from all over British Columbia will be converging around the federal courthouse in Vancouver for the next stage of the Cohen Commission inquiry. They are coming to bear witness to the release of key evidence into the collapse of Fraser River sockeye stocks in 2009. This month, testimony shifts to the highly-charged topics of the role disease and aquaculture played in the deaths. Concurrently, upriver at Simon Fraser University, an enquiry is being made into declining herring stocks—with another school of researchers, First Nations, fishers and herring advocates. Both the inquiry and enquiry will provide forums to address the range of issues facing these two critical species on a food chain that ends with us. Linking herring and salmon is obvious from just about every angle. They are interdependent and have endured the same depredations: overfishing, mismanagement, destruction of habitat and food sources, climate change, etc. But this year, evidence in the field suggests a new shared issue: infestations of sea lice from fish farms, previously found just on wild salmon smolts, are now also being seen on young herring, increasing their vulnerability to viruses. The implications have been described by the Alaskans—who have banned these farms and are watching the results down here carefully—as “a ticking time bomb.” Most of the media buzz around the Cohen proceedings will centre around the testimony of two star women witnesses: the up-until-now muzzled federal fisheries researcher, Dr Kristina Miller, on August 24; and independent researcher Alex Morton on September 7. Miller’s research, published in Science this January, identified a viral cause of premature death of the sockeye—probably from one of two viruses typically introduced and incubated through fish farms: Salmon Leukemia Virus (SLV), which is highly infective to sockeye and chinook, and Infectious Salmon Anemia Virus or ISAV. American researchers point to sea lice as vectors for the latter. ISAV is as yet undocumented in these waters, but incidences of it already arriving could be revealed through the release of the data. This will be the first time Miller has been allowed to speak since the release of her research in January. Alex Morton has been doing research into sea lice/salmon interactions for years and will also be analyzing the fish farm disease records to determine occurrences and timings of outbreaks. These records were only released in the spring after public demonstrations around the same courthouse. The evidence from Miller’s work will be pivotal, not just for the sockeye but for informing the herring experts at their own workshop, starting on August 31. Hosted by Simon Fraser University, the workshop is expected to draw attention to the importance of herring, and to document historical declines from various causes and the enormous impacts to the cultural and biological vitality of the coast. There will be less media buzz around herring as they definitely play the ugly little sister next to the more iconic, colourful spawning sockeye, but the discourse at both inquiry and enquiry will strengthen the cause of the other. Fish farms are interfering with herring in more ways than just disease vectors. Herring advocates will be back in the courthouse in October for a hearing against Marine Harvest, a fish farm corporation charged with illegal possession and dumping of herring for unspecified reasons. What binds the two schools of fish together is not just their interdependence and common foes, but their common advocates. It was Alex Morton, looking for sea lice infestations on salmon smolts, who started turning up unusual sea lice infestations on herring, and who notified the herring research community last month. Morton is just one of thousands up and down the coast who are noticing the changes, sharing information, and galvanizing for action. This summer, during my own coastal travels by boat, I encountered people from Bella Bella to Masset and Hartley Bay to Sitka who are dependent on the wild fisheries and terrified about the potential impacts of these viruses to already compromised populations of salmon and herring. These are people who spend a lot of time on the water, watching fish and the other wildlife that follow them. They all know that Alaska has banned fish farms, BC hasn’t, and that therefore BC is jeopardizing the whole coast. These are the people who over the years have journeyed hundreds of miles to Victoria or Vancouver, to testify, bear witness and protest against fish farms—and who have been completely ignored. A wealth of experiences and local wisdom accompany those placard-carrying people you might see on the 6 o’clock news this month. So here is my plea. Losing herring and salmon isn’t just about disappointing a bunch of sportfishers in ball caps, or missing out on fish dinner on Fridays, or losing one animal off the totem pole. Without food the whole darn show on the coast shuts down; all three rings of the circus and all the acts. No more elephants, tigers, bearded ladies or trapeze artists on our high waters. When suddenly there is a good year, like the sockeye in 2010, the show goes on and we are all the happier and better off for it. This year with optimal ocean conditions and a much better management record, Alaska is having a bumper year. One night this summer stands out as an example of life at its best on the fish-farm-free parts of the coast. It was around 10 o’clock, a midsummer’s night, and there were low rays of sunlight catching the ice-capped mountains and silver-splashed sides of herring, boiling in the otherwise calm waters. All around us were sockeye leaping out of the water; humpbacks lunged and fed on the salmon between blows and intakes of air. By midnight it was dark, but you could still track the movement of the herring ball and its predators from the sound of the blows, the splashes of the fish, and the accompanying bioluminescence of the diatoms that marked all their paths. The water began to mimic the starry sky above with all the flashes of light; the cosmos was one. Once the Salish Sea was like this—and could be again. Both inquiries will be historic and have ramifications for all of us on the coast. If you want to bear witness, here are the coordinates: The Cohen Commission is holding the aquaculture hearings until September 8 in Room 801 at the Federal Court Building, 701 West Georgia St. The herring workshop runs from August 31 to September 2 at the Halpern Centre of Simon Fraser University. Briony Penn, PhD is a naturalist, journalist, artist and award-winning environmental educator. She is the author of The Kids Book of Geography (Kids Can Press) and A Year on the Wild Side.
  23. MAY 2011 NUU-CHAH-NULTH TERRITORY, the edge of the world where Captain Cook decided to anchor his boat and step ashore, is back in the news again—indeed it has hardly been out of the news over the last 200 years. It has a habit of making us reconsider how the West relates to aboriginal cultures and the rich natural environment that supports their commitment to self-sufficiency. The deep sheltered sounds and forests on the west coast of the Island have been branded as bonanzas for two centuries. From fur traders to sealers, miners to missionaries, and loggers to fish farmers, they come from all over the world. They come to conquer but inevitably fail. They come to domesticate and the wild inevitably wins. The priests’ feral cows, Cougar Annie’s dahlias, and the Norwegians’ Atlantic salmon don’t linger long. From the “friendly” people Cook met at Yuquot to “friendly” whales, the Nuu-chaal-nulth have captured the world’s attention, but have never been captured themselves. These were also the first people to stand up against industrial logging at Meares Island and forge the first alliances with the environmental movement. Their protests led to the largest number of arrests for civil disobedience in Canada and the creation of a World Biosphere Reserve. Now, the Nuu-chah-nulth are back in the spotlight again with news of a different sort: their potential logging of Flores Island by Iisaak, the Nuu-chah-nulth-owned logging company. On April 5, the Ministry of Forests issued a road permit for Iisaak Forest Resources to build 2.5 kilometres of logging road. Iisaak, meaning “respect,” jointly created in 1998 with Macmillan Bloedel, is now fully-owned by the five nations of the Central Region First Nations of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, including the three from Clayoquot Sound: Ahousaht, who have a reserve on Flores; the Tla-o-qui-aht, who are based around Meares Island; and the Hesquiaht in northern Clayoquot and Toquaht and Ucluelet to the south. Though once again testifying to the Nuu-chah-nulth’s indomitable spirit of self- determination, the road permit has rattled a memorandum of understanding forged in 1999 between five environmental groups (Greenpeace International, Greenpeace Canada, Western Canada Wilderness Committee, Sierra Club BC, and Natural Resources Defense Council) and Iisaak Forest Resources to avoid logging in pristine, intact areas like Flores Island. The agreement followed on the historic 1995 recommendations from the Clayoquot Scientific Panel. A lot has happened since then. In 2001, Iisaak made news with the first Tree Farm License (TFL 57) to become Forest Stewardship Council-certified. In 2005, the Central Regional First Nations bought out Weyerhauser (formerly MacBlo), making it the first 100 percent aboriginal-owned TFL. The last ten years have seen as many watershed plans following the guidelines of the Scientific Panel. In the last two years, the communities and environmental groups have been exploring possibilities of developing a conservation financing package to enable full conservation of intact areas and improvement of logging practices in valleys that are already partially logged. Everything from carbon credits to ecotourism is being discussed. However, loans incurred in buying control of the TFLs from Weyerhauser and Interfor have put lots of pressure on Iisaak to log in order to service that debt—hence the Flores Island plan. Amongst the environmental groups, says Joe Foy of the Wilderness Committee, the news of the road permit “put everyone in a tough position.” Foy wanted to pull out of the agreement as his organization couldn’t support logging in these pristine areas. Valerie Langer, formerly with Friends of Clayoquot and now with ForestEthics, characterizes Iisaak’s position as “between a rock and a hard place.” As she observes, the debt has led the First Nations to have to log in places that they didn’t originally want to log. She also points out that “the chiefs are taking the hit for all the terrible management of forests on the rest of the island.” The real culprit, Langer suggests, is the Province, which has prioritized getting plans in place that would open up logging in Clayoquot Sound’s intact old-growth areas rather than responding to science and facilitating conservation along with community well-being. “The Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations are leading in this regard, and government is dragging its heels,” she maintains. Groups like Ecotrust, under Neil Hughes, have been working with the Central Region First Nations for over two years to model different land use scenarios other than business-as-usual cut blocks, but have been hampered by lack of funds. “What we want to create is the financial analysis of doing things differently so that First Nations can make the best decisions,” he says. All of the work done to date on modelling the carbon and other values has been funded by infrequent grants and foundation money with no assistance from government. Eli Ens, tribal administrator of Tla-o-qui-aht, says his community is moving ahead with long-term plans for a Tribal Park in its territory (which includes Meares Island, first declared a Tribal Park during protests in 1984). This designation would reduce the annual allowable cut and bring the best of science, traditional knowledge, and conservation financing to the concept. In order to make it work economically, the Tla-o-qui-aht have already established the ecotourism Guardian program, and are interested in bringing in additional revenue from other sources such as carbon and non-timber products. As Langer suggests, what is needed to make that happen is a government open to helping facilitate that in various ways: reforming old resource tenures, reducing the annual allowable cut, and, as a priority, establishing the legal framework around non-timber products, carbon and ecosystem services. Ens has also been encouraging regional relationships with other partners like the Ahousaht and the sharing of experiences. Thomas Paul, resource manager for Ahousaht says that they have embarked on talks with the environmental organizations to explore conservation financing in the interim to resolve the Flores Island issue. At press time, Paul was heading into a conference call. As Valerie Langer states, “The environmental organizations have never been the decision-makers; the chiefs are. We are trying to provide something that is beneficial for both the communities and conservation, but, at the end of the day, it is their choice.” Briony Penn, PhD is a naturalist, journalist, artist and award-winning environmental educator. She is the author of The Kids Book of Geography (Kids Can Press) and A Year on the Wild Side.
  24. March 2011 SOUTHERN RESIDENT ORCAS are set to swim back into Canadian and US courts this spring with the hopes of jumping two major legal hoops that could finally protect the marinescape for these endangered species. The Canadian courts are reconvening after the federal fisheries minister launched an appeal against Justice James Russell’s historic ruling in December 2010. That ruling said it was unlawful for the minister to exercise discretionary powers regarding the protection of critical habitat under the Species At Risk Act (SARA). Meanwhile, across the border, the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has begun holding hearings into safety precautions around captive orcas, following last year’s death of trainer Dawn Brancheau. Brancheau was dragged into the water by Tilikum, the same whale who killed Kelsie Burns at Sealand here in Victoria in 1992. An October 2010 investigation found the marine park of SeaWorld Orlando had wilfully exposed employees to life-threatening hazards when interacting with orcas. The spring hearings may well impact the future viability of orcas in aquariums, and thereby have consequences for the multi-billion dollar industry that keeps them there. They may also improve Orca Lab’s bid to retire L Pod’s “Lolita” back to her home in the Salish Sea, after 40 years of jumping hoops in small tanks. Two Victoria women are helping to lead the charge and raise awareness around each of these historic appeals. Taking on the federal fisheries minister in the Canadian courts with Ecojustice lawyer Margaret Venton, and backed by eight other ENGOs, is applicant Misty MacDuffee of Raincoast Conservation Foundation (www.raincoast.org). MacDuffee, a long-time campaigner and researcher on salmon, bears and whales, has been blogging about the case from the original court hearings last summer to the appeal this spring. MacDuffee states: “We were arguing—as did the scientists who made the recommendations to government—that the threats to habitat need to be addressed if we are to put the whales on the road to recovery. We also argued that the federal Species at Risk Act obliged the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to do this.” When Justice Russell ruled in their favour, MacDuffee says that they felt vindicated in their persistence to get the minister to follow the letter of his own law. The December ruling stated that “the minister of fisheries and oceans erred in law in determining that the critical habitat of the resident killer whales was already legally protected by existing laws of Canada.” He also ruled that it was unlawful of the minister to have excluded other elements of the definition of “critical habitat” from the scope of the Protection Order. “Critical habitat” had been defined by the minister’s own scientists as not only the geographical location, but the availability and quality of their food and acoustic environment, yet the minister had not encouraged his staff to implement the act correctly. As MacDuffee wrote in her blog, “They [the minister and his office] first attempted to remove and dismiss the key elements of critical habitat in the recovery strategy. When that ultimately failed, they then interpreted their legal responsibility to protect habitat by stating that voluntary guidelines and non-binding or discretionary laws and policies were good enough. When that too was challenged, they issued an ‘order’ to protect habitat. But the order fails to address the declining food supply, the water quality, and the noise pollution that are causing the problem.” As soon as Justice Russell’s ruling was out on these two counts, the minister appealed the first decision, i.e., that it is unlawful to use discretion in implementing the Species at Risk Act. MacDuffee points out two potential implications should the minister win the appeal. “First…it will set a dangerous precedent of a political appointee being able to decide whether or not they want to protect not just the orcas, but any endangered species.” The second worrying element, she says, is the degree of ongoing political interference in all aspects of enforcing this act. MacDuffee notes, “As the key arguments were put forward, we all wondered, including the judge as indicated in his comments, what on Earth we were all doing here? The law is very clear. In Section 58(5) of the Species At Risk Act it states that legal protection of critical habitat for aquatic species is mandatory. Why did we have to bring the minister to a courtroom to get him to do his job?” Justice Russell’s 127-page ruling bears reading in full for its critique of the minister for ostensibly wasting court time and public resources. “[161] Given the level of agreement on the merits of the Protection Order Application, the Court cannot help but wonder, why it has been resisted on technical grounds, and why the Respondents do not think the courts should deal with it. Had the Respondents clarified their agreement on the definition of critical habitat and corrected the relevant public documentation, where a different interpretation is evident, or at least possible, the Protection Order Application need never have come before the court.” The Department of Fisheries and Oceans were contacted with two simple questions: Why is the Minister appealing? And what is his response to the comment made by Justice Russell that the case need never have come before the court? Finally, after a week, a statement was released that since the appeal is before the courts, it would be inappropriate to comment. The whales are evidently up against meddling at the highest political level, with politicians who ignore their own scientists’ definitions and recommendations. In an upcoming month, I’ll report on the results of the minister’s appeal, the US hearings around captive whales and the Victoria woman who is an advocate in that campaign. Briony Penn, PhD is a naturalist, journalist, artist and award-winning environmental educator. She is the author of The Kids Book of Geography (Kids Can Press) and a A Year on the Wild Side.
  25. January 2011 A NEW TERM HAS BEEN COINED to describe the disintegrating middle class of the western world—the precariat—who live a precarious and frantic existence of juggling jobs, families, mortgages and civic duties within a crumbling social and environmental net. The British economist Guy Standing, who coined the term, suggests that half the British population—shortly to swell ever larger as another 300,000 civil servants are dismissed by the Cameron regime—would describe themselves as members of this class. Once the enviable solid backbone of a society and now an increasingly insecure and anxious group, they/we aren’t to be confused with the other half of the population: the desperately poor or proletariat, whose lives have always been precarious, or the wealthy elite who are frantically trying to keep the precariat under control. Here in Victoria, the precariat is predicted to be growing daily as jobs, institutions and civil services disappear and people wake up and wonder what happened to that orderly life that they had expected to last a lifetime, and in fact felt entitled to. Welcome, all, to the precariat. One thing that British economists don’t realize is that even here on this far-flung, last-bastion of their old empire, where the edge of the continent is constantly being ploughed into by waves, and oceanic plates pile up logs and islands on the shores like conveyor belts pile up luggage—we are well-acquainted with the precariat through nature. Anyone familiar with the intertidal zone will be used to this world of uncertainty and changing conditions. In fact, that is all there is—periods of overexposure alternating with periods of inundation, constant lashings from waves and storms, changing salinity, fluctuating temperatures, changing water levels, vicious competition for real estate, predation, parasitism and forced marches from one pool to the next. No one is more familiar with the precariat of tidepools than Fu-Shiang Chia, now living on Saltspring Island, but for decades one of the world’s renowned marine biologists and a frequent researcher at Bamfield and Friday Harbour marine stations. Fu-Shiang, considered by his many colleagues as the world’s foremost expert on sex in the intertidal zone, is a student of the planktonic larvae phase of marine invertebrates, but the breadth of his other interests spans cultures, generations and disciplines. Fu-Shiang started out life in Japanese-occupied China, the grandson of a judge and feng-shui master in the 30s. During the turbulence of the Great Leap Forward, he wandered as a nomad, before getting smuggled into Taiwan in 1949 under the guise of a soldier. After being imprisoned briefly for allegations of being a communist spy, he left to do a graduate degree at the University of Washington, while China was moving towards the Cultural Revolution. Fu-Shiang’s subsequent academic career spanned seven universities in six countries, ending up at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology where he taught the East’s first biodiversity course before retiring here and throwing himself full-tilt into his other great passion: Poetry, specifically the work of the great lyrical Confucian poets of China from 3,000 years ago. His latest books include a trilingual translation of the Shi Jing poets and another featuring his own prose and poetry in the tradition of the Shi Jing poets. He has an eye for diversity in life forms and cultures and a heart for the precarious edge of continents and tidepools. If this isn’t a man experienced in the precariat then who is? Recently, I accompanied Fu-Shiang and his wife Sharon, an artist, to a book signing in Friday Harbour. We stayed at the field station and wandered around the intertidal pools of San Juan Island, as well as the lab tanks of students’ specimens, one of which was the six-armed sea star Leptasterias hexactis. Fu-Shiang wrote his dissertation on these unique sea stars that brood their eggs and protect them until they hatch—a metaphor not lost on his large and well-nurtured brood of graduate students over the years. The event was attended by a loving circle of colleagues and students and there we were treated to a story of the vicissitudes of life—both as Fu-Shiang and as sea star. The primary lesson of their stories was that the style of spawning behaviour and reproductive success of both is related to the precariousness of their existence. This helps explain Fu-Shiang’s lifelong interest in a poetic tradition which meshes with his scientific enquiry. According to an early Confucian teacher, Rien Ju, the Shi Jing provides students with training in three main areas: thinking and observing in nature; respect for generations; and learning the names of our plants and animals. As Fu-Shiang observes, “there is no art that can be divorced from the natural world. We need biodiversity. Nature’s creatures are necessary for human survival as well as our soul—as they are the soul of Shi Jing and the blood of 3000 years of literature.” So precariat, let me take you back 3000 years to another difficult time. Then walk into the natural world and draw some sustenance in this new year. Owl, owl you have taken my children; Do not destroy my house. So long have I laboured, to raise a family. Before it is dark and raining, I must gather mulberry bark to repair the windows and doors “People down there, don’t you dare bully me!” My hands are worn to the bone, Collecting rush flowers for the building. My mouth is bloody and sore. Yet my house is unfinished. My wing feathers have lost their hue: My tail is plucked of plumes. My house shakes in the wind and rain. Terrified, scared, am I crying in vain. Fu-Shiang Chia’s books include: Returning Poetry to the Shi Jing's Poets: Chinese English Bilingual Essays and Poets, 2010, Bookman Books and Airs of the States from the Shi Jing: A New Trilingual Translation of the World's Oldest Collection of Lyric Poetry, translated by Fu-Shiang Chia, 2008, Bookman Books. Briony Penn, PhD is a naturalist, journalist, artist and award-winning environmental educator. She is the author of The Kids Book of Geography (Kids Can Press) and a A Year on the Wild Side.
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