Killing wolves, moose and cougars won’t save the caribou—but stopping logging in their endangered forest habitat might give them a chance.
THE USUAL HEAVY WINTER SNOW north of Revelstoke will make it tough to maintain a blockade, but a small group of determined activists want to ensure loggers do not gain access to certain blocks of old-growth forest. These forests—part of the threatened Inland Temperate Rainforest—are critical habitat for the endangered deep snow Columbia North caribou herd.
One cutblock has been auctioned off by BC Timber Sales to Downie Timber and three others remain on the auction list.
Last December, after a backlash from conservation groups and scientists, the provincial government deferred logging on 11 of 14 scheduled cutblocks in the Argonaut Valley until the mountain caribou herd planning process is complete—which is not expected until late next year. But that still leaves the three cutblocks, adding up to almost 65 hectares, and close to five kilometres of road that was punched into the valley before the deferment.
“We’re afraid that if we leave, they’re quite capable of ploughing those roads and logging in the winter,” said Virginia Thompson, who, after years of volunteer work to protect caribou, has been spending time on the blockade as a member of Old Growth Revylution.
Numbers of woodland caribou in BC have shrunk from 40,000 to 15,500. Caribou are the “canaries in the clearcuts,” says lichenologist Trevor Goward. (Photo by Conservation North)
“We don’t know if we can pull it off, but we are sure going to try. We have a few people who are very at home in the back country and know how to winter camp and don’t mind being quite solitary,” Thompson said.
The protest is supported by First Nations, including the Splatsin and Ktunaxa Nations, and environmental organizations, such as Wildsight, Wilderness Committee and Valhalla Wilderness Society.
The Splatsin First Nation has called on BC Timber Sales to cease all operations in the area and a news release supporting the blockade says “Splatsin members and leadership will be standing up for what little intact refuge area remains for our four-legged ancestors.”
The Ktunaxa Nation Council has committed to working with the Province and other parties to ensure Ktunaxa Nation interests and stewardship responsibilities are upheld.
“The area in question is a vital southern mountain caribou habitat and any threat to the caribou, or ?a?kxam’is q’api qapsin (all living things), in this region is of great concern,” says a Ktunaxa news release.
The determination to continue the blockade is reinforced by anger that, despite studies showing that saving BC’s dwindling caribou herds depends primarily on habitat protection, the Province is continuing to kill wolves, cougar and moose in caribou habitat, while allowing logging to continue.
A recent study shows habitat loss is driving woodland caribou to extinction. It points out that caribou have lost twice as much habitat as they have gained over the last 12 years. In the past three decades, BC’s 54 herds of woodland caribou have shrunk to 15,500 from 40,000 animals and, in the Kootenays, since 2006, five caribou herds have been extirpated and three others are struggling to survive.
“Everything has gotten worse”
Those are grim statistics which, said Sadie Parr, former executive director of Wolf Awareness, make it more extraordinary that the BC government is not pulling out all the stops to save the Columbia North herd, which is regarded as the one most likely to survive in southern BC.
“It amazes me that the same government committed to protecting caribou is logging the little habitat the animals have left,” she said.
The 2021 population census of the Columbia North Mountain Caribou shows about 184 animals, up from 138 in 2006.
But critics say that government is trying to sustain those numbers by continuing to kill wolves and other animals in perpetuity instead of protecting their habitat.
Parr stepped down from Wolf Awareness to allow her to take more direct action after concluding the usual channels, such as sitting on committees and holding meetings with government officials, were not working.
“Everything has gotten worse. The logging continues. More wolves are killed. The caribou are winking out. That’s why we are so fierce about people heeding this call,” she said.
A view of logging of old-growth forest in Bigmouth Valley (photo by Sadie Parr)
It is not only the caribou that are threatened. Bigmouth Creek and the Argonaut Valley, one of the last unlogged valleys in the region, are within the Inland Temperate Rainforest, an ecosystem that a recent study said is critically endangered and facing ecosystem collapse.
“The decline of mountain caribou has mirrored the destruction of the Inland Temperate Rainforest ecosystem,” said Eddie Petryshen, Wildsight conservation specialist.
The convergence of old-growth logging, shrinking caribou herds and the controversial wolf cull means BC’s top hot-button environmental issues are crystallized in the opposition to further old-growth logging in an area described as a patchwork of roads and clearcuts.
Lower elevations of Bigmouth Creek have been hammered by clearcut logging going back decades, said Vallhalla Wilderness Society director Craig Pettitt, pointing to mottled images on a Google Earth map.
Satellite image of clearcuts in the Bigmouth Creek area. The Argonaut Creek watershed is in the lower right corner.
“This logging has reduced what were vast stands of old-growth cedar hemlock forest to fragmented postage stamp retention areas,” he said.
In contrast, so far, Argonaut Creek has escaped, probably because of the steep terrain, and the area provides a refuge of intact forested habitat for the deep snow caribou, Pettitt said.
A view of the upper Argonaut Valley (photo by Eddie Petryshen)
Blockade slowed down logging, but critical valley-bottom threatened
There is no injunction, so police and media attention is sparse at the Revylution blockade, but, the land defenders (named thus by the Splatsin chief and other Indigenous representatives) have succeeded in preventing Downie Timber from harvesting.
The Old Growth Revylution blockade during summer 2021 (photo by Sadie Parr)
“We’ve deferred harvest, deferred road building,” said a Downie spokesman, who refused to confirm his name or explain the terms of the deferral.
A Forests Ministry email, in response to questions from Focus, said the blockade has also “stopped environmentally sensitive road deactivation work from being completed.”
Downie previously logged about 126 hectares of old growth on the north side of Bigmouth Creek. Petryshen does not want to see any more ancient trees loaded onto trucks.
“Those were probably 500 to 600-year-old trees; a lot of that forest had been growing undisturbed since the end of the ice age. It’s globally unique forest and there’s not a whole lot of it left,” Petryshen said.
“The deep snow-dwelling caribou are so tied to that ecosystem and have learned to live within it and we are disrupting that whole process,” he said, noting that the block that Downie plans to log contains some of the highest value old growth; it’s valley bottom—habitat that is essential to caribou which spend about half of their time in low elevations.
No logging is currently taking place in the Argonaut or Bigmouth areas, but old-growth stands are scheduled for harvest in Bigmouth Creek, according to the ministry e-mail.
“Locations for proposed cutblocks in the Bigmouth area have not been determined and will be dependent on the assessment and advice of many specialists for a range of natural resource values,” it says. The email also notes: “It’s important to recognize that, in their report, the Independent Panel [old-growth review panel] did not recommend a moratorium on old-growth logging in BC. They recommended deferrals in areas where there is a near term risk of irreversible biodiversity loss and further action to change the way we manage our old-growth forests.”
Roads and clearcuts mean moose and deer move into the area—together with hunters and snowmobilers—and prey animals are followed by predators such as wolves and cougars
Petryshen described this as “out-of-whack predator/prey dynamics,” and added, “The predators are not going after caribou, the caribou are just the bycatch. The system is kind of in chaos and caribou are the first to go when it is significantly out of balance.”
Focus on wolf cull not the answer
Since 2015, 1,447 wolves have been killed in the provincial cull program. The animals are usually shot by aerial gunning from helicopters—a practice heavily criticized for disrupting wolf packs and having little basis in science as other wolves usually move into the area. A court case on its legality is being heard in late October.
A study released last year found no statistical support for wolf culls or caribou maternity pens as conservation measures for mountain caribou.
The BC government has killed over 1400 wolves despite no evidence that it protects caribou (photo by John E. Marriott)
This month, a Pacific Wild petition calling for a halt to the cull, with more than half a million signatures, was presented to government on the opening day of the BC Legislature, but, in answer to questions from Focus, the Forests Ministry said both predator reduction and habitat protection are needed to protect caribou.
“Without protecting caribou habitat, wolf and cougars will have to be killed in perpetuity to maintain caribou on the landscape. This is not what anyone wants,” says the emailed response. “On the other hand, if we only protect habitat, we likely will lose many caribou herds due to the current disturbed condition of the habitat from past and ongoing forestry activities. We need to protect habitat that is currently suitable and we need to give impacted habitat time to recover. This is a decades long process,” it says.
BC is currently holding consultations, which will continue until Nov. 15, on extending the cull program for another five years.
Parr is unimpressed by the consultation process and said the Province has already decided to not only go ahead, but to expand the cull, even though habitat protection and herd plans will not be completed until 2022.
“We have asked them to show us the externally peer-reviewed science on this and they can’t…There’s no equation that could convince me [it is right] to brutally kill this number of wolves, which are sentient beings and play important ecological roles which are then disrupted,” she said.
Parr believes that killing everything except caribou, while continuing to destroy habitat by removing trees that are thousands of years old, makes no sense. Though there might be short-term increases in caribou number, there will be no positive, long-term outcomes.
“There are so many layers to this. We’re creating an ecological debt for future generations,” she said.
Caribou need lichen, lichen need old growth
Frustration is mixed with sadness and anger as Trevor Goward traces the downward spiral of deep snow mountain caribou populations and connects the decline to lichens, the essential deep snow caribou diet, which are being lost to logging.
Goward, an internationally recognized lichenologist and author of about 150 scientific papers on lichens, said logging of old-growth forests in the Revelstoke area has now reached the point of no return and he believes the Columbia North caribou, which have survived in BC’s interior for millions of years, are tipping towards extinction.
“It’s an absolute horror story and the caribou should be the warning. I call them the canaries in the clearcuts,” said Goward, pointing to decades of studies concluding that deep snow caribou need extensive old-growth forests at all elevations for long-term survival.
“Once you get beyond a certain point—and we’re long past that point—every tree cut is basically making the situation worse,” he said.
However, government biologists first opted to kill hundreds of moose and deer in the mistaken belief that, without prey, predators would leave. When that plan did not work, the killing was extended to wolves and cougars, Goward explained.
“Any qualified biologist understands that pressure comes both bottom up and top down. Top down is the predation and bottom up is the food they eat—and to focus on one to the exclusion of the other is reprehensible in the extreme,” he said.
Deep snow caribou rely on lichens growing on the branches of trees and when there are fewer trees with lichens, caribou expend more energy walking in the deep snow. It eventually gets to the point where caribou cannot survive, Goward said.
“It’s not just a matter of the individual caribou dying, but, if it’s a stressful winter, the cows abort their fetuses and, if young are born, they are much less resilient than a normal caribou calf, so they are much more likely to die in the first year,” he said.
“These caribou are special. They are the only ones that live entirely on these lichens. They need forests that are at least 120 or 150 years old,” Goward said.
When caribou cannot find hair lichens in the high altitudes they move down to the valleys, he said.
“But now the lowlands have been essentially nuked. There’s nothing for them. So, the next time they have to go down, they will only have wasted energy,” Goward said.
“It’s a very sad story and the irony of the whole thing is that this is the one caribou type that could have survived long into climate change because they don’t care what’s on the ground. They just needed to have old forests and they have lost them, so it’s lose, lose all around,” he said.
Only “plans to make a plan” while caribou near extinction
Petryshen and Parr also find it difficult to be optimistic about the future of caribou in BC, when economics seem to trump immediate action and the answer from government is that there are plans to make a plan.
“What’s frustrating is that, as the logging continues, they continue to say they don’t know where caribou habitat is,” Parr said.
The official Environment Canada critical habitat map has been in the works since 2014, Petryshen said. “It has been in draft form for seven years and the Province and feds keep saying ‘hey, we are almost done,’” he said. Petryshen is hoping Indigenous leaders will fill the gap left by the federal and provincial governments.
“I grew up close to the South Purcell mountains and we lost those caribou while we were planning to make a plan. We need immediate action right now,” he said.
Judith Lavoie is a freelance journalist who enjoys exploring stories about the natural world.
Victoria celebrates the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation
IT HAS BEEN HEARTENING to see how Canadians are beginning their journey to true reconciliation and respect for Indigenous peoples and to fully comprehend the injustice and devastating impacts of the residential school system.
In Victoria there were a number of events in recognition of this first annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. The making of the statutory holiday itself is a step towards reconciliation. It provides an opportunity to recognize and commemorate the tragic history and ongoing legacy of residential schools, and to honour Indigenous survivors, their families and communities.
Featured here are photos by Dawna Mueller with words by speakers at the Xe xe Smun’ eem event held at Centennial Square. Xe xe Smun’ eem means “Sacred Children” in the Cowichan or Quw’utsun language. It has also become known as Orange Shirt Day for the shirt that was taken from a six-year-old Phyllis Webstad (Northern Secwpemc/Shuswap) on her first day at school, leaving her with feelings of worthlessness.
Stories, songs, dancers, drummers, blessings and tears were all part of the three-hour ceremony.
Below the photo essay are links to articles on this site about reconciliation. —the editor
An attentive audience of a few hundred gathered for the three-hour ceremony in Centennial Square on September 30, 2021. This is the fifth consecutive year that the City of Victoria is supporting the event to mark the City’s commitment to reconciliation.
Eddy Charlie and Kristin Spray are the organizers of the Xe xe Smun' eem-Victoria Orange Shirt Day: Every Child Matters event, which they developed in 2015 while attending the Indigenous Studies program at Camosun College. Eddy Charlie, a survivor who attended the Kuper Island residential school, said there were 150,000 children stolen from their families and communities during the residential school era. “They took away our language, they took away our identity, they took away our ability to function as a family, they starved us and beat us.” He also talked of the sexual abuse he experienced from age four-and-a-half by a priest. “Some of the residential schools created some of the most perfect hate machines ever,” he said. And the hate was taken back to their homes; “we became part of that genocide, we taught people to hate…” He said, “I can make a different choice now.” In sharing his experiences, he hopes to encourage others to do so and to make this country strong again. Said Spray, “What I was taught in school growing up was a myth; it didn’t include the people who were here first.” She and Charlie thanked the City for making time and space for the event and the many local businesses who helped because “they want to be part of the truth-telling and see a change in this country.”
The Orange Shirt Day flag was raised, followed by 15 drum beats and a minute of silence to honour and remember those who did not survive residential school. The flag was lowered to half-mast after the ceremony.
Lisa Helps, Mayor of Victoria: “We’re here today to honour those who survived the dehumanizing and utterly unspeakable conditions of the residential school system.” It’s also, she continued, “to honour those children who never came home.” She asked attendees to consider what difference they could make in the next year, and “to make known what we know.”
Dr Danièle Behn Smith and children, Deputy Provincial Health Officer Indigenous Health. She is from Fort Nelson First Nation and Red River Métis: “There are no words that can make this right; there is only action.” Dr Behn Smith said she desires the “freedom to be ourselves.” Though many non-Indigenous no longer believe—as the early colonizers and settlers did—that they are better than Indigenous peoples, “our systems, structures and laws are still rooted in those racist beliefs.” She urged non-Indigenous people to ask themselves how they can “disrupt the status quo” and “earn back our trust.”
Dance, drumming and song were performed by Westwind Intertribal Drum, a family drum. The family comes from a long lineage of pow wow people. Their late grandfather, Ernie Bertrum, was from the Pullalup (P-U-AL-UP) and Yakama (YAK-A-MA) Nations. He brought the drum and teachings to this territory and to keep his culture alive he would sing with his children. Many of of the family began pow wow with their late Uncle Joe Henry as the Thunderbird Singers and Dancers. Later they formed Westwind Intertribal with lead singer, the late Ernie Alphonse.
Laurel Collins, Member of Parliament, Victoria: “How do we support healing? What are our next steps on this path of reconciliation.” She stressed that though we may not have all the answers, it’s important to start the journey with truth and humility. She pledged to fight to get the federal government to address chronic underfunding of services for Indigenous children and, referring to the unmarked graves sites, “to bring every child home.”
Victoria Children’s Choir, celebrating 20 years, performed under the directorship of Teodora Georgieva.
Carl Mashon, Acting Director in the Community and Social Innovation Branch, Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, is a Sixties Scoop child of Cree ancestry. Mashon also served for 16 years at the BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres.
Mashon spoke of his birth mother, Elizabeth Cardinal, a member of the Saddle Lake Nation. She was the first from her community to finish high school and join the Canadian airforce. At 19 she got pregnant and was discharged from the airforce and quickly pressured by the Catholic Church to give up her baby. After five years in the care of the church, Carl was adopted by a non-native family in Southern Alberta, at least avoiding being placed in the residential school system, as were others in the orphanage. It wasn’t until many years later when, suspecting he was of native ancestry, Carl found and reconnected with his birth mother and family. “I can get angry when I think about this country…”
Such realities as the residential school system and the recently found gravesites, he said, harden our hearts over the years. Events such as this ceremony are important because they “soften our hearts.”
Minister Mitzi Dean, BC Ministry of Children and Family Development, presents plaques to the event organizers Eddy Charlie and Kristin Spray. Describing herself as a longtime witness to the devastating impact the residential schools have had, Dean committed to working with Indigenous people to rebuilding the system into one they can trust. She noted that the recent discoveries of children’s gravesites bolsters the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendation for a system in which “no Indigenous children are brought into care.”
Dawna Mueller is an award-winning photographer focusing on issues of social and environmental justice. Dawna was born in Winnipeg and is Red River Métis, Cree and Saulteux on her mother’s side and Czech on her father’s. Adopted into a family of Ukrainian heritage at birth, she only discovered her indigenous heritage as an adult and is on a reclamation journey to discover her roots. Ironically, without even knowing she was Indigenous, Dawna studied Political Science at Camosun College, finishing with a BA from UBC majoring in Native Indian Studies as it was called in the 1980s. As well, she graduated from Allard Hall School of Law at UBC and studied Art and History at the University of Paris-Sorbonne.
Dawna is currently studying for Masters of Photography and focusing on the Residential School Issue. After discovering many of her aunties, uncles and a cousin were victims of the residential school system in Canada, she has committed to photographically documenting this as a way of raising awareness and continuing the narrative both within and outside of Indigenous communities. www.dawnamueller.com (Dawna Mueller’s photographs documenting the Fairy Creek forest defence can also be found on this site.)
For further commentary on issues related to the reconciliation project, please see the following articles on this site:
Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic’s First Nations are done with having land, children, opportunity and prosperity stolen from them
Let’s Change these Place Names: British Columbia and Victoria, by Stephen Hume
“You and your people were not invited here” by Stephen Hume
Following the Good River: the Life and Times of Wa'xaid, by Briony Penn. Book review and interview by Amy Reiswig
The historical moments when European colonization of this region began by Stephen Hume
Facing the truth: Canada was founded on a national crime by Stephen Hume
“The islands are our homelands, too,” says W̱SÁNEĆ youth by Katlja Lafferty
Diary of a forest defender, part III: Colonialism 101—and why Indigenous protesters are being singled out by RCMP” by Yellow Cedar
And from our vault, 2013, by Katherine Palmer Gordon: Truth and Irreconciliation
A video of the September 30 ceremony, produced by the City of Victoria, can be found here.
Massive new fossil fuel infrastructure would contribute greenhouse gas emissions for many decades to come, argues Environmental Law Centre
A $5.6 BILLION PETROCHEMICAL COMPLEX proposed for Prince George should go to public hearings as part of an impact assessment conducted by an expert independent panel before any provincial approvals, say environmental law scholars at the University of Victoria.
Calgary-based West Coast Olefins Ltd wants to tap into a natural gas pipeline through northern BC to extract liquid ethane, propane, butane and natural gas condensate as feedstock for manufacturing plastics and synthetic rubber for export to Asian markets.
It would represent a dramatic expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure in British Columbia, one of three co-dependent plants. They would include: a natural gas liquids recovery plant; an ethylene plant to produce a million tonnes of polymer-grade ethylene a year; and the polyethylene plant producing plastic.
Following controversy from a citizens’ group in Prince George worried about possible air pollution from the proposed plant and local First Nations concerns, the company said it hoped to relocate the project 140 kilometres north to McLeod Lake where it was in talks with the McLeod Lake First Nation about negotiating a potential benefits agreement should the project go ahead.
But talks fell through and the company subsequently dumped that plan and said it wanted once again to build in Prince George.
Prince George already has a long history of serious industrial air pollution (photo Creative Commons)
Both the Lheidli T’enneh Nation in Prince George and the McLeod Lake Indian band have since publicly opposed the proposed development and rejected future negotiations.
In a 26-page letter to George Heyman, the minister of environment and climate change strategy, Calvin Sandborn, legal director of the university’s Environmental Law Centre, says the proposal contradicts provincial climate objectives.
With every major long-term investment in infrastructure whose existence depends upon fossil fuel use into the future, it becomes more difficult for all of us to deal with the climate emergency, Sandborn’s letter points out.
The letter was delivered to Heyman Wednesday morning, August 25th.
Tuesday the US government ordered a delay in development of a $9.4 billion plastics and petrochemicals complex in south Louisiana in response to environmental concerns and community backlash.
It is calling for an extensive environmental assessment following objections that the complex would double toxic emissions in the local area and release up to 13 million tonnes of greenhouse gases, equal to the pollution pumped out by three coal-fired power plants reported The Guardian newspaper.
The letter to Heyman observes that Prince George already has a long history of serious industrial air pollution because of strong inversion effects that trap pollutants in the city’s air shed and cites a 2011 study published in the Canadian Journal of Public Health estimating that as many as 81 deaths a year could be attributed to fine particulate air pollution.
It cites objections from First Nations and from Prince George citizens who are worried about impacts upon air quality, occupational health issues for workers associated with petrochemicals, risks of fire and explosion, potential impacts upon water quality and fish habitat and the proposed site of the complex which it says is too close to the Fraser River.
All these deserve an independent assessment, the letter says. “Approval of this complex may be one of the most consequential climate change decisions your government ever makes.”
It says the proposed complex poses “profound risks” to the global environment because expansion of plastics manufacturing infrastructure “could lock in greenhouse emissions for decades to come” at the same time that the Province has pledged to reduce emissions dramatically.
And the development would be an incentive spurring expansion of fracking and other natural gas production activities, add to the plastic pollution already linked to widespread environmental harm, undermine provincial and federal efforts to reduce plastic waste and undermine efforts to encourage plastics recycling.
Ken James, the CEO of West Coast Olefins, did not respond to a request for comment made last Tuesday.
But “there are a lot of us here who are worried about the potential consequences such projects might bring, says Zoe Meletis, a geography professor at the University of Northern BC. She speaks for Too Close 2 Home, a Prince George citizens group concerned about potential environmental consequences for the city of 74,000 about 800 kilometres north of Vancouver. “We have a lot of questions and concerns as there has been so little public discussion and information shared,” said Meletis.
Meletis said the group approached the Environmental Law Centre at UVic for help preparing a request to the Province for a more comprehensive and public environmental assessment because “we want to know more about the exact nature of the many sites that are part of WCO’s long term vision for the two sites, and all of the costs, benefits and impact those are likely to entail, particularly when overlaid on top of everything Prince George and area are already dealing with, for example air pollution, particulate matter etc..”
The letter to Heyman warns that limiting an environmental assessment to one element of the complex—the ethylene plant—risks being uninformed about the full potential impact of the proposed project.
“You have to see the entire thing—the whole petrochemical complex—to come to any rational conclusion,” Sandborn’s letter says.
“British Columbians must have an assessment of the overall project, to see what real-world, cumulative impacts are likely.”
In fact, it argues, the $2.8 billion ethylene project requires a second facility—a $1.3 billion natural gas liquids recovery plant—to provide its feedstock and a third facility—a $1.5 billion polyethylene plant plant which would turn the ethylene into plastic pellets for export to overseas plastics fabricators.
The three projects and their impacts have to be assessed as a whole not as individual projects, the letter says, because if billions of dollars have already been spent on an extraction facility those sunk costs are highly likely to skew assessments of subsequent projects.
“The pressure to complete an ‘overall project’ that is halfway there will be substantial.”
And government has an obligation to transparently obtain a fully objective assessment of whether the proposed project is congruent with the Province’s oft-stated commitment to fight climate change, reduce plastic waste and enhance recycling of materials to create a circular economy.
The letter argues there is evidence that the proposed project will seriously undermine all these stated government objectives, which makes an independent expert review imperative.
An independent panel is needed to consider other potentially serious impacts on Indigenous people, local citizens and the region’s environment, Sandborn argues. And, he says, there’s a risk that creating a massive petrochemical complex there would both foreclose a more prosperous and sustainable future for Prince George and put the Province at risk of having a major asset stranded and made worthless as the rest of the world pivots aggressively from fossil fuels to mitigate the growing climate emergency that as brought repeated summers of unprecedented fire and drought to BC.
“We are very wary about the two sites being ‘too close to home’ in terms of proximity to neighbourhoods, agricultural lands, and greenspaces that we value,” Meletis says. “We know that oil and gas is a dying industry, and that plastics are part of the push to eke out a final stage or rebranding of that industry.
“Why should Prince George suffer ill effects for a plastic product that we are going to send elsewhere? How does all this fit with recent ongoing efforts to make our city and region more sustainable, diverse and resilient in the face of climate change?
“Just because people of Prince George have learned to live with the ‘smell of money’ in terms of pulp mill and other emissions, it doesn’t mean they want the same for their kids and grandkids.”
Stephen Hume has spent half a century as a journalist writing about Western Canada, the Far North, BC and the Island.
FOR MILLENNIA, THE SALISH SEA—the shared body of water linking northwestern Washington state and southern BC and encompassing the Puget Sound, Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Strait of Georgia—was abundant with salmon.
The keystone species is the bedrock of the entire ecosystem of the Pacific Northwest. All seven species of Pacific salmon populated the Salish Sea—sustaining a host of other iconic animals, such as bald eagles, southern resident killer whales, and grizzlies, along with their surrounding aquatic and terrestrial environments and scores of Indigenous nations and cultures.
But, says Isobel Pearsall, director of marine science at the Pacific Salmon Foundation (PSF), beginning in the late 1970s, salmon survival, particularly for chinook, coho, and steelhead—which migrate to the ocean like salmon, but can spawn multiple times—began a mysterious downward slide, especially in the marine environment.
Some populations in Salish waters have plummeted as much as 90 percent, says Pearsall, and limiting fisheries, restoring habitat, and improving hatchery practices weren’t making significant differences. It’s clear juvenile fish are particularly vulnerable, and that there is something particular to the Salish Sea impacting survival of the three species, which aren’t facing the same pattern of decline in other regions, she says.
So, in partnership with Long Live the Kings, another non-profit foundation south of the border, PSF launched a five-year research initiative involving 60 different entities to understand what was driving some salmon stocks to extinction and what could be done to reverse it.
A scientist involved in the Salish Sea Marine Survival Project scans juvenile salmon in Sansum Narrows in the Strait of Georgia (photo courtesy of Pacific Salmon Foundation)
Pearsall believes that despite the dire situation salmon face, the key findings of the recently completed Salish Sea Marine Survival Project, which she co-ordinated, can act as a roadmap for priority action, research, and policy. “It’s very easy to get pulled down into the doom and gloom of what we’re seeing around salmon declines,” Pearsall she notes. “But the [survival project] has highlighted the areas that we really want to focus on and that we know are crucial.”
The Salish Sea is weathering some significant changes due to the climate crisis, such as warming waters, increasing risk from harmful algae and pathogens, shifts in the marine food web, and the decimation of estuary and foreshore habitats, the study found.
Many of the changes impacting salmon are interlocked, says Pearsall.
“One might hope for a smoking gun and that there would be one major thing you could change to solve the whole issue, but that doesn't seem to be the case,” she says. However, the initiative concluded that salmon food supply and predation of young salmon are two key contributors to the declines of chinook, coho, and steelhead when they first enter the marine environment.
The Salish Sea Marine Survival Project identified the key stressors causing declines of juvenile salmon.
Changes to the Salish Sea affect when, where and how much food is available for young chinook and coho, which influences their growth and mortality.
Drops in zooplankton and forage fish, especially herring, put young salmon at increasing risk, a situation compounded by the destruction of estuaries and nearshore habitat, which provide hiding spots and food for both the fish and their prey.
The finding suggests that protecting and restoring estuary and forage fish habitats on the foreshores of the coast should be a priority, says Pearsall.
As well, increased efforts to boost declining herring populations and study their distribution and movements are important.
Young salmon are also under pressure from a growing number of harbour seals in the Salish Sea, the project found.
While chinook and coho are a limited portion of the seals’ diet, the number of seals negatively impacts salmon survival rates, already under strain from human-caused climate change, notes Pearsall.
The study doesn’t advocate for widespread culls, which would require the elimination of up to 50 percent of the seal population, and the constant removal of a significant proportion every year after, to have any real effect on salmon, she says. “It’s just untenable to make such a drastic move in an ecosystem that nobody fully understands,” says Pearsall, adding other pressures and changes are also at play since abundant salmon stocks existed alongside large seal populations in the past.
“I think we need to look at the anthropogenic changes that we’ve made that make the salmon more vulnerable to predation,” she says.
That could include removing infrastructure like log booms in estuaries where seals can hang out waiting for salmon without fear of being eaten themselves.
Or by changing hatchery practices, such as the release of large groups of juvenile fish upriver, often in low water, which make young salmon easy pickings for all sorts of creatures, including raccoons or herons.
Implementing solutions that could ensure higher river or stream flows to provide more cover and cooler water to young salmon would also give them a fighting chance against predators and increase their survival, Pearsall adds.
The holistic, collaborative nature of the Salish Sea project has resulted in a framework for stakeholders on both sides of the border to respond more effectively in a co-ordinated manner to make gains in restoring endangered salmon stocks, says Pearsall.
While the study tallies the range of pressures on salmon, it has also pointed out some practical action.“We’re letting people know that what they’re doing can have impacts, both negative and positive,” says Pearsall. “There may be some things that are out of our control, but there are many immediate actions we can take.”
Rochelle Baker is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter with Canada’s National Observer. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
THERE WAS AN UNUSUAL TRAFFIC DELAY recently on Highway 1 in Langford when RCMP, called by concerned drivers, stopped traffic to allow a bemused black bear to move on its way after spending hours in the middle of the highway.
It was a rare happy ending. Wildlife on highways usually means wrecked vehicles, injuries and dead animals. For Dana Livingstone and other members of the grassroots organization Wildlife Advocates Collective, the Langford bear was a graphic example of the need for more large animal wildlife tunnels or overpasses on Vancouver Island. According to the Collective, Langford has the most calls around bear conflicts on Southern Vancouver Island because of fragmentation of their habitat and lack of corridors.
Black bear in Juan de Fuca area near Victoria, BC (photo by Gary Schroyen)
Animals usually follow riparian zones or travel traditional routes, but often find their access blocked by fences, new developments and highways, said Livingstone, an East Sooke resident and former park naturalist and outdoor education specialist.
“They need to cross the roads to get to the water or their food source and then they get stuck in these fragmented landscapes. People just don’t stop and then they complain about the animals,” said Livingstone.
The Wildlife Advocates Collective is wrapping up a long, ultimately successful campaign to have three culverts modified to allow large animals, such as bears, deer and cougars, to cross Highway 14 in Sooke. The group is now extending the campaign to the rest of the Island.
In addition to public education, the group is waitlisted for a presentation to the provincial Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services in an effort to persuade government that making highways safer for animals saves money and human lives.
Making highways safer for animals saves money and lives
On Vancouver Island, between 2016 and 2020 there was an average of 2,300 crashes each year involving an animal and an annual average of 190 injured humans according to ICBC statistics. Throughout the province, there is an average of 9,900 crashes involving animals every year.
There is no tally of the number of animals killed and, even when a hit is reported, many animals will crawl off the road and die in the bush.
Despite Vancouver Island’s prolific wildlife, the only current underpass for large species is on Highway 19 near Courtenay—constructed as part of the 150-kilometre Vancouver Island Inland Highway Project—and it is clear that many more are needed, according to Livingstone.
Elk in Juan de Fuca area near Victoria, BC (photo by Gary Schroyen)
“Even the new Malahat improvements did not include an undercrossing for large species. This is insane as [an employee of] Emcon [the highways maintenance contractor] has told me they pick up so many dead and dying deer near the Shawnigan turnoff, which is a known corridor for deer, bear and elk,” said Livingstone, who also wants more illuminated highway signs warning drivers when animals are on the road.
“Now there’s a whole pile of land for sale on the right side of the Malahat where the deer are stuck. They are not thinking, they are not moving forward on creating specific passages for large species like other provinces and countries are doing,” she said.
The Netherlands, for example, has more than 600 wildlife crossings to protect badger, boar and deer populations, including one that crosses a river, railway line and sports complex; in Longview, Washington, the Nutty Narrows Bridge—a rope bridge over a road—is specifically designed for squirrels. On Christmas Island in Australia, a crab bridge allows 50 million red crabs to follow their traditional migratory route.
In BC a number of smaller tunnels, usually culverts, are used by species such as raccoons and rabbits and there is an amphibian undercrossing near Tofino, but they are unsuitable for larger species.
For the Highway 14 campaign, the Wildlife Advocates Collective, spearheaded by Livingstone and Lisa Love, enlisted help from wildlife advocate and photographer Gary Schroyen, who took photos of animals near Highway 14. As well, Jane Hansen, a conservation GIS analyst, mapped all reports of wildlife in the West Shore area, whether calls to the Conservation Service or an animal hit on the highway.
Hansen looked at the big parks around West Shore, such as Goldstream, Sea-to Sea, East Sooke, Matheson Lake, Roche Cove and Sooke Hills Wilderness Area and found a landscape criss-crossed with roads and privately-owned land without the corridors that wildlife populations need.
“So, how are these animals supposed to move between these parks safely?” she asked.
Using ICBC statistics, Hansen mapped 434 wildlife collision reports in Sooke between 2015 and 2019, of which 313 were on Highway 14. The reports do not give the species of animal, Hansen said. “But you can pretty well assume that it’s not going to be a squirrel or a raccoon or a skunk. It’s going to be a big enough animal that someone is going to phone in a report,” she said.
Chart by Jane Hansen using ICBC statistics on Westshore wildlife collisions, with map of wildlife collision reports, 2015-2019.
Animal underpasses were not included in the initial budget for the Sooke highway improvement project, which will see four kilometres of the heavily-travelled road widened to four lanes with a median barrier.
But growing awareness of wildlife safety, helped by a petition, organized by the Wildlife Advocates Collective and signed by almost 3,000 people, put the issue on the front burner for the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure. In May, the Ministry announced that the project, scheduled for completion next year, will include three “wildlife-related structures.”
Two of the enhanced culverts will be near Connie Road and the third will be east of Glinz Lake Road.
Cougar in Juan de Fuca area near Victoria, BC (photo by Gary Schroyen)
Instead of the traditional round steel culverts, the tunnels will be square with a gravel base, which is an important element as animals such as deer do not like walking on concrete, said Livingstone, who conducted a home experiment on preferred surfaces for deer.
“They do not like cement—their hooves slip on it, especially in the winter and then they can’t get away from a car and that’s how a lot of them get hit,” Livingstone said.
“So, call me crazy, but, on our five-acre property we laid down a concrete slab that was about 50 feet by 70 feet,” said Livingstone. Deer, which usually used the area, shied away from the concrete and then started using an alternate route where Livingstone had laid down mulch.
Ministry has little budget for wildlife protection
Dr Leonard Sielecki, manager of the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure’s wildlife program, said the lack of underpasses and overpasses on Vancouver Island is historic and the push for change reflects evolving attitudes towards wildlife.
“What you are looking at is a legacy of the past and not a reflection of the present or the future,” he said.
That legacy is “environmentally unsustainable highway systems created at a time when public expectations and government regulations were focused largely in increasing safe mobility for road users,” according to the ministry’s Wildlife Program brochure.
But, although those expectations have changed, money for the wildlife program is tight, with a budget—unchanged for the last decade—of $825,000, from the more than $500-million spent each year on provincial highway operations.
One key to creating viable wildlife crossing programs is partnering with local businesses and Livingstone is hoping companies will be willing to donate to specific projects.
That could be a win for everyone, providing jobs for fledgling surveyors, biologists and even artists, as well as creating awareness of species at risk, she said.
Sielecki applauds the efforts being made by Livingstone and her group and said the growing awareness is a reflection of changing public attitudes.
“I have been in this position for 25 years and the changes that have occurred over that time have been phenomenal. There is support for wildlife protection at all levels from the minister down,” he said.
The ministry’s wildlife program is unique among transportation ministries and agencies in North America as it emphasizes raising wildlife awareness and, especially as climate change alters wildlife habits, connectivity for animals is becoming increasingly important, Sielecki said.
For example, when the ministry was made aware of a toad migration near Duncan, staff worked with sign companies and maintenance contractors to come up with graphics for a toad migration, advising drivers to take an alternate route.
Wolf in Juan de Fuca area near Victoria, BC (photo by Gary Schroyen)
“People were very considerate and conscious about the wildlife migration,” Sielecki said.
However, there are, inevitably, bottom line considerations. Constructing animal underpasses in situations such as Highway 14, where construction work is ongoing, is different from digging an expensive and traffic-disrupting tunnel under an existing highway.
The Ministry of Transportation and Highways said the Highway 14 conditions for building underpasses are “optimal,” meaning that the cost is about $250,000, a small fraction of the $120-million spent since 2017 on making the main highway to Sooke safer for drivers.
Cost always has to be a consideration, said Sielecki, adding that BC’s underpasses and overpasses are utilitarian compared to cadillac versions in areas such as Banff National Park, where overpasses are funded by the federal government.
“It’s not that we don’t want to do things, we have to be responsible for taxpayers dollars and do the most good with the funding we have available,” Sielecki said. Different, less expensive measures are employed besides building tunnels. Mountain goats were kept away from a busy highway when the ministry created an appreciated salt lick well away from it.
There are about 20 large animal underpasses and overpasses in BC, most in places such as Kicking Horse Canyon and the Okanagan Connector, and the ministry is looking at retrofitting wildlife tunnels in places such as Highway 3, between Sparwood and the Alberta border, Sielecki said.
One of the most satisfying aspects of the program is looking at images from wildlife cameras, showing animals using the crossings, said Sielecki, pointing to a video of a mother moose teaching her calf how to use an underpass.
“We have a wealth of wildlife that most jurisdictions in North America don’t have. Animals ranging from badgers to bison,” Sielecki said.
Getting them safely across the roads is challenging. “But it is rewarding,” he said.
Both the Wildlife Advocates Collective and Sielecki are collecting data from the public on where animals are crossing so the best decisions can be made on warning lights and wildlife crossings.
The Wildlife Advocates Collective is on Facebook. You can also contact Dana Livingstone at 250-642-0220 or email@example.com. Leonard Sielecki of the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure is at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Judith Lavoie is an award-winniing journalist specializing in the environment, First Nations, and social issues. Twitter @LavoieJudith
A NEW CULTURAL REVITALIZATION PROJECT aims to reconnect W̱SÁNEĆ people to their larger island territories— beyond so-called Vancouver Island.
“It’s all about reconnecting,” says Peter Underwood, a youth from the W̱SÁNEĆ Nation who has been working with the Rainforest Conservation Foundation and the W̱SÁNEĆ leadership council to connect people back to their islands.
“It’s really important that we know that those islands are our homelands, too, and that we are all islanders, more than just on Vancouver Island,” Underwood tells IndigiNews.
W̱SÁNEĆ territory includes several so-called Southern Gulf Islands in the Salish Sea, including S,DÁYES (Pender), S,ḴŦAḴ (Mayne) and ṮEḴTEḴSEN (Saturna).
The ṮEṮÁĆES Revitalization Project, a partnership between the Southern Gulf Islands Community Resources Centre (CRC) and the W̱SÁNEĆ School Board (WSB), aims to share traditional knowledge about W̱SÁNEĆ homelands, for youth, community members, and visitors.
Through a series of five educational videos—to be owned and used by the WSB—the project will incorporate W̱SÁNEĆ traditional knowledge and the role ṮEṮÁĆES (islands) play as a part of ÁLEṈENEȻ (the larger W̱SÁNEĆ homeland).
Central to the educational project is the question “Whose land is it?,” states a CRC press release published in July.
“The W̱SÁNEĆ people have been too long separated from the Islands as a result of the oppressive impacts of colonization and the failure of the settler population to recognize our unceded inherent rights,” says W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Council director of operations Gord Elliott in the release. “This project supports the resurgence of the W̱SÁNEĆ people in our traditional Homeland.”
The videos will also be used in community forums for the Southern Gulf Islands to “enhance the developing community to community relationship necessary for progressive reconcili-action in building more resilient and sustainable communities,” the release states.
The name ṮEṮÁĆES (pronounced “tlu-tla-chus”—“u” as in fun, “a” as in ape) means “islands,” Underwood explains, which comes from an oral story.
Peter Underwood says, “To reconnect with our islands is to reconnect with our relatives there.” (Photo by Alex Harris)
“The meaning of the word is that the islands are our relatives, the relatives of the deep. To reconnect with our islands is to reconnect with our relatives there,” he explains.
Underwood says islands within W̱SÁNEĆ territory would have felt “a little separate from the W̱SÁNEĆ people, because we don’t have active reserves out there.”
“A lot of people don’t even know that we have reserves out there and if they do they don’t know where they are because they are very small and uninhabited,” he says.
At one point, there were year-round villages on the islands, but when people were placed on reservations, they were taken from the islands and the land was sold off, he explains.
Whose land is it?
The ṮEṮÁĆES Steering Committee received matched funding from the Real Estate Foundation of BC in the amount of $75,000 as a follow-up to the successful ṮEṮÁĆES Climate Action Project that took place in 2019-2020, according to the release.
Additional funding is provided by a number of community partners including the W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Council, Raincoast Conservation Foundation, UVIC Living Lab Project, and the South Pender Historical Society with the Capital Regional District.
One of the videos will feature a presentation by Nick Claxton and John Price on the key findings in their paper: “Whose Land Is It?: Rethinking Sovereignty in British Columbia.” Another will feature an animated version of the ṮEṮÁĆES creation story, and the three others will share W̱SÁNEĆ perspectives on each of the three Southern Gulf Islands”: S,DÁYES (Pender); S,ḴŦAḴ (Mayne) and ṮEḴTEḴSEN (Saturna).
Underwood says there’s a growing number of non-Indigenous people who are starting to make space for Indigenous histories and stories. For example, South Pender Island now has a display of the 13 moons of the W̱SÁNEĆ calendar by artist MENEŦIYE, he says.
Some people believe that the history of a place starts when the island is named with an English name, for example, but as Underwood explains, “There’s so much more to it.” Pender Island was originally one island before it was colonized, he says.
The San Juan Islands are also part of the W̱SÁNEĆ homelands, but when the colonial continental borders were implemented, the W̱SÁNEĆ people become separated, he says. It’s this kind of valuable insight, rooted in traditional knowledge, that will be provided by Elders through the ṮEṮÁĆES project, he adds.
“It’s really important that we know the history of those lands because the W̱SÁNEĆ peninsula is only a small part of our territory. We include the waters and islands, too.”
“The Islands, our relatives, have provided a way of life for our people for thousands of years and W̱SÁNEĆ law creates a reciprocal relationship of care and stewardship between W̱SÁNEĆ and ṮEṮÁCÉS,” Underwood says.
This responsibility is absolute; we are obligated to care for these islands, not only through our own actions but by protecting the islands against harmful actions by others. This project supports our exercise of this deep responsibility.”
Katłįà (Catherine) Lafferty is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with IndigiNews. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada. Katłįà, a member of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, has authored two books and served as communication manager of Akaitcho Treaty 8 Tribal Corporation, and is pursuing a law degree at the University of Victoria.
SINCE THE FIRST DAY OF ARRESTS at the Fairy Creek old-growth defence blockades, the RCMP have been employing vast “exclusion zones.” On July 20 a BC Supreme Court judge ruled those exclusion zones are not legal, according to a lawyer for the Rainforest Flying Squad.
Justice Douglas Thompson told lawyer Matthew Nefstead that the RCMP may arrest and remove people who violate an injunction order, but may not deny access to everyone simply based on the possibility that someone may violate the order in the future.
Justice Thompson agreed that the order issued April 1 by Justice Frits Verhoeven was clear in its protection of public access and the right to participate in lawful protest, and that important liberties were being compromised by the RCMP’s enforcement actions.
Chief among these actions are the RCMP’s checkpoints and geographically extensive exclusion zones—which have ranged up to 10 kilometres—which have limited the public from getting anywhere near the forest defenders’ logging blockades. This has meant the public could not show support or engage in civil disobedience by standing on the road. The exclusion zones also meant that media representatives were limited to having to be escorted in by RCMP members, at times the RCMP chose, in order to get close to the blockades and arrests. Those representatives had to prove to the RCMP they were credentialed. (Media access was the subject of another court application, which was also ruled on favourably by Justice Thompson, who stated the RCMP must: “keep in mind the media’s special role in a free and democratic society, and the necessity of avoiding undue and unnecessary interference with the journalistic function.”)
Will RCMP gates at Fairy Creek blockades come down soon?
Justice Thompson was responding to an application last week from Elders for Ancient Trees to amend or clarify the injunction the BC Supreme Court granted to logging company Teal Cedar Ltd on April 1. Thompson’s oral judgments today, on applications for access by the Elders and by the coalition of media groups, will be followed in the coming weeks by written reasons.
“This is a major victory for the public and anyone who wants to express their disapproval of the destruction of some of the last irreplaceable old growth in the region,” said Susan Gage, a spokesperson for Elders for Ancient Trees.
The application was prompted in part when a bus carrying 15 elders was forced to back down a logging road three kilometres in the rain after they were turned away from reaching a logging blockade in the Fairy Creek area on June 15.
“We hope the RCMP will respond immediately to this court order and remove their blockades and checkpoints,” stated Gage. FOCUS contacted the RCMP for comment but did not hear back by publishing time.
Saul Arbess, another elder involved in the application, noted that in past forest defence actions, such as at Clayoquot and Walbran, RCMP behaviour has been more respectful of people’s right to protest. “Each morning, supporters would be allowed to attend the blockade. The police would come and read the injunction to everyone and then ask, ‘Will you step aside?’ Those who did not want to be arrested would step off the road; those willing to be arrested would remain on it and be removed and arrested by the officers.”
But in the Fairy Creek blockades, as in Wetsuwet’en, it’s very different, noted Arbess. Huge exclusion zones enforced with blockades and checkpoints established by the RCMP, block access to everyone on long stretches of logging roads—all on public land. Even tourists have been unable to get through.
Lawyer Matthew Nefstead, who represented the elders group, told media it seems clear based on the wording of the injunction and oral reasons by Justice Frits Verhoeven that the intent of the injunction was to ensure access to the area for the public and for peaceful protest while also clearing the way for industry. The judge stated: “The protestors are free to protest, demonstrate, and attempt to influence the government in any lawful way they may choose.”
Instead, Nefstead said, the exclusion zones prevented people who wanted to visit the area to participate in lawful protest, with no intent to violate the injunction, from being allowed to enter.
These people were able to walk through an exclusion zone set up 10-12 kilometres from Waterfall blockade camp in late May. The RCMP chose not to arrest anyone that day.
Lawyer Noah Ross told FOCUS in May that “Exclusion zones are only legal in certain limited circumstances in which there are serious public safety risks. It’s explicitly not allowed by the injunction,” said Ross. “It appears that the RCMP are once again willing to enforce exclusion zones that are not legally justified in order to make their job easier. They’re willing to overlook people’s civil rights in order to give industry access to their logs,” Ross stated. “It’s not legally justified.”
This opinion was confirmed by the BC Supreme Court
Even with the restrictive exclusion zones, well over 440 people have been arrested at the Fairy Creek blockades trying to prevent clearcutting of old-growth forests. With the new ruling against the zones, it seems likely more citizens will be able to show support and risk arrest in doing so. (In other legal news, arrestees may now face criminal contempt of court charges rather than just civil.)
Leslie Campbell is the editor of FOCUS. She has visited Fairy Creek blockades three times, including in late May when she and hundreds of others—were able to walk past an RCMP checkpoint due to the sheer numbers and Pacheedaht elder Bill Jone’s advocacy. That story is here.
DAVE NIKLEVA WALKS THE SHORELINE of a Cortes Island beach nudging oysters with the toe of his boot.
“Dead. Dead. Dead,” Nikleva mutters as he goes along.
The shellfish farmer stoops over to pick up one bigger specimen for inspection before tossing it back on the beach.
The stench along this stretch of Gorge Harbour at low tide is tremendous. But it was even worse two weeks ago when a record-breaking heat wave cooked thousands upon thousands of oysters in their shells in the final days of June.
“They still had meat in them then,” Nikleva said.
Cortes Island shellfish farmer Dave Nikleva surveys the damage after a recent heat wave decimated his oysters.
A perfect storm of extreme heat paired with extra-low midday tides left Nikleva’s south-facing oyster lease baking in the sun for six hours at a time.
BC clams and oysters were reduced to stinky goop after they got cooked in a recent heat wave.
Now many of the feathery shells of the baby spats and small to medium oysters are empty having already been picked clean by crabs and gulls.
But some of the bigger oysters are still dying. Shells still mostly closed, they gush water and putrid goop when disturbed.
Nikleva’s oysters are just a fraction of the one billion marine intertidal animals that likely perished on the shores of the Salish Sea during the extreme heat event.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Nikleva, who has been producing oysters and clams for 35 years.
Oyster farmers on the front line of climate change
BC’s shellfish producers have been struggling with the slow burn of climate change for years as warming waters spur harmful bacteria and ocean acidification, among other changes, in the marine ecosystem.
“If you went back 20 years ago and told farmers they were going to experience 20 per cent mortality, they would have thought that was crazy,” said Jim Russell, executive director of the BC Shellfish Growers Association.
“But now that's kind of normal. And this normal keeps changing.”
But the record-breaking heat saw some areas on the typically temperate coast reach close to 40 C—double the seasonal average. And it led to some catastrophic losses for many shellfish farmers.
But those losses appear to be varied, depending on local conditions, said Russell, adding a full understanding of where and who suffered the greatest hits won’t be known for another couple of weeks.
In addition to the damages reported in Gorge Harbour, the hub of shellfish aquaculture on Cortes, there appears to be some big losses in Baynes Sound next to Denman Island and in Okeover Inlet on BC’s mainland.
It’s concerning since Baynes Sound produces more than 50 per cent of the shellfish coming out of BC, Russell said.
And Okeover Inlet is reportedly the hardest hit, with some farmers with beach leases reporting up to 100 per cent mortality.
“It’s quite devastating for some of the farmers that have talked to me.”
Shellfish producers already battered by COVID-19
BC produced 9,684 tonnes of shellfish, valued at 27 million, in 2019. Oysters alone generate 56 per cent of that revenue.
The West Coast is big nationally, too, growing over half of Canada’s oysters and clams.
It remains to be seen how badly the sector will be impacted by the heat wave, Russell said.
But the nasty irony is that shellfish farmers had already been hobbled by COVID-19, which shuttered restaurants and export markets last year
Many producers left last year’s oysters stockpiled on their beach to sell when markets improved as the pandemic lifted, Russell said.
Now, some farmers will take a double hit.
Plus, it takes two or three years to raise an oyster to market size.
“It’s devastating when you consider the crop cycle, and they’ve lost all three years,” he said. “It’s going to be a major setback.”
After preliminary surveys, Nikleva figures he has seen at least a 30 per cent die-off along his seven-acre stretch of beach. And mortality among the prized, smaller half-shell oysters destined for restaurants appears even greater.
Nikleva lets out a sarcastic snort when asked if there are any government programs to help oyster farmers weather crop disasters.
He figures he’ll lose a third of his income off this beach for the next three years.
Yet, he considers himself somewhat fortunate since not all his shoreline oyster sites are directly exposed to the sun, and his deep-water oysters, growing on trays suspended from rafts, are OK.
Despite his losses, Nikleva is glad the heat wave and its dire impacts have truly seized the wider public’s attention at last.
“I’m glad we’re talking about climate change,” he said, “We’ve been breaking heat records year after year for decades. It’s happening, and we’re not immune.” All food producers are struggling to adapt to the changing climate, he said.
If faced with low tides and extreme heat again, Nikleva is considering using a pump and to spray seawater over the oysters to cool them. Or experiment with mesh pouches or bags for the oysters to see if they provide extra shade and retain some pooled water.
Scientists are also at work to mitigate the impacts of climate change on the shellfish industry.
Ocean acidification, which occurs as increasing carbon in the atmosphere gets absorbed by the ocean, poses a problem for shellfish, said Timothy Green, a researcher at Vancouver Island University (VIU).
Acidification drops the levels of calcium carbonate in the water that baby oysters and other shellfish need to build their shells.
Oysters are also vulnerable to increased levels of bacteria and new pathogens brought about by warming oceans and global transport, said Green, a Canada Research Chair in shellfish health and genomics.
Studying the genetics of shellfish adaptation to climate stressors and disease, Green is running a selective breeding program to make the Pacific oyster more resilient.
Three years into the project, Green hopes he’ll see some results at the five- and 10-year mark.
The research team is also experimenting to see if various types of farming practices can drop the mortality rates associated with climate change.
“We need to come up with solutions,” Green said. “It hurts that we can’t help industry and say, ‘here’s the solution’ just yet. But that’s the end goal.”
Rochelle Baker is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter with Canada's National Observer. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
WHEN JEFF COOKE FIRST HEARD that the remains of 215 children were found buried in an unmarked grave at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, he was pained with heartache.
As the Huu-ay-aht elder thought of all of those children who never made it home, he said he was reminded of his own experience at the Alberni Indian Residential School and the possibility that more burial sites remained uncovered.
“It’s pretty emotional,” he said. “Particularly for survivors of residential schools.”
Since the missing children were located in Kamloops last month, Tseshaht First Nation elected chief Ken Watts said he’s received at least one call every day from survivors with leads to potential sites.
After consulting with hereditary chiefs, residential school survivors, council and staff, the nation applied to Ottawa, requesting some of the $27 million federal funding being made available to help communities locate children who died at residential schools.
There are 139 recognized residential schools in Canada. If the $27 million was distributed equally among them all, Tseshaht would receive less than $200,000.
“It’s probably not going to be enough to do it right,” said Watts. “I’m hoping they go beyond that…it’s really important to honour those children that never made it home.”
Ontario recently pledged $10 million to investigate residential school sites, however, the BC government has not yet made such an announcement (as of June 23).
“We are working closely with [the] federal government to support requests from First Nations,” said the BC Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation. “With respect to investigations at other former residential school sites, we have received several requests and are working through what is needed.”
As First Nations determine the next steps, the ministry said they will be taking guidance directly from the communities.
“Each child has been forever taken from a family and a community that loved them,” said Premier John Horgan in a statement about the burial site at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. “This is a tragedy of unimaginable proportions. And it is a stark example of the violence the Canadian residential school system inflicted upon Indigenous peoples and how the consequences of these atrocities continue to this day.”
Right now, Watts said the nation needs the funding to hire someone to help with the research and to answer phone calls from survivors.
“We need to hear the stories, do the scanning, come back with a report, determine next steps and make sure it's all grounded in our culture,” he said. “It’s not just running a machine through our territory—it’s cleansing the space and cleansing the people that go in to do that work so they don’t have that negative energy on them.”
Part of the research will include identifying every student who attended the Alberni Indian Residential School in Port Alberni, said Watts.
“We owe it to the people that were there,” he said. “Whether they’re with us now, or they’re gone, or they never made it home, we need to honour them.”
Similar to a war memorial, Watts said they would like to commemorate every student who attended the school, including a special list of the names of the students who never returned home.
Jack Thompson was sent to the Alberni Indian Residential School when he was eight years old. The abuse from three of his supervisors began during his first year at the school and persisted throughout the 10 years he was there.
The Ditidaht elder is still filled with anger. In part, because he never got to confront his abusers before they passed.
As he continues to care for his open wounds, the 73-year-old said he hopes that finding the children who went missing from the Alberni Indian Residential School will help others heal.
“It will help when these kids find their way back home,” he said. “Rightly where they should have went.”
Buildings from the former residential school still stand within the community of Tseshaht, like the Maht Mahs Gym.
Watts described Tseshaht’s territory as a hub for Nuu-chah-nulth people. Cultural gatherings are often held in the gymnasium, but when residential school survivors see the building, many are triggered, said Watts.
“It’s such a reminder,” he said. “It’s an open wound that we hope we can take down someday—sooner rather than later.”
Recently, the Daylu Dena Council in Lower Post, a remote town near the BC-Yukon border, received $11.5 million in federal funding and $1.5 million from the Province to demolish a former residential school building. A cultural centre is planned to be built in its place.
Watts is following their lead by seeking funding from the federal and provincial governments to do the same.
“I believe [they] have an obligation, both morally and financially, to help us do the important work we need to do,” he said. “If you're a survivor from northern BC, and you want to come back to the site and reclaim who you are, it’d be nice to know that there’s a facility there to support you and your work.”
Indigenous people across Canada have heard horror stories about residential schools for decades.
“A lot of people knew about the abuse,” said Watts. “People knew that a lot of children didn’t make it home…but these aren’t just stories anymore. This is real. This is solid evidence that the horror stories they say are true.”
Even though the Alberni Indian Residential School was placed in Tseshaht territory without the nation’s consent, Watts said they now “have a responsibility to support [the families] to get the answers they need and deserve.”
“There’s lots of work to do and this is just the beginning,” he said. “It’s going to be tough, but it will provide some relief.”
Melissa Renwick is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter working with Ha-Shilth-Sa. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
IN THE WILD, MINK HAVE A NATURAL TERRITORY of up to 2,500 hectares, where they swim, run, hunt and socialize. In BC’s mink farms, they live their whole lives in small cages which many British Columbians view as inhumane. In the past year, health experts have raised alarms about the spread of viruses, including COVID-19. For all such reasons, many organizations, as well as some NDP MLAs are urging the government to ban the farms.
Scattered around the Fraser Valley are nine active mink farms, which, last year, contained 57,130 adult animals, bred to be killed and skinned. One chinchilla farm also continues to operate, while several mink farms are currently inactive.
The mink are usually bred in March, with kits arriving in June—about five per female. Most are killed—or, in fur farm language, pelted—before their first birthday. In 2018, according to the BC SPCA, over 260,000 mink were killed for their fur in the province.
Most of the fur is sold overseas, largely to countries such as Russia and China, where it is made into coats or trim for clothes. Some also goes into products such as eyelash extensions, cell phone cases or makeup brushes.
American mink at Clover Point, Victoria (photo by Daniel Lacy)
For years, troubling photos of animals, contained in wire cages for their entire life and often self-mutilating, have drawn criticism, and while animal welfare questions remain top of mind for many critics, COVID has given new resonance to pleas to shut down the farms.
In January 2021, the same month 1,000 mink were culled on a BC farm following a COVID outbreak that killed more than 200 animals, the World Health Organization warned about the link between mink farms and COVID.
Since then, COVID has been found in two more mink farms. At the most recent one, a total of five mink tested positive, with whole genome sequencing indicating that the B.1.618 variant (named the “triple mutant”) was detected in the animals.
“The presence of this virus in the mink farms may have an important impact on livelihoods, public health and wildlife, contributing to widespread socioeconomic disruption,” says the WHO bulletin. As well as concerns about animal welfare and the danger of spreading COVID, fur farms pose a risk of spillover to native wildlife which may affect biodiversity, the WHO warns.
“Why are we taking this risk when it is so unnecessary?” asks Lesley Fox, executive director of The Fur-Bearers.
“These animals are not raised for food, there is no social or economic benefit of having fur farms. If anything, they have been a real drain because we now have three cases of COVID being found on BC fur farms and, every time that happens it’s more time and money spent and it pulls away resources that are needed elsewhere,” said Fox.
Wire cages used for mink farming. The Fur-Bearers website has video footage here (warning: disturbing for animals lovers). The Canada Mink Breeders Association websites features videos of model mink farms, but they all use small wire cages.
Fox also noted ongoing concerns about effluent from farms affecting food crops or entering local waterways. “There’s a lot of runoff. You have tens and thousands of individuals pooping and peeing all day long, living in wire cages little bigger than a sheet of paper,” she said.
“With COVID, not only is there no social or economic benefit, it’s a flaming liability. This should raise the eyebrows of every politician in the province. This could have a catastrophic impact on our communities and our wildlife,” she said.
A statement from the Agriculture Ministry said that the Province, with the help of WorkSafe BC, has ensured all mink farms have robust COVID safety plans in place, with surveillance for infection in mink and farm workers. “We have had a national risk assessment that shows, with these safety measures in place, risk is manageable,” it says.
Ministry staff inspected the farms in summer and fall last year and will inspect them again this year, in addition to being in regular contact “to ensure that all necessary precautions are being taken to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 through human to animal or animal to human transmission.”
Fox scoffs at the idea that all the animals are checked daily for their health and welfare as the organization estimates there is a ratio of one full-time employee for every 1,000 animals.
Lesley Fox of The Fur-Bearers Association: “fur farming…has lost its social licence,”
“It seems improbable that the requirements in both the National Farm Animal Care Council Codes of Practice and BC’s Fur Farm Regulations are being met with such a disproportionate staffing to animal ratio,” Fox said in a letter to the ministry.
Other troubling questions about ministry oversight have been uncovered by The Fur-Bearers persistent freedom of information requests. One farm could not locate a COVID safety plan and there is no documentation of an animal health management plan for the chinchilla farm where the animals are killed by electrocution, Fox said.
“How does this fur farm have a permit without having met the requirements?” she asked.
“That is straight up non-compliance with their own legislation. It’s akin to giving someone a driver’s licence and then teaching them to drive.”
Farm cash receipts for BC mink in 2018 totalled more than $12.8 million and the industry employs about 150 people, according to background information from the agriculture ministry.
However, since 2014, the industry has received $6.5-million in taxpayer dollars from the AgriStability program adding to growing incredulity that the industry continues to have government backing.
Claims that the $6.5 million amounts to a subsidy are denied by the ministry, which said the AgriStability program helps protect farmers from financial problems such as drops in market prices and increases in expenses.
The fund pays out when there is a minimum 30 percent drop in profits compared to the previous five years.
“The purpose of the program is to help farmers manage severe losses which may jeopardize the viability of their farm businesses,” says a ministry statement.
Fox wonders why the government would help fund an industry which she believes is in its twilight years.
“We don’t subsidize industries such as rotary phones and cassette tapes anymore and I would argue fur is in the same category,” she said.
With few jobs at stake, many of which are seasonal and low-paying, fur farming is not an economic driver and it should be simple to transition the farms and workers to other agricultural jobs, Fox argued. “It’s low-hanging fruit,” she said.
Sara Dubois, chief scientific officer for the BC Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) said fur farming should not be treated in the same way as other farm operations as it does not put food on the table and requires keeping a wild animal species in inhumane conditions.
Sara Dubois of BC SPCA of mink farm conditions: “It’s the worst thing I have seen in my 20-year career.”
COVID outbreaks, added to other problems, should have ended the conversation around government support for fur farming, she said.
“I wonder why the Province is protecting them to this degree…I think we need to be very clear that this is not the sort of farming that British Columbians want to support with their tax dollars,” Dubois said.
Among concerns is the ability for COVID to spread to wild mink or feral cats and, as there have been outbreaks on the farms, it is difficult to have faith in the bio-security measures, according to Dubois.
Then there are the conditions under which the animals live.
“It’s the worst thing I have seen in my 20-year career,” said Dubois, who takes particular issue with the cage space and methods used to kill the animals.
Federal Codes of Practice allow mink to be gassed with carbon monoxide, while foxes on fur farms, which are more common in other provinces, are killed by anal electrocution to avoid marking the skins.
Wire metal cages are often stacked on top of each other, with waste dropping from one level to the next, and, in hot weather, mink can die from heat stress, Dubois said. “These are semi-aquatic animals that love to swim and they are denied that natural instinct,” Dubois said.
LAST YEAR, MORE THAN 19,000 British Columbians signed a petition calling for a moratorium on mink farming. A September 2020 poll, conducted in the US and Canada by Research Co, found that support for killing animals for fur stood at 12 percent in BC—the lowest number registered in both countries.
“The public does not support fur farming and [the industry] has lost its social licence,” said Fox.
Agriculture, Food and Fisheries Minister Lana Popham has deflected questions in the Legislature, pushing responsibility for the ongoing operation of the farms on to health officials.
Agriculture, Food and Fisheries Minister Lana Popham
“Currently we are focused on mink in relation to COVID. We will continue to take direction from the public health officer, but there are no other discussions at this time,” Popham said when asked earlier this month about the future of mink farming in BC.
But as opposition to fur farming grows, even some New Democrat MLAs are distancing themselves from government support for the industry.
New Democrat MLA Aman Singh, MLA for Richmond-Queensborough, questioned Popham in the Legislature about the future of mink farming and Tweeted: “We need to stop exploiting these animals in fur farms. The exploitation of animals for our vanity or as trophies is just inhumane.”
Bowinn Ma, North Vancouver-Lonsdale MLA, Tweeted that she abhors fur farming of animals for cosmetics or fashion and said she has talked to Popham about the issue.
BC’s fur farms have drawn criticism and pleas for government to shut down the industry from remarkably diverse groups beyond The Fur-Bearers, BC Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals—including the Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC), celebrity Pamela Anderson, infectious disease physicians, and scientists such as David Suzuki.
UBCIC leaders questioned why, when other countries shut down mink farms, BC allowed the resumption of breeding at mink farms in March, including at quarantined farms.
UBCIC vice-president Don Tom said BC should be following the lead of countries such as the Netherlands and France.
“The time is now for the Province to follow suit and issue a moratorium on mink farming, including immediately suspending breeding programs,” he said in a prepared statement.
About 20 countries have either banned or are phasing out fur farming. In Denmark, one of the world’s leading fur producers, 17-million mink were culled to curb a COVID mutation.
Grand Chief Stewart Philip, UBCIC president, said fur harvesting should align with Indigenous ethics, conservation and stewardship and BC’s fur farming industry does not come close to those goals.
“UBCIC does not condone the industrial breeding, confinement and slaughtering of minks for international luxury markets especially as, notwithstanding the current public health risks, mink farms have long been implicated in cruel and inhumane fur farming practices that have led to unacceptable animal welfare outcomes,” Philip said.
ALAN HERSCOVICI, FOUNDER of TruthAboutFur.com usually speaks on behalf of fur farmers, but did not return phone calls and an email from Focus.
However, in an opinion piece, published in May in The Province newspaper, Herscovici wrote that BC mink farmers follow codes of practice developed with veterinarians, animal scientists and animal welfare authorities, under the auspices of the National Farm Animal Care Council.
“Claims that these hardworking BC farm families would mistreat animals or keep mink in unsafe or miserable conditions are unjustified and insulting,” wrote Herscovici.
The Canada Mink Breeders Association also argues that mink farming is safe and humane, and that fur is a “green" product.
Herscovici wrote that mink farming is part of BC’s agricultural heritage. But for Fox and other critics, it is not part of the province’s heritage that should be preserved—especially in light of the serious consequences to human health, animal welfare and the environment.
“When animals are sick, we are sick. When we treat animals poorly, there is a real impact on humans and our environment,” she said.
Critics of fur farming are puzzled that, even if government is not willing to shut down fur farms on animal welfare grounds, they are ignoring the concerns of infectious disease experts.
A letter signed by 14 BC infectious disease specialists, sent in late March to Popham and Health Minister Adrian Dix, documents the risks of respiratory viruses being transmitted between humans and animals, especially in intensive breeding facilities where thousands of animals are confined.
“We request that you urgently review the licensing and permits for the breeding and confinement of mink on fur farms in British Columbia, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the letter says.
Mink in cage (photo by Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals)
Dr Jan Hajek, an infectious diseases specialist at Vancouver General Hospital and clinical assistant professor of medicine at the University of British Columbia, said in an open letter that “the rapid accumulation of novel mutations as the virus has adapted to this new animal host, have raised local and international concern.” He cites the “large dense populations of animals on mink farms” as providing “favorable conditions for viruses to evolve toward more virulent forms and present an unnecessary risk.”
Calling for a legislative ban on fur farming both in BC and the rest of Canada, Hajek said that, as mink are also susceptible to influenza, they could act as a “mixing vessel” for future pandemics.
Still, the bottom line for many, including Hajek, is a matter of ethics.
“In a society that values compassion and recognizes the need to avoid unnecessary suffering, keeping intelligent and sensitive animals in small wire-bottom cages to be used to make luxury coats has long been an ugly spot—and morally unjustifiable,” Hajek wrote in the BC Medical Journal.
Judith Lavoie is an award-winniing journalist specializing in the environment, Forst Nations, and social issues. Twitter @LavoieJudith
In July, media organizations are heading to BC Supreme Court to challenge RCMP micromanagement and restrictions.
“I’VE NEVER REPORTED FROM BOSNIA, but I would think that’s what it would’ve been like: Police threatening to arrest journalists just for standing in a road and videotaping what was going on.”
What Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) President Brent Jolly is referring to is a video of a Global News reporter being denied access and threatened with arrest while covering the Fairy Creek blockades, now in their eleventh month.
Protestors have been blocking logging roads to protect the last vestiges of old growth on the west coast of Vancouver Island, forests vital to the culture and spirituality of the Indigenous peoples of the area, stewards of the ḥahahuułi. Old growth forests are also an important bulwark against climate change and declining biodiversity, and the forest defence has captured the attention of environmentalists across the world.
Teal Cedar Products, with logging rights in TFL46, won an injunction against the blockades in April. RCMP began enforcing the injunction on May 17, and by mid-June had made over 230 arrests.
Since the enforcement began, RCMP have impinged on journalists’ abilities to cover the protests and the actions of law enforcement, citing “safety concerns” and “common law rights” as a justification for their actions. Journalists from all outlets, including FOCUS Magazine, have been micromanaged by police, who seem to have wide-ranging discretionary powers to enforce the injunction for Teal-Cedar.
Media stopped at an exclusion zone (photo by Michael John Lo)
Jolly is now part of a larger coalition of news organizations and press freedom groups that is going to court over what they see as RCMP overreach in media management in the ongoing police operations within the First Nation territories of the Pacheedaht and the Ditidaht. Reporters on the ground are frustrated by arbitrary and inconsistent restrictions placed on them by the RCMP, who have established their own blockades to restrict access to enforce the injunction. As seen at Caycuse and Waterfall camps, these exclusion zones can range across many acres and up to 10 kilometres along logging roads.
Sean Hern, legal counsel to the coalition that’s bringing the case to the BC Supreme Court, explained that this legal action isn’t a new lawsuit. It’s an application to the court, asking the Justices to “vary” the April 1 injunction to add terms they hope will cause the police to reassess their protocols and prioritize media access in the injunction enforcement area.
Sean Hern, legal counsel to the media coalition asking for greater direction to RCMP to allow unhindered press coverage
“There’s a tension that’s been building over a number of years,” said Hern. The RCMP has used blanket exclusion zones within injunction areas as a tool to limit media access, said Hern, citing the Unist’ot’en raid in 2020 as an example. Recently, these terms have meant that press only has one or two hours of notice for the meeting place for that day’s chaperoned access.
Reporters would have to be stationed in either Port Renfrew or Lake Cowichan by 6 am to catch the convoy in time—opposite ends of the RCMP blockades. Independent press and student media with limited resources are especially affected by this policy.
“There’s a lot of frustration up there,” said Hern. “In many instances, [notice] has changed on short notice, [or has] been significantly delayed. Media show up at a meeting point pre-arranged by the RCMP and have to wait there for sometimes hours. Sometimes it simply never happens.”
Tarps used to hide police tactics for removing protesters (photo by Dawna Mueller)
Meanwhile, enforcement action takes place away from journalists. When access is granted, police sometimes hold up tarps to prevent media from documenting arrests, claiming a need to protect “proprietary” policing methods. Sometimes, police do not inform the press of arrests at all. Such behaviour can discourage media attendance.
Photojournalist Jen Osborne, who has been consistently covering the Fairy Creek blockades, has been denied access or obstructed numerous times when photographing police enforcement actions for Canadian Press, Reuters and independently. “If I get arrested out here [while not on contract], I don’t really have any support. If I become a little more pushy about getting more pictures….” Osborne trailed off, reminded of potential consequences. She’s thinking of leaving soon.
Level of access seems to have varied from week to week, creating a difficult working environment. The latest incident, where Osborne was not allowed to witness arrests where police allegedly assaulted forest defenders at Waterfall camp, happened on June 14.
The RCMP media handler didn’t show up, and Osborne was stuck at a parking lot for hours, waiting for access that never came that day. “The officers on the ground were saying, ‘oh we can’t use the radios, it’s not working today,’” said Osborne. “That’s the first time I’ve encountered that out there. The radio always works.”
Hern noted, “Whether it’s a product of poor administration, or a product of poor administration with the intent to frustrate access, or a product of policy of giving access only when they want to give access, it’s a long way from free access for the press.”
The qualification that CAJ and company are proposing to add to the injunction—addressed to law enforcers—is as follows: “to not interfere, impede, or curtail media access rights except as where a bonafide police rational that requires it, and in those instances, to do so as minimally as possible, in recognition of the rights and the role of the media.”
Hern suspects that the RCMP may resist this by arguing that their restrictions are authorized by their general or common law policing rights. Whether that stance is justified will be determined in court in July.
“It’s really difficult to see what it is that could be so operationally secret or risky that would require the exclusion of the media,” said Hern. “In an urban protest, police officers are making arrests on a regular basis and there’s tons of people around witnessing the event. It’s not clear at all why they want to make these arrests in isolation.”
A careful balance should be struck between actual policing needs and media access, said Hern, who stresses that this isn’t happening at Fairy Creek.
“In fact, the police are disregarding the need for that balance and don’t have a sufficient appreciation of the importance of free press access to enforcement activities,” said Hern.
It’s now up to the courts to make sure that happens.
Controlling the narrative
Two weeks before RCMP began obstructing journalists in their work at Fairy Creek, Jolly wrote an op-ed in the National Observer. Its title nicely sums up the point that he’s making there: “Canada’s press freedom is in more danger than you think.”
“I wish I could say I knew it was going to happen,” said Jolly, who laughed at the almost prescient timing of his piece.
Brent Jolly, journalist and president of the Canadian Association of Journalists
“We’ve made the point of going around and hosting international summits, telling emerging democracies and international organizations on how things should operate in regards to media freedom, and yet we still don’t accomplish some of the most basic things here at home,” said Jolly.
Indeed, the RCMP appear to be taking a page from police forces operating in emerging democracies. Michelle Bonner, a political scientist at the University of Victoria who studies the intersection of policing, protest, and media in Latin America, says that the RCMP is likely employing a time-tested police tactic known as stage managing.
Michelle Bonner, PhD, political scientist at the University of Victoria, studies the intersection of policing, protest, and media
Bonner said that there are academic studies that detail how RCMP have previously not only stage managed where journalists could go during protests to ensure positive coverage, but also instances where RCMP have attempted to preemptively paint protestors in a criminal light ahead of time to influence coverage. There isn’t any indication that the RCMP has done this here, but Bonner believes there’s evidence that stage management is happening at the Fairy Creek blockades.
She’s also struck by the lax oversight for the RCMP’s discretionary powers given by the injunction. Bonner is concerned about the term “recognized media outlets,” a poorly explained requirement of the RCMP for journalists looking to join the media convoy. A recent (and standard) email from RCMP to media stated: “Reminder—identification may include ID, business card, or photo ID from your media agency, a letter from your Editor/News Director confirming employment or other proof of media employment. As always there is limited cell reception at the access control areas, so please print out any letters or proof of employment prior to traveling to the check point.”
In a statement to FOCUS, the RCMP claimed to have taken a “liberal approach” to media identification: “We have worked with a number of individuals who are freelancers or belong to non-traditional media outlets, such as internet publications.”
But Bonner said, “There should not be limitations on what media is acceptable and what is not acceptable. If anyone wants to act as a citizen journalist, they can do so. Qualifications should not come into that.” Such authority gives the RCMP the power to silence some voices over other voices, noted Bonner.
RCMP acknowledged “instances of miscommunication or delays” during their early days of enforcement, but say that these have “generally been worked out” after consultation with stakeholders.
RCMP also told FOCUS that police escorts are needed to “guide media in through the forest service network safely,” and to coordinate with onsite RCMP commanders to determine the level of access that is given to media on that day.
“Police often use the safety of journalists as a reason to keep journalists behind police lines or in places away from where the protests are happening,” said Bonner. “For freedom of the press, ideally what you want is journalists making that decision for themselves as to what is safe and what is not safe rather than the police making that decision.”
This sentiment is echoed by Hern: “Safety in the abstract is unhelpful. Is it the safety of the officers or is it the safety of the media personnel? If the safety is the safety of the officers, the question that arises is: how are the officers’ safety affected by members of the media being present?”
Bonner suggested the control of media is more about image management: “[At protests] there’s always a possibility that it will end up making the police look bad. Police are concerned about their image and want to have public support in their actions.”
At peaceful protests, there is simply no need for police management, said Bonner. Restrictions on media, she noted, limit the ability of the public to have a well-rounded understanding of what’s happening.
It’s important that journalists resist police pressure to control the narrative when they can, said Bonner. She gave an example of how news could become complicit: during the 2019 Chile protests, clever police stage management funnelled news coverage into being a mouthpiece for the police. Protestors were portrayed as criminals, looters, vandals, and eventually drug traffickers, even though the majority of people on the streets were peaceful protestors with legitimate grievances. “When these discourses are heard and are dominant in the media… then political leaders can say that public opinion is in support of these actions against the criminal threat of protestors.”
In Chile, that has led to the deaths of 36 people and thousands of injured protestors. More than 400 people had eye injuries from police firing rubber bullets, with 29 completely blinded.
Egregious violations of media access around indigenous land issues
As the president of the CAJ, Jolly gets a national view of the state of press access in Canada. What he sees may not be as dire as the situation in Chile, but it isn’t encouraging either: Jolly’s seen “dumbfounding” examples of obstruction and obfuscation at nearly all levels of the government.
During our interview, he rattled off a list of names and places where RCMP have prevented journalists from doing their work in recent years.
The most egregious violations seem to happen when Indigenous peoples begin asserting their rights contrary to the wishes and interests of property developers, pipeline companies, and government.
For example, the 2020 raid on Unist’ot’en camp in Northern BC, where the Wet’suwet’en have been resisting oil pipelines on their territory, saw guns drawn and journalists detained during a paramilitary raid. There, RCMP utilized an exclusion zone, functionally similar to Fairy Creek’s access and control areas, as the justification for denying press access. An investigation by the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP into RCMP conduct at Unist’ot’en remains unresolved, stuck in administrative limbo.
Later that year, Canada would also see the arrests of journalists Karl Dockstader and Courtney Skye in Caledonia, Ontario, where the Haudenosaunee are resisting property developers who are violating a 1784 land treaty.
There is also the case of Justin Brake, who was arrested in 2016 covering a protest where the Innu and Inuit protested against the Muskrat Falls megadam project in Central Labrador. He is perhaps the only journalist in Canadian history to have faced dual criminal and civil charges while doing his job. That case would last for almost four years, until charges against Brake were dismissed in the highest court in Newfoundland and Labrador.
That court ruling by Justice J. Derek Green repeats a Canadian Supreme Court ruling that frames journalism as the sustainer of the public exchange of information, vital to modern Canadian society.
Justice Green then goes further to note: “That makes freedom of the press to cover stories involving indigenous land issues even more vital.”
As Canada grapples with its identity as a country built on cultural genocide of Indigenous peoples, conflicts around Indigenous rights will only gain heightened attention.
“You would think that the RCMP would take the time to develop a strategy around this [after Wet’suwet’en],” said Jolly. It’s unacceptable when journalists are obstructed and threatened while reporting on matters of the public interest,” he added. “By the virtue of their very restrictions, they’re creating mistrust.”
Jolly says that the Fairy Creek application ruling could have a long-term impact on journalism and the public interest.
“The Supreme Court of Canada has described the role of the media in Canadian society as vital, special, essential, and emphasized it in many cases as to how fundamentally important a free press is to democratic society,” said Hern. “That’s what’s at stake.”
The case will be heard in the third week of July before Justice Douglas Thompson in Nanaimo, with virtual proceedings.
“I’m a bit concerned that it’s taking a little bit longer [than usual]. But this is the process—we just have to go along with it,” said Jolly.
Meanwhile, the Rainforest Flying Squad say that blockaders are facing an increasingly aggressive RCMP, who are now conducting overnight raids when there are no media present.
Michael John Lo was recently senior staff writer for the Martlet and has joined FOCUS Magazine. He recalls needing a police escort of two during a 40-minute walk to retrieve his lunch from his vehicle parked just outside the exclusion zone during his trip to Caycuse. See his report on that visit and the first week of arrests at Fairy Creek here.
THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT RELEASED the broad strokes of its plan to save plummeting wild salmon stocks on the West Coast on June 8, 2021.
Federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan outlined the initial framework and guiding principles for Ottawa’s $647.1-million Pacific Salmon Strategy Initiative (PSSI), announced as part of the recent federal budget.
Four key areas form the foundation of the strategy: conservation and stewardship, enhanced hatchery production, harvest transformation, and integrated management and collaboration, Jordan said.
Some BC salmon conservationists say the plan’s pillars and funding are positive, but the devil is in the details. Concerns raised include the use of hatcheries, the need to establish recovery plans, ensuring First Nations are true partners in the process, and that the entities steering the process are independent.
“Overall, it’s a positive announcement,” said Aaron Hill, executive director of Watershed Watch Salmon Society.
“We’re cautiously optimistic that it’ll move things in the right direction.”
Many wild salmon stocks in BC and the Yukon are on the verge of collapse and bold action was necessary to reverse the trend, said Jordan, noting some populations have suffered declines of 90 percent.
“The challenges facing Pacific salmon are enormous, but they’re not insurmountable,” Jordan said.
“With the development of the historic Pacific salmon strategy, we will deploy the resources on a level that meets the scale of the crisis head on, and we will turn the corner.”
The four pillars support a strategic and co-ordinated long-term response rooted in collaborative action, she added.
“This is not a top-down approach,” Jordan said, adding Indigenous peoples, provincial and territorial governments, harvesters, stewardship partners, academia, environmentalists, and other stakeholders will be relied on to execute and guide the strategy.
The plan aims to develop stronger science and habitat restoration, stabilize and grow salmon populations and sustainable and reliable fisheries, as well as deepen communication and co-ordination between partners.
The funding is dedicated to conservation initiatives on the ground, Jordan said, adding the salmon strategy isn’t a new report or study.
Ottawa is partnering with the BC government on conservation through the province’s Salmon Restoration and Innovation Fund (BCSRIF) to fund projects on the ground immediately, Jordan said.
In the recent budget, Ottawa committed a further $100 million to the $143-million program.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) will also begin planning and consultations to build new hatchery facilities to provide critical assistance for at-risk salmon stocks, Jordan said.
“We’re starting work immediately to consult with First Nations and local organizations to determine exactly where these hatcheries should be located to deliver the biggest impact,” Jordan said, adding DFO will take strategic steps to ensure that hatcheries won’t compromise wild fish stocks.
Strategic work with existing hatcheries will enhance their efforts where needed and aim to support economic opportunities for recreational fishers, she added.
Aaron Hill, of Watershed Watch Salmon Society, is wary of using hatcheries as a tool to boost declining wild salmon stocks.
Hill expressed concern that using hatcheries to support fisheries will further erode at-risk stocks by reducing the genetic fitness of wild salmon, and would see hatchery fish competing with endangered populations in the marine food web already under increasing duress.
“There is a need for hatcheries in some cases to rescue wild salmon runs from extinction,” Hill said, adding he’s pleased Jordan suggested DFO will take a conservation approach to their use.
“But the best way to do that is through a biological risk-assessment framework—something they currently have—but which is in a bit of a shambles and needs a massive overhaul,” he said.
DFO also urgently needs to develop science-based recovery plans for specific at-risk salmon populations, as required by 2019 changes to the Fisheries Act, Hill said.
Bob Chamberlin, a former vice-president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs and a longtime advocate for wild salmon, said he wants Ottawa to abandon just consulting First Nations and work at a government-to-government level to enact the strategy.
Doing so is particularly relevant as Ottawa undertakes legislative changes to bring Canadian laws in line with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), he said.
“This is one of those vital opportunities to get it right the first time, and create space for First Nations partnerships to develop and implement salmon restoration,” Chamberlin said.
Work is already underway to co-ordinate a First Nation salmon restoration framework in BC to identify priorities, he added
“That’s the work I’ve been doing for the past six months. I’ve talked to First Nations across BC and the support is overwhelming.”
As part of the strategy, a federal Pacific salmon secretariat will be developed to caretake and integrate the data collected under the initiative, Jordan said.
A restoration centre of expertise for Pacific salmon will also be created to provide technical expertise to support restoration efforts by salmon stewardship groups.
“This [centre] will break down silos, increase communication, and we will learn from these groups to ensure we are focused in the right direction and the right areas, and adapting as time progresses,” Jordan said.
To be effective, Hill noted, both the proposed secretariat or the centre of expertise shouldn’t be overseen by the DFO, which also regulates salmon farms in BC waters and might potentially ignore or suppress science suggesting the operations pose a threat to wild stocks.
“The idea of a Pacific salmon secretariat could be a great thing, but I’m concerned it might just be a sort of administrative function within DFO,” Hill said.
“We’d really love to see something that’s arm’s length.
“I don’t think we'll see a good outcome if they’re the ones that are also in charge of rolling out this whole initiative and overseeing it.”
Rochelle Baker is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter with Canada’s National Observer. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
BC auditor general flags BC’s inadequate management of lands, fish and wildlife
BC IS FALLING SHORT on its commitment to protect fish and wildlife habitat, according to a report released by the Province’s auditor general on May 11, 2021.
The audit of the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development’s Conservation Lands Program identified several deficiencies, including: a lack of strategic direction ensuring government collaboration with Indigenous communities; a failure to sufficiently monitor and enforce rules on conserved lands; and a need to update management plans for species and habitat.
“Overall, we concluded that the ministry has not effectively managed the program,” Michael Pickup, auditor general, said in a statement.
Pickup noted the program—which was developed over half a century ago to provide a framework for theProvince to work with non-profit organizations, federal agencies and First Nations—has not revisited its goals or strategic planning for over 30 years. He also found the program lacks clarity of purpose, leaving government staff working on local or regional conservation programs without clear directives.
The report noted that even on conserved lands, the Province isn’t doing enough to regulate public use, stating that “hundreds of unauthorized activities had occurred on conservation lands” between 2009 and 2020. Infractions ranged from motor vehicle use in prohibited areas to illegal harvesting activities.
The auditor general outlined a series of recommendations, including cementing a strategic plan for the program and addressing the need to be more transparent with the public. The Ministry of Forests acknowledged its shortcomings and said in a statement it is already working on a number of initiatives to address the audit’s findings.
“Ministry staff are currently working on a strategic plan for the Conservation Lands Program that will detail our actions to fully address the auditor general’s 11 recommendations,” a ministry spokesperson wrote in an email. “The new strategic plan will include input from the existing Conservation Lands partners, the minister’s Wildlife Advisory Council and the First Nations-BC Wildlife and Habitat Conservation Forum.”
As for when the public can expect to see the ministry implement the recommended changes, Pickup said at a press conference that decision is at the discretion of the Province.
“Most of the responses to these recommendations indicate what they are going to do but they don’t actually indicate a specific timeline to have things done,” he said.
BC conservation management “outdated” as species suffer declines
The report comes as steelhead and salmon populations in watersheds across the province struggle to survive, caribou herds are extirpated and numerous species suffer from habitat fragmentation and the impacts of climate change. As Sarah Cox reported in The Narwhal, there are thousands of species at risk in BC and, despite this, the current government reneged on its promise to enact species-at-risk legislation.
One of the Conservation Lands Program’s key tools to address the needs of at-risk species and important habitats is the designation of wildlife management areas, but the audit flagged a number of problems with BC’s management of those areas, noting around 70 percent of the plans have not been approved and the average age of the plans is almost 20 years.
The audit noted current plans need to reflect current risks, which include the ever-evolving risks associated with climate change.
The report also pointed out that the Province did not maintain an accurate inventory of its conserved lands, including non-administered conservation lands, which are areas designated for conservation purposes under the Land Act.
“The ministry needs an accurate inventory of conservation lands to monitor and report on progress and to make informed program decisions,” the report said.
BC working to align conservation with Indigenous values
The ministry said one of the ways it is addressing the auditor general’s recommendations, while working to meet provincial conservation commitments, predates the report. The Together for Wildlife Strategy, announced last summer, is the Province’s plan for conserving BC’s biodiversity. The strategy outlines five goals and 24 actions to achieve those goals, which involve working closely with First Nations.
But according to the audit, the ministry “has not supported staff to collaborate with Indigenous Peoples when securing and managing conservation lands.” It added that while the ministry is working to provide training and guidance to its staff, there is a lack of specific direction to collaborate and engage with First Nations.
In an interview conducted prior to the audit’s release, George Heyman, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy said the Province is working to align its conservation strategy with Indigenous Rights and community interests.
“We’re working hard to find a way forward that respects First Nations culture and values, that acknowledges and respects the importance of maintaining biodiversity and protecting species at risk, but doing it by developing an approach that doesn’t provide only one path.”
Matt Simmons is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with The Narwhal. The is Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Videos show verbal and physical attack on Fairy Creek old-growth activists at Walbran Camp.
TWO VIDEOS RELEASED by the Rainforest Flying Squad (RFS) show forestry workers harassing, threatening and physically assaulting activists on Tuesday May 4, 2021 at the Walbran Protection Camp, a watch camp (not a blockade) that is part of the action to protect old-growth forests near Port Renfrew, which includes Fairy Creek.
According to the RFS, the assault occurred around 1 pm after 10 Western Forest Products forestry workers drove into the camp in four trucks with muddied license plates: “The men walked towards the four youth in the camp, racially targeting the Indigenous youth. While all youth were threatened, the physical violence and verbal abuse was explicitly anti-Indigenous.” Viewers can hear “Go back to your fucking teepees” and other angry verbal abuse involving offensive language.
In the video, one of the workers loudly demands they go back to Victoria and collect their welfare cheques, and another threatens, “[Teal Jones] might not do anything but we fucking will. We have kids to feed.”
After numerous threats and insults levelled at the activists, heard clearly in the videos, one video ends with the assault. The RFS states, “Just before leaving, three of the workers attacked G, a young Indigenous man, and tried to force him to the ground, while a fourth man hit him. His phone, which he had been using to film, was punched out of his hand and then stolen. His instrument [a banjo] was broken.” (RFS members are not being identified by name to protect them from court action by Teal Jones.)
The RFS notes that other incidents of threatening behaviour have also occurred since Monday, May 3: “Late Monday afternoon, a group of forestry workers made threats of impending violence to three people while holding tools—axes, tire irons and crow bars—in a menacing way, saying ‘This is your only warning.’”
That same afternoon, on the same road, states the RFS, “several people in their vehicles were blocked in—by vehicles in front and behind them—and prevented from leaving by forestry vehicles for a period of time.” And the following day, “on a separate road, another incident took place. Trees were felled across the road to prevent campers and other people travelling on the roads from moving.”
The RFS says it has at no time been violent or promoted violence. “These attacks have been fuelled by industry and colonialism, encouraged by the BC NDP government’s failure to act by deferring threatened old growth forests from logging.”
Men who identified themselves as Western Forest Products workers hurled abuse at old-growth activists at Walbran Protection Camp and physically attacked a First Nations activist
The WFP workers seemed ignorant or uncaring of the fact they were on unceded Pacheedaht territory. The Pacheedaht, and nearby the Ditidaht, have lived on these territories for thousands of years. Their land was never sold or surrendered.
Elder William Jones, a member of the Pacheedaht First Nation, who worked as a logger in his youth, stated of the assault: “You can’t control a fellow who’s willing to pick up an ax. They are hired because they’re racist, and they’re told they’re right.”
Kati George-Jim, Jones’ niece, said that both the logging on unsurrendered territories, and these assaults, are racialized violence against Indigenous people.
“We are under attack,” she said. “Indigenous peoples are targeted with violence for disrupting industry,” referring to violence towards and arrests of Indigenous people defending their lands against colonial exploitation across the province.
“The loggers broke our laws, and they broke colonial law as well.” She explained, “The fundamental laws of our coastal peoples are based in reciprocity and respect for all relatives, and consensual relationships. We honour all past, present and future generations by protecting the integrity of our shared Mother Earth.”
“Premier Horgan is complicit in this crime because he has been promoting exploitation of Indigenous lands for profit, and doing it at the cost of Indigenous peoples’ lives,” she added.
Another young Indigenous member of the blockades, who is Huu-ay-aht, says, “It is deeply strategic violence to divide and erase First Nations out of existence.” She believes the clear-cut land will be built over with more homes for settlers.
“We are inspired by the courage of Elder Bill and other Indigenous people who stand up to protect the land,” states the RFS. “We see that Indigenous people are often targeted by violence or arrests when the white allies standing alongside them are not.”
Asked for comment, Western Forest Products spokesperson Babita Khunkhun stated: “Safety is Western’s number one priority. We were made aware of allegations of an incident that occurred yesterday involving a contractor working for the TFL 44 Limited Partnership (TFL 44 LP), a limited partnership between Huu-ay-aht First Nations-owned, Huumiis Ventures Limited Partnership and Western. We understand that TFL 44 LP has paused operations in the area where the incident occurred while an investigation of the allegations takes place.” TFL 44 LP/Huumis Ventures LP issued a statement on May 5, stating it had notified the RCMP and Worksafe BC of the incident, paused operations, and would be engaging a “respected third party” to “review the incident, meet those involved who are willing to be interviewed, and prepare a report with recommendations as soon as practicable on how to balance continued safe forestry operations with individuals exercising their right to legal protests, all in accordance with Huu-ay-aht’s three sacred principles ʔiisaak (Utmost Respect), ʔuuʔałuk (Taking Care of), and Hišuk ma c̕awak (Everything is Connected).” It also noted that all contractors were given a special briefing on the critical importance of adhering to forestry operations safety and public protest protocols.
Leslie Campbell is the editor of FOCUS.
Habitat crisis sparks coalitions between trophy hunters and environmental groups despite tensions over wildlife management.
ADVERSITY MAKES STRANGE BEDFELLOWS and few are stranger than two recently formed alliances between hunting and trapping organizations and environmental groups. Despite escalating battles over the ethics of trophy hunting, it seems the situation around diminishing habitats is desperate enough to have led to a couple of mergers around the topic.
The Guide Outfitters Association of BC (GOABC), which is focused on big game hunting, has joined forces with Raincoast Conservation Foundation, the Commercial Bear Viewing Association of BC, and Stop Animal Brutality, under the Unlikely Allies banner.
At the same time, the loosely-knit Fish, Wildlife and Habitat Coalition has formed joining pro hunting and fishing organizations, including GOABC, BC Wildlife Federation, Ducks Unlimited and several other bowhunting, trapping and angling organizations, with environmental organizations, including Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Georgia Strait Alliance, and Wildsight.
Both groups aim to put pressure on the BC government to restore and protect wildlife habitat.
Unlikely Allies’ terms of reference say the groups, despite traditionally opposing views, have agreed to work together for long-overdue improvements to habitat management, but emphasize that participation does not indicate any agreement other than the need for better protection and management of wildlife habitat.
A typical image on the website of Guide Outfitters Association of BC makes it seem an unlikely ally of conservationists
“The members of the alliance have agreed to set aside (but, not compromise or relinquish) their differences in order to advance common objectives,” it says.
The Fish, Wildlife and Habitat Coalition position paper says that lack of habitat funding, resource extraction, and a growing population are jeopardizing the future of BC’s wild spaces.
“Our mountains, rivers, lakes and forests are suffering from decades of mismanagement and unsustainable use. For example, in BC, there are over 700,000 kilometres of roads—a footprint large enough to wrap around the Earth more than 17 times. This has permanently impaired our landscapes, fish and wildlife,” says the position paper.
The Coalition wants a new governance model for fish, wildlife and habitat and a permanent endowment for habitat stewardship. It calls for all hunting, guide-outfitting and trapping license fees, industry wildlife compensation dollars and a portion of royalties from new resource extraction projects to go into a dedicated habitat fund.
Have they lost their marbles?
However lofty the aims, the alliances are drawing heavy criticism from other conservation and environmental groups who say such partnerships weaken arguments against commercial exploitation of wildlife and could blur the increasingly-polarized fight against trophy hunting of predators such as wolves, cougars and black bears.
Anne Sherrod of Valhalla Wilderness Society
“What kind of misdirection or misinformation leads environmental groups to think they should join as allies with people trying to overturn our work,” asked Anne Sherrod of Valhalla Wilderness Society, pointing to efforts by the Guide Outfitters to scrap the provincial ban on grizzly bear hunting.
Bear biologist and activist Wayne McCrory, in a blunt letter to Raincoast and the Commercial Bear Viewing Association, said everyone wants more habitat protected, but such partnerships are unnecessary “and most likely to come back to bite you in the ass in ways you cannot anticipate.”
“As my English grandmother Diamond Lil used to say, ‘have you all lost your marbles?’” he wrote.
However, Chris Genovali, Raincoast executive director, said ongoing catastrophic degradation and destruction of wildlife habitat in BC demands urgent action—whatever it takes.
“Drastic times call for drastic measures,” he said, pointing to last year’s report by a team of independent scientists, led by Rachel Holt, that found less than one percent of the forest left in BC is old growth with massive old trees.
The estimate is a far cry from the 23 percent touted by the Province, but Holt found most of that is high elevation tiny trees or bog forests.
Genovali said, “We are in a situation where, if we don’t arrest out of control logging and the clearcutting of old-growth we are not going to have any viable populations of wildlife to argue about. It’s that bad and, because it is that bad, these divergent groups have agreed to disagree on the things we have traditionally disagreed on, but recognize how desperate the situation is.”
No one is likely to suddenly change their views on topics such as wolf hunting, but the groups hope to get the ear of government and put forward alternate views on habitat to those expressed by the forest industry, Genovali said.
“We figure we might have a fighting chance by joining forces rather than continuing on in our own individual silos…We have to do something about this final liquidation of old growth in BC,” he said.
Chris Genovali of Raincoast Conservation Foundation
Genovali is aware of the opposition from some groups, but believes it is essential to look at the big picture.
“We have all been trying to stop the logging industry from this kind of destruction for so long and we haven’t been able to do it, so we need to try something different,” he said.
Kathy MacRae, Commercial Bear Viewing Association executive director, said that for the organizations with opposing viewpoints to come together, underlines the importance of the issue.
“The mission is to have guidelines for forestry companies that have not had them—ever—in BC,” she said.
“We need to make a change and it needs to be done yesterday. The definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over and expecting to receive a different outcome. So why not bring our voices together and try to make change collectively,” she said.
Jesse Zeman, BCWF director of fish and wildlife restoration, believes the alliances are a recognition that the groups have more in common than separates them.
“There’s a synergy in that. There’s a place we could be working together and probably be far more effective,” he said.
Jesse Zeman of BC Wildlife Federation
BCWF, although largely a hunting and fishing organization, has always been involved in habitat conservation, while fees from hunting and fishing licences go towards conservation and habitat projects, he said.
“It’s certainly not just hunting. It’s species at risk and sustainability issues,” Zeman said.
Ministry biased towards consumption rather than protection of wildlife
The urgency of protecting habitat in BC was emphasized this week with the release of a new study, published in the journal Conservation Science and Practice, that found endangered caribou of Western Canada have lost twice as much habitat as they have gained over the last 12 years, with logging, road building, forest fires and climate change identified as the major culprits.
Caribou are on the road to extinction unless changes are made and predator reduction programs—such as the provincial wolf cull—will only delay that extinction “in the absence of well-considered habitat management,” the study says.
“We have species that are endangered and blinking out and no one seems to want to talk about that,” Zeman said. “It will be a sad day when your grandkids realize we could have done something to have caribou in southern BC and we didn’t do anything.”
But, that common interest does not dampen the concern of some environmental groups, which do not want to see organizations such as GOABC or BCWF—which see wildlife as a resource to be harvested—given more of a voice.
Opponents say those organizations already have government’s ear to the detriment of wildlife protection groups and that the culture within ministries and the Conservation Officer Service swings towards hunting and commercial activities.
Environmental organizations point out that programs and legislation tip towards the “consumptive” rather than the protective groups and, although both sides describe themselves as conservationists, many find it tough to accept that animals should be killed in order to conserve them.
Valhalla Wilderness Society, which, like many groups, is not opposed to hunting for meat, but opposes trophy hunting and predator killing, points to government panels and hand-picked stakeholder groups that the organization believes are already dominated by hunter/trapper groups.
For example, Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Minister Katrine Conroy recently said she would work to close loopholes in wolf-killing regulations in BC and that she would consult with the BCWF and the BC Trappers Association.
That brought a flurry of objections from environmental and wildlife groups, which wanted to be included in the consultations. A ministry spokesman told Focus this week that Conroy is continuing to work with “stakeholders.” “We’ll continue to engage and work together to find a solution that works for everyone…The BCWF is an important partner in our wildlife stewardship and their interests and input into wildlife management are greatly valued,” he said.
Sara Dubois, BC Society for the Protection of Animals chief scientific officer, said BCWF has had a significant influence on the ministry for the last two decades and, during that time, there have been few policy changes—with the exception of ending the grizzly bear hunt after inexorable public pressure.
Sara Dubois, BC Society for the Protection of Animals chief scientific officer
“It’s definitely not tied to politics, it’s tied to staff in the ministry,” said Dubois who, in 2012, was turned down when she applied to sit on the provincial hunting and trapping advisory team because, she was told, it would make other organizations uncomfortable.
Wildlife management is not the same as conservation management and BC continues to manage wildlife by looking at the number of animals in a unit that can be hunted or trapped, even though it is often not clear how many animals are on the landscape, she said.
Most British Columbians do not realize that BCWF wants healthy populations of wildlife in order to be able to hunt them and that the organization was adamantly opposed to ending the grizzly bear hunt, Dubois said.
“That, of course, doesn’t align with some of the BC SPCA’s values,” she said.
Zeman said the history of BC shows that it was the hunters and anglers that stepped in a century ago to demand rules to stop over-exploitation and the federation continues to work with government to ensure sustainability.
“The reality is that if fish and wildlife is not managed sustainably you won’t get to hunt and fish in the future,” he said.
BCWF programs include many programs that have nothing to do with hunting and fishing and a sizeable number of the 43,000 members do not hunt or fish, Zeman said.
BCWF has played a central role in programs ranging from helping with the recovery of the Vancouver Island marmot to creation of the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, which has helped acquire 25,000 hectares of conservation land, Zeman said. “Hunters fund non-hunted species because they care and because it’s important,” he added.
But, assurances that habitat is at the heart of concerns of groups such as BCWF and GOABC provide little comfort to Sherrod of Valhalla Wilderness Society.
“We rely on the public and media to help us convince government of the need for environmental protection,” said Sherrod. “People make associations when they see the names of organizations linked to one another. I fear it sends a message to the public, media and government that trophy hunting and its associated predator culls must be ok.”
Judith Lavoie is an award-winning journalist specializing in the environment, First Nations, and social issues. Twitter @LavoieJudith
A new report reveals the impact of COVID-19 on the Island’s Indigenous population.
A NEW COMMUNITY SITUATION REPORT released by the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) reveals the disproportionate impact COVID-19 has had on Indigenous people on Vancouver Island.
Despite representing only 7.6 percent of Vancouver Island’s population, Indigenous people account for 34.9 per cent of COVID-19 cases.
The rate of positive cases for the Indigenous population was 1,323 per 100,000 compared to 202 per 100,000 for the non-Indigenous population, according to the FNHA.
Additionally, those who self-identified as Indigenous experienced three times the rate of hospitalizations and four times the rate of deaths, compared to the non-Indigenous population.
“Those are really scary figures,” said Mariah Charleson, Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council vice-president. “It’s shocking, but we all realize that’s the reality.”
The imbalance is driven by various factors, including overcrowded homes, underlying health conditions, a lack of capacity to handle outbreaks—especially in more rural and remote First Nations communities—along with a lack of trust in the health care system, said Charleson.
“Systemic racism exists in every sector of the health care system in BC,” she said, citing the 2020 report, In Plain Sight: Addressing Indigenous-specific Racism and Discrimination in BC Health Care.
The In Plain Sight report was prompted by allegations about an organized “Price is Right” game involving guessing the blood alcohol contents of Indigenous patients in BC emergency rooms.
“A picture is presented of a BC health care system with widespread systemic racism against Indigenous peoples,” read the report. “This racism results in a range of negative impacts, harm, and even death.”
The data recently released by the FNHA was used to inform vaccine prioritization, which resulted in expedited delivery to remote and isolated First Nations communities, with the first doses arriving December 29, 2020.
Ahousaht residents were among the first in BC to receive immunization for COVID-19 in early January, aligning with the province’s prioritization of First Nations due to how the coronavirus has disproportionally affected these remote communities. (Courtenay Louie photo)
Despite the increasing COVID-19 case counts sweeping the province, new cases among First Nations continue to fall, according to the FNHA.
“The proportion of provincial daily cases who are First Nations is the lowest level since June 2020,” read the report.
As of April 15, more than 72,000 of BC’s First Nations people—along with some non-Indigenous people living in or near First Nations communities—have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. More than 6,700 First Nations people have also received a second dose, according to the report.
“We’re happy to see that the [statistics] and data are being used to ensure that Indigenous people remain a priority—particularly for receiving the vaccination,” said Charleson.
While all 14 Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations have received their first dose, several await their second.
Charleson said that second doses of the Moderna vaccine will be rolled-out in the remaining communities within the 16-week timeframe suggested by the National Advisory Committee on Immunization.
“We don't have to look very far to understand that our people have been disproportionately impacted,” she said. “I just really want to see our communities pulling together.”
Melissa Renwick is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with Ha-Shilth-Sa. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Fairy Creek old-growth activists are facing arrest but the injunction won't stop them defending some of the last tracts of ancient rainforest on southern Vancouver Island.
DESCRIBING THE PROTESTERS AS “MISGUIDED,” BC Supreme Court Justice Frits Verhoeven granted forestry company Teal-Jones an injunction on Thursday prohibiting roadblocks at various entry points to its Tree Farm Licence (TFL) 46 near the community of Port Renfrew.
But Fairy Creek supporters say the court order only fuels the fight to save the pristine forests and giant trees growing in the headwaters of Fairy Creek, as well as remaining groves near Gordon River, Camper Creek and in the upper Walbran Valley.
Teal-Jones’ activities in TFL 46 are lawful and follow permits issued by the province, but blockades preventing logging activities are aimed at influencing government policy, Verhoeven observed.
“It is clear that the defendants are dissatisfied with the forestry policies of the provincial government relating to logging of old- growth forests,” he said. But the blockades are illegal and violate the rule of law, he added.
There is no disputing climate change is a grave threat to humanity’s future, but making a decision on the matter falls outside his jurisdiction, the judge said.
“The effect of old-growth forests and logging on climate change and biodiversity is not before me, and is not for me to say,” Verhoeven said.
“What is at stake in this court is the maintenance of law and order and respect for the rule of law,” he said.
“The protesters are free to protest, demonstrate and attempt to influence the government in any lawful way they may choose, but no one has the right to disobey a court order, no matter how passionately they may believe in their cause.”
In its application, Teal-Jones asked the court to prohibit the blockades until at least September 4 and grant RCMP the right to remove protesters violating the order.
Court order a ‘flashpoint’ for public support
The court order banning road blockades that prevent Teal-Jones logging activities is likely to build support for the Fairy Creek protest, say supporters. Photo by Will O'Connell
Ultimately, the court’s decision is not a surprise, said Fairy Creek blockade supporter Kathleen Code, one of the defendants named in the injunction.
Each individual protester will decide if they’re willing to risk arrest at the blockades, Code said, but the injunction won’t quash growing public support to save Fairy Creek.
“We know the instant Teal-Jones has access to those trees, they will cut them down,” Code said.
“I think the decision will actually serve as a flashpoint. People are tired of having a government that is willing to sacrifice the last remnants of our old-growth forests.”
Case in point are the hundreds of people who turned up for the latest in a series of protests at the BC legislature in Victoria on Saturday calling for the end of old-growth logging in the province, Code said.
Blockade supporter Will O’Connell agreed the injunction wouldn’t deter people from working to save Fairy Creek as an intact watershed.
“The blockade has been going [for] eight months, but the court injunction is just the start of this story,” said O’Connell, who expects it will launch years of activism.
“If anyone thinks this movement will be quelled by force, they have another thing coming.”
O’Connell said he was compelled to support the blockades last summer because he couldn’t stomach watching the continued loss of ancient trees, some thousands of years old, to logging in the region.
There’s a rapid groundswell of support for the blockade and protecting at-risk old-growth that feels different than in the past, O’Connell said.
“This is not a fragile movement that people from a distance might think is just [the] status quo response by the environmental movement,” he said.
“It’s not the passive grumbling about clear-cutting we’ve seen over the last decade where people make phone calls or write letters.”
The final straw for the public has been the government’s inadequate response to meeting the recommendations of the old-growth strategic review, he said.
“The NDP promised to change the way it approached old-growth, and it hasn’t,” O’Connell said, adding protecting big trees and forestry has long been mismanaged in a way that fails both the environment and sustainable industry.
“It just feels like we’ve been documenting the collapse of our last ancient forests, but now there is a change that actually stands in the way of that being destroyed,” O’Connell added.
Fairy Creek blockade supporter Will O’Connell said the movement to protect old-growth forest is getting stronger and more active. Photo courtesy of Will O’Connell
In his decision, Verhoeven agreed the blockades threatened Teal-Jones’ legal right to harvest timber worth approximately $20 million in the region, as well as the operations and employment of 460 people at the company’s mills.
The Pacheedaht First Nation is also aware of the forestry operations in its traditional territory, has agreements in place with various companies, and has not objected to logging activity in planned cut blocks, Verhoeven said.
And while three individual members of the nation testified that they object to logging in Fairy Creek and support the protesters, none claimed to represent the Pacheedaht collectively, Verhoeven said.
One of the members, Pacheedaht elder Bill Jones, said his spiritual practices are threatened because logging the Fairy Creek watershed would endanger important bathing pools. But most of the Fairy Creek watershed is already protected, said Verhoeven, and the Teal-Jones cut block in the upper elevation of the region has intermittent watercourses and no bathing pools. And any freedom of religion challenge must be directed at government, not Teal-Jones, he added.
Ball is in premier’s court
Torrance Coste of the Wilderness Committee said while the injunction decision reflects the law, it doesn’t necessarily mean justice was applied. “Those are not the same things,” Coste said.
“If the legal system was based on justice, there wouldn’t be an injunction and the blockades wouldn’t be there in the first place.”
Following the ruling, the outcomes and the next move are up to the Province, Coste said. “Really, the ball is in Premier [John] Horgan’s court,” he said.
Horgan has the power to save Fairy Creek, which is in his own riding, Coste added. If he fails to do so, government will wear the results. “The consequences are the lack of public faith in this government, and that’s not the responsibility of a logging company to restore,” he said.
“Horgan can step up and defer logging in this TFL and give some of the last, best old-growth forests like Fairy Creek some breathing room while government plans how to ensure these ecosystems survive,” Coste said.
The strategic old-growth review called for a paradigm shift, moving away from a focus on old-growth timber harvesting to the protection of at-risk ecosystems and biodiversity, Coste added.
“The reason that folks are taking it into their own hands is because the government's not providing that.”
Rochelle Baker is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter with Canada’s National Observer. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
See another story about the injunction by David Broadland here.
Many in the Sooke area are heartbroken that a wolf pack that no one was complaining about may have been wiped out.
FOR MORE THAN A YEAR, naturalist and wildlife researcher Gary Schroyen followed the activities of five wolves that ranged around Metchosin and East Sooke.
In many ways, images captured on Schroyen’s wildlife cameras demonstrated that the pack, which he named the Meteask wolf pack, could live harmoniously among humans.
Most area residents were unaware of the proximity of the wolves, which lived on deer and small mammals, and Scott Norris of the BC Conservation Officer Service confirmed that there have been no reports of the pack killing pets or livestock.
“We’re not really getting any [complaints]…Nothing more than a sighting or a potential sighting. We haven’t had calls from concerned people at all,” Norris told Focus.
All of which makes the deliberate killing of the wolves more tragic, say residents and wildlife observers who are mourning the loss of the animals and pushing for the provincial government to tighten regulations around wolf hunting and trapping.
“This is a prime example, a model example of a wolf pack that can co-exist with people,” Schroyen said.
Naturalist Gary Schroyen
The wolves were apparently trapped by trophy hunter Jacine Jadresko of Victoria, who goes by the name of the Inked Huntress and hunts animals around the world.
Jadresko, who could not be contacted by Focus, previously said on social media she was aiming to remove an entire pack of wolves in the Sooke area because they were threatening people and attacking pets. She then posted photos of herself with two dead wolves.
The loss is felt deeply by Schroyen, who uses a series of wildlife cameras, placed strategically in well-used wolf territory with the help of Shadow, his 13-year-old border collie who sniffs out wolf scat and identifies scent markings and scuffs.
“I have spent maybe 1,000 hours researching these wolves,” he said.
Over the last year Schroyen, who has also studied other wolf packs on Vancouver Island, has often heard howls from the Meteask pack—frequently close by—and has gathered numerous videos, photos and recordings, but has never encountered the animals face to face.
“I was able to identify the different wolves based on their tail markings and it is clear there are five different individuals,” said Schroyen, who did not previously disclose information about the wolves for their own protection.
But, after more than a month without any sign of the pack, he is convinced they are all dead and he has posted a poignant video with the introduction “In memory of the wolves that I have come to know as the Meteask Wolf Pack. The wolves that chose to co-exist among the people of Metchosin and East Sooke.”
“The Wolves Among Us,” a short video by Gary Schroyen
The video opens with a wolf joyfully playing with its food—tossing a dead squirrel in the air—and footage of the wolves at night, passing the camera in formation.
It also includes pictures, taken February 6 and 7, of Jadresko with two dead wolves and concludes with images taken about 10 days later of a lone wolf panting, sniffing and walking slowly down a path.
Schroyen believes that was the last wolf left in the pack and some of the final camera images show her heading towards the area where he knew snares had been set.
The traps were on property close to Beecher Bay and, judging from blood on the rear leg of one of the wolves, Schroyen believes they were trapped and then shot.
For days before the last images were taken, the lone wolf returned to the same area, he said.
“It led me to believe she was searching for the rest of her pack and just doing loops around. It’s incredibly rare for the same wolf to keep coming back to the same area,” he said.
Schroyen knows it would be unusual for the wolf to leave her territory and he believes she is dead, which is why he decided to post the video.
“The pictures speak for themselves. I just wanted to show the public the side of wolves that the media don’t usually show,” he said.
UPDATE Following initial publication of this story, a spokesperson for Jadresko told FOCUS that Jadresko has seen evidence on her own trail cameras as recent as two weeks ago (as of March 30, 2021) that the wolf pack is alive and well.
Community outraged and heartbroken at wolf killing
People have forgotten how to live with animals, said Schroyen, who is “sickened” by people who kill for the sake of killing and then glorify the deaths on social media.
A 2017 CBC Fifth Estate story on Jadresko describes her hunting bears and giraffes and her desire to kill an elephant. She told the Fifth Estate that kill pictures demonstrate “respect for the animal.” After killing a lion she posted pictures of herself with the dead animal and then a post-taxidermy photo with the caption “Look who’s all stuffed and ready to come home with me.”
Sooke Mayor Maja Tait has fired off a letter to Forests, Lands and Natural Resources Minister Katrine Conroy to share the community outrage at the destruction of the pack and to support an Oak Bay resolution calling for a moratorium on recreational wolf hunting.
Sooke Mayor Maja Tait
The resolution, which is going to the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities and the Union of BC Municipalities for support, asks the Province for a moratorium until there is a “scientific, data-driven and evidence-based study that includes consultation with the Island’s Indigenous communities, to re-examine the efficacy of unrestricted wolf harvesting practices and their impacts on the Island’s biodiversity, wildlife ecology and sustainability of the resident wolf population.”
Many in Sooke were sickened by the “callous threat” by a Victoria big-game hunter to trap and kill an entire pack, especially as so many groups are working to protect wildlife and habitat, says the letter.
The Sooke organization Project HOWL (Help Our Wolves Live), founded by teenagers Finn and Chloe Unger, has documented packs of Vancouver Island “sea wolves” roaming the Sooke Hills and looked at the role the wolves play in a balanced ecosystem while the Wild Wise Sooke Society and Coexisting with Carnivores have a living-with-wolves working group aiming to educate people on the importance of wolves as a keystone species.
Sam Webb, Wild Wise president, said numerous people have shared videos or tapes of howling wolves, both from the Meteask pack and a couple of packs in the Sooke Hills.
“We feel we got to know them, not necessarily on a personal level, but the community really started to love them,” she said.
Sadly, Jadresko apparently killed the wolves legally and there is outrage in Sooke and surrounding communities and concern about the future of other packs, Webb said.
“To take out a whole pack is just not good wildlife management,” she said, pointing out that controlling outside cats and keeping dogs on leash are better strategies. “You can see the comments of people who are just heartbroken that this happened right in our backyard,” she said.
Sooke is growing and there is a concerted effort to make residents aware that, in a rural community, there is a need to co-exist with the carnivore population, said Tait, adding that most people thought it was cool to have a wolf pack in the area.
“Then we find out that they have been trapped and murdered. How long have they been here, just co-existing peacefully?” Tait asked. “So then this one selfish person decided on her own to do this…What is it—boredom? You’re just going to kill these animals because you can’t travel and kill some endangered species elsewhere because of COVID. I’m so disgusted by it, it really makes me upset,” she said.
Tait pointed out that people are fined for poaching crabs, but there is no penalty for killing wolves. “They have no protection. They are treated like vermin and there needs to be some level of protection and a consequence,” she said.
Almost 72,000 people have signed a petition asking for a moratorium on wolf hunting and trapping, as population data is scarce and relies largely on reports from hunters.
A new poll, conducted by Mario Canseco Research and commissioned by The Fur-Bearers, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, shows public opinion appears to swing solidly in favour of more controls.
The survey found 87 percent of those polled disagree with hunting or trapping wolves to increase ungulate hunting opportunities, 90 percent disagree with killing wolves for fur and 91 percent disagree with “recreational” killing of wolves.
A large majority of British Columbians also disagree with killing wolves with neck snares, leg hold traps, poison or aerial gunning—a tactic used by the provincial government to control wolves in areas where caribou are threatened—according to the survey.
However, more than half of British Columbians surveyed agree with eliminating wolves when they kill unprotected livestock.
The Province has no information about the distribution of wolf packs, but estimates there are about 250 wolves on Vancouver Island and the ministry says the population is not under threat.
Hunters on Vancouver Island have a bag limit of three wolves for anyone holding a basic hunting licence, with no special tag required, meaning the Province relies on hunters self-reporting.
There are 217 wildlife management units in BC where wolves are likely to live; 115 of those areas have no bag limits or closed season on wolves.
Conroy has said she will look at closing “loopholes” in the wolf trapping and hunting rules. When asked whether the actions of Jadresko were legal and ethical, she pointed to a previous statement to Focus.
In that emailed statement Conroy said “The hunters I know are conservationists too; they support activities that protect populations. This kind of story is something that most hunters would find offensive. This person is abusing the hunting regulations just to boost her own profile.”
Repercussions of eliminating wolves
The basic problem is that the government and conservation officers continue to treat wolves as vermin and encourage hunters to kill them, said Gary Allan of the SWELL Wolf Education Centre in Nanaimo.
Valid scientific evidence is needed to justify killing wolves, not anecdotal information from hunters and ranchers, said Allan, describing hunting surveys, used to assess wolf populations, as useless.
Allan also noted that eliminating an entire pack is likely to have unforeseen consequences. History shows that cougars will likely move into the vacuum until another wolf pack repopulates the area, said Allan.
“If you get a younger wolf pack that is not as accomplished in hunting their traditional prey, experience has shown us they will predate on livestock,” he said.
“So you see the damage that this one trapper/hunter will do to both the wolves, the livestock and humans in the Metchosin/East Sooke area,” he said.
Many Indigenous communities revere wolves as an integral part of the culture, but the question of hunting and trapping is complicated and controversial according to Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, Union of BC Indian Chiefs president.
“It’s very much a part of our spiritual connection to the land and our beliefs,” he said. “But a major concern to a lot of different groups, including Indigenous hunters, is a wolf sustains itself on 40 pounds of meat a day, so a pack of five can have a devastating effect on the population of deer and moose and caribou that sustain Indigenous people,” he said.
The essential part of the equation is for the NDP government to consult Indigenous communities on any changes to regulations, Phillip said.
Meanwhile, Schroyen has summed up his feelings with a quote from author Farley Mowat, which he used in the video.
“We have doomed the wolf, not for what it is, but for what we deliberately and mistakenly perceive it to be—the mythologized epitome of a savage, ruthless kill, which is, in reality, no more than a reflected image of ourself.”
Judith Lavoie is an award-winning journalist specializing in the environment, First Nations, and social issues. Twitter @LavoieJudith
Video of Finn and Chloe Unger, Sooke residents, on wolves as a keystone species:
A proposed high-density development on the Victoria-Oak Bay border will either destroy the neighbourhood’s ambience—or help save the planet.
WHO COULD OBJECT TO A MULTI-DWELLING PROJECT that—according to the developer—encourages walking, helps solve the climate crisis and eases housing pressures?
“The project enables a high quality, densified, compact, walkable lifestyle which is critical to solving our climate and housing crisis [sic] all while creating more livable and healthier communities,” said Aryze Developments in a January 20, 2021 letter to the City of Victoria.
Some neighbours in the Foul Bay Road-Quamichan Street area don’t see it that way, believing that the 18-unit townhouse project on a small lot adds too many dwellings, means the removal of too many trees, and will damage the neighbourhood’s ambience. Some are also very unhappy with what they regard as an attempt to intimidate them into supporting the development.
The lot at number 902 sits just where Foul Bay Road, heading south, departs Oak Bay and ventures into the Gonzales neighbourhood of Victoria, where it remains before ending at Gonzales Beach.
The property at 902 Foul Bay Road is a familiar one to those who follow heritage properties and to fans of large urban trees. The 1911, two-storey, cross-gabled house was reminiscent of a country estate, with an external granite chimney and a two-storey verandah nearly encircling the house, according to information from the Victoria Heritage Foundation. A heritage designation awarded in 2003 included the property’s rock wall and landscape.
The heritage designated house that occupied the site until 2016
Large and Co. purchased the property in 2014 with hopes to develop some townhouses on the property, though also preserving the house. The company subsequently applied for a demolition permit and removal of the heritage designation, citing contamination from mould, feces and urine: the house had been unheated for two years and housed an estimated 100 cats.
In 2015, the City of Victoria’s heritage panel recommended that the council reject the request to demolish. But in January 2016—before the City council had determined its fate—an unexplained fire badly damaged the house.
One year later, Victoria police arrested Earl Large (who heads sales for Large and Co.), holding him in jail overnight. Large was released without charges the next day, because the Crown did not approve charges. Following the fire, the remains of the house were demolished.
The 0.503 acre lot is currently assessed at $2,566,000, and is now owned by Lions West Homes Ltd, with Aryze as the developer. It is currently zoned R1-G, which permits four single family houses. Each is allowed one accessory use, such as a secondary suite. For the proposed development to proceed, the property would need to be rezoned to permit multi-family dwellings, as well as be granted a development permit.
Aryze is a Victoria developer, active in numerous area projects from infill housing to the Telus Ocean office building. The privately-held company proposes to build 16 three-bedroom and 2 one-bedroom townhouses at 902 Foul Bay, according to the latest version of the project posted on the City’s website, dated January 20, 2021. The average size of the units is 1,100 square feet. These would be contained in two three-storey structures.
An illustration of Aryze’s proposed townhouse project at the corner of Foul Bay and Quamichan
An aerial illustration of how the proposed development will occupy the 1/2-acre site
Aryze says it has applied to the BC Housing Affordable Home Ownership Program (AHOP), which would allow prices to be reduced by from 5 to 20 percent for eligible buyers, in part by providing interim construction financing at reduced rates. To support what it calls “middle income” families, BC Housing would hold the second mortgage to cover its contribution. There are a number of hurdles to be passed before BC Housing approves a project under AHOP.
For instance, community support for the project should be “evident,” and projects should be “consistent with official community plans and strategies,” according to AHOP’s published principles. As well, the townhouses would not be available to the open market. Ineligible are any would-be purchasers who already own or part-own a dwelling anywhere in the world. To buy an AHOP dwelling, purchasers must currently be in rental or other non-tenureship housing, must be Canadian citizens or permanent residents, and must have lived in BC for the past 12 months. These rules apply to everyone on the title of a townhouse.
In addition, buyers are limited by household income, which cannot exceed the 75th income percentile of BC families with children—currently $163,220—for those purchasing a three-bedroom unit. For one-bedroom units, their household income must not exceed the 75th percentile of BC families without children—currently $116,330. As of March 13, 2021, 902 Foul Bay Road had not been approved for the AHOP program.
To give an example of the strength of these restrictions, somebody just arrived from Ontario, would not qualify, even if living in a tent. A family that part-owns a quarter-acre lot in Australia or earns $164,000 annually would also be ruled out. It remains to be seen how many prospective buyers there are who both meet the stringent qualifications and can afford to pay the mortgage.
Aryze principal Luke Mari has said the three-bedroom townhouses would sell for $725,000 each, assuming that the project is approved under AHOP for the maximum 20 percent of the project’s market value. This means that the market value is 5/4 x $725,000 = $906,250. If, on the other hand, AHOP covers just 5 percent, the selling price would be $860,937—or approximately $136,000 more than the $725,000 figure quoted by Aryze. In an email, Mari responded, “Even though the BC Housing AHOP program allows the discount to be anywhere from 5-20 percent, we have committed to the City and BC Housing to use an income test methodology instead. This would cap the sale values of the one-beds at $375,000 and the three-beds at $725,000. This will be secured by a tri-party agreement should we move past committee of the whole.”
Neighbours have expressed concerns about added traffic resulting from the addition of 18 new housing units, as well as parking issues.
To judge by the latest version of the proposal, Aryze appears to be bending over backwards to support cycling over driving. The proposal includes a bike repair station and 36 bike stalls, but just 16 places to park a car. As well, it is promising 18 memberships in the Modo car-sharing service. Aryze claims there are no fewer than 841 street parking stalls within a five-minute walk. The proposal does not state how many of those stalls are already occupied much of the day.
Signs like this abound throughout the neighbourhood
Aryze proposes to plant 39 trees, of which 21 would be native, including 4 Garry Oaks. At the same time, it will remove 7 existing Garry Oaks, and two much-admired mature Copper Beech trees, among others. This has led to some of the most vociferous complaints, with signs throughout the neighbourhood proclaiming “Save the Trees at 902 Foul Bay.”
Responding to criticism of the proposed tree-cutting, in an August 20, 2020 letter to neighbours, Mari said: “We take no pleasure from cutting down trees.” However, he added, “to retain all trees on the property, only a small single building can be built.” Mari also commented on the beech trees. “The two large beech trees, while beautiful, are in declining health and are non-native species,” he said in the letter, which did not mention the fact that nearly half of the promised new trees would also be non-native.
Though the house is now gone, the property’s landscape heritage designation means that any development project must still pass muster at the City of Victoria’s Heritage Advisory Panel. At the panel’s November 10, 2020 meeting, chair Pam Madoff—a longstanding heritage advocate—asked about the proposed removal of the beech trees.
In response, architect Erica Sangster told the panel that the trees grow in a “challenging part of the site,” according to minutes of the meeting. “We tried to keep one of the copper beeches, but it was not in the best health,” added Sangster. “We had to choose which had to be removed. Ultimately both would need to be removed.”
In the end, the development sailed through, with five voting in favour, and just Madoff opposed.
In a later interview, Madoff told Focus that it’s rare for a property owner to designate the landscape, and she wants to honour that decision. “We are the stewards of that intention,” she says.
The treed property at 902 Foul Bay Road, with two large copper beeches
The loss of the two beech trees was a particular concern. “I just felt that there was not enough attention paid to the mature trees on the site,” Madoff says. Though not native, the beeches are a significant feature of the site, storing significant quantities of carbon that new trees would not.
Monique Genton is a neighbour of the proposed project who would also like the older trees to remain. “There’s value in mature trees, even if they’re not native,” says Genton, a member of UVic’s Native Plant Study Group, and who is registered as a native-plant salvager in Saanich. She adds that the beech trees are very much loved by the neighbours. “The best tree is the one you’ve got.”
A $2 million neighbourhood?
In arguing that the 16 three-bedroom town homes will sell for $725,000 each, Mari said they would be far cheaper than the $2.1 million he says is the average price for a three-bedroom house in the neighbourhood. To some, that $2.1 million figure is on the high side.
Madoff, for one, questions Mari’s claim regarding local house prices. “I thought that was very misleading,” she says, adding that the average price is likely much lower. A check of assessed values in the immediate area lends support to the view that the Aryze claim is far too high.
BC Assessment lists nine properties as “neighbouring” 902 Foul Bay. Of these nine, just three are three-bedroom; one has two bedrooms. The average assessed value of these four properties is $971,624.
Only four properties adjoin 902 Foul Bay, all on the north side. The 910 Foul Bay Road address consists of two properties, one of which has a 2,236-square-foot house; the other is vacant. The two properties are currently assessed at a total of $1,249,500. On Hawes Road, a small cul-de-sac that runs off Redfern Street, sit 1940 and 1946 Hawes. They are assessed at $846,000 and $910,000 respectively.
The property at 910 Foul Bay that adjoins 902 makes for an interesting comparison with the Aryze proposal. The single house on the two properties at 910 occupies 0.47 acres, just less than 902’s half-acre. Put another way, this means that the Aryze proposal would result in 18 times more dwellings on roughly the same size lot as its only immediate, single-family, Foul Bay Road neighbour. One concern for neighbours is that if the Aryze proposal is approved by the City, it might set a precedent for subsequent redevelopment of nearby properties.
The covenant: A hindrance or irrelevant?
There is a longstanding covenant executed against the title of 902 Foul Bay Road, and approximately 100 neighbouring properties. Registered October 24, 1924, the covenant reads as follows: “No building is to be erected upon any lot other than a private dwelling house with suitable outbuildings; and no dwelling house to be erected upon any lot adjoining or fronting on Foul Bay Road shall cost less in erection thereof than Four Thousand Dollars ($4,000.00) and on other lots not less than Two thousand dollars ($2,000.00).” (The minimum prices for houses seems positively laughable in today’s runaway real estate prices; they reflect typical prices of nearly a century ago.)
Such restrictive covenants remain in effect when the property passes on to successive owners. This feature of covenants is often referred to as “running with the land.”
If enforced, this restrictive covenant may well rule out 18 townhouses on the lot. Or does it? Mari claims that some other properties covered by the covenant already violate it, since they have basement suites.
Answering a question from Focus, Mari says the effect of the covenant is “unclear” regarding townhouses. “The covenant restricts the property to ‘private dwellings,’ but does that exclude townhouses?” Mari says in the emailed response. He adds, “The Strata Property Act did not exist at the time of drafting. Under property law, a strata townhouse is a form of private dwelling.”
With regard to the trees, Mari notes, “the private covenant does not save the trees as the existing zoning rights allow potentially even broader tree removal in order to build out the four single-family dwellings under existing zoning.”
In general, the practical impact of restrictive covenants is questionable. Many are found in older neighbourhoods, even predating zoning bylaws. Sometimes, they are placed by developers as a selling point, in an attempt to control the neighbourhood. They are technically separate and apart from anything the city does. Municipal governments are not obligated to abide by them, though some cities do take note of them in deciding on a proposal. In the case of Victoria, a City official told Focus the City ignores restrictive covenants in determining the fate of a proposed development. The only exception is when the City is a party to the covenant; in the case of 902 Foul Bay Road, it is not.
Are restrictive covenants immutably attached to the properties they govern? The short answer: No. Under BC’s Property Law Act, a court may discharge a restrictive covenant. Section 35 of the Act lays down a number of conditions under which a restrictive covenant can be set aside. How difficult is that? According to an in-depth 2012 report on restrictive covenants for the British Columbia Law Institute, the threshold for modifying or cancelling a restrictive covenant under section 35 is “quite high.”
Said the report: “The courts will not exercise the powers given by section 35 lightly, recognizing that a restrictive covenant is a valuable property right.” The report notes that restrictive covenants have been seen as “a useful means of protecting valuable interests connected with the use and enjoyment of land at a localized and private level that public planning does not reach.”
On January 22, 2020, 902 Foul Bay Road property owner Lions West Homes Ltd filed a petition asking the BC Supreme Court to discharge the covenant. In support, Lions West lawyer Lindsay LeBlanc cited changes in the nature of the neighbourhood, as well as the covenant’s “impediment of practical use.” The petition claims that since the covenant was signed, “the neighbourhood has experienced significant densification with the restrictive covenant not being followed or enforced.”
Noting that 31 of the approximately 100 lots to which the covenant applies have more than one dwelling, Lions West said in the petition that the restrictive covenant is now “obsolete,” and “is unreasonably impeding the petitioner’s plans to build on the property.”
Representing a number of area residents, lawyer Kyle Hamilton filed a response to the Lions West petition on June 24, 2020. In the response, the neighbours said that the covenant provides them with a such practical benefits as natural beauty, the park-like feel of backyards due to the collective view of all yards together, peaceful setting of their homes, established green space, uniform visual appearances, low turnover rate of owners, and a sense of neighbourhood.
In the court filing, the neighbours said that removing the covenant would lead to loss of privacy, increased residential noise and traffic, loss of the neighbourhood’s current character, removal and destruction of green space, and their uniform park-like view replaced with three storey, multi-family units.
To the surprise of neighbours, on August 13, 2020—less than two months after the response was filed—Lions West asked the court to adjourn hearing the petition. Asked in March 2021 for the reason, Mari provided a single sentence in an email to Focus: “It was adjourned to gather additional material as requested by the respondents.”
A threat? Or helpful advice?
A letter from Aryze, headed “Common Questions and Answers” was distributed to residents served with petition materials in February 2020. It said that Aryze was pursuing removal of the covenant because there is a “potential grey area” between the proposed development and the covenant. “As such, we are pursuing the removal of this covenant for clarity moving forward,” said the letter.
The Aryze letter also contained what some recipients regard as a threat. Said the letter: “While not ideal, we should note that if property owners decide to pursue legal action to oppose this discharge, and we are successful in the removal through the courts, we will be seeking legal compensation from those opposing property owners due to the added costs of additional court processes.”
In their response filed with the court, the neighbours said the letter had two purposes. Quoting from the court filing, these are:
“(a) To downplay the significance of the petition and what Aryze was seeking to do with the covenant and
(b) threaten the respondents with possible financial repercussions should they oppose the removal of the covenant and lose.”
Heritage advocate Madoff is not happy with Aryze’s statement that it will ask the court to order that opponents pay costs. “A letter like that would be very unsettling,” Madoff says. “The threat of an award of costs would be terrifying.”
Asked for a response to residents’ concerns about that section of the letter distributed to the respondents, Mari said the following:
“I can say with absolute sincerity, this portion of the letter was to give residents a clear understanding of what they were getting into,” Mari said in an email. “If they didn’t oppose, it’s a 3-4 week process to discharge the agreement, $5,000 in fees kind of thing. If they chose to oppose, it takes months and months and tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees. We take no joy in these situations and even conveyed that in a follow up letter that we welcomed their right to oppose but the added time, complexity, and costs then afforded us via the Courts to recoup some of those costs.”
A neighbourhood website has been seeking donations to help cover legal costs.
How many is too many?
Despite their court-filed objections to the project, some neighbours regard an increase in density as acceptable. Neighbour Peter Nadler says that while some want no more than what current zoning allows on the site—four single-family houses—others would accept some densification, as long as most of the trees are preserved. “We have to accept increased density,” says Nadler, speaking for the second group. “What we’re after is balance.”
Focus asked Mari if he would consider fewer townhouses on the property. He replied: “Yes, we could provide less homes on the property, but it would mean that we would be unable to provide 100 percent of the project under the BC Housing Affordable Home Ownership Program, which offers homes at more than 20 percent below market rates,” he said in an email.
He also stated: “Regarding neighbour feedback, we have found some inconsistencies. On one hand some claim to express support for added density on the property but then are also seeking to enforce a restrictive covenant that limits the project to no added density, as the covenant supports the existing zoning to build four single family homes which will certainly be priced at well over $2m each. So we are left wondering which is it?”
The development proposal is expected to soon head to the City of Victoria’s committee of the whole to decide whether it merits proceeding to a public hearing.
Aryze is well known to council members from numerous development proposals as well as its recent spearheading of a project to re-purpose shipping containers as tiny homes for 30 homeless citizens.
As with other developers, Aryze officials were generous in their support for some candidates during Victoria’s 2018 municipal election. Mari donated $500 to the campaigns of successful council candidate Marianne Alto and Mayor Lisa Helps, according to Elections BC records. A $500 donation to Councillor Jeremy Loveday was declined by Loveday. Mari also gave to unsuccessful candidates Anna King ($500), and Grace Lore ($485.20). In addition, Aryze staffer Ryan Goodman donated $500 to Helps, and $485.20 to Lore. Donations to Victoria candidates from both Mari and Goodman in the 2018 campaign totalled $3,470.40.
These donations fall well below the permitted limit. Elections BC rules set maximum individual donations to a single local election candidate at $1,200 for 2018. (Only individuals may contribute to candidates for municipal councils; companies, unions and other and organizations are now banned from reimbursing individuals who make campaign contributions.)
While some claim donations from developers put council members in a conflict of interest, a recent ruling from the BC Supreme Court confirmed donations to local election candidates do not in themselves restrict successful candidates from voting on donors’ projects. Two lawyers with Vancouver-based law firm Young Anderson, Kathleen Higgins & Sarah Strukoff analyzed the court ruling in a January 12, 2021, report. “In summary, this case, along with others, suggests that a campaign contribution made by a developer, assuming it has been accepted in accordance with other applicable legislation such as the Local Elections Campaign Financing Act and even if made while the developer has an ‘in-stream’ application before council, is not a ground in and of itself for a disqualification of a council member on the basis of the conflict of interest provisions in the Community Charter.”
Asked when he expects to see shovels in the ground, Mari replies: “In an optimistic world, Fall 2021.”
As an intense wave of high-density development sweeps through Victoria, Madoff is troubled by what she sees as a common attitude about new projects, the mistaken view that there is no such thing as bad development. Says Madoff: “I really care about what’s happening to this city.”
Russ Francis admits to liking both houses and trees—not necessarily in that order.
SISȻENEM, off Sidney Island, has been transferred to W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Council after historic agreement with The Land Conservancy of British Columbia.
By Cara McKenna, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
ABUNDANT WITH MEADOWS OF COLOURFUL FLOWERS and other pristine wildlife, a remote Salish Sea island is being returned to its rightful owners—the W̱SÁNEĆ people.
The Land Conservancy of British Columbia (TLC) recently purchased SISȻENEM, a four-hectare island off the eastern side of Sidney Island, from a private owner for $1.55 million.
On February 26, 2021, the charitable land trust signed an agreement with the W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Council (WLC) to transfer title and to commit to shared management of the site, also known as Halibut Island.
SISȻENEM (Halibut Island) seen from above will be given back to the W̱SÁNEĆ people. Photo by Tara Martin
Those behind the agreement believe it to be the first of its kind between a land trust and an Indigenous community in Canada.
Tsartlip (W̱JOȽEȽP) Chief and Chairman of the WLC board Don Tom says the transfer is historic—and a tangible way the Land Back movement has become a reality.
“This is the first time W̱SÁNEĆ First Nations have been asked about land acquisition unprompted,” Tom says, speaking during a signing ceremony over Zoom. “To me it is history in the making. It’s a history that will be told.”
Tom points out that the land itself was never given up by his people, who are protected by the Douglas Treaties and their inherent Aboriginal rights and title. Still, the island was owned privately for many years.
When it went up for sale in 2019, TLC approached W̱SÁNEĆ leaders about returning rightful title to SISȻENEM and did most of the legwork in the transaction, Tom says.
It was facilitated in part by Tara Martin, a conservation scientist with the University of British Columbia’s Faculty of Forestry, who contacted TLC and sought out a major unnamed donor to fund the purchase.
Martin grew up on Salt Spring Island, and remembers being curious about SISȻENEM since she was a child.
“I could see from the boat that it was something special. It had not been logged, it had not been developed,” she says.
“I could see with my binoculars even at a young age that there were some extraordinary wildflowers on the island.”
When Martin became a scientist, she continued to think about SISȻENEM and wanted to study the wildlife there, but she says she was denied permission by the landowner at the time. When the island came up for sale and she was finally able to visit the island to do a survey last year, Martin says what greeted her was “extraordinary.”
She was greeted by an abundance of important plants—there were meadows carpeted with wildflowers such as camas, barestem desert parsley, chocolate and fawn lilies, as well as plentiful shellfish, Saskatoon berries and more.
The island was also rich with old-growth Douglas firs, Garry oak, pollinators, and other animals such as eagles and ducks.
“These ecosystems don’t exist in very many places anymore,” Martin says. “They used to be extensive and these were the gardens of First Nations across this region.”
Tom says, to him, the island’s pristine condition and diversity of wildlife feels “like going back in time.”
W̱SÁNEĆ Elder SELILIYE (Belinda Claxton) says she has good memories of SISȻENEM as a place of bountiful harvesting. She recalls, when she was younger, going from island to island to gather everything from seagull eggs and boxwood to sea urchins and stick shoes (chitons) and being struck by the smell of wildflowers on SISȻENEM.
“It brings back such beautiful childhood memories. It was so natural and so pleasant to be able to see that when I was a child,” she shares in a statement. “This is the sort of experience I want my children and my grandchildren to have … There are not many places like this left.”
Fellow W̱SÁNEĆ Elder J’SIṈTEN (John Elliott) says that the name of the island in the SENĆOŦEN language loosely translates to “sitting out for pleasure of the weather.”
“This little island we call SISȻENEM, it comes from the word SISḴ, which in our language it means, you know when you’re out enjoying the sun? That’s what that word comes from,” he says. “That’s a place where you go to enjoy the beautiful sun and be just there for the enjoyment of the beautiful weather.”
A bumblebee feeds on rare wildflowers that grow on SISȻENEM. Photo by Tara Martin
TLC executive director Cathy Armstrong says now that the agreement has been signed and the land is being transferred back to W̱SÁNEĆ leaders—the council represents Tsartlip, Tseycum, and Tsawout Nations—work can begin on an eco-cultural restoration plan.
TLC will work on the plan with W̱SÁNEĆ Elders and community members as well as Martin and her team at UBC.
“TLC is humbly grateful for the opportunity to facilitate this ground-breaking transfer of title for the benefit of future generations,” Armstrong says.
A press release about the title transfer adds that TLC will be fundraising this spring to assist efforts of restoration and monitoring.
“Most importantly for W̱SÁNEĆ people today, SISȻENEM will be a place where W̱SÁNEĆ people can be in peace,” the release states.
For more information about SISȻENEM and how you can get involved, visit www.conservancy.bc.ca or call TLC at 1-877-485-2422.
Cara McKenna is a Local Journalism Initiative (LJI) Reporter for thediscourse.ca. LJI is funded by the Government of Canada.
A growing number of British Columbians are pushing the provincial government to tighten rules around killing wolves.
FORESTS, LANDS, NATURAL RESOURCE OPERATIONS AND RURAL DEVELOPMENT Minister Katrine Conroy said this month that she is looking at closing “loopholes” in wolf hunting and trapping rules. One of the few certainties is that Conroy will be walking an emotionally-charged tightrope.
On one side, defenders of wolves point to the ethics of killing an animal with no intention of eating it. They also note the lack of reliable population figures and regulations that allow uncontrolled wolf hunting and trapping. The wolf’s role as an apex predator that helps maintain balanced ecosystems is also cited as a reason to stop the unregulated killing.
On the other, hunters point to dramatically shrinking ungulate populations—caused in large part by logging that has given wolves easy access to prey. (In a rare point of agreement, both primary sides say that habitat protection and restoration is desperately needed.)
Photo by Ian McAllister
While the websites of legal guide-outfitters show piles of dead wolves in an effort to persuade tourists to take part in “trapline adventures,” wildlife watching businesses and environmental groups say killing BC wolves is scientifically unwarranted and gives the province an international black eye.
The debate has become so heated that spokespeople for both sides say they have been subjected to threats of lawsuits or violence.
“I get death threats all the time,” said Jesse Zeman, BC Wildlife Federation director or fish and wildlife restoration, adding that there are fringe elements on both sides. Less than two percent of hunters in BC identify as trophy hunters and most hunt because of the chance to spend time outdoors with friends and family and for food, Zeman said.
However, according to a study published in Conservation Biology and written by researchers from Raincoast Conservation Society and the Universities of Victoria and Wisconsin, those hunters should be concerned their reputation is being tarnished by trophy hunters.
Wolves and other large carnivores are rarely killed and eaten and that does not sit well with many members of the public who see it as gratuitous killing, said one of the study’s authors, Chris Darimont, a wolf researcher, University of Victoria professor and Raincoast Research Chair in Applied Conservation Science.
“Large surveys tell us that the public generally show strong support for hunting to feed your family, but not to feed your hunger for status,” said Darimont pointing to the Province’s decision to end the grizzly bear hunt after persistent public pressure.
There is certainly not much empirical data on wolves in BC, but, for Darimont, the issue does not revolve around the numbers and whether there is a harvestable surplus. Most opponents of wolf hunting and trapping would continue to be opposed even if the science showed healthy populations, said Darimont. “Why they are really opposed is not over conservation concerns, but rather because hunting an animal not to feed your family, but to feed your ego, grossly misaligns with most people’s values,” Darimont said.
No real numbers—or regulations
Grief and outrage followed the shooting of Takaya, the lone coastal wolf who for eight years lived on Discovery Island and adjacent islands off Oak Bay. His death put an international spotlight on BC’s wildlife regulations.
Takaya, known as Staqeya by the Songhees First Nation, was legally shot by a hunter near Shawnigan Lake in March 2020 after being relocated to the Port Renfrew area by BC conservation officers.
No one knew Takaya better than Cheryl Alexander, wildlife photographer, environmental consultant and former environmental studies teacher at the University of Victoria, who studied Takaya for much of his life and wrote the book Takaya: Lone Wolf.
A sense of foreboding hung over Alexander after Takaya was relocated. Even though she believed Takaya had never lost his wildness and, like all wolves, was cautious around humans, she anticipated he would die in a trap or from a bullet because of BC’s Wild West attitude towards wolf killing.
“I think most people do not understand that we have regulations that allow and even encourage hunters to kill wolves and that there is ostensibly no limit,” she said.
“There’s an issue about the scientific management of wolves and the knowledge base and there’s also an issue around ethics and having a free-for-all and deciding to take out all the wolves.”
Alexander feels the Province has turned wolf management over to citizens, letting them decide when to shoot or trap wolves rather than making the BC Conservation Service responsible.
Alexander wants a moratorium on recreational wolf hunting until population numbers and the role of wolves in regional ecosystems are confirmed. She also wants to see compulsory reporting of wolf kills and a requirement for all hunters to obtain a species licence or tag to hunt or trap wolves. Alexander has recently written an open letter to Premier John Horgan to this effect.
If a tag had been required, the Shawnigan Lake hunter may not have killed Takaya, Alexander believes.
Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland have a bag limit of three wolves for anyone holding a basic hunting license, but in some other areas of the province there is no bag limit, no closed season, and no requirement to report wolf kills. British Columbians do not require a tag or special license to kill a wolf and non-residents pay a fee of $50.
The lack of regulations makes estimating the number of wolves in the province—alive or killed—little more than a guessing game.
Emails from the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, sent to Alexander as she was researching her book, confirm there is no information on the distribution of wolf packs on Vancouver Island and population estimates are “inferred.”
The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, responding by email to questions from Focus, said wolf population numbers are not directly monitored, but the numbers killed by hunters, trappers or for government “control efforts” are recorded through hunter surveys. Wolf populations change quickly because of high reproduction and prey availability, said the spokesperson.
“Staff know when populations are healthy and we know that, while there are not huge numbers of wolves on Vancouver Island—about 250—we know that the populations are not under any immediate threat,” he wrote.
Ministry figures show that the Province itself has killed 1,208 wolves since 2015 in areas where caribou herds are in trouble—even though there is conflicting evidence whether removing wolves noticeably increases ungulate populations. In 2019 there were 695 reported kills by hunters and trappers, down from 939 the previous year—but that’s only the reported kills.
On Vancouver Island there were no reported wolf kills in 2019 and 35 the previous year.
The lack of scientifically verified information about the province’s wolf packs has convinced more than 71,600 people to sign a petition asking for a moratorium on wolf hunting until population numbers are confirmed. Also, in February 2021, a resolution going to Oak Bay Council calls for recreational wolf hunting on Vancouver Island to be re-examined for scientific and ethical reasons.
The resolution underlines the scant information about the size of Vancouver Island’s wolf population and the effects of unrestricted harvesting on habitat and wildlife ecology. If it passes, the resolution will be sent to the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities and the Union of BC Municipalities
Photo by Ian McAllister
Indiscriminate killing—but no conservation concerns?
Advocates believe the absence of regulation feeds the attitude of hunters such as Victoria resident Jacine Jadresko, who describes herself on social media as the InkedHuntress and posts pictures of herself with animals she has killed, including wolves in Sooke.
Jadresko has posted that she is trapping wolves in response to a problem wolf pack threatening pets—believed to be feral cats in East Sooke—and wrote “full pack removal is always the goal.”
Two years ago, Steve Isdahl, also from Vancouver Island, posted pictures of rows of dead wolves and, on his Facebook page, appealed to hunters and trappers to join him in killing as many wolves as possible. Isdahl attempted to raise money on-line for snares and traps.
Conroy, in an emailed answer to questions from Focus, said most hunters she knows are conservationists who would find such an attitude offensive. “This person [Jadresko] is abusing the hunting regulations just to boost her own profile. We will be working with the BC Wildlife Federation and the BC Trappers Association to change the regulations to close this loophole so this type of behaviour is prevented in the future,” she said. “We’ll work with stakeholders to find a solution that works for everyone.”
The idea that government will work with hunting organizations to tweak regulations has alarmed environmental groups. Conroy did not reply when asked which other stakeholders would be consulted.
An open letter to Conroy, in February 2021, signed by 26 scientists and organizations, including the BC SPCA, environmental groups and wildlife tourism businesses, asks for a balanced review.
“Surely your ministry would not select only two interest groups for consultation—and groups that have a vested interest in killing wolves at that,” says the letter, which also takes issue with a statement made by Conroy to the Globe and Mail, that “wolves breed like rabbits. There are no conservation concerns.” That, states the letter, is a “common fallacy that has long been promoted by hunters, trappers, and some wildlife managers who have failed to take note of the science of ecology.” (An open letter from senior wolf researchers Dr John and Mary Theberge also points out this faulty assumption.)
“To the contrary,” the letter states, “we assure you that wolves have been wiped out over a vast area of the United States. They were nearly wiped out historically in parts of southern Canada from early trapping, strychnine poisoning and persecution.” Wayne McCrory, chair of the Valhalla Wilderness Society, which spearheaded the letter, condemned what he calls the indiscriminate killing of wolves.
Urging the minister to ensure that “environmental groups, independent conservationists, independent scientists and non-consumptive wildlife viewing tourism businesses have standing equal to hunting and trapping interests in this matter,” the Valhalla letter noted, “hunters, trappers, and their organizations lobby constantly to have large carnivores regularly killed in order to increase ungulate populations, for no other reason than to make it easier for humans to hunt [ungulates themselves].”
Lack of deer cited as justification for killing wolves
An opposing open letter to Conroy and other cabinet ministers, from the Hunters for BC Interior Chapter-Safari Club International, says too much credence is being given “to the emotions of the anti-hunting movement,” and there is concern that could influence a decision to ban or limit wolf hunting and trapping.
The letter, signed by Robin Unrau, president of the organization, accuses anti-hunting advocates of bullying and says that if people do not appreciate “thousands of years of hunting and trapping traditions,” they should not visit social media sites owned by hunters and trappers.
For Zeman of the Wildlife Federation, the history of crashing deer populations on Vancouver Island illustrates why wolves must be “harvested.” Old-growth logging means predators move efficiently across the landscape and the deer have nowhere to go, he said.
“In the 1960s hunters would have harvested 20,000 to 25,000 deer on Vancouver Island and now we’re down to 3,700,” he said. “That’s an 85 percent decline in deer harvest, so, in terms of food security, that represents red meat for close to 20,000 people on the Island…If we don’t manage wolves, we won’t have any deer,” said Zeman.
But without accurate data, how can anyone be sure of this? Zeman admits there is a lack of accurate wildlife statistics because of BC’s scant funding for wildlife management.
McCrory noted there is evidence from areas such as Yellowstone National Park that showed the reintroduction of wolves dramatically improved the ecosystem. “There is a lack of recognition that wolves are an arch predator and have evolved with ungulates in the ecosystem to keep it all healthy,” McCrory wrote.
Others, like biologist Kyle Artelle, who reviewed 667 management plans for 27 species that are hunted and trapped in Canada and the US in 2018, have observed that it doesn’t make biological sense that if a food source—like deer—is crashing, the predator population would be increasing. He told the Narwhal that anecdotal information on declining deer populations and on increased wolf populations was being used to justify hunting and trapping practices on Vancouver Island and pointed to a study in southeast Alaska that found declining deer populations were the result of logging activities rather than wolf predation.
With 16,000 kilometres of logging roads in BC giving access to predators and hunters, there are few places where ungulates can safely birth calves and forage.
And, as the Valhalla Society letter noted, “Simply reducing wolf populations can have very negative ripple effects in ecosystems that can extend to wiping out other species.” McCrory also stated that disrupting wolf packs and killing alpha males or females means young wolves are more likely to get into trouble with preying on livestock or heading into populated areas.
Regardless of the “loopholes” closed by the BC government, Indigenous rights and practices will likely be respected by all.
John Henderson, vice-chairman of Kwakiutl Tribal Council on northern Vancouver Island, said, “There’s so much shortage of food everywhere whether it’s the fishing crisis or the wildlife crisis. [Wolves] are predators that we have protected for a long time, but now it’s time to start managing them.”
Surveys have shown that deer populations have dropped from about 13 animals per square kilometre to 0.1 animal, said Henderson. Wolf trapping is now part of the training for young people from the eight nations who are learning the ways of their ancestors. “We train our kids to go out there and they’re actually trapping wolves and skinning them and using them for cultural purposes and that’s positive—what better way to treat a problem,” he said.
Ultimately, it is logging and other forms of industrial incursion and urbanization that decimated the ungulates’ ability to forage and maintain healthy populations. But the wolf is, of course, easier to “manage,” especially when there are few rules, at least in settler society.
In the letter that Cheryl Alexander wrote to Premier Horgan as founder & executive director of Takaya’s Legacy Project, she noted, “Trappers across BC are ‘encouraged’ to kill wolves, with no limit on the number that may be trapped.” She told of communication with a Vancouver Island trapper in 2019, who told her “he had taken 18 wolves off his single trapline in 2018, and that in the first three months of 2019, he had taken six. As well, sponsored wolf-killing contests in northern and interior BC encourage participants to kill as many wolves as possible, with prizes provided.”
For Alexander, the question for people living in interface areas where wolf territory has been disrupted, is how to live with an iconic animal, rather than using traps and guns to wipe them out. “It’s our human responsibility to figure out how we can best live with them near us or around us and most people value that,” she said.
McCrory agrees: “We have to reverse this freight train of wolf killing that has been going on in the province. They’re extremely beautiful, iconic animals and many of us who have worked in the Great Bear Rainforests for a long time have come to a deep appreciation of how important they are.”
Judith Lavoie is an award-winning journalist specializing in the environment, First Nations, and social issues. Twitter @LavoieJudith
Every year, dozens of old buildings end up in the landfill. We need to get smarter about how we replace them.
IN MARCH OF 2018, a call came into the Focus offices, asking us to hurry down to Despard Avenue, a leafy, sidewalk-free street in Rockland. A crew was at a beautiful old house there, the caller said, and getting ready to tear it down.
The house was a 1,600-square-foot, three-bedroom bungalow, built in 1933. Many of its period details, like its mullioned windows, had already been removed, but the house was still distinctive, topped by a series of gently curved roofs, like a Chinese temple. A neighbour said it had been owned for many years by a doctor who’d lived in Africa, and had recently died.
The crew fired up an excavator and started pulling down the house, smashing its wood framing into splinters.
Photographed in 2017: a unique, 1933-built bungalow, for sale on Despard Avenue.
A few months later, the bungalow mostly ended up in the landfill. The replacement house was three times the size, erasing any claims for greater “energy efficiency.”
A beardy guy named Kevin, who lived in a new place down the street, said that when he’d gone out for a walk, the old house was still standing. Now, on his return, it was half-demolished. Kevin said the house had needed work. What kind? “It was old,” he simply replied, although realtors’ photos suggested the house was in immaculate condition.
An elderly neighbour stopped by. Kevin asked him, “Well, what do you think of that?”
“I don’t know. What can you do?" the neighbour replied. “But that roof looks like it’s in better shape than mine.”
This scene gets repeated dozens of times every year. In 2019, the City of Victoria issued permits to demolish 39 single-family homes, and local municipalities issued 182 such permits across the Capital Region, according to federal statistics. Over the past decade, some 375 houses have been demolished in the City of Victoria alone. The annual numbers peaked in 2015, when 53 houses in the City were torn down — inspiring residents to sign petitions and deliver presentations to Victoria’s councillors, urging them to do more to protect character homes. But the destruction has continued.
Blame our overheated housing market, and rules that amplify its effects. The large demand for the limited supply of land relatively close to the water, and/or downtown jobs, has pushed up prices so much that the few people wealthy enough to buy into Victoria often also have the money to tear down an old house and build new — something our property-tax system actively encourages.
The BC Assessment Authority evaluates properties according to what it considers “the highest and best use of land,” which means putting the biggest, most expensive building upon it possible. Old homes generally don’t qualify, as BC Assessment presumes that buildings steadily depreciate with age, and undergo “functional and economic obsolescence.” If an old house gets torn down, it likely was “no longer contributing to the value of that property,” one assessor told Focus: the buyer realized they could do more with the land. “The system isn’t set up to protect individual houses,” the assessor said. “It’s set up to reflect markets.”
(In keeping with this bizarre logic, a heritage designation on a house actually reduces its property’s overall financial value. “If it impacts the ability to tear it down and build something new, the market’s going to reflect that,” the assessor said. “Any time you have a restriction on a property, it’s going to be worth less.”)
The situation is worse in the City of Vancouver, where around 1,000 houses get demolished every year. In 2017, UBC architecture professor Joe Damen and data analyst Jens von Bergmann created a “teardown index,” identifying Vancouver houses most likely to get replaced because they have a low “relative building value” compared to the land they sit upon. Many of these doomed houses were built before the 1960s, but Damen and von Bergmann argue that in this market, even homes only a few years old will get flattened too: “Despite their high price, their value of these buildings relative to overall property is low, suggesting today's new single family home is tomorrow’s teardown.” They predict a quarter of all single-family homes in Vancouver will be demolished by 2030.
Coming to Victoria? Analysts predict a quarter of all Vancouver single-family homes will be torn down by 2030 because the apparent value of those buildings is low relative to the cost of land.
The casualty isn’t just the loss of built heritage. Damen and von Bergmann say this constant replacement also destroys affordability: because new homes are expensive to build, they jack the value of their respective properties even higher, turning more of the city into an exclusive enclave for global wealth. (This inflationary spiral might be broken if houses were being replaced by apartments, but the vast majority of demolitions occur in areas zoned residential, where one single-family house is simply replaced by another.)
Constant replacement is also terrible for the environment. Developers sometimes claim old houses should be replaced because new homes are more “energy efficient,” but that’s deceptive. In a 2018 paper, Damen and von Bergmann calculated that once you factor in the energy used in constructing a modern house — which the high cost of land often incentivizes the owner to build to maximum size, requiring more energy to heat — it would have to stand for 168 years to produce less carbon dioxide than the leaky old house it replaced. “The results show that at the scale of both the individual building lot and the city,” they concluded, “the environmental benefits of tearing down and replacing even very poorly performing buildings are dubious at best in Vancouver.”
But that pattern got repeated on Despard. The 1,600 square-foot, 1933 bungalow was replaced by a rectanguloid of nearly 5,000 square feet. The new building is assessed at $1.77 million and the land at $1.47 million for a total of $3.24 million, making it one of the 10 most expensive residential properties in the City of Victoria.
Waste another big issue
Unaffordability and energy overuse aside, perhaps the most obvious stupidity of demolishing old homes is that their remains typically get treated like garbage, and not as a bank of materials to be reused in new housing. As recent back-and-forth arguments in the Times Colonist have noted, the Capital Regional District is planning to cut 73 acres of forest to expand the Hartland landfill — partly, it turns out, to accommodate a growing volume of construction and demolition waste.
“The only material to have increased in waste generation compared to all other years since 2001 was wood and wood products, now representing 61 kg/capita [annually],” a 2018 report to the CRD noted. “This is primarily wood from construction, renovation and demolition activities. All other primary materials have either stayed consistent or have decreased in the overall weight arriving at Hartland.”
A solution to this waste problem has emerged, though — and you can see it in action at 1015 Cook Street, where the Unbuilders are systematically taking apart a two-storey house built in 1908, and rescuing nearly every bit of material used in its construction.
“We hit 95 percent on every house, that’s 95 percent salvage and recycle,” says Dan Armishaw, the Unbuilders manager for Vancouver Island, standing in what used to be a dentist’s office, surrounded by items his crew has already set aside.
The stained glass will be reused in The Charlesworth, the five-storey, 31-unit rental apartment block slated to replace the old house. The kitchen and bathroom fixtures will be donated to Habitat For Humanity. The windows, doors and mouldings — painted wood usually goes in the landfill, Armishaw notes — will go to Demxx, a massive heritage resale warehouse in Coombs. Even the old stucco scraped off the walls outside will get recycled into concrete.
But upstairs, in the house’s two former apartments, Armishaw’s crews are getting ready to extract the house’s real treasure: the dense, old-growth lumber used in its framing and walls.
Armishaw pries off some strips of lath to reveal the Douglas-fir studs underneath. This is true dimensional lumber, he says, likely milled in the 19th century. “This is the wood that made BC’s economy what it is. To throw it away, it’s like throwing our history away.” Perfectly preserved inside the walls, it could be reused in furniture, or even to frame new houses.
Armishaw says he prefers to see old houses renovated instead of deconstructed, but this site, just south of Fort Street, suits greater density, and the house can’t realistically be saved. (Nickel Bros. looked at moving it, but decided the house wasn’t in good enough condition and too many utility cables were in the way.) “This building has to come down,” Armishaw says, “but at least there’s peace of mind knowing that people in the community are going to get a piece of that heritage, and that the wood used to build that house can be put back into circulation.”
Signs of improvement at 1015 Cook, where the Unbuilders are dismantling a house built in 1908.
Dan Armishaw reveals old-growth lumber that the Unbuilders will salvage. A forthcoming City of Victoria bylaw, modelled after those in Vancouver and Portland, could mandate such deconstruction.
Demolishing a big house might cost $10,000, while deconstruction can run three or four times that. “We’re six people on a site for a few weeks, instead of a machine operator for a few days,” explains Adam Corneil, the Unbuilders founder. But the extra cost is worth it to owners. In some cases, they can donate the building’s materials through Unbuilders to Habitat For Humanity, which gives the owner a hefty tax credit. In other cases, Unbuilders wholesale what they salvage, which reduces their bill, and gives the owner an appealing story.
Corneil got the idea for the company in 2014, when he was mainly building new passive-solar homes in Vancouver with single-use products. (“Even though I was building energy-efficient homes, they weren’t really aligning with my values,” he says.) One project involved gutting a heritage house, and the wood he took out was so beautiful that he reworked it in a shop and reinstalled it in the finishes. “That’s all the owner could talk about when the job was done — they didn’t talk about their fancy kitchen and their marble, they just talked about the reclaimed wood. And at the same time, every house around me in Kitsilano was being demolished,” Corneil recalls. “So I said, ‘We’ve got to make a business out of this.’”
That business will soon get a boost from the City of Victoria. Last November, staff unveiled the City’s zero-waste strategy, aiming for a 50 percent reduction in landfill disposal by 2050. Some of its forthcoming actions have already been mentioned publicly, like a ban on styrofoam takeout food containers, but another includes “new requirements for contractors, property owners and developers to recover waste materials during construction, renovation and demolition,” with the goal of making reuse and deconstruction commonplace. City staff are crafting a bylaw, likely to come later this year.
In 2014, the City of Vancouver introduced its own bylaw requiring reuse and recycling of demolition materials for pre-1940 homes; in 2018, it expanded the bylaw to include pre-1950 homes, and require deconstruction for pre-1910 and heritage-registered houses.
“It’s a good start, but it doesn’t go nearly far enough,” says Corneil. “The ‘recycling’ bit is greenwashing, because what occurs in the industry is smashing all that lumber, and then taking it to a facility that mulches and incinerates it” — releasing its stored carbon and contributing to climate change. Corneil wants to see deconstruction required for pre-1940 homes, as it is in Portland, or even pre-1950 ones, because they still contain old-growth lumber. “I’m pushing the City of Victoria very hard to follow suit,” Corneil says.
Whether Victoria’s bylaw will make a significant dent in our region’s volume of waste is unclear, as other levels of government still seem afraid of running afoul of the construction and waste-removal industries. In its draft Solid Waste Management Plan, which anticipates the expansion of Hartland, the CRD only outlines vague, long-term strategies to reduce construction and demolition waste, such as “develop and disseminate educational tools to support material diversion,” “promote green building standards,” and “investigate” bans on dumping clean wood and mixed demolition loads at the landfill — even though the Regional District of Nanaimo has banned such dumping since 2014. Back in 2009, federal and provincial environment ministers, including British Columbia’s, committed to developing Extended Producer Responsibility programs — the eco-fees currently levied on items like paint and batteries to pay for their recycling or disposal — to cover construction materials, but no such measures have appeared.
“You can do whatever you want in the interest of sustainability, if you’re not concerned about housing affordability,” says Casey Edge, executive director of the Victoria Residential Builders’ Association, when asked about the City’s plans. “We’ll see what the City of Victoria wants to do with mandatory dismantling of homes, but it’s not going to increase affordability, which is the biggest concern right now when it comes to housing in our region.”
“We’re cutting old-growth forests at an alarming rate, and we’re throwing old-growth timber into the landfill at an alarming rate,” replies Victoria mayor Lisa Helps. “So [the prospective bylaw] is about more than zero waste, it’s about reclaiming, reusing, and looking at environmental protection at the same time.” Helps says it’s not clear if the bylaw will issue a mandate, or provide incentives, but like with its plastic-bag ban, the City will consult with local businesses to ensure they’re on board. “At a certain point, this will just be the new normal.”
As for affordability, Helps says that should be improved by the City’s forthcoming “missing middle” bylaw, which could permit triplexes or fourplexes to be built on current single-family lots — although others say such blanket “upzoning” merely increases the value of land even further, and accelerates the demolition of existing homes.
In any case, arguments about the fate of old houses are sure to continue. The bungalow on Despard Avenue may be gone, but a 1928-built home across the street, on a 13,000 square-foot corner lot, is currently up for sale.
Ross Crockford lives in a suite in a house built in 1910. According to its latest assessment, the building is worth one-eighth the value of the land it occupies, likely making it a future teardown.
More Langford citizens are expressing resentment over City Hall’s modus operandi.
THE RAIN PAUSED AND, along a quiet side-street in Langford, residents are venturing out. There are no sidewalks, but a caregiver is pushing a wheelchair towards Veterans Memorial Park and a small dog strains at the leash, pulling a woman down the street.
Fairway Avenue, the site of a contentious redevelopment proposal, is the latest Langford neighbourhood to mobilize against what residents see as out-of-scale development. In addition to complaints that two multi-storey towers are being shoe-horned onto a site which held five single homes, there is an undercurrent of concern about lack of council transparency, difficulty in obtaining timely information, and a perception that too much influence is being wielded by developers in the fast-growing city.
Location of the proposed development (Image provided by City of Langford)
Artists rendering of proposed development (Image provided by City of Langford)
Langford has grown to more than 45,000 residents from 18,840 in 2001. The City projects it will have 56,000 residents by 2026, a growth rate of 123 percent within 25 years.
In many ways, Fairway Avenue represents the remarkable changes seen in Langford over the last two decades. On one side of the street, single family properties back on to the imposing trees of Royal Colwood Golf Course, but, across the street, properties back on to Goldstream Avenue, which has become a busy, urban artery.
Development became inevitable with the Official Community Plan designation of the area as “city centre,” a zone that has no height restrictions (the property still has to be rezoned). Still, residents were horrified when, at an informal meeting last summer with development consultant Mike Wignall, they were told the proposal was for two 12-storey buildings, one fronting on to Goldstream and the other on to Fairway, with all access from Fairway.
J. Scott, who has lived on Fairway for 17 years, sprang into action helping form Fairway Neighbours Unite for a Livable Langford, a group that has written countless letters, organized a 246-name petition against the development, contacted the Province about the makeup of committees, and lobbied staff and councillors.
By the time the proposal reached Langford’s Planning, Zoning and Affordable Housing Committee on Monday, January 11, the proposal was for a nine-storey and a six-storey building and, by the end of the meeting, developer DB Services, agreed to two six-storey buildings.
Scott is grateful for that concession, but said the group will continue to push for four storeys on Fairway.
Caller after caller to the phone-in committee meeting voiced concerns and, at the conclusion, Councillor Denise Blackwell, committee chair, said staff will be asked to look at concessions such as a sidewalk along the entire length of Fairway, instead of only in front of the development, and the possibility of an entrance/exit on Goldstream – something Fairway residents are adamant is needed to prevent the quiet street from becoming a busy thoroughfare.
“It should not be a life-threatening experience to walk down Fairway Avenue,” Scott said, pointing out that wheelchair-bound residents of The Priory, a complex care centre, frequently use the street, in addition to neighbourhood children and dog-walkers.
An additional niggling worry for residents is that the developer, Design Build Services, is the same company that developed Danbrook One, a 90-unit Langford highrise that was evacuated a year ago after being deemed unsafe.
However, Blackwell said the fault with Danbrook One lay with the engineer, not the company. “I don’t think it’s appropriate to just say because they built Danbrook One they shouldn’t be allowed to build anything else,” she said in an interview.
The Fairway plan will go to council for first reading Monday, January 18 and then to public hearing, but some residents have little faith the changes will be sufficient to stop the neighbourhood being obliterated.
Chris Peterson told Focus he had planned to retire on Fairway Avenue, where he has lived for six years, but is now reconsidering.
“What can you say about Langford Council—committed to no tree left standing and a concrete jungle of ugly looking condos,” Peterson said.
“We understand development will happen and accept that, but, when everything around you is three or four storeys and council says it doesn’t see a problem with a new six or 12-storey building blotting out your access to sunlight or the total loss of privacy at your family dwelling, then it is time to ask what gives,” he said.
Like others, Peterson questioned why cumulative impacts are not considered during rezonings and pointed to plans for another large development at the end of Fairway Avenue.
But, Blackwell said, as that plan has not yet come to councillors, it could not be part of the discussion.
“Developers put in proposals all the time, but that doesn’t mean that what they are proposing is going to be the final product,” she said in an interview.
That was little comfort to Peterson.
“Council always has time for developers, but, if you are a private citizen, complaining about a proposal, council is quick to let you know they don’t care or your complaint isn’t relevant to the proposal,” he said.
Citizens resent being left in the dark—and out of decisions
Like others in Langford who have fought the scale or density of developments, the Fairway group has found the major obstacles are obtaining timely information and unearthing what was discussed at meetings.
“I got my notice on Thursday afternoon which was three days before the [Planning and Zoning] meeting and you’re supposed to have 10 days,” said Scott, who was then told she needed to have her submission in by the previous day to have it included in the agenda package.
Fairway resident Petra Bezna said she received a notice the same day as the meeting.
“There are no details and the map of the development on the back of the letter is not very helpful in my opinion.” she said.
Scott said the first time the neighbourhood saw the plans was three days before the Monday meeting. “It’s unacceptable, we have been asking to see the plans since last spring,” Scott said.
True to form, Langford Council released its agenda package for the upcoming January 18 council meeting late on Friday, January 15. Running to 572 pages, Scott noted that it includes public hearings for no less than five developments, three of which are contentious (e.g. 11- and 12-storey buildings planned for Costin and Carlow)—plus numerous bylaw changes including one to rezone the Goldstream/Fairway properties as “city centre,” allowing for two multi-storey buildings. Scott was dismayed to see that the package still portrays the buildings as six and nine storeys—rather than the two six-storey ones the developer agreed to at the committee meeting .
There is simmering resentment at the lack of information and records, apart from bare-bones minutes, and even those are not available until shortly before the next meeting.
“They don’t put an agenda up for Monday meetings until 3 pm Friday and then City Hall is closed, so you can’t ask questions,” said a resident of South Langford, where a group is battling for green space and traffic mitigation after finding out about a proposal to put 25 duplex lots on a semi-forested area, with traffic routed through a previously quiet cul-de-sac.
A Whimfield Terrace resident, speaking at the Planning and Zoning Committee meeting, said hundreds of Langford residents are frustrated because they feel that, by the time a proposal goes to committee, City staff and developers have worked together and the development is a fait accompli.
“People just don’t feel like our voices matter and I would really encourage the planning committee, City staff and council to consider that residents would like to have a say in how their community is being developed—not just the developers,” she said.
Blackwell responded that residents’ views are taken into consideration, pointing to the height concessions on Fairway, but acknowledged staff work with developers to hone proposals before they come to committee.
“Our staff is very professional and very good and that’s one of the reasons why we pay so much attention to their reports,” she said.
Public delegations are usually referred to a standing committee, rather than full council. But Langford’s standing committees do not meet the requirements of the Community Charter, which says standing committees must be made up of a majority of councillors, said Scott, who asked for the Planning and Zoning Committee meeting to be postponed because the discrepancy.
Langford’s standing committees have only two councillors and, adding to the discomfort, the makeup of the Planning and Zoning Committee has come under criticism by residents for the preponderance of appointed members associated with the development industry.
In an email to Scott, Marie Watmough, Langford manager of legislative services, said, although the committees are referred to as standing committees, they operate as advisory committees, which require only one councillor, and the City is in the process of changing the website references.
Lauren Mulholland, spokesperson for the Ministry of Municipal Affairs said the ministry is aware of concerns about committee structure and has contacted Langford staff to offer support.
Langford lags on livestreaming and recording meetings
At the heart of much of the discontent is the difficulty in obtaining information if someone cannot phone in to committee and council meetings—or wants to refer back to what was said.
Unlike most municipalities, Langford does not livestream or tape the awkwardly-timed 5:30 pm meetings, and despite a $4.8-million grant from the provincial COVID Restart Fund to ensure municipalities were able to keep residents informed during the pandemic, Langford voted at an in camera meeting in December to delay debate about live-streaming until this year’s budget discussions.
Under growing pressure, Mayor Stew Young, who has led Langford since 1993, agreed earlier this month to ask staff to post audio recordings of council meetings—but, that does not extend to committee meetings.
Mulholland said the ministry is aware of citizens’ concerns. “Local governments are required…to make best efforts to keep the public informed and able to participate in their council and board meetings, including committee meetings,” she said in an emailed response to questions.
“Local governments must also review or develop a resolution with respect to open and electronic meetings and state how they will continue to meet the principles of openness, transparency and accountability in the current circumstances,” she wrote.
Langford’s opaque behaviour exasperates John Treleaven, chair of the Grumpy Taxpayer$ of Greater Victoria. “They are increasingly at odds with what motivated, educated residents and taxpayers expect as a modus operandi,” he said. Treleaven believes it would benefit councillors to livestream meetings and allow the public to see how they balance decisions.
“It seems to us that Langford does what it can to make the voice of the community easier to ignore,” he said.
And he was appalled that council met in camera to discuss transparency and livestreaming. “How in God’s name can you meet in secret to discuss transparency. To me that’s a red flag that something is fundamentally wrong and it should be called out…There is no institutional memory in a format that is easily accessible to taxpayers,” Treleaven said.
Blackwell, who voted in favour of livestreaming, said that she was told the meeting was held in camera because it was a new service. “We did ask the question,” she said.
It is strange that Young wants livestreaming to be part of budget discussions given the provincial grant and directives that are clearly geared to access, Treleaven said. “So, you have the money, the need is obvious—be a hero. It’s 2021,” he said.
Judith Lavoie is an award-winning journalist specializing in the environment, First Nations, and social issues. Twitter @LavoieJudith
On the eve of renewing aquaculture licences for farms in the Discovery Islands, it seems more of an absolute definite maybe, with a new plan…by 2025.
Young wild salmon swim around a salmon farm’s open-net pen in the Discovery Islands (Photo by Tavish Campbell)
IN THE POLITICAL WORLD, news releases are carefully crafted to offer leeway for government shifts. The evolution of statements on the future of BC’s salmon farms is a case-study in allowing wiggle room.
Last year, during the election campaign, the federal Liberal Party’s campaign literature promised to “work with the Province to develop a responsible plan to transition from open-net pen salmon farming in coastal waters to closed containment systems by 2025.”
There was elation among those who had argued for years that fish farms were threatening shrinking stocks of wild salmon because of the transfer of sea lice and diseases from farmed fish, while the salmon farming industry pointed to economic and employment losses, technological problems, and the additional costs of closed containment.
Then came the mandate letter issued to Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan to “work with the Province of British Columbia and Indigenous communities to create a responsible plan to transition from open net-pen salmon farming in coastal British Columbia waters by 2025.”
Hmm—note the disappearance of closed containment systems.
In November came an announcement from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) that “the Government of Canada is committed to developing and delivering a real and concrete solution for transitioning open-net pens in coastal British Columbia waters.”
So, what does transitioning mean? And transitioning to what?
It is a slippery word, said Aaron Hill, Watershed Watch Salmon Society executive director. “Does it mean you’ll have the farms out by 2025 or you will have a transition plan in place by 2025? We don’t know yet,” he said.
And does transitioning mean getting salmon farms out of the ocean?
Well, not necessarily right out of the ocean and not necessarily by 2025.
Jane Deeks, press secretary for Minister Jordan, said nothing is set in stone and multiple options for transitioning will be considered.
“I can’t say what is going to be done by 2025. We’re not going to rush the process. It needs to be done really well and responsibly in a way that takes into consideration all of the factors and jobs at stake,” she said.
BC Salmon Farmers Association says salmon farming supports 7,000 direct and indirect jobs in coastal communities and contributes about $1.5-billion annually to the provincial economy. A report commissioned by the Association says that, with clearer government policy, the industry could invest $1.4-billion in technology and infrastructure and create 10,000 new jobs by 2050.
Terry Beech, parliamentary secretary to Jordan (and MP for Burnaby-North-Seymour), made it clear at a news conference last month that options now under consideration are wider than moving farms on land and could include “area-based management” that would look at the timing of wild salmon runs and cumulative impacts, as well as looking at new technology.
The key must be sustainability, Beech said.
That could include hybrid systems such as a semi-closed containment system, now being tested by Cermaq Canada in Clayoquot Sound. The system is fitted with a polymer lining that wraps around the net pen and eliminates lateral contact between wild and farmed fish.
Salmon farmers are also looking at increasing the time salmon spend in land-based systems before being transferred to ocean pens.
The joint federal-provincial study released earlier this year, State of Salmon Aquaculture Technologies, which will help inform the transition plan, concludes that both land-based pens and hybrid systems are technologies ready for commercial development in BC.
Other systems such as floating closed containment systems need more evaluation, it says.
Beech acknowledged it is going to be tough to find a balance, but emphasized the need to not simply protect wild salmon, but to restore runs to historic levels. “We know that the long-term success of the economy is completely reliant on the long-term success and health of the environment,” he said.
At the same time, almost half the fish consumed by people today comes from aquaculture and aquaculture could be a clear driver of a future blue economy, Beech said. “I am passionate about making our aquaculture sector as sustainable and viable as possible,” he said.
Beech will be in charge of consulting with BC First Nations, the aquaculture industry and “environmental stakeholders,” with an interim report going to Jordan this spring,
The big test: will Discovery Island fish farm licences be renewed?
The Watershed Watch Salmon Society’s Aaron Hill said delaying action for yet another report is frustrating because wild salmon cannot wait: “They’re now just starting the consultation process, which is something they should have gotten going a year ago. The outcome is just going to be a report by next spring and next spring a record low number of small, young wild salmon will have to swim past the usual gauntlet of salmon farms and all the viruses and parasites that they spew out. Another report won’t be much help in getting the lice to stop chewing their faces off,” he said.
Fraser River sockeye returns hit a historic low of less than 300,000 fish this year.
Fraser River sockeye salmon may be going extinct, judging by 2020’s record low numbers
Biologist Alexandra Morton, a tireless advocate for wild salmon, has done extensive research on the effects of sea lice and pathogens spreading from salmon farms and believes Beech understands the impact of the farms and the importance of wild salmon to British Columbians and especially to First Nations.
“But this is a difficult situation, particularly in COVID where no job loss can be seen as being promoted by government,” said Morton, who has lobbied strenuously for closed containment. She points out that, in Norway, where most parent companies of BC operators are located, closed containment is now seen as the way to protect the industry. “The sea lice and the viruses are attacking the farm fish [in Norway] so badly, they have to get them out of the water,” she said.
Alexandra Morton sampling farm salmon (Photo courtesy Sea Shepherd)
Morton also noted that the aquaculture branch within Fisheries and Oceans has considerable influence and seems intent on barrelling ahead to promote and protect the fish farming industry. However, on the political side, there appears to be an understanding that Fraser River sockeye are actually going extinct and action is necessary.
The biggest test will come on December 18 when 18 federal aquaculture licences for farms in the Discovery Islands expire.
A DFO spokesperson said that, since September, the department has been focusing on consultations about the licence renewal with the seven First Nations with traditional territory in the Discovery Islands. “The outcomes from the consultations will inform the minister’s decision regarding the renewal of aquaculture licences,” she said.
Almost one-third of BC’s wild salmon migrate through the Discovery Islands and, in 2012, the Cohen Commission report on declining Fraser River salmon stocks called for the prohibition of Discovery Islands fish farms by September 2020 unless there was proof they posed “only minimum risk of serious harm to the health of migrating Fraser River salmon.”
However, in September, DFO concluded the farms presented little risk to Fraser River salmon stocks, even though studies had not looked at the effect of sea lice.
The lack of consideration of sea lice drew an outcry from conservation groups and while further consultation with First Nations in the Discovery Islands area was announced, the process came under fire for not including First Nations on the Fraser River who depend on wild salmon.
Fish farms should never have been put it such a critical area, said Morton, who is hoping the dramatic drops in wild salmon numbers will help persuade the federal government to cancel the Discovery Islands licences. “But I have learned not to have confidence in anything around salmon, people always seem to cave in,” she said. “Now, the salmon of British Columbia are hanging in the balance.”
In September, more than 100 First Nations, wilderness tourism operators and fishing groups demanded that the farms be removed and, in early December, the First Nations Leadership Council called on DFO to fully implement the precautionary principle and revoke the Discovery Island licences. (The precautionary principle recognizes that, in the absence of scientific certainty, conservation measures should be taken if there is a risk of serious harm to the environment or resources.)
Chief Dalton Silver, UBCIC fisheries representative, said only between one and four per cent of out-migrating juvenile salmon return to spawn and, with this year’s historic low returns, the returns four years hence are likely to be dire. “We cannot afford to wait any longer. We need to act now and protect and rebuild from what’s left of the remaining salmon stocks,” he said.
The other part of the salmon policy equation is the provincial government, which grants tenures and, in 2018, the BC government adopted a policy that, from 2022, the Province will grant tenures only to fish farm operators who have negotiated agreements with the First Nations in whose territory they want to operate.
Now, wild salmon advocates are watching to see whether Premier John Horgan’s newly-minted government will put protection of wild salmon at the top of the priority list. The appointment of Fin Donnelly as Parliamentary Secretary for Fisheries and Aquaculture is viewed as an encouraging sign and Donnelly’s mandate letter includes “working with the federal government to develop new strategies to protect and revitalize BC’s wild salmon populations.”
That sounds good, said Hill, but, in the past, the NDP government has sometimes shown a regressive approach to wild salmon. “My main question is, will Premier Horgan let him do his job,” he said.
Judith Lavoie is an award-winning journalist specializing in the environment, First Nations, and social issues. Twitter @LavoieJudith
TLC needs another $45,000 to finalize purchase of 27 acres of the the Millstream Creek Watershed.
A forest view in the Millstream Creek Watershed. (Photo by Dianna Stenberg)
THE LAND CONSERVANCY OF BC’s latest fundraising campaign is focused on protecting a key 27-acre Coastal Douglas-fir ecosystem in the Millstream Creek Watershed. Located in the District of Highlands, the lush and diverse property is comprised of a mature forest and three different wetland types (sedge marsh, hardhack marsh, and skunk cabbage swamp).
Dominated by Douglas-fir, other trees include western red cedar, grand fir, arbutus, Garry oak, and red alder. The understory flourishes with salal, dull Oregon-grape, ocean-spray, bracken fern, sword fern, trailing blackberry, western trumpet honeysuckle, and Oregon beaked moss.
The Coastal Douglas-fir ecosystem is the smallest and most at-risk zone in BC because it has been so altered by human activities. Less than one percent of the CDF remains as natural forests. Species-at-risk, including the Northern red-legged frog (SARA listed species of Special Concern) are found within its boundaries.
While the Millstream Creek Watershed property on its own is valuable as a nature sanctuary, its importance really resides in the connectivity it provides for wildlife and protection of the local watershed. With two creeks (Earsman Creek in the east and an unnamed creek in the west) and numerous ephemeral streams that flow into Mary Lake, the parcel functions as a water source for the sensitive lake system found to the south. Protecting this parcel will help maintain a healthy intact watershed for these lakes, and allow for crucial wildlife corridors to the adjacent 42-acre Mary Lake Nature Sanctuary and established Capital Regional District (CRD) parks in the area.
In 2016, the Greater Victoria Greenbelt Society purchased 42 acres around Mary Lake from the estate of Peter and Violet Brotherston for about $2 million, with Tsartlip First Nation joining as partners in 2018. Cathy Armstrong, executive director of TLC, says, “Our piece [27 acres] was needed to complete the Sanctuary,” as it will conserve and protect the lands around the lake.
All of the Nature Sanctuary land was originally used by the Pauquachin, Tsartlip, Tsawout, Tseycum, Esquimalt and Whyomilth (Songhees) peoples for hunting, gathering food and medicinal plants and spiritual practices.
Due to donations from the community since the campaign was announced this fall, the initial goal of raising $75,000 by December 31 has been whittled down to $45,000. Donations are being matched 4-fold by an anonymous donor. So a $500 donation becomes, in effect, $2500. The federal government has also contributed funds towards the overall purchase.
Armstrong is especially excited that salmon spawning streams can be rejuvenated and restocked with coho. “Mary Lake can be a breeding and nurturing place for the fry,” says Armstrong. Yet another partnership is involved in this endeavour: “Peninsula Streams Society is key to re-establishing coho in the watershed, beginning with the newly constructed Millstream Creek Fishway,” says Armstrong.
The Fishway project includes building five fish ladders, the first of which was constructed in the summer of 2020, allowing migrating fish access to over 6.5 km of habitat upstream of the Atkins Road culvert. Brian Koval, biological coordinator for Peninsula Stream Society describes the project thoroughly in a video (see below), pointing out that the Atkins Road culvert was impassable till this summer. In all, as the video illustrates, 13 step pools with weirs were constructed up to the huge culvert, which was lined with concrete to further help the fish heading upstream. Four more ladders are coming, as well as plantings of native plants on eroding banks and some trash removal (volunteers welcome). Ian Bruce, executive director for the society describes it as the organization’s biggest project ever. Once all fish ladders and other restoration work is completed, coho (initially from local hatcheries) will have access from Esquimalt Harbour right upstream to Mary Lake with the deep pools, gravel, and vegetation they need to thrive.
With TLC’s financial problems well behind them the organization has purchased a property every year since 2017. “We do so carefully and slowly,” says Armstrong, “making sure we have all the resources we need to fund an endowment.” She sees the purchase of this watershed property as a rare opportunity to protect an undisturbed parcel of critically imperiled Coastal Douglas-fir ecosystem on southern Vancouver Island,
The sanctuary will be just that with only limited access by the public. A number of hiking groups have toured the property with Armstrong who says that the fall weather only seems to have enhanced the beauty of the property, with the strong-running creeks, a waterfall and lush green vegetation, all habitat for many birds, frogs, and deer.
“TLC envisions a future for the site that protects the vast biological diversity found within its boundaries while including educational opportunities for participants in the land trust’s existing Passport to Nature Program and Deertrails Naturalist Program,” says Armstrong.
Support for the Millstream Creek Watershed acquisition can be arranged by calling TLC at 1-877-485-2422 or by giving online today at www.conservancy.bc.ca/millstream. Any amount is welcome. Also contact TLC if you’d like to arrange a tour of the property for your group.
Besides the TLC’s website, further information on the Mary Lake Sanctuary can be found at https://www.marylakeconnections.ca.
Leslie Campbell is the editor of FOCUS.
Learn more about the Millstream Creek fish ladders:
Residents worry as Capital Regional District prepares to spread sewage biosolids at Hartland Landfill.
THERE’S A GUT REACTION to the idea of spreading processed human poop on land, whether to grow bigger trees, better tomatoes, or cap off a landfill. Suspicions remain even after sewage sludge is treated to remove pathogens and pollutants.
Following sewage treatment at the Capital Regional District’s new McLoughlin Point Wastewater Plant, “residual solids” in the form of sludge are piped to the new Residuals Treatment Facility at Hartland Landfill. There, the sludge is treated by anaerobic digestion, dried, and turned into Class A biosolids, a granule-like substance, along with biogas which is used onsite.
The new Residuals Treatment Facility at Hartland Landfill
The CRD has developed a plan to spread the biosolids on about five hectares of the Hartland Landfill, contrary to an earlier commitment to prohibit land application. While CRD staff insist the plan is safe, residents near Hartland are increasingly anxious that, despite treatment, toxins flushed down Greater Victoria’s toilets and drains will blow on to nearby properties—or leach into fields, gardens or wells.
Some living in the area of scattered small farms and acreages are worried that chemicals such as flame retardants, PCBs and other hormone disrupters will find their way into the environment. A particular concern is PFAS—per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances found in items ranging from frying pans and rain-jackets to dental floss—known as “forever chemicals” because they are almost indestructible.
Hartland Landfill, location of new Residuals Treatment Plant, forested area and surrounding neighbourhood and lakes (click to enlarge).
A group of citizens in the vicinity of Hartland formed the Mount Work Coalition. It has condemned the lack of consultation around the reversal of the CRD’s previous ban on spreading treated sewage residual on land.
In 2011, the Capital Regional District voted to prohibit spreading such biosolids on land, because of concerns it could contaminate farmland and food with chemicals, heavy metals and pharmaceuticals. Directors reaffirmed that decision in 2013.
But earlier this year, with a new $775-million sewage treatment system on the verge of completion, the CRD board, somewhat reluctantly, agreed to partially lift the biosolids ban.
The change of heart allows about 700 tonnes of biosolids to be spread on closed areas of Hartland Landfill as a short-term contingency plan starting in 2021. For between four and six weeks a year, the biosolids will be mixed with wood chips and sand and used to fertilize trees and as a dump cover to help capture methane gas, which will reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The rest of the year, biosolids will be trucked to the Lafarge cement plant in Richmond and used as fuel in cement kilns, with the CRD paying the company about a million dollars annually. The plant shuts down for maintenance twice a year, which is when the biosolids will be distributed on land at Hartland.
The CRD had planned to simply landfill biosolids while the cement plant was closed, but that proposal was nixed by the Province which told the CRD to find a beneficial use for the product.
With provincial grants at risk, the board opted for land application at the dump until a better solution is found—ideally a local “beneficial use” of the product.
The current plan was approved by the Province in September, and the CRD is working on a Long-Term Biosolids Strategy, which will require provincial approval by June 2024 and “will include comprehensive public consultation,” said a ministry spokesperson.
Hugh Stephens, a Willis Point resident and spokesman for the Mount Work Coalition, scoffs at the idea that the land dispersal is a temporary solution. “Once you spread it, it’s spread. No one is going to get down on their hands and knees and put it back again,” he said, suggesting alternate solutions such as sending the biosolids to a biochar plant in Prince George or using mines or remote areas for disposal.
CRD director Mike Hicks, who represents the Willis Point area, voted against the plan to spread biosolids on land. “I don’t support it and I am not alone. I thought we could store it for a couple of months, but I was told it was too explosive to store,” said Hicks who is concerned particles could become airborne. “Absolutely there’s a concern and as the crow flies, Butchart Gardens is totally within striking distance,” he said.
Hicks admitted it is difficult to assess which of the scientific studies bear the most weight. “But, I adopt the attitude of ‘why risk it?’” he said.
BOTH SIDES POINT TO SCIENTIFIC STUDIES bolstering their viewpoints, and there seems a startling lack of research consensus.
For example, a 2016 “Open Letter on the Danger of Biosolids,” from four scientists emphasizes the lack of information about many of the chemical contaminants that remain after sewage treatment. The scientists conclude that the supposed benefits are more than offset by risks to human and environmental health: “An unimaginably large number of chemical and biological contaminants exist in these materials and they persist in the product up to and after land disposal,” says the open letter from Sierra Rayne, John Werring, Richard Honour and Steven Vincent.
“Governments are playing Russian roulette with sewage sludge. Over time, there is a high probability this game will be lost at the public’s expense,” they conclude.
Their letter was quickly followed by a rebuttal from four Canadian university professors, with backgrounds in biosolids research, who accused the opponents of stoking fear and equating chemicals, at any level, with unacceptable risk.
“As any thinking individual knows well, any chemical can be harmful to humans if exposure is high enough; two acetaminophen tablets can cure your headache, but too many taken at once may harm or kill you,” it reads. “The weight of evidence, when examined fairly and from an unbiased perspective, does not support a moratorium on biosolids. It would simply be wasteful to disregard the benefits that can result from responsibly and safely recycling this important resource.”
Biosolids are widely used in the United States and the US Environmental Protection Agency has endorsed land dispersal, but, illustrating the ambivalence, the EPA is currently seeking applications from researchers to study “potential risk from pollutants found in biosolids” and to develop standards and policies for biosolids management.
Complicating the research, the effect of biosolids spread on land varies with the type of soil, amount of water and concentration. Moreover, jurisdictions have a variety of standards and use different chemicals to treat the sludge.
Glenn Harris, CRD senior manager of environmental protection, said land application of biosolids occurs around the world and problems rarely occur. He noted that organizations that have endorsed spreading biosolids on land include the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, the US Environmental Protection Agency, and the European Commission on the Environment. “Globally, they all say that land application is safe if it is done properly,” he said.
Stephens of the Mount Work Coalition, however, said, “There are lots of studies to indicate that there’s potential for airborne pollution and it has been shown to be dispersed for up to 25 kilometres,” and notes that the dump is less than a kilometre from Prospect Lake School and from Durrance Lake, a popular recreational area.
They also worry about agriculture in the vicinity. Said Stephens. “These residuals get into the soil and there’s all kinds of documented cases of crops grown with polluted soil and how it gets into the food chain.”
Stephens said residents also fear that pollutants, ranging from pharmaceuticals and heavy metals to microplastics and dioxins, will get into the water table in an area where most homes rely on well water.
Fears were exacerbated in October when a temporary pipe failed and 130,000 litres of sewage sludge leaked from the Residuals Treatment Facility at Hartland Landfill and escaped through a culvert into Mount Work Park.
“The CRD says it has a membrane down, so it can’t leak, but that membrane has already leaked several times with leachate coming out and once it gets into the water table it will get into the drainage and then into Tod Creek or Durrance Lake,” said Stephens.
As the CRD has not yet started producing biosolids, the exact makeup of the sludge is not known, but decades of monitoring wastewater quality gives a pretty good idea, Harris said.
Concentration of most contaminants will be at a negligible level and environmental regulators have concluded that trace concentrations of contaminants such as pharmaceuticals do not pose unacceptable risks, Harris said.
UBC engineering professor Dr Don Mavinic, considered one of BC’s top experts on sewage treatment, told Focus in 2016, “The fact is that there really isn’t any effective technology out there in the marketplace yet to deal with these other contaminants [such as pharmaceuticals, caffeine and endocrine disrupters, the latter found in many household and industrial products]. It’s coming, but it isn’t there. This is a very young science…the jury is still out.”
Opponents to the CRD plan also point to the Halifax Project study, conducted between 2012 and 2015, that linked cancers to low dose exposure to chemicals in the environment. “There is no such thing as a safe amount of exposure,” says a fact sheet compiled by one of the Coalition members.
The CRD’s Harris admitted that metals are not destroyed or degraded through any treatment process. “However,” he said, “given the low levels of metals in our wastewater, the quality of the biosolids produced at the Residual Treatment Facility will more than meet Class A standards.”
Harris said ferric chloride will be used as a coagulant for treating the sewage at the wastewater plant (and some will remain in the sludge) and there is no anticipated risk as the material occurs naturally in the Earth’s crust.
“We see the benefit of this. We know it is completely safe,” said Harris, emphasizing the practice is widely used around the world, including in BC and other regions of Canada.
Land application of biosolids is regulated by the provincial Organic Matter Recycling Regulation and a graph on the Environment Ministry website shows some countries, such as Finland and Sweden, using 100 percent of biosolids for land application.
Hartland already has dust suppression measures and anything blowing off site would have such minute concentrations of pharmaceuticals or pollutants that they would be almost undetectable, Harris said.
Groundwater traps collect leachate from the dump, which is then collected in ponds and piped back to the McLoughlin Treatment Plant, he said.
“We have a pretty extensive monitoring program to ensure nothing goes off site,” said Harris, who believes the opposition comes from a perception of risk versus true risk assessment and risk management.
THE MOUNT WORK COALITION has concerns beyond the land application of biosolids, including a proposal to switch trucks heading to the landfill from Hartland Avenue to Willis Point Road and the expansion of the garbage pit at Hartland, which would mean logging and blasting about 30 hectares within the landfill boundaries over the next 80 years.
The CRD announced on November 18 that it is developing a new solid waste management plan to reduce how much material is sent to Hartland Landfill and guide how the region’s waste is managed.
The Coalition says the proposed expansion plans would remove the last stands of old-growth Douglas fir on the Peninsula, though the CRD describes the area as primarily a young, second-growth Douglas fir forest.
“Tree removal will begin in approximately 2030 to prepare this space for future landfilling unless the region significantly reduces its waste per capita rate or new technology for waste management emerges,” Harris said. The tree-removal will be offset by reforestation of closed areas of the landfill to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, he said.
The Coalition wants the CRD to look for more innovative solutions. Incineration, gasification and waste reduction should be top of mind, instead of digging a bigger hole, Stephens said.
Finally, given the exponential growth of Langford and the Malahat area, the Coalition has urged that a landfill closer to Westshore be considered.
For more information, check these relevant websites: https://www.mountworkcoalition.org and https://www.crd.bc.ca/project/biosolids-beneficial-use-strategy .
People can view the draft plan of the CRD’s new solid waste management plan at crd.bc.ca/rethinkwaste and provide comment using an online form until January 15. There will be a live-streamed information session on the CRD’s YouTube channel on December 14.
Judith Lavoie is an award-winning journalist specializing in the environment, First Nations, and social issues. Twitter @LavoieJudith
Refugees on Vancouver Island have a unique service to help them heal from trauma thanks to the leadership of Adrienne Carter.
LAST YEAR, as medical student at UBC and future physician, I embarked on a research project to better understand the resettlement challenges that refugees have when coming to Vancouver Island, and the issues that physicians face in meeting refugee health needs. My research led me to the Vancouver Island Counselling Centre for Immigrants and Refugees and its founder Adrienne Carter.
At the age of 12, Adrienne Carter became a refugee when her family fled Hungary to refugee camps in Austria before coming to Canada. Not only has she overcome tremendous challenges in her own life, but she has used these personal experiences to fuel her professional passions as a therapist, social worker and co-founder of the ground-breaking charitable organization Vancouver Island Centre for Immigrants and Refugees (VICCIR).
VICCIR co-founder Adrienne Carter
During 15 missions with Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), Carter had helped to establish mental health projects for those traumatized by war and natural disasters. At home in Victoria in 2015, she recognized that refugees settling on Vancouver Island from places such as Syria and Sudan have devastating and complex issues like those that she helped to address while working abroad. She decided to apply her expertise and experience to support those arriving on Vancouver Island by enlisting the help of volunteer therapists.
Many immigrants, especially refugees, have suffered overwhelming experiences, including loss of their home, their country, and loved ones. Some have been exposed to shocking violence, including torture. The manifestations of unprocessed trauma are multifaceted: immigrants and refugees may suffer flashbacks, somatic aches, anxiety, and depression that impede their ability to lead a productive and peaceful life at school, work, and home.
To illustrate challenges that the VICCIR team faces in filling a gap that bridges both the complex psychological and medical needs, Carter told me about a young Sudanese refugee who had been working with VICCIR but was worsening. Unbeknownst to his team of counsellors and interpreters who had been struggling to locate him, the client had been admitted to the psychiatry ward in Victoria. Without any familiarity to his surroundings and unable to speak English, the client was in extreme distress. It wasn’t until his team of counsellors found him that he was able to understand how and why he came to be admitted, finally accept an examination and his medications.
While medical needs such as immunizations and dental care are adequately identified and addressed within the public health system, the mental health sector that already faces waitlists and shortages of services is overwhelmed with the additional issue of providing culturally appropriate translation. Despite the clear and pressing need to address and provide quality care, some doctors are unable to accept refugee patients because of the difficulty arranging translators. Even programs for children and youth who are not refugees are overburdened.
Carter quickly found beginning a therapeutic relationship is impossible without opening a conversation in one’s own language. She realized finding and funding professional translations for dozens of languages would be a formidable task. The solution was to involve refugees themselves, encouraging them to turn to their own communities to recruit interpreters. The process was surprisingly simple as volunteers came forward eagerly, many of whom had personal experiences in displacement, conflict, and poverty.
Behind the scenes, innumerable hours are dedicated by members of the team. Even before clients are identified and referred by schools, sponsors, physicians, and public health nurses, funding and planning has taken place. Government funding subsidizes only 10 counselling sessions for first-year refugees; VICCIR goes beyond that to continue providing services for as long as clients need them—most are not able to pay but still receive an average of 45 sessions pro bono.
Regardless of family size, the centre provides individual and family group counselling for multifaceted mental health challenges related to armed conflict, abuse, displacement, and grief. Often, a group of counsellors trained in different modalities will work with the family unit, with each member receiving a combination of therapies to address the challenging nature of their issues. This holistic approach recognizes the intense stress placed on family and social relationships, and helps both individual family members and the unit as a whole heal together.
Beyond these services offered in-office (and online during COVID), VICCIR works with school teachers to help struggling students. They organize workshops to assist mental health workers, provide consultation to settlement agencies, collaborate with police and community services concerned with domestic violence.
In addition to the wide range of expertise that VICCIR counsellors possess in different modalities (Somatic, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, Art Therapy, Narrative, etc.), there is an emphasis on support for the healthcare team to manage the emotional toll that trauma counselling itself can have. VICCIR provides training to its interpreters to work with counsellors, and following each session they have an opportunity for debriefing and consultation. Supporting and preparing members of the team in culturally sensitive and trauma-relevant practices has enabled the therapeutic relationship to be far more effective.
Since its inception, VICCIR has helped over 300 clients, with enthusiastic contributions from the community in setting up and sustaining its work. Originally operating out of a church basement, it has become a registered charity receiving grants to continue their work and has expanded into an accessible space in downtown Victoria for its 18 counsellors, 10 interpreters, and 2 consulting psychiatrists.
Research has shown that trauma and violence experienced in childhood have far-reaching adverse effects on all aspects of life: school, interpersonal relationships, health outcomes, even future generations. Studying trauma survivors has yielded insight into how trans-generational changes can either impart or prevent further maladaptive coping behaviours in offspring, depending on the environment and interventions.
From Carter’s perspective, this research parallels her real-life experiences working with trauma. There is no expiry date for processing trauma, and the consequences of suppressed experiences manifest in all aspects of a client’s life. The commitment of the counsellor-interpreter teams to each client is to help them process their emotions, develop resilience, and restore a sense of meaning to relationships and roles within the community. In Carter’s mind, VICCIR has made a lasting difference not only because of the interpreters and their training, but also forming relationships in the clients’ own language, providing services to all members of the clients’ family for as long as it takes, and extensive cultural and trauma processing training.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, VICCIR has successfully moved its work online and is now responding to referrals from other provinces. The centre has been working with researchers from the University of Victoria, hoping to document the positive impacts that the centre has had on clients and disseminate their findings to the larger academic and medical community. VICCIR has demonstrated that the efforts of a community in rehabilitating refugees is paid back many fold as productive and healthy refugees are able to, in turn, contribute as students, colleagues, and neighbours.
In 2019 alone, 80 million people fled war, persecution, and conflict globally, 68 percent of which came from just five countries—Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan, and Myanmar. 107,800 refugees were resettled to 26 countries in 2019, with Canada accepting 21,150. Both the conflicts that refugees have fled and the resettlement challenges that they face, necessitate the improvement of existing resources for transition and integration.
With the federal government’s previous and continuing commitment to accept refugees fleeing conflict and displacement, communities must respond to the complex needs of this uniquely challenging population. The VICCIR model has the potential to inform policy and procedure for newly arriving and settled refugees and alleviating the immense barriers experienced by family physicians and specialists in communicating with refugees and understanding their needs.
Researching the fascinating story of the community surrounding VICCIR Services led me to understand that services such as mental health counselling should be able to be accessed by everyone regardless of language and cultural obstacles. Seeing the way that therapists and volunteer interpreters have come together to bring these much-needed programs to Vancouver Island refugees has taught me that starting small in my own community can make a world of difference.
Sabrina Yu is a medical student at UBC. She acknowledges Dr Mary-Wynne Ashford for being a wise advisor and supportive mentor, and Dr Jonathan Down for his input. For more information about the Vancouver Island Counselling Centre for Immigrants and Refugees, see https://www.viccir.org/.
BC government gives Pacific BioEnergy green light to log rare inland rainforest for wood pellets.
Matt Simmons is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
SEAN O’ROURKE WAS HIKING in BC’s globally rare inland rainforest this spring when pink flagging tape indicating a planned cutblock caught his eye. Finding flagging tape is nothing new, but when he looked closer, he realized the tape had the name of a nearby pellet company on it—Pacific BioEnergy.
The company operates a plant in Prince George where it turns waste wood products—sawdust from mills, tree bark, wood shavings and clippings—into pellets to be burned to produce heat or electricity, replacing coal and fossil fuels. More than 90 percent of Canadian wood pellets are shipped overseas to Europe and Asia, according to the Wood Pellet Association of Canada.
But the ancient cedars and hemlocks in the rainforest in Lheidli T’enneh First Nation territory, about 60 kilometres east of Prince George, are most certainly not waste wood.
Sean O’Rourke amongst old-growth Red Cedar in the Inland Rainforest north of Prince George (Photo by Conservation North)
O’Rourke, a field scout with Conservation North, a grassroots organization advocating for the protection of old-growth forests in northern BC, took photos of the flagging tape to show his colleagues. He later combed through the publicly available harvest data to confirm the Province had indeed issued permits to Pacific BioEnergy to log the old-growth forest.
While wood pellets are often touted as a renewable energy source, Conservation North director and ecologist Michelle Connolly challenges that claim.
“If the raw material for harvested wood products or pellets is coming from primary and old-growth forest, it is not clean or green or renewable in any way, shape or form,” she said in an interview.
“Destroying wildlife habitat to grind forest into pellets to ship them overseas to burn, to feed into an electricity plant so that people can watch Netflix or play video games really late at night—we can’t allow that to happen,” she added.
The planned cutblock is set to be logged this winter for pellets, but Conservation North is asking the BC government to provide legal protection to all primary forests—those that have never been logged—in the northern region.
Rare ecosystem home to massive trees, endangered caribou, vast carbon stores
After O’Rourke showed his colleagues his photos, they went to the rainforest together to explore the areas slated for logging. The group walked for almost two hours to get to the flagged boundary. The forest is surrounded by clearcuts and second-growth stands of lodgepole pine. Connolly described it as an oasis.
“There are low carpets of moss and beautiful fallen old trees,” Connolly said. “The stands that we’ve seen have really large western red cedars and western hemlock, and we occasionally came across massive Douglas firs that are really large for this area…it would take at least three people to wrap your arms around them.”
More than 500 kilometres from the coast, the inland rainforest is one of the rarest ecosystems in the world. Temperate rainforests far from the sea are only found in two other places on the planet: in Russia’s far east and southern Siberia.
The rainforest supports a variety of animals including moose and endangered caribou. The stands of old-growth trees have been absorbing carbon from the atmosphere for hundreds of years, and the soil also stores huge amounts of carbon.
The rich biodiversity of these old-growth forest ecosystems is threatened by logging, according to a report published in June.
As The Narwhal reported last year, much of what remains of the inland temperate rainforest is at risk of clearcutting. Connolly said there is “little to no social licence” to harvest these old-growth trees.
“We talked to a lot of people who hunt, who trap, who fish, who guide, and among those people, we’ve sensed a lot of dismay about what’s happening,” she said. “We’re kind of at the limits of tolerance up here.”
BC government ramps up support for pellet industry while plants run out of raw materials
The Province’s promotion of the pellet industry focuses on using wood that would otherwise be wasted or burned in the forest to reduce the risk of wildfires, but rarely mentions the use of whole trees.
“The pellet pushers [including the present NDP government] originally said they would use only logging and milling debris as the source of wood fibre for pellets,” Jim Pojar, a forest ecologist wrote in an email.
However, a recent investigation by Stand.earth found that pellets made of whole trees from primary forests in BC are being sent to Europe and Asia.
“No mature green trees should be cut down and whole logs ground up to produce wood pellets for export, especially if the trees are clear cut from globally rare and endangered temperate rainforest,” Pojar said.
Connolly said a lack of legal protection allows the provincial government to greenlight logging whole trees for pellets—and the government’s language around the industry hides the fact that old-growth is being cut down.
“My understanding is that this is allowed because these forests don’t have any other use,” she said, meaning that they aren’t suitable for making lumber.
“The BC government has some really interesting language around justifying pellet harvesting,” she said. “What they say is that they’re using inferior quality wood.
This isn’t the first time a pellet facility has logged trees to meet its production needs. As The Narwhal reported earlier this year, both Pacific BioEnergy and Pinnacle Renewable Energy, another large-scale pellet company, use whole trees to produce pellets.
Over the past few years, BC has been ramping up its support for the wood pellet industry, but as sawmills shut down across the province, pellet facilities are running out of raw material.
Recently, the Province handed out a number of grants to support projects that take trees that would otherwise be burned on the forest floor in massive slash piles and convert them to pellets. Pacific BioEnergy has received more than $3.2 million from the Province through the Forest Enhancement Society for projects related to its operations.
Connolly said the Province’s push to support the pellet industry is problematic. “We’re kind of rearranging the deck chairs, you know? They’re making little modifications of things they already do, instead of actually looking at the value of keeping the carbon in forests.”
The Ministry of Forests could not comment on this story because government communications are limited to health and public safety information during election periods.
Pacific BioEnergy was also not available to respond by publication time.
Ecologists say burning pellets is not carbon neutral
Wood pellets, sometimes referred to as biomass or bioenergy, are often touted as carbon neutral and sustainable, but critics claim that’s a dangerous misconception.
Burning wood to generate energy is less efficient than burning fossil fuels, which means more wood is needed to produce an equivalent amount of electricity, according to Pojar. More carbon dioxide is sent into the atmosphere from pellet-fuelled power plants than traditional coal or natural gas plants, he pointed out.
The pellet industry and its supporters argue that replanting trees will eventually sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which means burning pellets for heat or energy is carbon neutral. But even if that is true, it could take hundreds of years for those replanted trees to grow big enough to offset the emissions produced by harvesting, transporting, processing and burning the wood.
In a 2019 report entitled Forestry and Carbon in BC, Pojar outlined myths and misconceptions about emissions and the forestry industry. “The CO2 from the combustion of biofuel is released almost instantly, whereas the growth and regrowth of wood takes several decades at least (mostly more than 75 years in BC)”
Connolly, who was an editor of the report, said the green narrative around the pellet industry and industrial logging is misleading.
“It’s so ridiculous to claim that somehow logging is good for the climate,” she said. “What we’ve seen happen is that the BC government and industry have co-opted climate change to argue for more industrial logging. In this case, it’s for pellets, but they’ve been doing the same thing for harvested wood products for the last few years.”
As climate change, industrial logging and other resource extraction projects continue to impact forest ecosystems, maintaining intact primary and old-growth forests is essential, she said.
“BC claims to be exploring all emissions reductions opportunities, but they are not,” she said. “They’re ignoring basically the biggest, best and cheapest opportunity, which is protecting nature. If we’re going to meet our climate commitments, keeping primary forests intact is an important step and what all of us should be asking is, ‘Why are they totally ignoring this?’ ”
Matt Simmons is a writer and editor based in Smithers, BC, unceded Gidimt’en Clan territory, home of the Wet'suwet’en Nation. He is the author of The Outsider’s Guide to Prince Rupert. This story was originally published in The Narwhal under the Local Journalism Initiative.
Conservation North’s short video interview of trapper Don Wilkins on liquidating BC rainforests for electricity in other countries:
It goes against independent science and will endanger the survival of juvenile salmon, say ENGOs and First Nations.
By Rochelle Baker, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
OPPONENTS OF OPEN-NET SALMON FARMS are disputing a recent finding by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) that farms in Discovery Islands waters pose little risk to wild salmon.
Environmentalist groups and conservationists claim DFO ignored crucial independent science to downplay the risks to imperilled Fraser River sockeye salmon in favour of the aquaculture industry.
Young wild salmon swim close to open-net fish farm in the Discovery Islands area (Photo by Tavish Campbell)
The DFO studied nine different farm fish diseases and concluded they pose minimal risk to wild sockeye. However, the federal agency failed to consider scientific findings about the harm arising from sea lice, which can concentrate in farms and potentially endanger the survival juvenile salmon transiting the region, said Stan Proboszcz, science advisor with Watershed Watch Salmon Society.
DFO boldly misled Canadians when finding Discovery Islands salmon farms—situated along a critical migration route for juvenile salmon—don’t threaten wild fish, said Proboszcz, a past DFO risk assessment steering committee member. “Their pro-salmon farming bias and disregard for BC’s wild salmon could not be more clear.”
“It’s a joke,” said Proboszcz, adding DFO also failed to do a synthesis assessment that would evaluate the combined risk all the pathogens and sea lice pose for wild fish.
DFO insists steps have already been taken to control sea lice problems. There’s already an extensive range of research available on sea lice which DFO relied on in February to update a sea lice management regime, said Andrew Thomson, DFO’s Pacific regional director of fisheries management.
There are measures fish farms can take to control sea lice problems, and once they are in place, the farms meet the minimum risk threshold, Thomson said.
This claim is misleading, said Proboszcz, adding DFO does require farms to manage one species of sea lice, Lepeophtheirus salmonis, which tends to infect wild pink and chum salmon. However, DFO doesn’t require them to mitigate Caligus clemensi, a species that unduly affect sockeye salmon.
As a result of DFO’s findings, Federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan decided Monday the 18 fish farms, which raise Atlantic salmon, will remain open pending discussion with area First Nations.
The farms were in danger of being shut September 30, a deadline set by the Cohen Commission report investigating the precipitous decline of Fraser River sockeye.
The 2012 report identified a number of factors threatening sockeye including climate change, over-fishing, and loss of habitat.
But it also focused on the potential danger fish farms might pose to migrating smelts and recommended the fisheries minister should remove open-net pen farms in the Discovery Islands unless DFO could prove they posed minimal risk to the health of migrating Fraser River sockeye.
Jordan’s decision takes place as Fraser River sockeye salmon returns—which used to number in the millions—are predicted to be 293,000 fish, the lowest number since records began in 1983.
DFO’s stance is contrary to independent scientist and peer-reviewed studies that indicate sea lice from fish farms threaten wild salmon, said Jay Ritchlin, David Suzuki Foundation director general for western Canada. “Science has established that fish farms can raise sea lice levels, and that these parasites can kill young salmon,” Ritchlin said. “If you want to protect struggling salmon populations, you should start by getting these fish farms out of the water.”
DFO’s determination of low risk to sockeye from the Discovery Islands fish farms is not based on absolute findings, Ritchlin added.
Seven of nine of the risk assessments admit some degree of uncertainty, with two reporting a high level of uncertainty, he said.
Ritchlin agreed with Proboszcz that examining each disease individually doesn’t give a full picture of the risk salmon face.
Given the precariousness of salmon runs, the fisheries minister should take a precautionary approach and pull the farms if the science is uncertain, Ritchlin said.
NDP DFO critic Gord Johns agreed DFO has minimized independent peer reviewed science, particularly around the threat of sea lice and Piscine Orthoreovirus (PRV), a type of virus prevalent in net pen salmon that could put migratory salmon at risk of various diseases and pointed out the agency is in a conflict.
“It’s abundantly clear that DFO cannot both be a promoter of salmon farming, and a protector of Pacific wild salmon,” said Johns, MP for Courtenay-Alberni.
The federal government should declare a salmon emergency and establish a plan to remediate the Fraser River, a vital watershed for so many communities and First Nations, he said.
“It’s extremely alarming to see a minister sit idle, when we’re watching a collapse of wild Pacific salmon happen right before our eyes,” Johns said.
The salmon farmers jumped to defend DFO’s findings. DFO’s peer-reviewed risk assessments clearly show ocean-based salmon farms pose minimal risks to wild salmon in the Discovery Islands, said Shawn Hall, spokesperson for the BC Salmon Farmers Association. “Sound science will support stability and shared values our industry is bringing to the coast today and into the future,” Hall said in a press release. Salmon farming is part of the economic fabric of the province, he added. And the industry is working closely and openly with Indigenous people to create a shared future of economic opportunity and environmental stewardship, Hall added.
Aquaculture operators are looking forward to participating fully in the upcoming consultations with area First Nations, he said.
Bob Chamberlin, a former chief of the Kwikwasut'inuxw Haxwa'mis First Nation, said he had little faith in the upcoming consultations between DFO and the seven First Nations in the Discovery Islands region. “For me to hear the government say that they will have an outcome from all this by December, really shows what a farce this is,” said Chamberlin. Plus, all First Nations impacted by the loss of sockeye salmon need to have a say on fish farms, he added.
A broad coalition of more than 100 BC First Nations, wilderness tourism operators, conservation organizations, and commercial and sport fishing groups all called on the federal government to cease open-net pen operations and move them on land last week, said Chamberlin, spokesperson for the group.
“My question is, ‘who the heck is the federal government listening to?’”, Chamberlin said. “Because it’s not British Columbians but three fish farm companies.
DFO isn’t operating in the interests of the environment or fulfilling its duty to protect wild salmon, he added. “And I think that’s something that Canadians really need to be upset about.”
Rochelle Baker is a Local Journalism Initiative/Canada reporter with the National Observer
Seven years on, Victoria area kitchen scraps are still taking a long, costly journey to compost facilities.
CHUCK THAT APPLE CORE into the kitchen container designated for organics, take the can outside and tip it into the green bin in time for garbage pickup, feeling satisfied knowing your household food waste is being turned into compost that will help grow more fruit and veggies.
The routine is familiar to most Greater Victoria residents who, after 2015 when the Capital Regional District banned kitchen scraps from Hartland Road Landfill, slowly came to see the benefits of separating organic waste.
However, in Greater Victoria, that apple core is starting a long, carbon-emissions-full journey. While efforts have been made to bring kitchen scrap processing closer to home, they appear to be years away from fruition.
The apple core will first travel to Hartland Road where it is tipped on to a loading station, then trucked up-Island to Fisher Road Recycling at Cobble Hill. While most kitchen scraps are composted on site, when the Fisher Road facility reaches capacity, the remainder is put on a barge to the mainland and trucked to a composting facility in Cache Creek in northern BC.
Russ Smith, CRD senior manager of environmental resource management, agrees it is not ideal to have Greater Victoria’s kitchen scraps travelling around the province, but it’s certainly preferable to scraps ending up in the landfill and more realistic than expecting all residents to do their own backyard composting.
“It’s the pragmatic middle ground that is better than landfilling, but not as good as the ideal of backyard composting with everyone doing their own—and, of course, you have a lot of multi-family condo dwellers where they don’t have those opportunities,” Smith said.
In 2013, there was an ill-fated attempt at local processing when the CRD contracted Foundation Organics to deal with kitchen scraps on a Central Saanich farm. It was forced to pull the operating licence in less than a year after neighbours complained about the smell. Since then progress has crawled along at a snail’s pace.
It seems to have taken five years to make the next move towards local processing. In 2018, the CRD invited expressions of interest from proponents wanting to establish a processing facility “within or in close proximity to the Capital Region.” A facility could be built either on two hectares of cleared space at Hartland or on other sites, says the request for initial bids
The current system of processing outside the region “requires extensive transportation and is inconsistent with the Region’s long-term objective of managing the kitchen scraps locally to the extent possible,” it says.
More than a dozen responses were received, but the shortlist has not yet been compiled. Meanwhile, a new request for proposals for hauling and processing kitchen scraps closes this month with the successful bidder holding the contract until March 2025.
That allows the successful bidder on the main contract time to construct a new facility, said Smith, who is expecting a staff report to go to the CRD board next spring. “Even if we get very clear direction in the spring of 2021, by the time the procurement finishes and construction starts you are certainly looking into 2023 and likely into 2024,” he said.
A stumbling block is that no decision has yet been made by the CRD board on whether to opt for composting or the more expensive choice of building a biogas plant at Hartland. Biogas is produced when organic matter biodegrades without oxygen. The gas can then be filtered and, if done on a large scale, can be used to generate electricity or refined and fed into the gas grid.
The cost of building a biogas plant at Hartland was estimated by CRD staff at between $25- and $40-million, compared to $2- to $8-million for composting. The capital cost could drop to zero if composting was done at a private site owned by one of the bidders.
In addition to deciding what kind of technology should be used for kitchen scraps, there’s also the problem of getting municipalities to commit to sending their scraps to a new facility as operators need to know they would receive sufficient material
Currently the CRD sends about 12,000 tonnes a year to Cobble Hill, but Victoria and Saanich have separate contracts with Fisher Road Recycling.
Victoria collected about 2,000 tonnes of food scraps through its green bin program in 2019 and is expecting to collect more this year because of 25 zero waste stations installed around the downtown core and in City parks.
City staff “continue to work closely with CRD staff on regional solid waste management initiatives,” said an emailed statement from the city.
Saanich is the only local municipality to accept yard trimmings in the organics cart and collects between 8,000 and 9,000 tonnes annually. About 30 percent of that is food waste and the mix with garden waste provides the ideal carbon and nitrogen mix to make top-grade compost, said Jason Adams, Saanich operations supervisor.
Adams, who has an extensive background in recycling, wants to see the CRD get on with a decision. “They just need to build it and get on with it and the tonnage will follow,” said Adams, who would like to see a model based on economics, rather than subsidies, and is hoping the CRD avoids an “over-engineered” system.
One advantage of the many delays has been that the technology of composting has evolved over recent years, Adams said.
Technology is a cause close to the heart of Peter Brown, a member of Malahat Organics, a consortium which made a bid to the CRD in 2018 proposing a rotary composter, meaning the material is contained inside a large drum—a method that controls odours and dust.
“You put the kitchen scraps in one end and this thing very, very slowly rotates and it comes out the other end about seven days later and you have got beautiful compost. We’ve got an absolutely crackerjack proposal for the CRD and it would cost them nothing,” said Brown, who is puzzled by the delays.
Example of a large rotary composter used to create compost from kitchen scraps
The proposal envisages the facility being set up on Malahat Nation land, which is zoned light industrial.
The CRD would pay a tipping price, which would be less than they are currently paying and the operators would require a guaranteed amount of tonnage each year. At the end of the contract, the facility would be transferred to the region at no cost.
Hartland currently accepts kitchen scraps at $120 per tonne, but it costs the CRD about $145 a tonne for the composting.
It is frustrating that it has taken so long to consider the proposals and, in the meantime, between the discrepancy in costs and trucking some of the scraps off-Island it is costing the region money, Brown said.
“Isn’t it crazy?…It’s our money that’s going out into the wind and, in the last few years since we submitted our proposal, you could have had the plant operating right here,” he said.
Brown fears that CRD staff are slanting recommendations towards biogas rather than composting even though a biogas plant is expensive and will take up a large chunk of land at Hartland.
“Compost is a wonderful thing if it’s done properly like with these rotary composters that give you the very best quality compost. It’s valuable, not something to be sent away,” he said.
Highland councillors Gord and Ann Baird also fear that there is a tilt towards biogas in staff reports and last year, in separate presentations to a CRD committee, both questioned why the Hartland site is apparently already being prepared for biogas.
“The pathway towards more biogas production goes contrary to eliminating hydrocarbons as a fuel source as laid out in IPCC reports and the Climate Emergency declarations,” said Gord Baird, who is running for the BC Green Party in Langford-Juan de Fuca.
There is no social licence for the old methods of composting, with all its shortcomings, but there is a social licence for new methods with no odour, no dust and no access to vermin, said Baird, who calculated that the value of finished compost, sold at $50 a tonne, would far exceed the value of biogas produced by anaerobic digestion.
Jutta Gutberlet, University of Victoria professor in the Department of Geography, agrees that compost is a valuable resource and believes the ideal solution would be decentralized composting centres, which would eliminate the problem of greenhouse gas emissions from transportation.
“This could relatively easily be done with community gardens,” said Gutberlet, a director of the Community-based Research Laboratory.More space is being provided around Victoria for community gardens and the compost could be used on site, Gutberlet said.
“They would not just produce organic composts, but they could become centres where people meet—centres of community, which is something we also need in our neighbourhoods,” she said.
Judith Lavoie is an award-winning journalist specializing in the environment, First Nations, and social issues. Twitter @LavoieJudith