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    Judith Lavoie
    As decision day on the transition of open-net salmon farms looms, both sides say science is on their side.
     
    CONSERVATION ORGANIZATIONS, POLITICIANS, THE SALMON FARMING INDUSTRY AND FIRST NATIONS are all focused on Fisheries and Oceans Minister Joyce Murray as decision day for BC fish farms approaches. While there is scant information on how Murray will proceed in crafting a transition away from open-net pen salmon farms, one thing is certain—it will be impossible to satisfy all interest groups.
    On June 30 most federal salmon farming licences on the BC coast will expire and Murray must decide how to juggle the political, environmental and economic realities that surround the controversial industry. Reconciliation with First Nations, protection of iconic wild salmon runs and economic interests of coastal communities are all part of the complicated equation.
    Murray’s mandate letter from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau specifies that her task is to “work with the province of British Columbia and Indigenous communities on a responsible plan to transition from open net-pen salmon farming in coastal BC waters by 2025 and work to introduce Canada’s first ever Aquaculture Act.”
     

    Canada's Fisheries and Oceans Minister Joyce Murray (Photo by Eric Thomas)
     
    Murray has consistently released statements saying she is “committed to transitioning away from open-net pen salmon farming in coastal BC,” but, there are no specifics on what that transition will look like and it is unclear what will happen between the end of June, when at least 79 licences expire, and the 2025 deadline set by Trudeau.
    With growing acrimony between salmon farmers—who claim the future of 4,700 workers and $1.2-billion in economic activity is at stake—and conservation groups—who fear pathogens and sea lice from fish farms are pushing shrinking wild salmon runs into extinction—both sides are waging campaigns for public support.
    Watershed Watch Salmon Society is appealing to supporters to make a last ditch appeal to Murray to get open net pen fish farms out of BC waters.
    “Despite what industry-backed scientists would have you believe, a massive body of peer-reviewed scientific research shows salmon farms harm wild salmon. Juvenile wild salmon need to be free to leave their home rivers and swim along our coast without battling the deadly viruses, parasites and bacteria spewing from factory fish farms,” wrote Aaron Hill, Watershed Watch executive director.
    “Previously, factory fish farm licences have been renewed every six years or so, but, if Minister Murray is serious about keeping her promise and meeting her 2025 commitment, she needs to start shutting farms down this year,” Hill said.
    Brian Kingzett, BC Salmon Farmers Association science and policy director, would not speculate on what decision Murray might make or comment on whether companies are preparing for closures. However, an Association release says that “if the 79 licences up for renewal are not reissued, Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities will face even greater devastation.”
    It is a point that has the attention of Premier John Horgan and, in a letter to Trudeau, written earlier this year, he said that, if the licences are not renewed, hundreds of jobs will be lost and the economies of dozens of coastal communities will be undermined.
    A spokesman for the provincial Ministry of Land, Water and Resource Stewardship said Minister Josie Osborne has “strongly advocated, in a letter to federal counterparts across economic, social and fisheries portfolios on the need for a comprehensive federal support plan for First Nations and communities that rely on the economic opportunities provided by the salmon farm industry as well as for exploring new technology that may provide economic opportunities for the industry in BC”
    University of BC professor Tony Farrell, Canada Research Chair in fish physiology, culture and conservation, said Murray will make a political, not a scientific, decision and it is essential she is given accurate scientific advice on the impacts of salmon farming.
    “I think that what [Murray] should do is listen very carefully. There are many scientific facts that exist about the impacts of aquaculture on wild salmon and, when I look at those scientific facts, not the opinions, I fail to see major and sustained impacts that could explain the collapse of wild salmon in BC,” he said. 
    “I think appropriate consultation has not gone on,” said Farrell, pointing out that First Nations in areas such as Klemtu have run commercial salmon farms since the 1980s.
    IntraFish Media, which analyzes global aquaculture industries, said in a report this month that “the future of the world’s largest salmon farmer’s [sic] operations in Canada look dim as a decision nears on whether a critical farming region in British Columbia will be closed.”
    Intrafish reported that Mowi Canada West, which lost 30 percent of its west coast harvest because of the federal decision to phase out farms in the Discovery Islands, also holds 44 percent of the licences up for renewal, while Grieg Seafood BC holds 22 of the expiring licences.
    Cermaq Canada, whose Discovery Islands farms accounted for 20 percent of the company’s overall production, has 14 licenses up for renewal in Clayoquot Sound where conservation organizations, backed by Department of Fisheries and Oceans correspondence, have raised the alarm about sea lice counts that far surpass the federal threshold of three lice per fish while young wild salmon are migrating.
    The Discovery Islands, near Campbell River, a bottleneck where juvenile salmon swam past farms, has been a flashpoint in the fish farm fight. Former fisheries minister Bernadette Jordan ordered the farms closed in 2020—meaning the pens are now empty—but, in April, Federal Court Judge Elizabeth Heneghan ruled that the Jordan decision breached salmon farmers’ right to procedural fairness. It is not known whether Murray will re-issue the order based on conservation needs.
    The depth of disagreement between the polarized camps, with both claiming science is on their side, is illustrated by opposing views of what happened in the Discovery Islands after the farm fish left.
     

    Young wild salmon swim around a salmon farm’s open-net pen in the Discovery Islands (Photo by Tavish Campbell)
     
    NGOs point to a recent survey showing wild salmon are virtually lice-free when swimming near the Discovery Islands, but Kingzett of BC Salmon Farmers Association said there has been no change.
    “We showed that sea lice levels in the Discovery Islands during our five years of monitoring, by independent, actual biologists, with Indigenous guardian oversight, has always been low and remains unchanged,” Kingzett said last month.
    Yet, a scientific study, based on 10 years of research and released last month by the Pacific Salmon Foundation, found that when young Fraser River sockeye swam past Discovery islands fish farms, their exposure rate to the pathogen Tenacibculum maritimum was 12 times higher than elsewhere.
    A second study, released by the University of BC, found that Tenacibculum maritimum and piscine orthoreovirus are the two pathogens that most negatively affect the survival of wild salmon.
    Michael Meneer, Pacific Salmon Foundation president, is appealing to Murray to hold firm to the commitment to transition away from open net pen salmon farming.
    “Any renewal of licenses that prolong this risk to wild salmon would be deeply concerning. Salmon face many challenges and open-net salmon farms pose a serious risk to wild salmon—a risk we can control,” Meneer said in a news release.
    Stan Proboszcz, senior scientist at Watershed Watch Salmon Society, said one of the concerns is pressure on Murray from within the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and, specifically, from the Aquaculture Management Division, where there is entrenched support for the industry.
    “We believe [the minister is] potentially trying to transition salmon farms out of BC, but certain people in DFO may be trying to thwart those efforts,” he said.
    There are also questions about the rules that will govern farms during the transition and about the time frame if licences are renewed to allow time for consultations with First Nations and other stakeholders, Proboszcz said.
    Government must consult with First Nations and a likely scenario is that Murray will announce a schedule for consultation and engagement on how to get the farms out of BC, Proboszcz said.
    “But, if the licences are renewed for three years, that bumps up against another election and, potentially, a new government that won’t keep this promise,” he said.
    Indigenous communities are key and salmon farming companies are actively courting First Nations in efforts to reach partnership agreements.
    Several farm expansion proposals have already been submitted, including three in the Broughton Archipelago where, in an agreement with First Nations, the BC government plans to phase out farms by 2023.
    The majority of Indigenous communities—a total of 102 First Nations—are opposed to salmon farms in their territories, according to Bob Chamberlin, chair of the First Nations Wild Salmon Alliance.
    However, a smaller group, represented by the Coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship, wants Nations to be able to decide for themselves whether to have salmon farms in their territories.
    BC Salmon Farmers Association website says 20 First Nations have partnership agreements for farming salmon in their territory, 78 percent of all salmon farmed in the province in under a “beneficial partnership” with a First Nation and “about 20 percent of salmon farming jobs are held by people of First Nations heritage.”
    The Coalition wants licences reissued for a minimum of five years and says it is a matter of Indigenous rights and title.
    However, Chamberlin said that, as salmon are migratory, it infringes on the rights of other First Nations when wild salmon, which Nations rely on for food and ceremonies, have to swim past farms with lice and pathogens.
    Closed containment and other new technologies that prevent farm fish from coming into contact with their wild counterparts are seen as a path to the future and Grieg Seafood has conducted trials in BC with a semi-closed containment system. But concerns about viability and cost remain even though at least three major on-land salmon farms are planned in the US.
    With the decision looming, the bottom line must be to find a way to minimize the contact that farm fish have with wild salmon.
    Judith Lavoie is a freelance journalist who enjoys exploring stories about the natural world.
     
    UPDATE: The federal Minister made her announcement shortly after we published the above article. She has promised more details over the coming weeks, and more consultations with First Nations, towards the final transition plan, expected in spring, 2023. Meanwhile, she has renewed licences outside of the Discovery Islands for two years. Consultations with First Nations and industry for the salmon farms in the Discovery Islands will inform a final decision on them, expected in January 2023. While this process is underway, DFO will not reissue licences for Atlantic Salmon facilities in the area.
    See https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/government-of-canada-outlines-next-steps-in-transition-from-open-net-pen-salmon-farming-in-british-columbia-879196811.html

    Judith Lavoie
    Cannabis is like candy to dogs—but also highly toxic. Since legalized, it is littering parks, trails and sidewalks, along with discarded opioids.
     
    AS ADRIAN HICKIN held his apparently lifeless Vizsla puppy he racked his brains trying to figure out what could have happened to two-month-old Finnigan.
    The family, with their new puppy, returned home after an on-leash walk along the waterfront in Brentwood Bay and a brief pee-stop in a commercial parking lot with convenient grass patches. Finnigan, like most puppies, was rambunctious when he got home, but when he reached the kitchen he started to rock and wobble.
    “Our first thinking was that he was having some sort of stroke or embolism so my partner put him in a blanket and held him, but then he just went completely lifeless. He was completely flaccid. We could see he was breathing, but when you picked up his paw, there was absolutely no response,” Hickin said.
    “We were distraught. We had only had the puppy home for two weeks and this happened. . . We thought it was neurological and something bad had happened to his brain.. . .  He was so little, he was only 14 pounds,” he said.
    As Hickin and his partner Melanie drove a still-catatonic Finnigan to Westcoast Animal Veterinary Emergency Specialty Hospital (WAVES) they phoned in a description of the  symptoms to a veterinarian and the first question was whether the dog had ingested marijuana.
    No one in the household uses marijuana, so the question was jolting and the initial gut response was that it was not possible, but the vet then explained that it is common for dogs to pick up marijuana when out for walks and the hospital needed to know so Finnigan could receive the correct treatment, Hickin said.
    As COVID rules were still in effect, Finnigan was carried into the hospital while the couple waited outside for test results and wondering if their puppy was going to make it out alive.
     

    Finnigan as a puppy (he’s a few months older now)
     

    “They finally came out and said they had tested his urine and it was marijuana, but it was also opioids—it was the stuff that is killing people—and that was when we got very, very afraid,” Hickin said.
    The veterinarians gave Finnigan a shot of Naloxone and, as everyone waited to see if it would bring him around, Hickin was told that the hospital is seeing similar cases almost every day.
    “[The vet] said it’s not just picking up a roach, people are doing edibles and they drop them and they are filled with THC. The other thing is people get high and they’re out in the bush or whatever and they defecate and the dogs will eat it—which is not uncommon for dogs to do,” he said.
    Finnigan was put on an IV, given activated charcoal, which can prevent a poison from being absorbed by the body, and kept in the hospital overnight as staff kept watch.
    By noon the next day Finnigan was awake and, a few hours later, was on the road to recovery.
    The story was similar for Brentwood Bay resident Maureen Garrity and her Sheltie puppy Berri, who was three months old when she went for an on-leash walk at Rithet’s Bog.
    “That night she started vomiting and had projectile diarrhea and then she couldn’t walk. She was like a drunken sailor and then her head started wobbling. I knew it wasn’t a seizure, but it was very, very distressing,” said Garrity, who called Central Victoria Animal Hospital.
    Garrity spent 15 minutes on the phone describing Berri’s symptoms and answering questions and the vet then concluded that her dog had ingested THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis that produces the sensation of being high.
    “I said ‘that’s not possible. I don’t smoke it, none of my friends smoke it. There’s no way she would have access to it,’” Garrity said.
    The vet asked Garrity if she had been in a public place that day and explained that, since marijuana became legal in 2018 it has become increasingly common for dogs to pick up pot and THC is so toxic to dogs that, especially if they are young or small, it takes very little to make them ill.
    The saving grace for Berri was the extent of the diarrhea and vomiting, which effectively cleaned her system of the poison, but the incident has shaken Garrity.
     

    Maureen Garrity with Berri as a puppy—again, she’s bigger now.
     

    “I felt like a terrible dog owner and I was shocked when I started to tell people what had happened, how many people said ‘oh, that happened to my dog.’  That’s when I began to realize that this is something that the public needs to be aware of,” she said.
    Dr Tin Wai Kwan of Helmcken Veterinary Clinic was an emergency veterinarian before opening up her clinic five years ago and said the cases of THC poisoning are a dime a dozen. “I have literally seen hundreds over the last few years,” she said.
    Since legalization, people are smoking joints in public places, whether in popular spots such as the Galloping Goose Trail or someone flicking a roach off a balcony, and all too often, they are picked up by dogs, Kwan said.
    When it is uncertain what the dog has eaten, owners in BC are often initially referred by local veterinarians to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Animal Poison Control Centre.
    In the first two months of 2019, as some states legalized marijuana, the centre reported a 765 percent increase in marijuana cases over the previous year.
    Edibles are an increasing problem as the concentration of THC is higher and, while a person might eat one brownie, a dog will eat the whole pan, APCC medical director Tina Wismer said in a video.
    Often it is not worth testing the dogs as signs of pot ingestion are usually obvious and can include difficulty walking, excessive drooling and dribbling urine, Kwan said.
    “They act really weird, sort of a little freaked out or stoned,” said Kwan, adding that many owners think their dog is having a stroke.
    The good news is that most pot ingestions do not end in death, but symptoms depend on the amount consumed, she said.
    If the dog gets into a big bag someone has stashed in the house, it’s a problem, while eating a single roach is less severe.
    “The problem is, as an owner, you don’t really know how much your dog ate,” said Kwan, who recommends that, even if the symptoms are mild, the owner should get help from a veterinarian.
    “Not all toxins are the same. There may be subtle differences so at least you can get a diagnosis and then talk about treatment options which can range from monitoring at home to intravenous fluids to help flush it out. If it is early on, a vet can help induce vomiting,” Kwan said.
    But why would a dog eat a roach someone has flicked into the bush?
    “It’s like the best-tasting candy you can imagine. They will 100 percent eat it,” Kwan said.
    Dr Adrian Walton of Dewdney Animal Hospital in Maple Ridge, who sees a steady stream of stoned pets, agrees that dogs find marijuana irresistible.
    “It’s their version of catnip. They absolutely love the stuff. They will find even the smallest amount because they love the smell of it and it is incredibly common,” he said.
    “If we have a dog coming in stumbling, the first thing we say to the owner is ‘did your dog get into pot?’”
    The common reaction is “absolutely not,” either because people don’t want to admit they were careless with their stash at home or because they have no idea the dog picked up something outside.
    “The simple fact is we don’t care [how it happened]. We just want to treat your dog. We’re not going to report people, just tell us what your dog got into,” Walton said.
    Many people don’t understand that their stash has to be secured, not out on the counter, and those smoking in the park often have little understanding about how it affects dogs, he said.
    “It debilitates dogs for much longer than people and often, if it’s a severe intoxication with a small dog like a Pomeranian or a Chihuahua, these animals have to be hospitalized for 24 or 48 hours and the cost is expensive,” Walton said.
    Asked whether the CRD can or is doing anything around the toxic debris, Jeff Leahy, Capital Regional District senior parks manager, said no smoking is allowed in regional parks and that includes marijuana. Signs make the rules clear and park rangers monitor visitors.
    Therefore, education is the obvious answer, but people are accustomed to throwing away cigarette butts and see no difference with their marijuana or other drugs, said Walton, who has had at least a couple of cases where fentanyl has been involved and, like many vets now keeps Narcan—medication used to reverse the effects of opioids—on hand.
    “We need people not to be idiots….Pack it in, pack it out. We have to retrain people [to understand] this is not a safe product,” said Dr Walton, adding that, in addition to dog problems, there is little information on the effect on wildlife.
    Domestic cats, however, are not usually interested.
    For Garrity one of the most shocking discoveries was the number of non-dog-owners who laughed off the incident with Berri and told her that the dog was probably having a good time.
    “I’m telling you, my dog was not having a good time,” she said.
    “It was awful and it took her a good week for her digestive system to go back to normal,” she said.
    Hickin found that one of the lingering problems was figuring out which areas were safe for dog-walking, but, now the family has moved to the Highlands and are taking more remote walks, the anxiety is fading, he said.
    “But I am still quite gun shy,” he said.
    Judith Lavoie is a freelance journalist who enjoys exploring stories about the natural world.
     

    Judith Lavoie
    “Everything out there, the salmon, the seals, the sea lions, all types of fish up to the whales rely on the herring to survive.” —Tsawout hereditary Chief Eric Pelkey
     
    THERE IS A BASIC BELIEF, passed down through generations of First Nations for millennia, that ensured Indigenous people along the BC coast not only survived, but thrived.
    “You never, never, ever take everything. You only take what you need,” said Tsawout hereditary Chief Eric Pelkey. He was considering the fate of Pacific herring, a vital link in the food chain extending from plankton to killer whales, and an important food source for Indigenous communities.
     

    Tsawout hereditary Chief Eric Pelkey
     
    That rule has been broken time and time again by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), which, for decades, has allowed unsustainable catches by commercial fishers, and ignored pleas from conservation organizations and Indigenous groups to shut down the fishery in order to allow herring stocks to recover, say critics.
    Pelkey, community engagement coordinator with WSANEC Leadership Council, representing Tsartlip, Tseycum and Tsawout First Nations, wants a complete shutdown of the herring fishery and a detailed plan to rebuild stocks. But, over the last five years, there has been little response to repeated calls for a moratorium. Last year, an effort by the Gwa’sala-Nakwaxda’xw Nation to obtain an injunction to stop the herring fishery in Smith Inlet was turned down by the federal court.
    However, as fears grow that the foundational species may not rebound, there are signs that Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray, who describes the stocks as being in a “fragile state,” is looking carefully at fishing pressures, though many question if it’s too little too late.
     
    Failure to catch allotment a telling sign
    This year, four out of five areas around the BC coast—the west coast of Vancouver Island, Prince Rupert, Central Coast and Haida Gwaii—remained closed. In the Strait of Georgia, the one area that remained open, the catch was reduced from 20 percent of predicted biomass to 10 percent.
    “This approach extends the cautious approaches taken in recent years, with additional limits on harvest and considers the decline of the wild Pacific salmon and the impacts of the recent floods and landslides on fish habitats in British Columbia,” said Claire Teichman, Murray’s press secretary, in an emailed response to questions from Focus.
     

    Seining Pacific herring in the Salish Sea near Parksville
     
    In March, DFO closed the mackerel and herring spring fishery on the East Coast in an effort to rebuild depleted stocks. In April, regulations to accompany changes to the Fisheries Act named 30 stocks that will require a rebuilding plan if numbers fall below a reference point. 
    On the west coast, those stocks include Haida Gwaii Pacific herring. The Haida Gwaii herring fishery was closed in 1994 after stocks collapsed, with members of the Haida Nation claiming the previous year’s commercial fishery had literally scooped up all the fish. An attempted opening by DFO in 2014 was successfully opposed by the Council of the Haida Nation and stocks have not yet recovered.
    Fears for the future of Pacific herring were exacerbated this spring when, after seiners had scooped up their quota in the Strait of Georgia, the gillnet fleet was unable to complete their allotted catch, bringing in only 4,300 tonnes of the 7,850 tonne quota.
    Rob Morley, executive director of the Herring Conservation and Research Society, an organization funded by industry, said the reason for the shortfall was that spawning took place further north than expected and over a very short period of time.
    The gillnet fishery waited for several days, in order to catch the high-yield females, which come into shore after the males, but, with the change in spawning time, less fish were caught, he said.
    “Also, because the quota had been reduced, there were fewer boats, with less time to fish,” Morley said.
    Others believe the lack of fish shows incontrovertibly that Strait of Georgia herring are disappearing.
    “I think the lack of ability that fishermen had to catch fish this year is really telling in itself,” said Emma Page, Pacific Wild marine campaigner.
    “We usually see the herring quota filled within a matter of days, regardless of what the stock assessment turns out to be. This year, the fishery remained open for two weeks without any additional catch. That has really never happened before, so, even if the stock assessment isn’t complete yet, we can draw some pretty telling conclusions from the fishing activity,” she said.
    It is possible, but unlikely, the herring spawned in different areas and times, Page said.
    “Herring for decades have been spawning in the same general location and DFO has been on the ground doing assessments and dive surveys and spawning surveys prior to opening the fishery and then they opened the fishery because the spawn was occurring,” she said.
    Grant Scott, chair of Conservancy Hornby Island, said the idea that spawning had occurred in different areas is “dreaming in Technicolour.”
    “There’s people all over the coast looking for them and these are not fish quietly spawning in the shallows where you can’t see them. This is a huge, white, milky stream in the water,” he said.
     

    Herring spawn off the south end of Denman Island (Photo courtesy Jake Berman)
    .
    DFO is conducting dive surveys to assess the number of eggs deposited by spawning herring in the Strait of Georgia and that information, which will be used to assess stocks and plan for the future, will not be available until later this year.
    Science, informed by the surveys, will then form the basis of gear allocation, openings and harvest levels for next year, according to DFO.
    Award-winning author and herring advocate Briony Penn, PhD, questions why the precautionary principle is not immediately being applied to the herring fishery.
    “From Victoria to Haida Gwaii, coastal communities are experiencing a silent spring, up and down the coast, and now the last spawn is on the brink,” she said in a news release.
    Pelkey also does not believe the herring moved or changed spawning times.
    “We have been in touch with First Nations all over the coast and, it seems to me, it is widespread. There was no spawn in almost all areas and, where there was spawn, it was severely depleted,” he said.
    There are pockets, such as Ganges Harbour and Fort Rodd Hill, where small shoals of herring are appearing, and some people are trying to transfer eggs on kelp and boughs to traditional spawning areas, Pelkey said. But, to succeed, the entire area must be closed to fishing, said Pelkey.
    Pelkey wonders whether people have grasped the gravity of ripple effects if herring disappear.
    “It will actually end up killing the salmon fishery. Almost everything out there, the salmon, the seals, the sea lions, all types of fish up to the whales rely on the herring to survive. It would kill just about everything out there in the Salish Sea,” Pelkey said.
    It has been about 20 years since Pelkey has seen signs of a full herring spawn, but, a decade ago, there was a “pretty lively herring spawn that appeared in Saanich Inlet,” he said.
    “Automatically DFO opened it up to commercial fishing and wiped it out completely again. It was really, really maddening to us. Our people went out to try and block the fishing, but, by the time the blockade happened, the commercial fishermen had set their huge nets and wiped out the stock,” Pelkey said.
     
    Industry and activists diverge on numbers
    The small silver fish, with a high fat content, can live for eight to 10 years and can spawn multiple times, leaving sticky eggs stuck to rocks, kelp or eel grass. Once the eggs are laid, usually in mid-March and early April, the males release huge amounts of sperm, turning parts of the ocean milky white.
     

    Herring roe on eel grass (Photo by Jim Shortreed)
     
    Females can lay up to 20,000 eggs a year, but only about 20 to 30 percent of the fertilized eggs survive to hatching, according to “The Fighting Fish” a research paper written for Pacific Wild.
    The juvenile herring then have to survive predators, pollution and climate change, with only one herring out of 10,000 returning to the shallow waters to spawn.
    While First Nations traditionally collected eggs from spawn on kelp or cedar boughs, allowing the fish to return and spawn again in future years, the commercial fishing industry kills the fish and strips the eggs from females. The roe is sold as a delicacy, with most of it going to Japan.
    Pacific Wild estimates that 88 percent of the catch—parts of the fish remaining after the roe is stripped—is not used for human consumption, but is ground up for pet food and salmon farm food.
    It is a number disputed by Morley, spokesman for the commercial fishing industry, who said the roe makes up between 15 and 18 percent of the fish. Between 40 and 60 percent of fish caught are frozen and exported whole to be processed in China or Japan where much of the fish is used for food products, said Morley, who also chairs the Herring Industry Advisory Board, which provides advice to DFO.
    “The overall amount that goes to human food out of the roe fishery is probably closer to 35 or 40 percent and that is not much different from many other fish products or some animal products,” Morley said.
    “Nothing goes to waste, it’s made into fishmeal that goes into livestock and fish food and some pet food. If they weren’t eating that, they would be eating something else,” he said, adding that the fishery is worth between $35-million and $40-million annually.
    Morley also claimed that, contrary to popular belief, herring populations in BC have grown by more than 50 percent over the last 10 years. “The total spawning population on the coast of BC is now about 185,000 metric tonnes. I know that is totally contrary to what people are telling you, but they are not reading the scientific stock assessment reports,” said Morley, who believes the Prince Rupert area, Central Coast and West Coast of Vancouver Island should have been opened for fisheries this year.
    “Some of it, I think, is being done because of reconciliation issues with First Nations,” said Morley, adding that some Nations wanted commercial spawn-on-kelp fisheries this year, but Murray turned them down.
    The rosy picture of recovering stocks is not what members of Conservancy Hornby Island have seen.
    Scott, who, in addition to chairing Conservancy Hornby Island is a retired commercial fisherman, said Strait of Georgia herring are at risk of going the same way as herring in other areas of the coast and there needs to be an immediate fishing moratorium for at least five years and a recovery program put in place to rebuild stocks.
     

    Chinook salmon are just one of the species that rely on herring
     
    “It’s an amazing, important little fish in the middle of the food chain. The southern resident killer whales need salmon and then there’s the cod, halibut, gray cod—everything ultimately relies one way or another on these forage fish,” said Scott, who wants to see a program to buy out the licenses of herring fishers and provide retraining for people in the industry.
    “Normally, Hornby and Denman Islands are the epicentre of the last remaining herring spawn. This year, it has just been a catastrophe. What I do know for sure is that I haven’t seen this limited and short duration of spawn in my 20 years of looking out over Lambert Channel. It’s a sad story,” he said.
    It was distressing to see the gillnetters continuing to search, but not finding fish, Scott said. “Those fish were just not there.”
     
    Petition calls for moratorium on herring fishery
    A 2020 study prepared for Conservancy Hornby Island by John Neilson, a research scientist with DFO for 30 years, advocated for a Marine Protected Area in Lambert Channel to protect the herring.
    The study identified the northern Gulf Islands as the most important area on the coast for herring and pointed out that other areas have shown “little or no recovery” after commercial fishing ended.
    In addition to fishing, herring in the Salish Sea face other threats such as “increased temperature and acidity, changes in prey fields and competition from other species,” Neilson wrote.
    Catherine Gray, Conservancy Hornby Island executive director, said a moratorium is needed on both the roe fishery and the smaller bait fishery, which is due to open in the Salish Sea on May 1.
    “They’re planning to kill off another 900 tonnes of fish and these could be the resident herring,” she said.
    A petition asking for a moratorium on the herring fishery has now been signed by 173,820 people, said Gray.
    Although most eyes are on the Strait of Georgia fishery, Jim Shortreed is hoping that, one day, large herring shoals will return to Victoria.
    From the 1950s until the 1970s herring were overfished around Victoria and, so far, have not recovered, said Shortreed, who wants DFO to work with First Nations on plans to rebuild stocks.
    “For instance, in Victoria, one year, there were 16,000 metric tonnes of herring and then there were 8,000 next year and then 200 and then they became zero,” Shortreed said.
    “It’s pretty clear it was overfishing,” he said, adding that climate change and increased predation also play a role. 
    Although there have been a few minor spawning spots on the South Island this year, even herring in the Gorge Waterway, which for years has been fished recreationally with jigs from bridges, appear to have disappeared, Shortreed said.
    “In 2016 an estimated total of 3,445 herring were caught from the Craigflower Bridge, equivalent to 4.5 fish per hour of fishing. This year, one fisherman has caught six fish since January despite regular effort,” he said.
    Shortreed would like to see an emphasis on roe-on-kelp fisheries.
    But first, the herring must be persuaded to return.
    “The water quality is good in the Gorge and there’s lots of spawning habitat—waiting for herring to make it home again,” he said.
    Judith Lavoie is a freelance journalist who enjoys exploring stories about the natural world.
     

    Judith Lavoie
    If the Nuchatlaht’s case is successful in BC’s Supreme Court, they will be able to take back their unceded land from forestry companies and begin its healing process.
     

    The north end of Nootka Island. Most of the area shown is claimed by the Nuchatlaht First Nation. The area has been heavily logged, mainly by Western Forest Products and BC Timber Sales. Remaining old-growth forest is indicated by darker green (click image to enlarge).
     
    BARK AND WOOD from the towering cedars that used to cover Nootka Island, off the west coast of Vancouver Island, were used for millennia by the Nuchatlaht people to create ocean-going canoes and household items, while abundant salmon, ducks and seafood ensured that no one went hungry.
    “It’s a powerful history,” said Archie Little, Nuchatlaht house speaker, describing how, for centuries, Nuchatlaht, a nation of plenty, hosted other First Nations, with Nootka becoming a regional cultural and social centre.
     

    Archie Little, Nuchatlaht house speaker (Photo: Nuchatlaht First Nation) 
     
    Nuchatlaht Tyee Ha’wilth (hereditary chief) Jordan Michael can trace his family history back through the centuries, with documents showing a flourishing culture and unbroken line of hereditary chiefs.
    “We were here when British Captain James Cook sailed into Nootka Sound in 1778. We were here when George Vancouver met the Spanish Captain Bodega y Quadra in 1792,” Michael wrote in an explanation of the First Nation’s history.
     

    Nuchatlaht Tyee Ha’wilth Jordan Michael (Photo: Nuchatlaht First Nation)
     
    Fast-forward to today. Following colonization, smallpox, residential schools, provincial and federal laws that took away the land and forest licences issued to multinational companies, 80 percent of northern Nootka Island has been logged, salmon streams have been destroyed and the herring run decimated.
    Which is why the tiny Nuchatlaht Nation, with about 170 members, is heading to BC Supreme Court on March 21 in a landmark title case, naming the provincial and federal governments and Western Forest Products, and why there is absolute determination to win this case and, possibly, set a precedent for other First Nations hoping to lay title claim to unceded territories.
    “We won’t lose. We can’t lose. Losing is not in our vocabulary. We’re here to win. We’re here to change. We’re here to make things better for everyone,”  Little said at a webinar hosted by the Wilderness Committee.
    “Our wealth was abundance, and it was managed as such. It wasn’t just take, take, take until there’s nothing left,” Little said.
    “Look at the state we are in now. We have to stand up. We have to take ownership. We have to protect it and manage it way better,” he said.
    The Nuchatlaht rights and title case, claiming about 200 square kilometres of Nootka Island, is the first to apply the precedent-setting 2014 Tsilhqot’in decision in which the Supreme Court of Canada granted the Tsilhqot’in First Nation title to 1,750 square kilometres of territory. The ruling established that semi-nomadic First Nations can claim entire territories, not only village sites.
    Nuchatlaht is asking for a declaration of aboriginal title and for the Forests Act to no longer apply to those lands. Such a ruling would void existing forest licences and leave Nuchatlaht to decide how to manage the land.
    Little believes local management by people with a deep connection to the area will give the land a chance to recover and, as he confidently predicts victory, he hopes to see salmon parks established on Nootka Island. Salmon parks recognize that everything is connected, from the health of mountain tops to the rivers running through the valley bottoms
    “Salmon depend on water and land. We can’t cut all the trees and expect the salmon to survive. We need healthy waters and healthy fish and healthy people,” he said.
     

    Clearcut logging on Nootka Island (Photo: TJ Watt)
     
    A test of the Province’s pledge to implement UNDRIP
    The case will also test the Province’s commitment to the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, passed in 2019. The Province pledged to bring all BC’s laws into alignment with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous people.
    That declaration says that Indigenous people have the right to the lands and resources they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used and requires Indigenous communities to consent to decisions that affect their rights.
    However, progress on the provincial declaration has been slow, with some First Nations criticizing the pace of change.
    Chief Michael, speaking at the webinar, said the Province’s insistence on fighting the title case does not indicate a commitment to UNDRIP.
    “Considering the way Canada has been towards us up to now, there’s been no sign of UNDRIP or any of that good faith yet, so I was not holding my breath. Sure enough, there’s no change in their tactics. It’s pretty disappointing, but no surprise,” Michael said.
    Lawyer Jack Woodward, who shepherded the Tsilhqot’in case through the courts and was instrumental in drafting the section of the Canadian Constitution that enshrines Indigenous Rights, is exasperated by the provincial government’s insistence on fighting the case.
     

    Lawyer Jack Woodward (Photo: Landon Walters CC)
     
    While Woodward acknowledges that implementing UNDRIP is a big project, he said, “But, they just have to work harder. You can’t make a solemn promise to all of the Indigenous people and all of us who feel ashamed of British Columbia’s past…and not follow through. You’ve got to follow through and we just have to keep pressuring our politicians,” he said, in answer to audience questions at the webinar.
    History speaks for itself, according to Woodward.
     
    Province’s legal arguments are “disgraceful”
    “It has been the shame of British Columbia. It’s really our original sin in this province that there have been no proper dealings with the First Nations about their lands, which were simply taken. What is new, is that the current government has promised that they are going to conduct this litigation in a spirit of reconciliation on a principled basis,” he said.
    Instead, the Province’s legal arguments are “disgraceful,” Woodward said.
    The Province’s position, put forward in the latest response to the civil claim, are that the Nuchatlaht abandoned Nootka Island, that BC laws displaced Indigenous title, and that the Nuchatlaht Nation was too small and weak to legally hold title.
    The document describes various groups or Indigenous collectives using the area before the British Crown asserted sovereignty over Nootka Island in 1790 and  “a collective of politically autonomous local groups” that lived in the territory between 1803 and 1846. “There are not now and, since the 1980s there have not been, Nuchatlaht resident communities in the Claim Area,” it says.
    That is because the Nuchatlaht were driven out after they were forbidden to cut trees or build houses on Crown land, Woodward said.
    “They were evicted. They were forced off their land by the government’s act. This is a disgraceful argument that our government is making…I am embarrassed that our Province continues to advance that position. I am calling on the Attorney General to turn it around,” he said.
    “Our argument is really very simple that Indigenous people, like all Canadians, have to have the right to inherit the wealth of their grandparents…That right was cut off by government actions in the last decades and that is what we are going to fix in this court case,” he said.
    An e-mailed statement from the Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation said the Province is committed to a principled legal approach, but the primary goal is always to resolve issues outside the courts.
    “We are deeply committed to advancing reconciliation in BC—guided by the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples—and with meaningful consultation and cooperation with Indigenous Peoples,” it said.
    The claim that British Columbia’s laws displaced Aboriginal title, if it ever existed, is a new argument, Woodward said.
    “That’s the extinguishment argument recycled with a different word,” said Woodward, adding that, under the Canadian Constitution and UNDRIP, there cannot be claims that Indigenous title was extinguished.
    The Province is not arguing extinction and has not used such a defence since the litigation started, replied the ministry in an e-mail.
    Since 2019, the Province has based its negotiations on a recognition of the inherent rights of Indigenous peoples “with all agreements stating explicitly that government will not require Indigenous peoples to extinguish their rights,” says the ministry response.
    Then, there is the “Luxembourg defence” claiming Nuchatlaht was too small and weak to have Indigenous title, Woodward said, pointing out that Luxembourg is squished between the great powers of France and Germany, but still exists.
    “That’s like Nuchatlaht. They are still there… [and] that is the bully’s argument that they say only the strong have a right to survive,” he said.
    The pleading from the Province says the government is concerned about possible overlapping title claims with the Ehattesaht and Mowachaht-Muchalaht First Nations, but Woodward said there are no overlaps with the territories of other First Nations.
    “What distinguishes this case is the very careful way that Nuchatlaht have exercised restraint by not making a claim for any areas claimed by another First Nation,” he said.
    Ehattesaht and Mowachaht-Muchalaht confirmed there are no problems with overlap and both First Nations support the Nuchatlaht claim.
     
    Show of support requested
    As the case progresses, and particularly if Nuchatlaht is victorious, one of the questions will be whether other First Nations are ready to follow suit.
    For most communities, the downside is the time, energy and money required to get a case into court and Woodward has accused the Province of using delaying tactics to increase the expense in the Nuchatlaht case, which was launched in 2017.
    Woodward said many people were surprised that more First Nations did not embark on rights and title cases after the Tsilhqot’in victory, but most opted to aim for negotiated settlements instead of long, expensive court cases.
    As some of the “clutter” is cleared in the initial cases, Woodward hopes the time and the cost will decrease.
    “My ambition is that this case will be done for 10 percent of the cost and 10 percent of the time of Tsilhqot’in and I think we might do it,” he said.
    The case will start Monday, March 21, 2022 and continue for eight weeks, followed by two weeks of legal submissions in September. Nuchatlaht members are asking for a show of support with a rally at the Nelson Street entrance of the BC Supreme Court in Vancouver at 8:30 am March 21.
    Judith Lavoie is a freelance journalist who enjoys exploring stories about the natural world.

    Judith Lavoie
    In the lead-up to civic elections next fall, Langford citizens are demanding change, including respectful debate and input into decision-making.
     
    THE FINAL STRAW for Langford Councillor Lillian Szpak, during an increasingly prickly council meeting, was when a fellow councillor alluded to her family during a verbal attack and another, supported by the mayor, accused her of supplying information to outsiders during the meeting.
    The January 10, 2022 meeting degenerated into a schoolyard-style spat as Mayor Stew Young, Councillor Lanny Seaton and Councillor Matt Sahlstrom piled on to criticize Szpak, who had suggested getting expert and community advice on a tree protection bylaw.
    “I am talking about respect,” said Szpak after Seaton claimed she was in conflict-of-interest because her daughter-in-law is a member of Langford Voters for Change, a Facebook group that is, increasingly, a thorn-in-the-side of council.
    Later in the meeting Szpak sent an emailed reply to a resident who complained about being cut off in mid-sentence by the mayor.
    Young claimed Szpak behaved inappropriately by responding to the email from a member of Langford Voters for Change, although Szpak said she does not know the emailer and was apologizing for the abrupt cut-off.
    Under COVID-19 protocols, residents must phone or use Zoom to speak at public hearings and, ironically, the caller was asking Young not to interrupt those phoning in.
    The “shameful behaviour and egregious accusations” are a clear demonstration that Langford needs a code of conduct, said Szpak, who notified Council at its next meeting of her plan to introduce such a motion soon. That resulted in a reprimand from the mayor for not putting it in writing or going through staff first.
    In a January interview with Saanich News after that January 24 meeting, Young, described some councillors as “combative,” and stated “I’ve got broad shoulders; nobody has to agree with me, but this is the path that I’ve taken for 30 years and it’s brought Langford to a great space.”
     
    “It was ugly”
    At issue is more than a spat on a local council. Langford is BC’s fastest-growing large municipality and Young has steered that growth since becoming mayor shortly after incorporation almost 30 years ago.
    He has had three decades without serious opposition, but, some sectors of the community say they are struggling to make their voices heard and feel disheartened by a council that appears to follow its own agenda regardless of input.
    Szpak, who has lived in Langford since 1993 and served six terms on council, has watched Langford’s demographics change, with younger, more engaged people moving into the community. Many share their views on social media and it worries her that some councillors view groups such as Langford Voters for Change as a threat.
    “To characterize them as the evil Facebook group and that anyone on it has questionable intent—and then to refer to my daughter-in-law as one of those people—was a personal attack and completely unacceptable,” Szpak said.
     

    Langford Mayor Stew Young, Councillors Denise Blackwell and Lillian Szpak 
     
    Several days after the January 10 council meeting, Szpak remained troubled about the atmosphere on council, personal attacks and a reluctance to listen to opposing views.
    “I tried to defend myself and my family and it was ugly,” she said in an interview.
    “I watched that [video recording] this morning and it is painful. It’s very, very hard for me to see that again,” she said. (The exchange referred to starts at roughly 1 hour, 50 minutes into the January 10 meeting.)
    The meeting was an illustration of what regularly happens around the council table where questions are taken as challenges, rather than requests for information, Szpak said.
    “Where is our integrity? Where is our accountability and where is our collaborative leadership?” she asked.
    “When someone has the floor, the chair should protect that as long as they are speaking appropriately. Inappropriate is not ‘I don’t agree with you,’” she said.
    “Physical gestures, eye rolling, hand gestures, those kinds of threatening behaviour should not be tolerated,” she added.
    Councillor Denise Blackwell said she and Szpak recently decided to be more vocal about the need for debate, especially when it comes to major changes such as 24-storey towers in Langford’s centre.
    “I think the other [councillors] are terrified to do it, so we have decided to speak up,” said Blackwell, who has been on council since incorporation in 1992.
    “It’s a frustrating kind of thing when no one debates anything—it just kind of goes through—and, in the past, most of it was fine and had been approved at different committee meetings, but, if you dare to ask questions or disagree with the mayor’s vision, you get a lecture,” Blackwell said.
    In the meantime, a code of conduct would help, she said.
    “I know you can’t always do everything that people want, but people do need to have an opportunity to speak. If it’s a big change, like all these towers, it’s something you should put out to the community and let them speak,” Blackwell said.
     
    Developers leading the process
    Langford has changed beyond recognition in the last three decades and the City regularly gains accolades for its relentless push to provide housing, bring jobs to the community and densify the city core.
    It was recently named Most Resilient City and Best Place for Work in BC by BC Business Magazine and has grown from 14,000 residents at incorporation in 1992 to 47,313 in July 2021.
    The growth has brought restaurants, recreation facilities, cheaper housing and a city vibe, but the rapid building rate has also brought traffic jams, clear-cut, once-forested development sites, blasted mountain tops, the disappearance of some single-family neighbourhoods and concerns about the environment.
    John Treleaven, chair of Grumpy Taxpayer$ of Greater Victoria, said the transformation of Langford has benefitted the whole region and contributed to the regional housing supply.
    Young and the council have been key to Langford’s growth, but, eventually, that transformed community will move in the direction it chooses, Treleaven said.
    “People have every right to express their point of view. It’s all about transparency, accountability and acting in the best interest of the community as the council judges. That is the sacred trust we place on our elected officials,” he said.
    The backdrop to the apparent growing dissatisfaction is the run-up to next October’s municipal elections and Young, who did not respond to phone calls or emailed questions from Focus, recently told the Times Colonist that he is undecided on running again.
    Langford Voters for Change will not be fielding candidates, although individual members may decide to run.
    In the 2018 municipal election, Langford had the second-lowest turnout in the province—beaten only by Terrace—but, some are hoping issues ranging from continuous construction noise to the prospect of 24-storey condominium towers, may overcome apathy.
    Young is proud of Langford’s ability to cut red tape and grease the wheels for developers, with approvals racing through the process in a fraction of the time it takes in other municipalities. The speedy approach means developers can assemble land and, often, start building within six months.
    However, there are ongoing concerns about who has the ear of councillors and the close relationship between developers and council.
    “If the only people they are hearing from in these committee meetings and in the hallways are those who are making a living off …increased development, those are the only voices they pay attention to,” said Laurie Plomp, a member of Langford Voters for Change.
    “It’s very frustrating to feel like the developers are leading the process in Langford.”
    Those with links to the development community dominate advisory committees and much of the work is done behind the scenes, before an application reaches council, leading to accusations of lack of transparency.
    Public hearings are usually short and a check of hearings during the last two council meetings shows almost all those speaking in favour of developments were connected to either the real estate or development industries.
    “There is such a lack of opposite viewpoints or balanced viewpoints on any of the committees,” Plomp said.
    Then, once an application comes to council for a public hearing, input is limited and councillors will not consider the cumulative impact of development on neighbourhoods, despite the breakneck speed of development, Plomp said.
    “There has been a lot more pushback over the last couple of years, particularly in terms of development and environmental destruction, and [Young] just doesn’t appreciate those kinds of remarks,” she said.
     
    Opposition to status quo getting organized
    The Facebook site for Langford Voters for Change, which has 1,900 members, emphasizes the group is not anti-development, but wants thoughtful, balanced and well-paced development that “protects the natural environment rather than obliterates it” and blends in with existing neighbourhoods.
    The group wants “a community centric and transparent governing body” that encourages broad-based community input to be analyzed and incorporated into the decision-making processes.
    That is not what Langford has right now, say some residents who believe that, especially when it comes to development, Young will not tolerate opposition.
    Jacqueline Gintaut, a member of Langford Voters for Change, whose phone call was cut off by Young at the meeting, said, after living in Langford for decades, she joined the group last year.
    “I was naïve in that I believed that, if community residents reached out to engage with mayor and council in a professional and constructive manner, that their input would be welcomed and an opportunity to work collaboratively would present itself. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long to recognize that my imagined reality was not to be,” she said.
     

    Langford residents Jacqueline Gintaut (left) and Ayzia De Medeiros
     
    The perception that issues are decided before reaching council and input is ignored means some residents no longer feel comfortable calling in, especially if they are identified as belonging to Langford Voters for Change, Gintaut said.
    “Mayor Young has publicly said to me at a council meeting that I am a bully, I am a complainer. This how he speaks to the residents. If I was anybody other than myself, I probably would have been deterred from continuing to phone in. Who wants to be called names by the mayor at a public council meeting?” Gintaut said.
    “What is happening is wrong and it needs to change,” she said.
    When developments are questioned Young frequently speculates that callers do not understand the urgent need for more affordable housing or that they are newcomers to the area.
    “This isn’t Vancouver. If you like Vancouver, stay there. If you want to be in Langford this is what we do,” said Young during the tree protection bylaw discussion.
    Gintaut said Young publicly misrepresents those who hold contrary views.
    “He has also categorized those of us who have lived here for decades as ‘wealthy naysayers who want to close off opportunities for others,’” she said. 
     
    Community feels left out of decision-making
    One of the biggest frustrations is the limited opportunity for community input to be incorporated into council decisions, Gintaut said.
    An example is the Official Community Plan which has changed significantly since it was put together in 2008, but lacks any broad-based community input, she said.
    Kimberley Guiry regularly listens to council meetings with her six and eight-year-old children, to help teach them how to talk about important topics.
    “We’re trying to show them that we have feelings about our community and this is the place to take those feelings [so we can] tell people who make decisions what is important to us,” Guiry said.
    The mid-January meeting was a disappointment, she said.
    “Being told by a mayor that, if we don’t align with the views that are already in place, we don’t have space to voice those opinions is hard,” she said.
    However, the family has turned it into a learning opportunity, said Guiry, who has used it to emphasize the need for respectful discussions.
    Ayzia De Medeiros has lived in Langford for about 15 years and, initially, paid little attention to local politics, but with increased development around her home, started listening to the council meetings.
    “But I take a step back every now and then because it is, honestly, so aggravating. It’s like beating your head against the wall at times,” said De Medeiros, adding she was so shocked by the mid-January meeting that she was shaking after listening to it.
    “It was embarrassing to watch,” said De Medeiros, who called City Hall with the aim of having a discussion or filing a complaint, but she is not optimistic it will make a difference.
    What will make a difference is people turning out to vote at the next election, said De Medeiros who worries that rapid development is continuing without consideration of infrastructure.
     
    Code of Conduct—now or as election issue?
    One of the next steps will pull the seven-member council into a debate on the need for a code of conduct, something that may not be a choice for council after the October 15 municipal election.
    Last year a working group from the Union of BC Municipalities, Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Local Government Management Association came up with an updated draft code of conduct and guide.
    That was followed by amendments to the Local Government Act calling on all municipal councils to publicly consider developing or updating codes of conduct within six months of a new term of office.
    “This provides a tool to strengthen local government responsible conduct, respect and inclusion by creating a regular process for elected officials to talk about shared expectations as they carry out their responsibilities and govern together,” according to a background statement from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs. 
    The real test will then be the October election to see whether the dissatisfaction is limited to a few malcontents and special interest groups, as Young recently claimed during an interview with CFAX radio, or whether Langford residents really want to be involved in the rapidly-changing community.
    Despite the simmering dissatisfaction, both Blackwell and Szpak doubt that Young is beatable if he decides to run.
    Blackwell will consider running for mayor if Young steps down, while Szpak hopes there will be new faces ready to serve on council.
    “It’s not rocket science. You don’t need any special qualifications other than you listen and you are respectful,” Szpak said.
    Plomp believes Langford residents are ready to ditch their apathy because, although most support construction of affordable housing, they are also concerned about their own environment.
    “Housing is important, but it’s housing that comes with neighbourhood parks or trees that you can see in your neighbourhood…I think there is going to be big change because it has escalated to the point that there is hardly any area that is not affected by this,” she said.
    “I don’t know that this council is able to reframe their thinking from what they have been doing for the last 30 years and start to look at some of the issues that matter to Langford voters now.” 
    Judith Lavoie is a freelance journalist who enjoys exploring stories about the natural world.

    Grace Golightly
    “If all the beasts were gone, men would die from a great loneliness of spirit, for whatever happens to the beasts also happens to the man. All things are connected.” ——Chief Seattle (1786—1866)
     
    SPECIES HAVE BEEN GOING EXTINCT for numerous reasons, over millennia. But human-caused development, deforestation and climate change have accelerated the process as never before. 
    Record numbers of species are threatened or at risk—nearly 2,400 in British Columbia alone. Scientists say that up to half of all species may vanish by the end of this century.
    The problem is so widespread and distressing that an international “Remembrance Day for Lost Species” was created in 2011. This year it fell on Tuesday, November 30th. 
    In BC, lost and threatened species were honoured with events held in Port Coquitlam and in Victoria. About 100 people participated in Victoria’s event, called Rise Up for the Fallen, on November 24th. 
     

    Rise Up for the Fallen procession in Victoria, November 24, 2021. Hereditary Chief Ye-Kue-Klas (also known as Sonny) of the Gwat'sinux-Kwakwaka'wakw, carries a small totem pole, while others carry fronds of the cedar tree, sacred to many Indigenous nations. (photo by Valerie Elliott)
     
    Twenty people helped carry an iconic reminder of one of the “fallen”—a 1200-pound slab of coastal Douglas fir. With chanting and drumming, they followed Indigenous leaders in a procession that ended with a rally at the Legislature, where MLAs were still in session. 
    The slab measured a full eight feet across. It had been cut from a huge stump left behind in a clear-cut at the foot of Edinburgh Mountain, in the Port Renfrew area, and served as a stark reminder of the ongoing destruction of old-growth trees and the irreplaceable habitat they provide. Coastal Douglas fir ecosystems are among the most threatened in the province.
    En route, the procession paused at several intersections. During one pause, Jackie Larkin, an organizer with Elders for Ancient Trees, led a call-and-response that honoured recently clear-cut nearby ecosystems, and extinct or threatened species.
    “We honour, we remember Caycuse…” she said. The crowd gravely repeated each phrase after her. “We honour and rise for Eden Grove… We honour and remember marbled murrelet…” 
    And the little brown bat… Western toad… bandtailed pigeon… sharp-tail snake… Western skylark… oldgrowth specklebellied lichen… barn swallow… great blue heron… olive-sided flycatcher… common bladder moss… blue-grey taildropper slug… Western toad… phantom orchid… Stellar sea lion… red-legged frog… 
     

    Marbled murrelets are a threatened species. These robin-sized sea birds nest only in old-growth forests, high up on thick branches covered in moss. They lay only one egg. When it can fly, the chick makes a solitary journey to the sea. A lack of old growth along its route leaves it vulnerable to predators. (photo by Deborah Freeman)
     

    Northern pygmy owls are only 6 to 7 inches in length—about the size of a plump robin. But they are fierce hunters, sometimes preying on birds and mammals larger than itself. (photo by Deborah Freeman)
     


    The goshawk is a large hawk and requires large areas of old growth or mature forest for nesting and hunting. It is a red-listed species. Goshawks have been known to attack people that venture too near its nest. (photo by Deborah Freeman)
     

    Close up of a Western Toad (photo by Andrew Johnson, Creative Commons)
     


    Phantom orchid, Cephalanthera austiniae, on Vancouver Island (photo by sramey, Creative Commons)
     

    Sharp-tailed snake, Contia tenuis (photo by Don Loarie, Creative Commons)

     
    These are only a few of the threatened species within our region. The full list is much longer. And it must be added to the lists of all the lost and threatened species in other regions, and other countries, as well as the oceans. More than 37,000 species in the world are at direct risk of extinction.
    For the past 20 years, Larkin and Maggie Ziegler have been co-facilitating groups to help people open to and share the grief and pain so many feel for our planet and its beings harmed by human activity. They encourage people to see the interconnectedness, beauty and presence of life, and to feel gratitude for it. They include, honour and share the pain rather than repressing it as a private grief.
    “The Spanish word for remember is recordar—‘to pass through the heart,’”Larkin noted in an interview. “For me it’s very important for us as humans to remember and honour them, to celebrate the lives that they had, and to grieve for their loss. To me, the grieving and the honouring and the celebrating are all tied up together.”
     

    Citizen scientist Natasha Lavdovsky discovered one of BC's largest populations of this blue-listed lichen—in a marked cutblock at Fairy Creek. Oldgrowth specklebelly lichen only grows in forests that are at least 6,000 years old. Much of this forest in the Heli Camp area was recently logged. (photo by Natasha Lavdovsky)
     
    Ziegler explains the issues humans are facing are collective, and the pain is collective, so it makes sense to acknowledge them in community, where they can be witnessed and recognized as normal. It’s empowering, it opens the heart, and it also brings attention to what hasn’t been said or acknowledged, she said.
    She added that protecting land and water is a dangerous activity, and around the world, hundreds of environment defenders are murdered every year. It was recently reported that a record number of land defenders were killed in 2020: 227. Many were Indigenous people defending their ancestral land. (A sobering reminder, in a week when the RCMP reportedly assaulted a Pacheedaht land defender on her ancestral territory at Fairy Creek, and a week after 29 Indigenous people were arrested as they defended their Wet’suwet’en territory from the destructive installation of a pipeline which will endanger their sacred river and the nation’s water supply.)
    Que Mary Banh, who helped organize the Rise Up event, says the actual number of land defenders killed in the world is likely much higher. She speaks from personal experience. Before her family moved to Canada, two of her uncles were killed defending their jungle homelands from the destruction of logging and mining in South Vietnam. 
     

    Que Mary Banh at Fairy Creek, April 2021 (photo by Dawna Mueller)
     
    “They were shot by corporate mercenaries,” she said. But deaths of land defenders like her uncles go unreported in countries where there’s little press freedom, or where they may even be perpetrated or covered up by governments. 
    Now, she says, “There’s almost no life in the jungle. The fish have disappeared. The soil is contaminated.” 
    Young people of that region now see the birds and animals that used to live there only in photos. In Canada, Banh believes we are heading for the same fate. She is passionately committed to protecting forests and biodiversity, and spent five days in a hard block structure at Fairy Creek last August to slow down the logging.
    Banh says, “We Teochew people are not scared of death. What we’re scared of is not standing up while we’re living, letting these bullies scare us into submission. That’s not what I was taught.”
     
    WHEN THE PROCESSION reached the Legislature, several Indigenous leaders addressed the crowd. 
    Elder William Jones, of Pacheedaht First Nation in the Port Renfrew area, thanked those in the crowd who have helped defend the old-growth forests in the Fairy Creek area, which are part of his nation’s ancestral territory.
    “I am most grateful for all of you,” he told them. “We are here to protect and care for our Great Mother’s gift to us.”
    Another elder, a hereditary chief from northern Vancouver Island, Ye-Kue-Klas (Sonny) of the Gwat'sinux - Kwakwaka'wakw Nation said: “We will never give up, in our fight for our lands and for Mother Earth.” 
     

    Indigenous people led the Rise Up for the Fallen procession, including hereditary Chief Ye-Kue-Klas (also known as Sonny) of the Gwat'sinux-Kwakwaka'wakw, in the centre-right of the photograph. He was accompanied by his mother Tlax-Gwah-Nee (Fran Wallace), in the centre-left. Both are wearing their traditional regalia. Their nation is located on the western side of northern Vancouver Island. (photo by Valerie Elliott)
     
    Wearing his traditional regalia, he explained that his people call the Earth Mother because it provides for all: “It provides for every animal, every insect, every plant. The Earth provides for us. We need to stop all of the greed, all of the overcutting. We need to save the last bit of our old growth.”
    Ye-Kue-Klas said he was raised to think seven generations ahead. “What will they have, that we have now? If we take too much, our future generations will have nothing.”
    Greed was absolutely illegal before colonization arrived in these lands, another Indigenous speaker told the crowd. Chiyokten (Paul Wagner) from the W’SANEC nation has spent the past few months defending the old growth forests at Fairy Creek.
    Colonialism is “an adolescent culture of death,” he said. “It has destroyed all its elders and Indigenous-hearted matriarchs that would have said ‘No, you will not harm the circle of life.’ They have lost their connection to Mother Earth.” While Indigenous cultures were able to steward the lands and keep the circle of life healthy, this society is unable to even ensure a future for its own children, he said. 
    Colonialism has never listened to our First Peoples, he said.  As a child, his mother told him a story of the first contact with Europeans. “She said, ‘They came here with long eyes,’ and she took her fingers and moved them in a gesture from her eyes forward, beyond herself. She said ‘they came here with long eyes, and they looked beyond us, they looked right through us. They could only see the things they wanted to take for themselves.’
    Since then, Chiyokten said, 98 percent of the forests in the Salish Sea region have been destroyed, and 95 percent of the animals that lived in them are gone. “And about the same percentage of Indigenous human beings are gone too. Annihilated. 
    “So this is the trajectory of colonialism. We’re moving hard and fast towards death for the circle of life.”
    In order to stop that process, it is time to return to and honour the knowledge of Indigenous people, he said. Their deep and intimate knowledge of the earth, the water and their inhabitants enabled the first peoples to steward and maintain a paradise here for millennia, he said. That knowledge was passed on to children by the elders, and matriarchs guided their society. 
    When the Douglas party arrived and started wholesale destroying the ancient forests on their territories, the WSANEC people tried to reason with them, he said. 
    “But they wouldn’t stop. They wouldn’t listen to us. So we counselled and we decided to paint our faces black and fight to the death for an ancient forest. I’m proud of that. Not because it was violent. Because it was necessary. 
    “When my elder told me this, he said… if they destroy that, they destroy our ability to live as human beings. To be free, to truly be Indigenous, to be the same as all the other beings. That’s our knowing.”
     
    MEMBERS OF THE RISE UP FOR THE FALLEN event in Victoria had hoped to speak with MLAs. They stayed several hours at the Legislature, occupying the entrance and exit to the restricted parking lot until midnight. However, MLAs left their cars in their parking stalls and took taxis from the other side of the Legislature.
    But as Chiyokten said, many people see the need for change now. Many are embracing the Indigenous teachings about living simply, to respect the Earth, nature, and all species, and to stand up to protect them. “We’re beginning the end of the era of death,” he said. “We’re returning to a way of Life once again.
    “When you fight for that ecosystem, when you fight for what is simply called a tree, you’re fighting for our existence as Indigenous people.” Chiyokten said his ancestors didn’t fight out of hate or anger. 
    “They fought out of love. They fought out of love for our ways, our ways of keeping every single being as well as the Creator put them here. Our way is the way of life and respect. We’re stepping into the ways of the ancient people. 
    “And we’re going to bring these governments along with us.”
    Grace Golightly (her name since birth) is a freelance writer interested in the protection of nature and human rights.
     
    Further viewing/ reading:
    • A video of the speakers when Rise Up for the Fallen reached the Legislature.
    • Raincoast Conservation Foundation recently stated that within the coastal Douglas fir range, 44 ecological communities are at risk. So are 94 species of vertebrate animals, 65 vascular plant species, 45 invertebrate species, 5 lichens, and 3 bryophyte species. See the Foundation’s report on coastal Douglas fir ecosystems.
    • Check out the rich variety of biodiversity at Fairy Creek, found by scientists and citizen scientists.
    • Habitat Acquisition Trust has information on local species and on native plants and trees we can plant to support local species.
    • British Columbia’s looming extinction crisis.
    • BC government gives okay to trap endangered fishers for fur as scientists warn of impending extinctions. 

    Judith Lavoie
    Watt’s dramatic images of coastal forests—before and after logging—have helped everyone better understand what’s being lost.
     
    THERE WERE A FEW TIMES, as TJ Watt slogged through a sea of stumps and barren clearcuts, that he questioned whether anyone cared that trees, which had grown for centuries and supported intricate networks of species, had been destroyed forever.
    “You sometimes wonder ‘why am I even doing this? Is it really making a difference,’” said Watt, a photographer and campaigner for the Ancient Forest Alliance whose dramatic before-and-after pictures of old-growth logging in BC recently went viral.
    International shockwaves from his photographs of giant western red cedars in the Caycuse River watershed on southern Vancouver Island, strategically placed with after-logging images of massive stumps, helped focus attention on BC’s already controversial old-growth logging policies.
     


    All photos above were taken in the Caycuse area of Vancouver Island by TJ Watt
     
    The reaction proved that, indeed, people do care.
    “It says we are on the right track,” Watt said.
    The images appeared in several major magazines and were recognized in three international photo competitions. Then, in October, Watt was named as a National Geographic Explorer and Royal Canadian Geographical Society Explorer.
    Watt will also receive a Trebek Initiative grant, which will help fund more expeditions into remote areas where, out of sight of the general public, old-growth is being logged. 
    He hopes the recognition will allow him to reach a wider audience. “I think it just goes to show that this is truly a globally significant issue. These are some of the Earth’s largest and oldest trees and, here we are in a first world country, and it is still legal to cut them down,” said Watt. 
     

    TJ Watt
     
    The Trebek Initiative is named after Alex Trebek, the Canadian host of the popular television show Jeopardy, who died earlier this year. Trebek was an honorary president of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society and the grants, awarded for the first time this year, support explorers, scientists, photographers, geographers and educators who use storytelling to ignite “a passion to preserve.”
    The recognition comes shortly after Watt’s latest release of photographs that are breath-taking for all the wrong reasons.
    The pictures of scalped hillsides along the upper Mahatta River on northwestern Vancouver Island immediately drew horrified condemnation of BC’s old-growth forestry policies.
     

    Scalped hillsides along the upper Mahatta River on northwestern Vancouver Island (photo by TJ Watt)
     

    The destruction on the ground at Mahatta River (photo by TJ Watt)
     
    About 50 hectares around the Mahatta River, within the territory of Quatsino First Nation, was auctioned off by BC Timber Sales, and the photos show the raw reality of of clearcutting, with slopes and the valley bottom denuded of old-growth trees, leaving only giant cedar stumps.
    “[The photos] really struck a nerve with people. A lot of people see those images and think ‘didn’t we stop clearcutting like that back in the 1990s?’” Watt said.
    The trees were cut last year and this year—after the Province received the Old Growth Strategic Review which called for a paradigm shift in the way BC manages ancient forests.
    “This is one of the most atrocious examples of logging that I’ve seen in more than a decade,” said Watt, 37, who has worked on photography projects for the Ancient Forest Alliance since 2010.
    The Province has committed to implementing the panel’s 14 recommendations, but, in the meantime, old-growth logging has accelerated and Forests Minister Katrine Conroy confirmed last month that, out of a total annual cut of about 200,000 hectares, 55,000 hectares are old growth.
    Historically, before commercial logging, there were about 25-million hectares of old growth and government figures now put BC’s total forest at 56.2 million hectares of which 11.1 million hectares is old growth (not the 13.7-million hectares that government previously estimated).
    The definition of coastal old growth is a forest with trees that are at least 250 years old and, in the Interior, trees that are at least 140 years old.
    It’s too late for the Mahatta River forest, but Watt is holding out hope that people will no longer put up with such destruction elsewhere.
    “The world is watching right now,” he said
    “I’m hoping that the pressure of these images and the rest of the photographs we have been sharing are enough to push the government in the direction of doing the right thing.”
     

    Recent BCTS logging at Mahatta River (photo TJ Watt)
     
    From skate-boarding hippie to making a difference with pictures
    Watt’s interest in photography, which morphed into his crusade for old growth, started when he was a skate-boarding teenager, sporting dreadlocks and living in Metchosin.
    “Like every young photographer, I figured I wanted to travel the world and shoot photos of far-flung places, but after a few months doing that and then coming home I realized the landscape in the forests right in my own back yard on Vancouver Island, are second to none and I decided to really focus my efforts here,” he said.
    That commitment was cemented by a stint at the now-defunct Western Academy of Photography.
    “It gave me a year to focus specifically on photography instead of doing all the construction and landscaping jobs I was doing. I knew I wanted to do photography related to nature and photography with a real purpose,” he said.
    It was a decision that worried his family, Watt admits.
    “If you tell your parents that you’re going to be an artist that saves trees and that’s how you’re going to make a living, they definitely roll their eyes at you and look concerned and worried,” he said.
    “But, I can say, more than a decade later, they’re some of the proudest people around. You sometimes really do have to follow your gut, follow your dreams and believe it’s all going to work out.”
    Andrea Kucherawy was program manager at the Western Academy of Photogaphy when Watt arrived as a student and she watched his potential develop.
    “He definitely stood out for me,” said Kucherawy who has avidly followed his career.
    Watt’s interest in environmental photography paralleled his interest in sports such as skateboarding, said Kucherawy, who is pleased he took the environmental route.
    “I honestly don’t think we would be where we are now without the work he has done,” she said.
    “People need a visual, a comparison and his before-and-after work often includes a human element to give a sense of scale and I think that’s what’s really empowering for the cause,” she said.
    Ken Wu, who co-founded the Ancient Forest Alliance and is now executive director of the Endangered Ecosystems Alliance, first met Watt when he (Wu) was executive director of the Victoria chapter of the Wilderness Committee.
    “He was this skateboarding hippie who always had a camera with him and he liked to take pictures of all the protests we were organizing,” Wu said.
    “Then I sent him into the woods to take pictures of the old-growth forests and to build trails and it turned out that he had a great aptitude for trail building and outdoor activities in rugged landscapes,” he said.
    When Wu split from the Wilderness Committee, one of his first moves was to hire TJ as the Ancient Forest Alliance’s first staff member.
    One of the most celebrated early campaigns was sparked by the duo’s discovery of Avatar Grove, near Port Renfrew. TJ’s photos of the huge, gnarly trees and untouched forest, which was slated to be felled, sparked massive public interest.
     

    Avatar Grove (photo by TJ Watt)
     

    Avatar Grove (photo by TJ Watt)
     
    Avatar Grove has now become a tourist attraction and was pivotal in the transformation of Port Renfrew from a logging town to a destination for people who want to see big trees.
    It was the right time in history, noted Wu: the movie Avatar—which has a story line about saving a forest on another planet—was taking the world by storm; and TJ’s growing camera skills, combined with the rise of Facebook, allowed his photos of the discovery of a spectacular grove of trees in an accessible area to be shared around the world.
    “I recognized that TJ’s photos could be news media in and of themselves because they could be shared on that new platform,” Wu said.
    “They really hit home. It’s a visual shock. It’s like harpooned whales or rhinos with their horns cut off, you get it a lot more quickly than all of my emails about productivity distinctions and tenure regulations,” he said.
    Edward Burtynsky, one of Canada’s best-known photographers, who focuses on global industrial landscapes, came across TJ when he was looking at photographing big trees and BC’s northern rainforest.
    All his research led to TJ and a loose collaboration started, said Burtynsky, who was impressed with the power of the photographs and the direction of the Ancient Forest Alliance campaigns.
    “When you name an area and name a tree it’s a really powerful way to save them,” he said.
    Now, in the age of iPhones, images have become one of the most powerful and fluid forms of communication, putting eyes on parts of the world that most people cannot witness first-hand, Burtynsky said.
    “Those before-and-after images I believe really drive the point home. You look at a tree that is 500, 700 or even 1,000 years old that sprouted before the medieval age and is now going to be sent somewhere else—not even here—to be cut into boards for decking. There’s something terribly wrong with that image,” he said.
    “I can’t see a more compelling way to tell that story than letting people look at that majestic tree and then [look at it again] after the loggers have been in.”
     


    Before and after images of logging of old-growth forest on Vancouver Island (photos by TJ Watt)
     
    Sonia Furstenau, leader of the BC Green Party, said Watt’s photographs illustrate the gap between logging practices on the ground and the story that government tries to tell.
    “Thirty years ago, the world was paying attention because we were clearcutting old-growth forests. Well, nothing has changed,” she said.
    “We have accepted this approach to forestry that puts mechanization and efficiency above, not only ecosystem protection, but also above jobs,” said Furstenau, pointing out that increasing volumes of timber are being cut with fewer and fewer people working in the industry.
    “When you see these images that TJ has so beautifully captured of before and after, what he shows is the real devastation of these logging practices,” Furstenau said.
     
    A huge emotional toll in witnessing the destruction
    The accolades for Watt come at a pivotal point as the provincial government announced in early November that logging will be deferred on 2.6 million hectares of old growth for two years while it consults with the province’s 204 First Nations.
    The deferrals are based on new mapping, identifying areas of old growth where there is imminent risk of biodiversity loss. BC Timber Sales, the government agency that hands out logging contracts for 20 percent of the province’s annual allowable cut—and which has been heavily criticized for auctioning off some of the most controversial areas of old growth—will immediately stop advertising and selling parcels in the deferral areas.
    It is positive that government is now using independent mapping, based on science, to identify old-growth forests at risk and that mapping confirms that many of BC’s forests are at risk of irreversible biodiversity loss, Watt said.
    However, details and provincial funding are missing although the federal government has committed $50-million to help protect BC’s ancient forests, noted Watt.
    “Without a matching provincial commitment of several hundred million dollars in conservation funding, with a primary focus on First Nations economic relief linked to deferrals, the full scale of the deferrals and eventual permanent protection will be impossible to achieve,” he said.
    “We have the road map in hand, but we’re missing the gas in the tank,” he said.
    That means the clock is ticking as the ever-shrinking remains of BC’s old-growth forests are continuing to fall and Watt suspects it will be impossible to avoid more before-and-after pictures—and they are never easy.
    The chance to inform the public about forestry practices in the hidden corners of the province is a privilege, but it leaves scars, Watt admits.
    “There’s a huge emotional toll and compounding ecological grief to witnessing the disappearance and destruction of these truly irreplaceable forests,” he said.
    “It even causes a lot of anger, because I know that every day there’s a delay in ensuring these forests are protected, some of them are gone forever. Trees may come back, but never the ancient forests that are so humbling and awe-inspiring.”
    As an example, he described how retracing his steps through the Caycuse after the machines had done their worst, was like looking at the death of old friends.
    The idea of irretrievable loss when old-growth forests are cut was echoed by Gary Merkel, one of the authors of the Old Growth Strategic Review and a member of the technical advisory panel on the recent deferrals.
    Speaking at the news conference Merkel emphasized the importance of the underlying ecosystems in old-growth forests: “Some of our ecosystems in British Columbia remain relatively undisturbed since the last ice-age, more than 10,000 years,” he said.
    “We can grow new trees, they are renewable. These ecosystems, in most cases, are not renewable. They will never come back in a lifetime and possibly ever because of climate change,” he said.
    Watt’s photographs have helped make British Columbians aware of what was happening in the remote reaches of Vancouver Island. Despite the toll, Watt is committed to continuing his work on behalf of the forest: “Unless we go on these trips to try to expose them, the forests would disappear without anybody knowing about it.”
    Judith Lavoie is a freelance journalist who enjoys exploring stories about the natural world.

    Leslie Campbell
    FOCUS CONGRATULATES WRITER RUSS FRANCIS on his winning the 2021 Jack Webster Award for environmental reporting for his report “One in 7 deaths of Canadians are due to fossil fuel particles, which also help viruses invade our bodies.”
    In the article, Francis reports on research about particulate matter in the air we breath—PM2.5s—and how those released from the burning of fossil fuels help the coronavirus slip past our bodies’ natural defence mechanisms to gain easy access to every cell in our bodies. In general PM2.5s can wreak havoc. They can cause “cancers, heart attacks, lung disease, strokes, dementia, and Parkinson’s disease. They even increase the risk of permanent blindness,” writes Francis. Though there are many sources of PM2.5s, new research suggests that burning fossil fuels kill tens of thousands of Canadians every year. “[F]ossil fuel-generated PM2.5s kill 2.6 times as many adult people in just one year as the pandemic has killed in total,” writes Francis. 
    Francis has been a regular contributor to FOCUS for over four years. He previously held staff positions with Monday Magazine and several large dailies, including the Vancouver Sun. Starting with a short piece on animal rights in the December 1986 issue of Mother Jones, his stories have appeared in various publications worldwide. At Monday Magazine, in 2000, he won a Webster award of distinction, with T.K. Demmings and Ross Crockford, for a Victoria city hall story, and won wide praise for helping end a highly questionable city deal with a California developer, through his Arena Deathwatch column. In 2008, he enrolled in UVic’s Master of Public Administration program, subsequently working as a BC government analyst for 10 years in various ministries. He returned to reporting in 2018, concentrating on energy policy and the climate emergency for Focus.
    The November 3rd Jack Webster Awards ceremony took place online this year. Named for influential reporter and commentator Jack Webster, who worked in print, radio and television, the awards are presented annually by the Webster Foundation whose mission is to foster and celebrate excellence in journalism to protect the public interest for British Columbians. 
    Other finalists in the environmental reporting category for the Websters this year were Jess Houty with Hakai Magazine and Marc Fawcett-Atkinson with Canada’s National Observer.
    Other Victoria-area winners in other categories include Andrew MacLeod with the Tyee and Les Leyne (Commentator of the Year) with the Times-Colonist. See the list of award winners and finalists here. And read Russ Francis’ award-winning entry here.
    Leslie Campbell is the editor of FOCUS—and pleased and proud to work with Russ and other excellent writers dedicated to investigating important regional issues.

    Judith Lavoie
    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.

    Dawna Mueller
    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.

    Stephen Hume
    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. 
     
     

    Rochelle Baker
    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.

    Judith Lavoie
    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 danalivingstone55@gmail.com. Leonard Sielecki of the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure is at leonard.sielecki@gov.bc.ca.
    Judith Lavoie is an award-winniing journalist specializing in the environment, First Nations, and social issues. Twitter @LavoieJudith

    Katłįà Lafferty
    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.

    Leslie Campbell
    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.  

    Rochelle Baker
    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.

    Melissa Renwick
    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.

    Judith Lavoie
    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

    Michael John Lo
    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.

     

    Rochelle Baker
    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.
     
     

    Matt Simmons
    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.
     

    Leslie Campbell
    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.
     

    Judith Lavoie
    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

    Melissa Renwick
    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.
     
     

    Rochelle Baker
    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.

    Judith Lavoie
    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:
     
     

    Russ Francis
    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 property
    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.
     
    The project
    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.
     
    Heritage concerns
    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?” 
     
    What’s next?
    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.

    Cara McKenna
    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.
     

    Judith Lavoie
    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

    Ross Crockford
    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.
     



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