Conservation Report – Fall 2020
by Peter Ballin and the BC Nature Conservation Committee
As naturalists and conservationists, we value the nature around us and revel in its beauty. What leads to your appreciation of nature and its inhabitants? Erich Fromm coined the term “biophilia” in 1964 and defined it as the love of life or living systems. E.O. Wilson published the book Biophilia in 1984 and Stephen Kellert and Wilson edited the 1993 book The Biophilia Hypothesis, both of which explore possible evolutionary roots to our love of life forms. Is it about shared DNA? If it were about the organisms with DNA most like us, we’d like fungi more than flowers! But there must be some part of our genome that prompts us to be enamoured with nature, some underlying script that opens up our aesthetics to the world around us. Let’s take a further step: what does sacred mean to you? Do you consider life and the land and the waters sacred? How far must you plunge into your notions of gratitude and humility to connect deeply enough to say “yes”?
What’s this got to do with conservation? —Everything. And social justice too!
In this report (click title to jump to section):
- Marine Trails
- Species at Risk
- Caribou Recovery Program Update
- Tilbury Liquefied Natural Gas Phase 2 Expansion
- Agri-tech Industry and the use of the Agricultural Land Reserve
- Heart of Canada’s Green Recovery
- Funding BC Parks
Conservation Committee member Larry Dill reviewed and responded to a request from B.C. Marine Trails (BCMT) to “refine an initiative of significant importance to the long-term environmental integrity of the British Columbia coastline”.
From their letter to BC Nature: “For years, BCMT has been guided by Leave No Trace principles.
BCMT undertook a lengthy research initiative to understand and evaluate the potential impacts of both sustained and short-term recreational use of the British Columbia coast. The approach was to seek a negligible baseline for impact from human interaction to sensitive ecologies, habitats and wildlife based on scientifically-backed best practices and principles.”
Overall, BC Nature supported the proposed Code of Conduct as well thought out, and helpful in preventing harm to the natural coastal environments of B.C. by marine trail users. This is especially important as usage continues to increase, partly due to people spending more time exploring B.C. as the coronavirus pandemic reduces other options. BC Nature recommended explicit prohibition on the feeding of wildlife, either intentionally or inadvertently (e.g. by improper storage of food). We also commented on long-term effects of the use of hand sanitizers, which may contain chemicals harmful to the environment. We received a note of appreciation for our input.
On Aug. 4, 2020, Minister of Environment and Climate Change, the Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson, announced that the Government of Canada has invested $2 million over four years in Kootenay Connect—a program that aims to help protect and restore species-at-risk habitat and ecological connectivity in four biodiversity hotspots in the Kootenay region of southeastern B.C. This funding, provided through the Nature Legacy’s Canada Nature Fund, enables partners to advance the protection of habitat vital to the survival of iconic Canadian species.
Kootenay Connect focuses on the Bonanza Biodiversity Corridor, Creston Valley, Wycliffe Wildlife Corridor, and the Columbia Valley Wetlands and will help to conserve important habitat for 28 species-at-risk including Grizzly Bears, Northern Leopard Frogs, Western Screech-owls, American Badgers, Lewis’s Woodpeckers, Little Brown Myotis, and many others. View Government of Canada protecting species-at-risk habitat in British Columbia.
Conservation Committee member Greg Ferguson, along with other B.C. conservation groups (e.g. Initiative, Bird Canada) attended a conference call with James Mack (Assistant Deputy Minister of Environment, Environmental Sustainability and Strategic Policy) and other senior staff on June 3, 2020 regarding the government’s next steps for species-at-risk legislation in B.C. Greg reports:
“The group was advised that the government isn’t moving forward on completing legislation before the next election and gave no indication when it would be completed if they’re re-elected. Government priorities before the next election are to 1) define a suitable process for listing species and 2) work on mitigation management with a focus on offsets.”
“Conservation groups attending the meeting were overall very disappointed at the government’s lack of progress to date, their perspective that they’re doing a good job, and their future priorities. The government inertia is inappropriate in this time of crisis. We need interim, immediate, and tangible actions with a commitment made to legislation in the government’s next term.”
“The failure of government to meet its election promise to enact legislation during its current term is unfortunate given the status of species-at-risk in B.C., the years of advocating for legislation to adequately protect them, and the time and resources the government and others, including BC Nature and Indigenous groups, have committed to meetings and providing feedback on species- at-risk and wildlife management in B.C. over the last two years (e.g. Together for Wildlife Strategy )”
“It was good to hear at the meeting that the government expresses interest in continuing work towards legislation with conservation and other groups. As such, BC Nature will continue to advocate for endangered species legislation in B.C. and work with others on key points regarding species and ecosystem protection in the government’s current mandate (e.g., interim habitat protection).”
The following are news articles on species-at-risk: BCnature Magazine, Summer 2020 issue (page 25) features a story by Daniel Wood, Stumbling Towards Oblivion, which highlights the biodiversity crisis and lack of action from the BC government.
Sally Otto wrote an article about the status of species-at- risk and biodiversity in Canada.
Caribou Recovery Program
August 2020 Update: Joan Snyder
The most recent information from the government is the B.C. Caribou Recovery Program Update, discussed briefly in the Spring BC Nature Magazine. This five-page document is disturbing because of the trends it projects for the Mountain Caribou’s population monitoring, timeline for material penning, timelines for many herd plans, and Indigenous involvement. While some concerns were addressed, others are still pending further work and government decisions. Page three of the report provides a wide variety of questions from public advisory group members and includes answers from the Caribou Recovery Team.
Planning meetings with government staff have slowed or stopped for the time being due to COVID-19. First
Nations and the government are working to find ways to continue engagement through alternate platforms and personal meetings.
For specific information regarding herd planning, contact: Herd and Herd Complexes in the Hart Ranges, Central Selkirks and the Revelstoke Complex Heather. Wiebe@gov.bc.ca, Chilcotin Complex and the Wolverine/ Chase/Takla Loni.Arman@gov.bc.ca.
The most revealing information is in a table of data listing 55 B.C. caribou herds. For each herd, the table shows the following: Herd Name, B.C. Ecotype Grouping, Population Year and Population Estimate and Population Description, Current Trend Extirpated, and Long-term Trend Extirpated.
The following table, modified from page 5 of the B.C. Caribou Recovery Program Update (April 22, 2020), shows important comparisons:
The table shows that the caribou are losing their way and if we do not make rapid changes they will disappear. Less than 3% of B.C. remains as productive old-growth forest. The logging continues and the resulting habitat loss obviously plays a major role in the caribou decline. The province must issue a permanent moratorium on old-growth harvesting and implement rules with the forest industry for maintaining old-growth forest stands. Along with the continued loss of old-growth habitat, we should be concerned with snowmobiling, business and pleasure activities, predator issues, gas and oil activity, probable return of the coal industry, the Site C dam, and climate change; all of which are rapidly altering our forest environment and precipitating the rapid decline of Mountain Caribou. Do we have any positive choices left for B.C.’s Mountain Caribou?
Tilbury Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) Phase 2 Expansion
On July 16 BC Nature wrote to George Heyman, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, expressing our concerns about the Fortis LNG plant expansion plans on Tilbury Island in the Fraser Delta and the effects of LNG on our local and global environments. We raised points about:
- the impacts of fracking expansion to supply the Tilbury Island Not only will wells leak methane, but the prospect of well failure and a future that will see the collapse of the oil and gas industry along with orphaned wells do not bode well for the atmosphere and climate change.
- aligning with the provincial government’s Clean
B.C. Plan. That plan demands an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2007 levels by 2050. Shell’s LNG Canada project in Kitimat alone will exceed the province’s 2050 target by 160%.
- the construction of a temporary floating bunkering terminal, followed by a permanent one, along with implications for the local aquatic environment, means more shipping traffic (up to 69 bunkering barges and 68 LNG carriers annually) to add to that generated by the TransMountain Pipeline, with all that means for the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales and our
Salish Sea ecosystem. The present stressors on the Fraser River Estuary are considerable and we fear that we may approach a tipping point of irreversibility to this globally significant ecosystem.
Conservation Committee member Anita den Dikken reports that Richmond council voted 8-1 to tell senior governments that council is opposed to the plan to expand the Tilbury LNG plant and marine jetty, citing environmental and public safety concerns, among others.
Agritech Industry and the use of the Agricultural Land Reserve
On June 8 BC Nature wrote to Premier John Horgan and Minister of Agriculture Lana Popham indicating BC Nature’s support for the 23 authors of an Open Letter (May 19, 2020) urging government to redirect its promotion of an agritech industry outside of the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), rather than irreversibly converting farmland to non-farm use.
Since only 5% of B.C.’s land base has the soil, climate, and topography suitable for agriculture, the mandate of the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) must continue to include the preservation of B.C.’s agricultural land resource for our food security, and the ALC must remain integral to any discussion regarding the fate of ALR lands. We pointed out important ecosystem services that agricultural lands provide such as:
- The soils and plants of farmlands that furnish habitat and food for many organisms that farmers do not consider pests and contribute to stemming the extinction crisis that confronts the planet.
- Properly managed croplands can help mitigate climate change and support the biodiversity necessary for our economy and our health.
- Many believe that small-scale organic farms will better protect soils and prove more sustainable than industrial farms, including production level and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Organic farming at smaller scales can be cost- effective and provide ample food, while at the same time increasing employment opportunities, fighting the climate crisis by eliminating pesticide and fertilizer production, and fostering better Once covered with concrete and buildings, the soils and their services disappear forever.
- Marginal lands are important to the operation of many farms, and those marginal farmlands that are not presently productive constitute a reserve for future farming, especially as the climate If not presently farmed, the “wilding” of this land can be beneficial not only to wildlife, but as a means of stabilizing soils and reserving water. When planted with grasses and/or trees, these lands can sequester significant amounts of carbon. Agritech industries that cover the land with concrete and buildings forever remove these lands from soil-based food productivity and ecological services and yield a greater carbon footprint than agriculture.
Heart of Canada’s Green Recovery
BC Nature signed on to a May 15 letter to Prime Minister Trudeau promoting natural infrastructure projects as part of a post-COVID green recovery stimulus, projects that would advance climate resilience, biodiversity, and support economic recovery. This letter provided detailed recommendations to expedite funding to projects that are “shovel-ready” and “shovel- worthy”, to keep money moving in existing programs, and to sustain support over the long term.
Funding BC Parks
BC Nature has worked closely with BC Parks for many decades and has always been a strong supporter of our unique and precious provincial park system. It is clear, however, that our parks are seriously underfunded and understaffed; many are in a state of neglect. Large areas of our most diverse ecosystems remain unprotected and vulnerable. Numerous polls have shown that B.C. residents highly value the BC Park system, for recreation and for preserving natural ecosystems and wildlife. More than 70% of B.C. residents responding to
a recent poll requested increased funding for BC Parks. In today’s COVID-affected world, with restrictions on travel and recreation opportunities, our provincial parks will be expected to play an even greater role in keeping our population healthy, well-spaced, fit, and able to enjoy nature.
On June 15, BC Nature wrote to urge the Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services for B.C. Budget 2021 to heed the recommendations made by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), and specifically, to:
- increase funding to BC Parks by $60 million, to reverse the cuts made over recent years and enhance the ability of BC Parks to meet the needs of our people, ecosystems and wildlife.
- commit $40 million to creating new protected areas, especially in those parts of the province supporting the highest
- provide funding for management plans for all protected areas in C.; many are lacking such essential plans.
- create working partnerships with Indigenous governments and environmental non-government organizations to identify the greatest needs for increased park funding and increased protected
Many of our clubs have worked closely with BC Parks in the past and continue to do so now. BC Nature and its federated clubs are keen to collaborate with BC Parks staff to secure wildlife and ecosystem quality and enhance the human experience in these parks.
Rodenticides in our Communities
Report by Conservation Committee member Anita den Dikken: Rodents such as rats and mice can be real pests, whether in urban or rural settings. The Government of Canada Health Agency mandates that traps involving poisons must be secured to prevent access by children or pets.
They further mandate that the use of first- or second-generation rodenticides can only be sold for commercial use. Their website offers non-toxic alternatives such as glue traps. This and some other alternatives such as drowning, ignore the aspect of cruelty to animals.
In B.C., the use of rodenticides is governed by the Integrated Pest Management Act. This act allows civic governments to enact regulations regarding rodenticide use on their own properties but not throughout their communities.
Rodenticides in common use today are Second Generation Anticoagulant Rodenticides (SGARs). These rodenticides contain ingredients that prevent the blood of an animal that has consumed these from coagulating. The rodents that ingest the SGARs can take several days to die by internal bleeding.
One problem with the use of SGARs is that, as rodents become ill, they become slower in their movements and are easy prey for owls, other winged predators, and wild carnivores such as coyotes, foxes, and even treasured family pets. The predators who eat these rodents become ill themselves and can die. The Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre (OWL) in Delta sees many such cases of poisoning in owls and other birds of prey each year. Sadly, many of them die despite the administration of vitamin K, an anticoagulant.
There are other humane methods of rodent control. Owls are incredibly effective in dispatching rodents; it has been estimated that one owl can consume 1,000 rodents annually. Where I live in Delta, some farmers have requested the Delta Naturalists Cascade Bird Box Team to construct and place homes for owls on their properties. There is also a trap called The Good Nature Trap. Curious rodents die instantly from a bolt of carbon dioxide fired when they poke their heads inside. Of course there are also old-fashioned snap traps.
In recent months, several cases of poisoned owls have come to attention of animal advocates and, through them, to local media. And, thanks to advocates for the safety of owls, hawks, and eagles, the Districts of North Vancouver and Saanich have enacted bans on the use of SGARs on civic properties in their jurisdictions. The City of Richmond is likewise considering a ban and the City of Delta has been approached about enacting a similar ban on its properties. The hope is that eventually more civic jurisdictions will follow suit.
B.C.SPCA has information on its website noting the aspects of animal cruelty inherent in SGARs. They have a petition campaign online advocating a ban on the use of these pesticides.
BC Nature has agreed to affix our logo, along with those of other organizations, to a rodenticide fact sheet drafted by BC Nature member Melissa Hafting.