Conservation Issues

Conservation Report – Spring 2020

by Peter Ballin and the BC Nature Conservation Committee

BC Nature has a mandate to voice its concerns about conservation. We address those concerns by attempting to stay abreast of issues and that process requires not only the Conservation Committee, but all of our club members. The Committee acts by supporting campaigns of like-minded organizations, attending meetings, and writing to those who set or institute policy. All letters (found on the BCN website) go out under the President’s signature, after review by the Conservation Committee and the Board of Directors. There’s more to do than we can do alone! Please report your club’s conservation activities to Peter Ballin or through the BC Nature office so that we may share your efforts. Draft a letter if you have an issue with provincial applicability and the Conservation Committee will review it, check with you, then send it on with the clout of almost 6000 members!

In this report:

  • Addressing the Climate Crisis
  • Wildlife Management Area Intrusion
  • Roberts Bank Update
  • Sturgeon Flats Proposed Alterations
  • Input to the Provincial Old-Growth Strategic Review Panel
  • Support for the Rainbow-Jordan Wilderness Area
  • The Federal Aquaculture Act and Opposition to Open Net Pen Fish Farming
  • Important Bird Area News
  • Wildlife and Habitat: Together for Wildlife, a Pathway Forward for Wildlife and Habitat in British Columbia
  • More on Aerial Glyphosphate Spraying
  • Protecting Bear Dens on Vancouver Island
  • Endangered Mountain Caribou
  • Discontinuance of the Cougar Pursuit-only Season

Climate Crisis: 

Our avocation as naturalists must include actions to conserve what we love. See Combating Climate Change through Conservation about our impact on addressing the climate crisis. In early February, BC Nature vice-president Harry Crosby attended a Nature Canada meeting in Ottawa where naturalists spent a day presenting their climate views to federal politicians. On January 14, Peter Ballin had what felt like a productive meeting with MP and Cabinet Minister Joyce Murray regarding government policy and action on the climate crisis. Among the points raised:

  • Citizens need to hear clearer communication from government about how we are proceeding to reduce our carbon emissions.
  • There is a huge gap between our progress and our targets. Crude oil, fracking, natural gas, and coal production show no signs of slowing down while only 8-11% of Canada’s energy production is in “clean” energy.
  • To reconcile:
    • the federal government projects carbon neutrality by 2050.
    • the Canada Energy Regulator (CER, formerly the National Energy Board) projects crude oil production to increase almost 50% by 2040, outpacing demand, with only modest growth of renewables and electric. These projections would appear to be based on current policies, regulations, and consumption, not considering that these will (and must) change.
    • the International Energy Agency predicts much slower growth for crude oil, again not considering policy and demand shifts.
  • Why is the CER not leading by outlining the future scenarios to carbon neutrality? How can government influence the CER?

Wildlife Management Area Intrusion:

Amphibious Recreational Vehicle in Ladner Marsh: Recently an eight-wheeled Argo amphibious vehicle was sighted coming ashore from Ladner Marsh onto Barber Island within the South Arm Marshes WMA. BC Nature wrote to Minister Donaldson expressing our concern about the impact of off-road/all-terrain motorized vehicles in the wetlands of the Fraser River estuary. The estuary is an internationally-significant Important Bird and Biodiversity Area part of the Fraser Delta Ramsar Site and a globally-significant Western Hemispheric Shorebird Network site. Tens of thousands of Lesser Snow Geese rely on the marshes at the mouth of the Fraser during winter periods. The South Arm Marshes WMA is vital habitat for numerous other waterfowl species as well as other wildlife. In addition, wetlands at the mouth of the Fraser have supported Indigenous people for thousands of years.

Regulations do not prohibit amphibious off-road vehicles, but BCN strongly suggests that they should. BC Nature would also like to have all Fraser Estuary Wildlife Management Area Plans updated to bring them in line with current ecological knowledge, climate change prognoses, and the conservation directions of neighbouring municipalities;

Roberts Bank Update:

The RBT2 proponent, the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, in their closing statement, dismissed environmental issues, claiming that RBT2 impacts would be minimal and can easily be mitigated, counter to Environment Canada scientists’ concerns. About 40 individuals and groups submitted closing remarks but missing were those from federal agencies – in particular, Environment and Climate Change Canada. Several groups, amongst them BC Nature, Birds Canada, Boundary Bay Conservation Committee, Raincoast Conservation Foundation, Fraser Voices, and The Fraser River Coalition, have expressed concern to government ministers and politicians. Birdlife International suggested that the Fraser Delta Important Bird Area is in danger, a prime reason being industrial developments such as the RBT2 project. They state that with no plan for maintaining environmental integrity, ecosystem collapse is a very real possibility.

On January 14 Peter Ballin met with MP and federal cabinet minister Joyce Murray about RBT2. She said that she would investigate the above-mentioned allegations of government interference. BC Nature submitted a letter of concern to Minister McKenna last October and communicated previously with Joyce Murray.

Sturgeon Flats Proposed Alterations:

The VFPA proposes an unacceptable mitigation linked to the RBT2 project: conversion of delta mudflats to marshes. The Sturgeon Bank Wildlife Management Area was established in 1998 for conservation of critical, internationally significant habitat for year-round, migrating, and wintering waterfowl, as well as fish habitat. Susan Jones, Director of the Boundary Bay Conservation Committee, wrote a detailed letter to Minister Heyman and the Project Manager (Crown Land File #2412310) to voice strong opposition, with BC Nature adding a letter of support. The plan would destroy the existing habitat by filling in almost 60 hectares of mudflats. Marshes are great, but mudflats are too, and these different yet often contiguous habitats each provide their own ecosystem goods and services. These mudflats house countless invertebrates and support shorebirds and fishes, including salmon as they transition from river to ocean and migrating shorebirds and waterfowl. The area is recognized under Ramsar and receives other provincial, national and international designations as a wetland of international importance, as it is.

Furthermore, evidence of failed habitat enhancements in the area suggests that the changes will not be successful and will degrade. This mitigation proposal constitutes a blatant attempt by the VPFA to add to their habitat enhancement credits so as to offset damage should the RBT2 project go ahead. This wetland at Sturgeon Banks, on Crown Land, is evolving in a healthy way, in its natural transition from sand/mud flats to marshes.

Provincial Old-Growth Strategic Review Panel:

BC Nature submitted a letter to the provincial Old Growth Strategic Review Panel for consideration of new forest management policy. In it, we emphasized how we value the now rare old-growth forests of BC not only for their intrinsic beauty but also for their role in conservation of biodiversity, including the habitats of endangered and threatened species, such as mountain caribou. If these forests continue to be logged, they will likely prove irreplaceable because of climate change. Older forests, especially coastal ones, store a significant amount of carbon. In contrast, logging and reforestation create a major carbon source and contribute to the climate crisis; thus, we call for the protection of older forests as a critical link to conserve habitat and biodiversity and mitigate climate change. BC Nature calls for an immediate moratorium on logging of old-growth forests and that this cessation be enshrined into law. Protecting old-growth forests is an urgent action needed now to sustain biodiversity, mitigate climate change, and provide a just and sustainable future.

A new progressive and holistic approach to forest management in BC must also occur. To help facilitate the conservation of old-growth forests, BC Nature supports the creation of a provincial land acquisition fund. This fund would allow the provincial government, in partnership with other levels of government, corporations, and groups to purchase and protect private lands with old-growth forest (along with other lands of high conservation value) to establish new protected areas across BC.

Rainbow-Jordan Wilderness Area:

BC Nature wrote to Minister Donaldson in support of the Valhalla Wilderness Society’s proposal to protect the 8,408-hectare Rainbow-Jordan Wilderness near Revelstoke. This action would constitute another step in increasing the percentage of British Columbia’s protected areas, as well as maintaining the carbon-sequestering power of an old-growth forest that is among the last of its type: inland temperate rainforest, unique to British Columbia. Studies of the Rainbow-Jordan Wilderness indicate a rich and diverse array of species, with promise of discovering more, and extending range distributions of others, including the endangered mountain caribou living nearby. BC Nature agrees with the VWS that the diversity of habitats and species in the Rainbow-Jordan Wilderness will be protected most effectively by designating the area as a Class A provincial park with the funding required to develop and put into practice an effective management plan.

Federal Aquaculture Act:

The committee discussed a detailed letter from Gillian Anderson protesting current aquaculture practices to the federal Public Consultation for a new Aquaculture Act; the deadline for a BCN submission had passed by the time that we had received Gillian’s letter. She praised the federal government commitment to ban ocean open-net pen fish farming but urged a more immediate deadline than 2025. BC remains the only jurisdiction on the North American west coast, from Alaska to California, that still permits these farms to operate. BC Nature accepts the conclusions that open-net pen salmon farms damage wild salmon populations and supports the ban on these operations. Most of our major west coast salmon runs are in trouble; as go the salmon, so go many populations of wildlife and humans, and even forests that depend upon them.

In addition, the letter raised concerns about herring and aquaculture in Baynes Sound, that wonderfully rich estuarine area around Courtenay/Comox. In 2014, BC Nature voiced concern for the area by requesting a moratorium on aquaculture expansion, citing a possible negative impact on the K’omoks Important Bird Area. If you haven’t visited Baynes Sound for wintering water birds, do so! Now we must also consider the impact of microplastics and other plastic debris, especially since the aquaculture industry there spawns 90% of it.

IBA News:

Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas involve many places and many people throughout Canada. IBA Caretakers submit annual reports on their areas and their activities. A website promotes information and communication. Individuals liaise with and share data with other organizations, often through Nature Canada and Birds Canada. IBA people are working with First Nations Guardians. Expect to meet Caretakers at the BCN AGM in Princeton, where you can learn more about their projects. Read the article by Conservation Committee member Anne Murray on Barkley Sound IBA in this magazine to get an inkling of what goes on!

Wildlife and Habitat:

BC Nature gave input to a draft report: Together for Wildlife, a Pathway Forward for Wildlife and Habitat in British Columbia . Greg Ferguson, Anita den Dikken, and Peter Ballin had previously attended meetings that gathered points of views of stakeholders to address dwindling numbers of game animals. In our detailed response, we requested a clear political commitment to urgent and meaningful action to ensure that the proposed “Pathway” is effective in maintaining and enhancing biodiversity. We indicated BCN support for the intent of the proposed strategy but noted that it presents no meaningful change to the status quo that has resulted in harm to the health of our environment. The government needs to commit to actions that address the deep and profound impacts that our past and current economic practices and systems are having on wildlife and their habitats and local communities. Following are some of the points of input from BC Nature:

  • Incorporate intrinsic rights for wildlife and ecosystems.
  • Place more emphasis on the importance of wildlife and habitat to local peoples.
  • Create a vision of a holistic wildlife and habitat management policy that targets sustainability. We suggested that the strategy should extend the principle of respect: profound respect for the land itself and its inhabitants including people.
  • Use science and scientific experts as the foundation of wildlife decisions.
  • Develop activity packages to augment K-12 curricula on the stewardship theme.
  • Forge partnerships with stakeholders such as community groups, other levels of government, non-governmental organizations, and academics.
  • Draft a mandate for immediate action to regulate and eliminate well known human-caused impacts to wildlife and their habitats.
  • Produce a “state of the environment” document to serve as a baseline upon which change can be measured.
  • Make a clear commitment to greater enforcement of laws, and accountability of those responsible for impacts to wildlife and habitat in BC.
  • Make greater efforts to employ habitat restoration as a tool for re-establishing species diversity and resilience.
  • Give clearer attention to the potential effects of climate change.
  • Define the term “wildlife” so that people think of all animals, not only game species.

BC Nature has been invited to participate on the Minister’s Wildlife Advisory Council.

Aerial Glyphosate Spraying:

Last October, BCN wrote to BC Ministers Donaldson and Heyman expressing dismay about the aerial spraying of glyphosates as an herbicidal tool to promote conifer crop species. We received a careful response from Shawn Hedges, the Acting Executive Director/Deputy Chief Forester and replied with our ongoing concerns, and these are some of the points we addressed:

  • We do not know the government’s aerial spraying policies.
  • We agree with the objective of achieving diversity and ecosystem resilience but have questions about the mechanisms to achieve the goals.
  • We suspect that aspen and birch may be significantly reduced in plots of 1000 ha or less and wish clarification about effects at different spatial scales.
  • Might the timing of application be important for life cycles and populations of some of the organisms such as birds, insects, and small mammals?
  • We continue to wonder about the non-target effects on non-competitive species and aquatic systems. (See recent article by forester Lisa Wood and review of glyphosate toxicity for animals.
  • Do we understand the cumulative, synergistic, and longer-term effects of glyphosate use?
  • We consider annual aerial spraying of 11,000 ha for 10 years to be a substantial rather than a small area. We suggest that besides their ecosystem values, fast-growing aspen and birch are suitable market species.
  • We wonder about the importance of those early growth stages to the ecosystem, and how great a negative effect these competitors have on the merchantable species.
  • Does the Ministry require a specific amount, distribution, and composition of broadleaved or mixed forests on the landscape consistent with the natural range of variability for the various regions and predicted climate change?
  • Might partial cutting where shade tolerant species such as spruce and true firs are desired reduce the need for and costs of brush control and tree planting, and still attain successful crops?
  • BC Nature suggests that the government employ the precautionary principle and utilize other known safe mechanical, biological, and chemical alternatives where tending is required.

Black Bear Dens on Vancouver Island:

BCN received a reply from Stephen MacIver, Regulations and Policy Analyst/Fish & Wildlife Branch/Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations, and Rural Development, to our July 2019 letter that raised concerns about logging bear wintering trees. Doug Wahl of the Forest Practices Board wrote an excellent response article (recommended reading): Conservation of Black Bear Dens on Vancouver Island

The summary from his article follows:

The complainant has requested that black bear dens on Vancouver Island be protected during forestry operations, like measures already in place in the Great Bear Rainforest and on Haida Gwaii.

Based on information provided by government and professional biologists who work on bears, the Board concludes that there is uncertainty in terms of the population status of black bears on Vancouver Island. This uncertainty underscores the need for more current information about black bear populations and the impacts that the identified threats may be having. Addressing the information gaps, potentially through a population assessment, could help determine if regulation is necessary.

Although there are no legal requirements to protect dens, the Board is encouraged to see the proactive and voluntary steps being taken by some licensees on Vancouver Island to manage black bear dens. In the Board’s view, these licensees could provide some useful insights into the management of black bear dens and the effectiveness of stand-level strategies within harvested areas. For example, where they occur, the practice of including bear-den trees in wildlife-tree-retention areas is a best practice that should be encouraged.

If second-growth forests are harvested before they develop old-growth features, and old-growth harvest continues, the supply of suitable denning habitat on Vancouver Island will decline. Given the uncertainties of the status of black bears and their reliance on old-growth forest attributes—a finite resource necessary for population recruitment—the Board encourages the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development to engage with bear biologists, First Nations, and licensees on the management of black bear dens on Vancouver Island.

Endangered Caribou Update:

You can read an excellent, detailed report written by Charlotte Dawe of the Wilderness Committee.

Here is her summary:

Habitat disturbance levels exceed recovery thresholds for 17 out of 21 (or 81%) of southern mountain caribou sub-populations throughout BC. In 2003, southern mountain caribou were first listed as at risk under the Species at Risk Act (SARA). Since then, BC has not provided the effective protection they are legally required to provide. The federal government has also not fulfilled their obligations under SARA to step in and provide habitat protection on non-federal lands while also failing to complete critical habitat mapping. We entreat the federal government to complete habitat mapping and issue an emergency protection order under s. 80 of SARA for all Local Population Units (LPU’s) surpassing recovery thresholds: all LPUs in the southern group and the Chilcotin, Telkwa, and Tweedsmuir LPUs in the northern group. The emergency order should be extended to the central group if the province fails to implement the Partnership Agreement in full by the spring of 2020. Once all remaining intact critical habitat is protected, other measures to help address short-term decline can be explored in collaboration with First Nations, such as habitat restoration, blocking access and maternity pens.

Discontinuance of the Cougar Pursuit-only Season:

BC Nature signed our support with the provincial government on its proposal to remove the pursuit-only season from the hunting and trapping regulations because it does not align with a legitimate wildlife use. We previously wrote a letter to government advocating against this practice.

Peter Ballin