Friday Morning Briefing
When former Comox Valley resident and north Island Conservation Officer Bryce Casavant refused to kill two baby black bears who ransacked a freezer in Port Hardy, he was suspended and, despite overwhelming public support, was reassigned to a desk job.
Now, that same B.C. Conservation Service has run a recruitment ad enticing applicants by suggesting they’ll get the chance to “tranquilize a grizzly bear,” and get paid for it. The ad was yanked after the National Observer started asking questions. Read about the offending ad here. Read about Bryce Casavant here.
A west coast Vancouver Island First Nations has launched a run-of-the-river hydro project that powers the equivalent of 6,000 homes in Port Alberni. Read about it here.
Friends will celebrate the life of Comox Valley environmentalist and activist Ruth Masters from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 10 at the Florence Filbert Centre in Courtenay. Jack Knox, Times-Colonist columnist and former Campbell River Courier-Islander editor, devoted his column to her this week. Read it here.
Westjet’s new discount airline, Swoop, will service Comox Airport. Read about it here.
Full winter operations begin today on Mt. Washington. All lifts will be operational and nordic trails (ski and snowshoe) will be open. Read about it here. Check the mountain web cams here.
The National Energy Board ruled Thursday that the Texas company Kinder Morgan can now ramp up construction in Burnaby — without municipal permits. So much for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s promise that “only communities grant permission” for projects that affect them. Read opposing views about it here and here.
Photo: A view of the Campbell River estuary as it was in 1989, before restoration. Courtesy of Tim Ennis
The importance of the planned restoration of the Fields Sawmill site may well go beyond repairing a blight on the Comox Valley’s image. It’s likely to influence the prospects of a coast-wide approach to replacing multiple forest industry eyesores with ecological assets.
The remnants of early-20th century logging practices can be found all up and down Vancouver Island’s coastlines in the persona of abandoned sawmills, which were almost always located in estuaries.
These shuttered mills that once buzzed around the clock, cutting logs into usable lumber, have fallen victim to government policies that allow the export of raw logs, and to changing industry practices.
In the early 1900s, timber companies moved their logs by rail to larger rivers where they were dumped into the river, boomed, then towed by tugboats to sawmills located in estuaries. While booming adored our beaches with interesting collections of driftwood, it was inefficient and slow.
That practice still goes on in the Fraser River and in the Nanaimo and Ladysmith areas. But most Island logging has now moved toward truck-based transportation. It’s flexible, less expensive more reliable.
The change means sawmills no longer need to be located in intertidal environments. And that, in turn, means there’s an opportunity to restore those shorelines and estuaries to their natural habitat, and create functioning ecosystems for fish and other wildlife.
A view of the Campbell River estuary in 2016, after restoration
If Project Watershed — the nonprofit leading Field Sawmill project, called Kus-kus-sum to honor an ancient First Nations village across the river — succeeds in raising the $6.5 million it needs to purchase the property and restore it, other communities will be inspired to seize their own opportunities.
And there are plenty of them.
In Tahsis, there are concrete slabs where two former sawmills once operated on the estuary. They closed down in 2001 and 2003. The Gold River Bowater pulp mill, also located on a river, closed in 1999.
In Port Alberni, the Somass sawmill officially closed in August, but has been essentially shut down for a year. The APD mill there is down to just one shift of workers per day. Both are located on the Alberni inlet.
The Campbell River pulp mill sits empty on about a mile of prime shoreline.
While the loss of jobs devastated those small towns, they have reinvented themselves as destinations for tourism and sport fishing. Reclaiming the abandoned mill sites would help, not hinder, their economic prosperity.
Tim Ennis, senior project manager for the Kus-kus-sum project, believes there may be many opportunities on the B.C. coast to restore former sawmill sites located in estuaries, without negative impacts to the forest economy.
That’s because trucking has replaced marine-based transport as the preferred method of transporting logs and newer government regulations are more restrictive in estuarine environments. So the forest industry doesn’t rely on the use of estuaries as it did in the past.
Campbell River led the way
Project Watershed has viewed the restoration of three sawmill sites in the Campbell River estuary as a model for their Kus-kus-sum project.
Ennis managed the Campbell River project. At the time, he was the director of land stewardship for the B.C. region of the Nature Conservancy of Canada, which purchased the former Raven Lumber sawmill property as well as two smaller operations in the estuary.
He is now the senior project manager for Kus-kus-sum, as well as the executive director of the Comox Valley Land Trust, and brings his experience from much larger restoration projects.
“Compared to the Campbell River situation,” Ennis said. “The Field Sawmill site does not appear to be nearly as complex to restore and offers a huge potential benefit for the community.”
The projects are similar, he said, in that both are being led by nonprofit organizations. One of the Campbell River mills, known locally as Ocean Blue, closely resembled the Field Sawmill site, including a solid wall fronting the river.
But there are also critical differences.
The Campbell River City Council was committed to de-industrializing the river estuary. The city created an estuary management commission, which developed an estuary management plan. That plan included a conscious effort to relocate industrial operations away from the estuary.
So there was considerable political support in Campbell River, which was matched by the city’s financial contribution of approximately 25 percent of the land acquisition costs.
The City of Courtenay, on the other hand, was not the source of inspiration for restoring the Fields Sawmill site. Kus-kus-sum has been primarily driven by NGO and First Nations leadership.
And the City Council has not yet committed itself to any degree of financial support toward acquisition costs.
They have waived property taxes for two years while Project Watershed raises acquisition funds. But the eventual title will name the city as part owners of the property.
Nor has the Town of Comox or the Comox Valley Regional District made commitments, both of which stand to benefit as much as Courtenay from eliminating this eyesore on a main transportation corridor.
Fortunately, the K’omoks First Nations are committed and strong partners on the Kus-kus-sum project.
Not only are the K’omoks chief, council, band administration and Guardian Watchman department onside, nearly every K’omoks band member has signed a petition supporting the cause.
The Campbell River Indian Band was not as active.
If Kus-kus-sum succeeds, it will build on the restoration momentum from Campbell River, and set the stage for a much grander opportunity: to inspire and support the restoration of other abandoned sawmill sites throughout the B.C. coast.
How you can help
Kus-kus-sum needs community financial support in order to leverage the millions of dollars needed from granting organizations and the federal and provincial governments. Their website makes it easy to donate.
The Ocean Blue site in Campbell River before restoration
The Ocean Blue site after restoration
Wednesday Morning Briefing
A Canadian clean-tech company proposing to build a waste-to-energy plant in the Comox Valley plans to invest $350 million to open a dozen such facilities in the next five years. Will the north Island be one of those? Read about it here.
The Times-Colonist reports this morning that a Washington state senator is introducing legislation to ban open-net pen fish farms and says British Columbia should do the same. Read it here.
During the current fish farm debate, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, has recommended listing Fraser River sockeye salmon on Canada’s Species at Risk Act. Read it here.
The award for how not to show sensitivity in promoting sensitivity training goes to the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario for a poster using the ficticious acronym ‘LGGBDTTTIQQAAPP’. Read it here.
George H.W. Bush this week passed Gerald Ford’s record of 93 years, 165 days, to become the longest-living former president in U.S. history. But Washington Post columnist David Von Drehle argues that younger leaders think faster and have a greater ability to inspire, which is why the U.S. needs younger presidents. Read it here.
A single gram of the deadly toxin used to make Botox could kill 1 million people. That’s why it’s locked down in a super-secret laboratory. Where? Read it here.
Monday Morning Briefing
Times-Colonist reporter Amy Smart talks with First Nations, Port Hardy mayor, a First Nations farm manager and others and writes about their different perspectives on fish farms. Read it here.
Steelhead LNG has scrapped plans for a floating LNG plant in the Stanch Inlet. The Malahat Nation laments a loss of jobs. Green MLA Adam Olsen says the project was implausible from the start. Read it here.
One-time Comox Valley teenager Pamela Anderson gives some advice to aspiring actors in Hollywood: “Don’t go into a hotel room alone, if someone answers the door in a bathrobe, leave, you know …?” Read it here.
A family physician in Salmon Arm writes why Canada needs electoral reform, and proportional representation, and offers up the UK as a prime example. Read it here.
Time magazine announces its annual Person of the Year on Wednesday. The weekly news magazine selected Donald Trump last year. Here’s a history of past winners.
But the more important honor might be the word of the year. Faith Salie muses about some of the possible contenders. Can you say ‘fake news?’ Read it here.
PHOTO: Fraser Cain launched Universe Today in 1999. Photos courtesy of Robert Cain and Universe Today.
Fraser Cain was raised on Hornby Island, but his mind was always on another planet. Most of the time, Cain led the life of a normal teenager. He played video games and fooled around on the two-ferry, two-hour bus ride to school in Courtenay.
But whenever he could, Cain dreamed about the stars, the planets, the universe. He loved Star Trek. Read science fiction books. He watched NASA rocket launches on television.
He devoured information about space like a black hole sucking up everything within its immense gravitational grasp.
Today, Cain is recognized world-wide as an authority on space and astronomy. His website, Universe Today, is one of the biggest and most popular sources of news and information about space on the Internet.
The “Astronomy Cast,” a podcast with Fraser Cain and Dr. Pamela Gray
Universe Today had more than 48 million readers in 2016, and 140,000 people follow the website on a daily basis, and they do it religiously. Space buffs are serious about their interest.
He also hosts a weekly podcast on the website Astronomy Cast with renowned astronomer Dr. Pamela Gray, who runs CosmoQuest, a virtual research facility.
His company has published two books on skywatching, and he has an asteroid named after him.
And he does all of this from his home on the Puntledge River in Courtenay.
The early years
Cain refers to his father and mother as “big space nerds.” His dad has been a sci-fi fan since he was able to read.
“I grew up in Vancouver,” father Bob Cain said. “My brother and I built our first telescope before we were teenagers and spent many nights examining the sky.”
To encourage his fascination with outer space, Cain remembers his parents taking him outside to view the night sky, which is considerably darker than in metro Comox Valley, where they taught him about the constellations.
“In the summer, (we) would take sleeping bags out to Helliwell Park where we would watch meteor showers,” his father said.
And, of course, science fiction books and movies were the standard fare around his house. His mother, Josephine, took him to the first showing of the original Star Trek movie. He got his first serious telescope at age 14.
Two of Fraser’s astronomy columns in The Breezeway, circa 1989.
So it was natural that the family would gather around the TV on April 12, 1981 to watch the first space shuttle launch, something they continued to do for every subsequent shuttle mission.
When Cain arrived at G. P. Vanier High School in 1986, he starting writing astronomy columns for the now-defunct student newspaper, The Breezeway. He recalls they were quite well read.
Educator Brent Reid, who taught journalism and oversaw production of the Breezeway, remembers Cain as “a real go-getter.” He graduated in 1989.
Developing his popular website
Turning this passion for space and astronomy into a career didn’t really begin until after Cain enrolled at the University of British Columbia to study engineering.
Well, after he dropped out, to be precise.
Cain left UBC to write books for role-playing games, and co-founded a company called Absolute Software, which has since gone public on the Toronto Stock Exchange. At age 19, he helped invent software that enabled people locate and recover stolen computers, which you can still purchase at any Apple store.
Cain then joined a web design company, Communicate.com, where he helped clients design and construct their websites.
While there he hired a young entrepreneur named Stewart Butterfield, who went on to found Flickr.
Cain calls that, “one of my better hires.”
But Cain didn’t have any experience running a website, so he decided to start one of his own in order to better understand his client’s’ issues and to learn how to help them.
Fraser at age 14 with his new telescope and the astronomy club on Hornby Island.
He briefly considered a website focused on gaming, but of course he settled on space and astronomy. And that’s when he learned what he wanted to do with his life.
Universe Today was launched in 1999 and became so successful that Cain was able to quit his day job in 2003 and make space journalism his full-time career.
Cain has succeeded in a crowded field because he’s one of the few space journalists who do it well. He focuses on stories “way off the beaten path,” the topics that other space journalists aren’t covering.
Cain has written many of the 15,000 articles in the Universe Today archive, but the website also publishes the work of more than a dozen full-time and part-time other space journalists.
His senior editor lives in the U.S. His video editor lives in Prague.
Back to the Comox Valley
“It doesn’t matter where I work from,” Cain said. “During the course of the day, I talk to people all over the planet, some in space.”
Cain still travels to astronomy conferences, but he prefers to work from home, where he can help raise his two children.
He’s completed his university computer science degree now, and found the time to start up a new software company, Keyword Strategy.
The name, Fraser Cain, has become a personal brand within the universe of space journalism over the last 10 years. His name and face are now widely recognized.
But the Hornby Island boy hasn’t forgotten his roots. Not long ago, he took his sci-fi-loving dad to see the second last space shuttle launch at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
In a personal article on social media, Cain wrote, “I hate to sound trite, but I’m a living example that you can succeed if you follow your dreams. You know that stuff you loved as a kid, but then decided to grow up and get a real job? That can turn into a real job, if you’re willing to believe in yourself and put in the work.”