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Photo courtesy of Ocean Wise
Do you want to learn about the threats facing whales in our waters and what local citizens can do to help to protect them? Comox Valley Nature has invited Sarah Patton to present an illustrated talk, The Whales in Our Waters, at 2:00 pm Thursday, May 30 in the Denman Island Community Hall, 1196 Northwest Road, Denman Island.
Patton is a Research Biologist with Ocean Wise’s Marine Mammal Research Program, and coordinator of its Southern Vancouver Island Cetacean Research Initiative (SVICRI).
Ocean Wise’s Marine Mammal Research Program has conducted conservation-oriented research on killer whales, belugas and other marine mammals since the mid-1980s. The program focuses on long-term studies of marine mammal populations in BC, and works across multiple science-based platforms to understand and mitigate the threats they face.
Patton’s experience in her field includes nearly 20 years working on marine research and conservation within governments in Canada, Australia and the USA, with several Canadian and international non-profits, and within academia. She holds a master’s degree in marine conservation biology from James Cook University in Australia, which she took as a Rotary International Academic Ambassador representing Eastern Canada. She also earned an undergraduate degree in marine biology from Dalhousie University, and a diploma in adult education.
In her spare time, Sarah is an avid outdoors woman and naturalist, and an active member of Maritime Search and Rescue Station #35 in Victoria.
Comox Valley Nature is a non-profit society affiliated with BC Nature, consisting only of unpaid volunteers. CVN fulfills its educational mandate by hosting monthly lectures, organizing free weekly guided hikes for members, and a free monthly walk open to the public. Comox Valley Nature also supports specialized groups (birding, botany, marine and shoreline, conservation, Garry Oak restoration, wetland restoration, photography and a Young Naturalists Club) which have separate monthly activities. Membership in BC Nature and Comox Valley Nature is $30 per adult or for a family.
Founded in 1966, it is one of the oldest environmental societies on the North Island. Meetings and lectures of the Comox Valley Naturalists Society are held on the third Sunday of most months at the Florence Filberg Centre in Courtenay. Meetings and guided walks are open to the public, including children and youth.
This lecture is free, although a $4 contribution from non-members would be appreciated. New memberships are always welcomed.
Anyone interested in this lecture or participating in CVNS activities can contact CVN at their website.
Survival has become uncertain for the southern resident killer whale. For years, pressures on these awe-inspiring whales — icons of the Pacific coast, culturally significant to First Nations people and beloved by tourists — have been increasing. Today, only 74 wild southern resident killer whales remain, and the next few years will determine if the group can rebuild or go functionally extinct.
Scientific name: Orcinus orca
Adult Weight: Up to five tonnes
Diet: Chinook salmon
Population: 74 individuals
Location: Southeastern Alaska to central California. In spring and summer, they can be found off the coast of British Columbia in the Salish Sea.
— World Wildlife Fund Canada
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Detail from the conference poster
In the Comox Valley, as in other places around the world, low-lying, water-saturated parcels of land have been the bane of builders, developers, farmers and other property owners. You can’t build on a swamp and you can’t farm in a marsh.
So, for generations, these soaking wet pieces of land have been drained, filled in and covered over. They have been transformed from spongy soil supporting immense biodiversity to dry and hardened sites so somebody, somewhere can make some money.
As a result, Comox Valley wetlands have slowly and steadily disappeared under the march toward urban development. Only three percent of the Valley’s primordial wetlands remain intact today.
On a provincial scale, three times as many wetlands as forests have been lost to urban development. From 1970 to 2015, we have lost 35 percent of the province’s wetlands.
These are disturbing trends because wetlands are such productive ecosystems. They support myriad species of wildlife, fight climate change by storing carbon, recharge our aquifers and act as natural water filters.
And, without them, our rivers — like the Puntledge and Tsolum — would more frequently overflow their banks causing flooding and erosion.
A recent weekend conference hosted by the Village of Cumberland added to the growing awareness of the importance of wetlands. Participants learned what wetlands are, why they are important and how they can be better protected.
Michele Jones, North Island College Instructor and senior biologist at Mimulus Biological Consultants, asked conference participants to think of all the uses for water in their lives, from bathing to drinking to creating hydro power. And then to consider the limited quantity of water available for those purposes.
While the planet is mostly water, 97 percent of it is salt water. Of the remaining three percent that is freshwater, a little more than two percent is frozen and two-thirds of the last one percent exists in the air as water vapor or in the ground.
Only 0.19 percent of the planet’s water is on the surface in wetlands, streams and rivers and available for all of those human uses.
Jones described wetlands as holes in a sponge. They hold and purify water until it migrates into water courses, such as streams, or infiltrate down into aquifers. She said wetlands slowly decompose organic matter without oxygen, thereby containing carbon dioxide rather than releasing it into the atmosphere. And they enrich streams with nutrients that keep fish habitats healthy.
Jones and other speakers noted that wetlands support more than 600 wildlife species, and that wetland loss has put more than a third of them at risk of extinction.
Dr. Loys Maingon, local naturalist and semi-retired biologist who represents BC on the Canadian Society for Environmental Biology, said the recent United Nations report that a million species now face extinction because of humans’ aggressive pursuit of economic growth must lead to “transformative change.”
Maingon cautioned that words like “sustainability” trick us into thinking current human activity can continue without catastrophic consequences.
“Watersheds don’t care about economic productivity,” Maingon said. “We’re living inside a wetland that is part of a rare ocean planet.”
Elke Wind, a Nanaimo area biologist who has built and restored more than 20 wetlands and an expert on amphibians, said the Comox Valley is a hotspot for observations of several species of Western Toads. But that up to 50 percent of them face extinction unless we “take a broad landscape-level approach to habitat management protection.”
Neil Fletcher, the BC Wildlife Federation chair of its wetlands group, discussed some of the tools available to protect wetlands and advocated for a “cultural shift” from technical fixes to embracing natural science.
Fletcher highlighted the role of local governments in saving wetlands, and how smart development could co-exist with wetland preservation.
In response to a concern that local governments often permit development closer to riparian areas than the required 30 meters, if they hire consultants to say there’s no threat to fish, Fletcher said it comes down to political will.
Fletcher sid the BCWF supports buffers of 150 meters to 400 meters for riparian areas, because “ten to thirty meters in insufficient,”
“There’s nothing stopping a local government from enforcing the full riparian setback,” he said. “It’s just political will. That’s where your voice is so important.”
Steve Morgan, a Cumberland resident and a key organizer of the wetlands conference, reinforced the idea of public pressure and engagement.
“Our councils and staff are only as good as the people you put into office,” he said. “Be aware of what’s going on and who you’re electing.”
The conference concluded on a positive talk from Comox Valley Land Trust Executive Director Tim Ennis, who praised the recent trend toward placing monetary values on a municipal natural assets.
He said the money spent on municipal infrastructure is larger than any other available pool of funds, and it could make a huge difference if more of it was directed toward preservation and restoration of wetlands.
Organizer Morgan said that gives him hope for Comox Valley wetlands.
“The Comox Valley has a large number of concerned and active people who go out and do stuff,” Morgan said. “I’d put us up against any community for engaged people.”
Wetlands are submerged or permeated by water — either permanently or temporarily — and are characterized by plants adapted to saturated soil conditions. Wetlands include fresh and salt water marshes, wooded swamps, bogs, seasonally flooded forest, sloughs — any land area that can keep water long enough to let wetland plants and soils develop.
They are the only ecosystem designated for conservation by international convention. They have been recognized as particularly useful areas because:
— they absorb the impact of hydrologic events such as large waves or floods;
— they filter sediments and toxic substances;
— they supply food and essential habitat for many species of fish, shellfish, shorebirds, waterfowl, and fur-bearing mammals;
— they also provide products for food (wild rice, cranberries, fish, wildfowl), energy (peat, wood, charcoal), and building material (lumber)
— they are valuable recreational areas for activities such as hunting, fishing, and birdwatching.
— from Government of Canada
Bogs – peat-covered wetlands where due to poor drainage and the decay of plant material, the surface water is strongly acidic and low in nutrients. Although they are dominated by sphagnum mosses and shrubs, bogs may support trees.
Fens – also peat-covered wetlands, but influenced by a flow of ground-water. They tend to be basic as opposed to acidic and are more productive than a bog. Although fens are dominated by sedges they may also contain shrubs and trees.
Swamps – dominated by shrubs or trees and can be flooded seasonally or for long periods of time. Swamps are both nutrient rich and productive. Swamps can be peatlands or non-peatlands.
Shallow Open Water Ponds – These wetlands include potholes and ponds, as well as water along rivers and lakeshore areas. They are usually relatively small bodies of standing or flowing water commonly representing the stage between lakes and marshes.
Marshes – are periodically or permanently covered by standing or slowly moving water. Marshes are rich in nutrients and have emergent reeds, rushes, cattails and sedges. Water remains within the root zone of these plants for most of the growing season.
— from WetlandsAlberta.ca
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File photo of Shakesides / George Le Masurier photo
In a surprising new development, the BC Attorney General has requested a delay in the Supreme Court trial that will determine the fate of Shakesides, the heritage home of Comox pioneer Hamilton Mack Laing.
The Town of Comox had hoped to get its petition to alter Laing’s Trust and tear down his house before the court during its June session. The new delay means the case likely won’t be heard until October.
The town has already requested two three-month delays. The first came after the 2018 municipal election and pushed any possible court date to after Feb. 6, 2019. Then, Town Council asked for another three-month “abeyance,” which expires May 22.
Now, the Attorney General’s office is asking for a further delay of about five months.
A letter to the town and the Mack Laing Heritage Society, which is an opposing party to the case, announced the delay, but gave no specific reason or purpose for it.
Members of the Laing society hope it means the Attorney General’s office is less certain about the merits of the town’s application to alter the trust, and have new concerns about how Comox councils and staff have mishandled Laing’s gifts to the community.
It’s also not known what role the K’omoks First Nations intends to play in this controversy, which has pitted the town against voices for heritage preservation, moral obligation and civil law issues surrounding how local governments should handle citizen’s endowments.
Last month, K’omoks Chief Nicole Rempel expressed her disappointment that the Town Council had made plans for the Shakesides site, which is traditional and sacred land for First Nation’s people, “without prior consultation.” Rempel asked for a halt to all planning and other work until “meaningful consultation has taken place.”
But the town proceeded to refine its plan to replace the house with a viewing platform, which it finally approved this week.
According to the new deadlines for the Supreme Court trial, the heritage society has until Aug. 7 to submit any final documents into evidence. They have already submitted more than 500 pages of affidavits and other documents.
The town and the Attorney General then have until Sept. 4 to respond to those documents.
Another issue that might be weighing on the Attorney General’s office is how a judgement in the Shakesides case could affect other municipalities and other charitable purpose trusts across the province.
Have other municipalities mishandled trusts? How has the Attorney General’s office dealt with those issues, if they were aware of them? How widespread is the altering of trusts freely agreed to by generous citizens and local governments?
Because there is no provincial registry of charitable purpose trusts, the Attorney General’s office may not have known about the Laing Trust until the town petitioned to alter it, some 35 years later.
It is part of the Attorney General’s mandate to provide oversight of such trusts.
Top of the Malahat / George Le Masurier photo
PARENTS CONCERNED — What kind of weirdo hangs out of a moving truck to take video of Valley View Elementary school students walking home from school? It happened recently, and it’s not an isolated case. The Courtenay RCMP have received five reports of suspicious behavior around local schools.
Parents of school-age children have a lot to worry about these days. If it’s not adult pervs, then it’s bullying from other students. The digital era has added cyber bullying, sexting and inappropriate sharing on social media to the list of concerns for parents.
Perhaps, more thorough sexual health education programs in our schools — and at home — could help children and teens navigate this new and treacherous landscape.
WHERE’S THE NEW BYLAW? — Rural Comox Valley residents are taking an interest in proposed updates to the zoning bylaw. But they’d like to see the actual bylaw.
The CVRD has held one public open house to explain the proposed changes, and there are two more to come this month, in addition to a public hearing scheduled for August. But residents can only see the bylaw at these meetings. It is not available online.
This has irked some rural residents. They say if people could review the bylaw before going to the open houses, they could prepare questions and converse more intelligently about the proposed changes.
DO YOU VALUE OUR HERITAGE? — The Courtenay Heritage Advisory Commission is looking for some new members. Perhaps they could steal some from Comox … oh, wait, Comox doesn’t have a Heritage Commission, or a Heritage Register and, if the town has its way, no remaining buildings of heritage value.
But if you want to volunteer in Courtenay, contact Tatsuyuki Setta at email@example.com or call 250-703-4839.
THEOS HAS IDEAS — Picking up on a challenge from Mayor Bob Wells to offer ideas to lower Courtenay taxes, rather than just whining about them, Councillor Mano Theos came armed to this week’s meeting with a few ideas.
Unfortunately, Theos is a little late to impact this year’s financial plan. And he didn’t offer any ideas about how to cut expenses. But he did suggest some revenue-generators that Councillor Doug Hillian’s new select committee on revenue could consider.
If the city has its own economic development officer focused on such matters — as does Cumberland, Campbell River, Powell River and Port Alberni — they might come to fruition sooner.
IT AIN’T OVER UNTIL I SAY SO — The Union Bay Improvement District elected two new members to its board recently, but they can’t assume their positions until the chair of the board calls an annual general meeting. And he’s not doing it, apparently because the chair’s views apparently differ from the new board members.
But there are legal question about how long the old board can continue to serve and make decisions without an AGM.
In short, Union Bay politics appears spiteful and crazy.
CHUCK THE GAS TAX — How does it feel to be leading the nation?
No, our roads have just as many potholes as Ontario and our sports teams aren’t winning anything. But, hey, we have the highest gasoline prices of any other province. Thanks, Alberta.
So, maybe it’s time to review our reliance on the gas tax.
More people are driving electric, hybrid and other highly fuel-efficient vehicles today than ever before. That’s good news for the environment, but it’s causing concern, not just at the pumps for consumers, but at the BC Ministry of Transportation over how to pay for upgrading and even maintaining our roadways.
As the number of fuel-efficient vehicles increases, including those that don’t require any gasoline at all, the provincial gas tax revenue will begin a similar and dramatic decline.
But, as the gas tax revenue decreases, the need to repair the province’s roads and fund new projects will remain the same, or more likely grow with population gains.
The state of Oregon has already ditched the gas tax for a miles-driven funding model. LIcensed vehicles in Oregon have a black box plugged into their data ports that records how far it travels on state roads.
Drivers pay on the basis of their road usage, not for their gasoline consumed.
That idea is spreading to other state and now is gaining traction in Washington DC. It’s something for Canada to consider on a federal and provincial level.
We want to encourage fuel efficiency to improve air quality, reduce greenhouse gases and save our planet, not to mention the dream of ending Alberta’s economic dependence on extracting dirty oil from the tar sands.
But we also need to maintain and improve our roadways.
IMMUNIZE YOUR KIDS — There was another reported case of measles on Vancouver Island this week. It’s alarming how many new infections have occurred here, in BC, Canada and the US lately.
Measles was declared eradicated in 2000. But there have been more reported cases and in a greater number of individual communities in the last few years than for the past 17 years.
The resurgence of a disease that just a decade ago was killing nearly half a million people annually around the world, stresses the importance to remain vigilant about vaccinations. In particular, parents must continue to immunize their children.
That’s alarming because immunization is so easy and accessible, and proven effective.
Health experts estimate that immunizations have prevented more than 100 million cases of contagious diseases in the last 100 years. Vaccines eliminated smallpox, which killed more than 500 million people. Before the whooping cough vaccine was created in 1940, up to 10,000 people were dying every year from the disease in America.
Parents who don’t immunize their children are gambling on more than their own child’s risk of contracting highly communicable diseases. They are putting others at risk, too, including children medically ineligible for immunization and cancer patients on chemotherapy.
In some states, kids can’t attend school without having received the full package of immunizations. BC should adopt that policy.
The reasons for not getting vaccinated are specious. Fighting medical falsehoods is the bane of every public health official’s existence. An English doctor concocted one of the most egregious deceits in the 1990s that linked the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine to autism. Scientific studies have since debunked the link and Britain’s medical association disbarred the doctor from practicing medicine.
Vaccines are one of humankind’s great achievements, eradicating once unstoppable communicable diseases. But the bugs are persistent, and will return if future generations go unvaccinated.
THE BC LIBERALS WANT YOU — BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson came to the Comox Valley recently to start the search for a provincial candidate.
Hint for former candidate Jim Benninger: you’re out. Losing by a handful of votes to Ronna-Rae Leonard isn’t good enough for this hard-charging, education-cutting party.
Ecological Accounting Process — “The EAP approach begins by first recognizing the importance of a stream in a natural state and then asking: how can we maintain those ecological values while allowing the stream to be used for drainage,” says Jim Dumont, Engineering Applications Authority with the Partnership for Water Sustainability in BC.
George Le Masurier photos
T he Curtis Road Residents Association will press the Courtenay-Comox Sewage Commission again next week, this time on policy issues related to their decades-long battle to eliminate unpleasant odours from the system’s sewage treatment plant.
And they have new information that British Columbia’s Local Government Act does not prohibit municipalities from including voting members on commissions who represent non-participating constituents in a service or function.
Last month, residents told the commission that recent efforts to control the odours haven’t been successful and asked that the plant’s bioreactors be covered and that a new equalization basin currently under construction be relocated. They said the EQ basin has created visual pollution and will likely intensify the odour problems.
At the next commission meeting on May 14, the residents will ask for a commitment on odour standards, a specific odour reporting system and for action on their request for Area B voting representation on the commission.
Jenny Steel, spokesperson for the residents association, told Decafnation that a second presentation was necessary because “10 minutes is not long enough to address 34 years of abuse.” Delegations to the commission are limited to 10 minutes.
Since the treatment plant opened in 1985, it has emanated strong sewer smells that, due to geography, flow constantly through the Curtis Road neighborhood.
The odours are so bad that the Cape Lazo properties have lost monetary value and residents have been unable to stay in their homes during times when the stink has become unbearable.
Past inaction to address the problem by the sewage commission resulted in a lawsuit, which was won by the Curtis Road residents, that compelled the commision to fix the problem and to compensate homeowners.
But the odour problems continue, partly because past commissions haven’t taken the residents concerns seriously enough, according to the Curtis Road residents. And that’s a governance issue they feel could be addressed by having Area B representation on the commission.
As long as the treatment plant remains in Area B — and there is no plan to ever move it — rural residents believe they should have a voice on the decision-making body.
This same governance issue has surfaced before, most recently over the controversy to patch the Courtenay-Comox sewerage system with a new pumping station in the Croteau Beach neighborhood, which also lies within Area B.
Croteau Beach and Curtis Road residents say that if Courtenay and Comox want to locate infrastructure outside their municipal boundaries, then democratic principles dictate those outer areas should have representation at the decision-making table.
When the governance arose at last month’s sewage commission meeting, Comox Director Ken Grant said he believes the Local Government Act — the provincial document governing municipalities — prohibited Area B representation, because those rural residents don’t participate in the sewerage service. Area B residents can’t connect to the sewerage system and they do not pay for it.
Steel believes Grant misled the commission because her research and conversations with CVRD staff indicate that changes made to the Local Government Act in 2000 gave municipalities the necessary flexibility to include non-participating voting members on commissions.
She made a Freedom of Information request to the CVRD for the Act’s sections that support Grant’s claim.
It was a bylaw (No. 650) approved by the former Comox Strathcona Regional District board — since split into two boards for the Comox Valley and the Strathcona regions — that established the sewage commission. The CVRD board could change that bylaw.
Steel said the Curtis Road Residents Association might take the issue of Area B representation on the sewage commission to the CVRD board, or they might make presentations at both Courtenay and Comox municipal council meetings.
But first, they are waiting to hear the sewage commission’s response to their April presentation at the upcoming May meeting.
Last year, the Comox Valley Regional District commissioned a consultant to study governance options for administration and operation of the regional water supply and sewage conveyance and treatment services.
But the report from Leftside Partners Inc. presented to the CVRD board last September made no recommendations. It only suggested some considerations for such a change and encouraged elected officials to discuss it.
Chief Administrative Officer Russell Dyson described the background for the study in a March 2018 memo to the board:
“Since June 2017, a ‘utilities commission’ concept has been considered to possibly resolve some concerns related to efficiency, accountability and effectiveness for the decision-making processes related to water and sewer services. The proposed project scope, which is described in more detail further in this report, would focus its attention on the water supply system (function no. 300) and sewage treatment service (function no. 335), recognizing that a change in the governance framework may impact just the water service, or the sewer service, or both, depending on the governance project findings and the will of the service participants.”