Cumberland conference shows importance of wetlands

Cumberland conference shows importance of wetlands

Detail from the conference poster

Cumberland conference shows importance of wetlands

By George Le Masurier

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.

MC and co-organizer Steve Morgan

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.

 

Why are wetlands important?

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.”

 

How can wetlands be protected?

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.”

 

 

 

 

 

WHAT ARE
WETLANDS?

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

TYPES OF
WETLANDS

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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By Guest Writer

Lave you ever thought of owning an electric car? If so, you’re not alone. BC Hydro expects one out of every three new car buyers to reach beyond traditional fossil fuel powered vehicles and grab the keys to an electric car.

To help guide your decision-making, several Comox Valley groups have organized an electric car and bike show at 10 am on Saturday, May 18, at the Comox Valley Sports Centre on Vanier Drive.

In addition to the car show, World Community Film will screen What is the Electric Car? at 7 pm Tuesday, May 14, in the Stan Hagen Theatre on the North Island College campus.

The Move2Electric show on Saturday will feature a number of zero-emission vehicles — including a Tesla — available for test drives, a speaker series and panel discussion and  information about how to access up to $16,000 in incentives for electric car purchases.

Move2Electric is hosted by: Comox Valley Nurses for Health and the Environment, CV Nurses and Nurse Practitioners of BC, Glasswaters Foundation, CV Electric Vehicle Association, EmotiveBC and the Watershed Sentinel magazine.

 

 

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Vancouver Island old growth faces a bleak future, say speakers

Vancouver Island old growth faces a bleak future, say speakers

The clear at Avatar Grove, near Port Renfrew  /   Photos by Diane and Jay Van Oostdam

Vancouver Island old growth faces a bleak future, say speakers

By Pat Carl

A Friday night crowd of 100 listened intently as speakers from Sierra Club BC and the Wilderness Committee illustrated the grim reality of what remains of old growth forest on Vancouver Island.

The shocked audience often sighed audibly as the speakers showed photos of recently clear-cut old growth and pointed out the roads already built to more easily harvest much of the rest.

Vancouver Island’s coastal temperate rainforest is a unique system, according to Mark Worthing of the Sierra Club, one that is disappearing at the astonishing rate of 34 soccer fields per day. Less than 10 percent of the original 3 million hectares of old growth forest still exists on the Island and SW mainland.

“Because of the climate crisis,” Worthing claims, “business as usual isn’t an option. Trees are the tools we need to fight the climate crisis.”

Diane Van Oostdam standing in front of Big Lonely Doug — Height: 70.2 meters/230 feet. Circumference: 11.91 meters/39 feet

Torrance Coste from the Wilderness Committee claims that old growth and even second growth forests are our best “offense and defense’ against climate change. Because the audience members benefit from BC government-owned timber sales, we all are responsible for the demise of old growth forests, according to Coste.

A third speaker, Stacy Harper, a graduate student at Royal Rhodes, is writing about the astonishing gift the Cumberland Forest Society made to its community when it purchased 110 hectares of forest near the township.

“Since Cumberland members have long been involved in the forestry economy, they have a special attachment to those 110 hectares,” Harper said.

he community has altered its relationship with the forest; while once the community harvested the forest, it now protects the forest. In interviewing one community member, Harper was told that when the government ‘owns’ the forest, it can do what it wants. When we own the forest, we can protect it.

Following the presentations, Galen Armstrong, a lead organizer at Sierra Club BC, fielded questions for the speakers. One question echoed the frustration many attendees felt who think assertive direct action is needed to save old growth and second growth forests and to fight climate change.

Both Coste and Worthing explained that their present positions require that they work within the legal and political guidelines provided by their organizations. But in his experience, Coste has found that “civil disobedience is the sound of not being heard,” which resonated with many of those in attendance.

Comox Valley residents Diane and Jay Van Oostdam recently traveled to the Avatar Grove near Port Renfrew. Their photos illustrate the assault on old growth forests in BC.

Pat Carl is a contributor to the Comox Valley Civic Journalism Project

This article has been updated to state Vancouver Island originally had 3 million hectares of old growth forest, not 360,000 hectares.

 

 

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By Pat Carl

Y outh Environmental Action (YEA) took to the streets of Courtenay on Friday, May 3, to highlight the desperate situation the local community, province, country, and, indeed, the globe faces as the long brewing climate catastrophic comes home to roost.

Homemade placards challenged early afternoon shoppers and drivers with “The Climate is Changing; Why aren’t We?” as well as “It’s Our Future” and “Lower the Voting Age Before It’s Too Late.”

SEE MORE COVERAGE OF THE YOUTH CLIMATE MARCH HERE

The call to attend the march went out through various social media formats and was answered by daycare students with their parents, elementary and high school students coming to the event on city buses, and college students skipping classes as well as older supporters. The estimated 250 students from across the Comox Valley were joined by older supporters swelling their ranks to 300 avid climate activists.

They challenged all levels of government to find their environmental consciences. They had specific questions for Gord Johns, NDP MP, and Ronna-Rae Leonard, NDP MLA who greeted marchers outside of their shared downtown Courtenay office.

Ava Perkins wanted to know when climate sciences were going to be taught in K-12 classrooms.

Ella Oldaker wanted the two government officials and their parties to actively protect old and second growth forests.

Mackai Sharp wanted to know how the federal government intended to protect the West Coast from [offshore] drilling.

Sienna Stephens asked why the herring fishery was continuing unabated in the Strait, when herring are a food source for other marine species.

All good questions, both Johns and Leonard agreed. Johns encouraged youth to “raise the volume” in their quest to lead the world away from climate disaster, while Leonard cautioned everyone to remain constructive and work with lawmakers in making the world a better place.

Older supporters of the march reacted to Leonard by shouting down her mild responses to the student questions as typical NDP pablum. In response, Nalan Goosen, one of the founders of YEA, asked everyone in the crowd to listen respectfully to the politicians’ responses.

One four-year-old, Yma, told this reporter that she was at the march with her mother because “there are too many factories and big buildings” and too few trees.

One seventh grader, Cory McAllister, said he is home schooled but found out about the march on social media and felt he had to support YEA.

An orca and an eight-foot-high dinosaur also joined the march.

In the crowd of older supporters, Pam Monroe, sincerely apologized to the students. She explained, “I worked in Alberta in the oil and gas industry for years. My lifestyle profited,” she said, “at the expense of the environment.”

Pat Carl is a contributor to the Decafnation Civic Journalism Project

 

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Comox Valley Students ‘Stand up, Fight Back’ for Climate Action

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Gavin MacRae photos

Comox Valley Students ‘Stand up, Fight Back’ for Climate Action

By Gavin MacRae

A jovial yet determined crowd of student strikers and adult supporters over 250 strong marched through downtown Courtenay Friday, to demand action on climate change.

The protest started with a rally at Courtenay City Hall.

SEE MORE COVERAGE OF THE YOUTH CLIMATE MARCH HERE

The crowd cheered as speakers said it was time to “stand up and fight back” against fossil fuel interests and insufficient government action.

“We are here today under a unified cause to protest climate change,” said Nalan Goosen, a co-organizer of the event.

Speaking through a megaphone, Goosen said investments in the tar sands and other fossil fuel infrastructure make Canadian banks culpable for climate change.

To showcase this, the demonstration traced a serpentine route through the downtown to pause and protest at CIBC, Bank of Montreal, and Scotia Bank.

Outside CIBC the crowd chanted, “No more coal, no more oil, keep the carbon in the soil!”

At Bank of Montreal the rallying cry was, “What do we want? Climate Action! When do we want it? Now!”

Finally, the Scotia Bank received, “Corporate greed we must fight, polluting earth is not a right!”

The crowd also made a stop at the office of MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard, where she and MP Gord Johns spoke with the demonstrators.
Both politicians gave short impromptu speeches on the importance of protecting the environment.

Students put questions to Leonard and Johns about increasing climate education in the school system, protecting old-growth forest and marine areas and fighting the Trans Mountain pipeline.

The answers met with some applause, and Goosen said he was hopeful Leonard would bring the demonstrators’ concerns about old-growth logging to Doug Donaldson, BC’s Minister of Forests. Goosen was also hopeful Johns would echo the students’ concern over the climate crisis in Ottawa.

The protest ended with a return to City Hall.

Students said all but two schools in Comox and Courtenay were represented among the protesters.

“The turnout was amazing,” said Mackai Sharp, a co-organizer of the protest. “The last two events had under 35 people.”

Sharp and Goosen are leaders of the Comox Valley-based Youth Environmental Action, which planned the protest. The group has a separate arm for adults named Adult Allies for Youth Environmental Action.

”This will not be our last protest, said Goosen. “We don’t have very long to solve the climate crisis, so this movement of youth empowerment is essential to our health and survival.”

Gavin MacRae is the assistant editor of Watershed Sentinel, which is a publishing partner of Decafnation

 

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Has engineered stormwater doomed BC’s waterways?

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Courtenay Councillor Wendy Morin (left) and Comox Councillor Stephanie McGowan listen to Tim Ennis speak about Kus Kus Sum / George Le Masurier photo

Has engineered stormwater doomed BC’s waterways?

By George Le Masurier

As population growth continues unrestrained and subsequent urban development expands the dimension of impervious surfaces, an increasing volume of polluted stormwater runoff will poison British Columbia’s waters, local species and natural ecosystems.

It sounds like a doomsday prediction, and according to the keynote speaker at a recent provincial conference on water stewardship it’s going to take a major change in local government thinking to avert this disaster.

Bill Derry, one of the Pacific Northwest’s best known experts on stormwater management, delivered this keynote message recently to an audience of more than 200 British Columbia streamkeepers, local government engineers and elected officials and others. Derry spoke April 3 at the second Vancouver Island Symposium on water stewardship organized by The Partnership for Water Sustainability in B.C.

“Put the forest back”

Before any development occurred in B.C., soils and natural vegetation in forests soaked up rainwater, filtered it and slowly released it into streams that flow into larger bodies of water. But in cities, where nature has been covered with impermeable surfaces, rainwater flows along streets where it picks up toxic chemicals and carries them unfiltered into water systems through gutters and underground pipes.

To protect or restore water quality in developed areas is a complicated problem, but Derry said the solution is quite simple: “Put the forest back.”

That’s impossible, of course, yet alternatives do exist.

Fifty years ago, Scottish landscape architect Ian McHarg proposed using natural systems in urban planning. His 1969 book Design With Nature was a guide toward what we call green infrastructure today; the use of rain gardens and infiltration galleries.

Getting local government engineers to implement green infrastructure that protects or restores water quality in developed areas will take massive and relentless public pressure on local governments.

“Tweaking current systems and practices isn’t enough,” he said. “Major change is required, and governments can’t do it. They won’t do it unless we push them.”

Derry said government engineers and elected officials are reluctant to shift from managing stormwater with curbs and gutters toward source control — managing rain where it falls — out of fear of lawsuits and insurance liabilities.

And local governments don’t believe people will maintain rain gardens or other green infrastructure on their properties, he said.

“So we have to challenge old ideas at chamber forums and talk to decision-makers,” he said. “Change will only and always comes when motivated people talk to other people.”

Derry was one of several speakers at the conference who spoke of the benefits of designing municipal systems that attempt to mimic nature. Others spoke of studies that show green spaces and urban streams improve people’s mental health, and are aesthetically pleasing.

Jody Watson, supervisor of environmental planning and initiatives for the Capital Regional District, echoed Derry’s message that public pressure can effect change. Watson is also the past chair of the Bowker Creek Initiative, a successful restoration of a major waterway running through three municipalities in the Victoria area.

Because local governments had given up on Bowker Creek, more and more of it was being buried and channelized.

But widespread community pressure raised the creek to the regional district’s No. 3 priority. Consultants had to convince local engineers of the value of restoring and daylighting the creek. Some staff engineers had rigidly opposed daylighting the creek.

“Sometimes you have to just wait for somebody to retire,” Watson said.

Derry urged conference attendees to champion better stormwater practices on several fronts.

— No expansion of urban growth boundaries. Increase urban density and “save the best of the rest,” he said.

— Require government agencies to preserve forests, not just slow down development. “There should be no net loss of forest cover,” he said.

— Ban toxins such as zinc on vehicle tires, copper on brakes, phosphorous and the micro-plastics from single-use bags and water bottles at the local, provincial and federal level.

Deery cautioned his audience not to expect instant results.

“This isn’t something that will happen overnight,” he said. “But we need to amp up the seriousness of the discussions.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

COMOX LAKE, CONSERVATION PARTNERSHIPS AND BROOKLYN CREEK

Comox Valley Regional District Senior Engineer Marc Rutten spoke to the conference about the Comox Lake Watershed Protection Plan. It’s a wide-ranging effort that involves multiple landowners and will address issues of turbidity and hydrological changes from logging activities. The watershed is the only source of drinking water for 50,000 residents.

Tim Ennis, the executive director of the Comox Valley Land Trust, spoke about the Comox Valley Conservation Partnership, one of six such groups in the province. The partnership has a unique focus on local government, and speaks with one voice on conservation issues, growth and urban forest strategies. Ennis also talked about the Kus-Kus-Sum project, which he said is more about reconciliation than restoration. “Ten acres of steel and concrete is a daunting” restoration project. But he called the recovery of the K’omoks Estuary a “fantastic model for success.”

Al Fraser and Marvin Kamenz of the Town of Comox, and Christine Hodgson of the Brooklyn Creek Watershed Society, spoke about the relationship between the town and the streamkeepers. Hodgson said over the last 13 years, the streamkeepers have raised about $300,000 ($100,000 in-kind) for in-stream work to improve fish habitat. The town has roughly matched the group’s fundraising. The streamkeepers also do annual smolt counts and public education for neighboring residents.

 

 

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