Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Archive for July 30th, 2008

Bio-diversity in BC

leave a comment »

The lovely Pamela Zevitt has circulated what she calls the “Coles notes” of Biodiversity BC’s “Taking Nature’s Pulse: The Status of Biodiversity in BC”

Here is the whole thing cut and pasted from the word document:




July 30, 2008 VICTORIA BC – Twenty-three major findings regarding B.C.’s biodiversity were highlighted at the July 9, 2008 release of Taking Nature’s Pulse: the Status of Biodiversity in British Columbia, a significant, science-based assessment of the province’s natural environment. The report was prepared by Biodiversity BC, a partnership of government and non-government organizations established in 2005 to produce a biodiversity strategy for British Columbia.

The status report shows that biodiversity in B.C. is still in relatively good shape, but is vulnerable to rapid deterioration unless changes are made in the way people use and relate to the natural world.

Taking Nature’s Pulse is the result of an unprecedented, collective effort by more than 50 reputable scientists – both provincial and international, representing some of the best ecological thinking in BC – who contributed to its development and validated the importance of this province’s natural biological diversity.

Among other things, the report points out the vulnerability of wetlands in the Columbia River and Fraser River basins, the rarity of the Coastal Douglas fir and low elevation grasslands, and the potential risk to wetlands and other ecological processes from human activity.

“BC is a spectacular place, known worldwide for its natural beauty and diverse landscapes,” said Marian Adair, co-chair of Biodiversity BC. “This natural endowment not only serves as a foundation for our economy, but also supports a wide range of recreational, spiritual, and cultural pursuits.

“But BC has much to lose in all of these areas unless we reverse some of the threats to biodiversity that are stated in this report. For example, the cumulative impacts from resource extraction, development and human settlement have negatively affected ecosystems in some areas of the province. The report also states that climate change is already occurring in British Columbia and is the foremost threat to biodiversity.”

“People now realize it’s no longer a case of environment versus economy, but that the environment is the economysaid Dr. Fred Bunnell, professor emeritus, Department of Forest Sciences, University of British Columbia and an expert on conservation biology. “Taking Nature’s Pulse is an important scientific foundation. What is now important is how to take action on its findings.”

He went on to say “I know that my kid is not going to see the same richness in this province that I’ve been able to enjoy, if nothing else, climate change will ensure that. But I sincerely hope that we can maintain as much of that richness and productivity as possible.”

Dr. Richard Hebda, curator of botany and earth history at the Royal British Columbia Museum for more than 28 years, also spoke at the news conference. “This is a well-illustrated, well-thought out document that describes the richness of BC’s natural life and ecosystems including its special and unique elements. It also examines the serious challenges we face. The good news is that much of it is relatively intact, but parts of that legacy are depleted or under serious stress and that stress is increasing.”

“One of the intensifying stressors is climate change. Ancient climatic changes and their effects such as the ice age have generated in part our biodiversity. But rapidly advancing changes will be unprecedented and are already having impacts on the workings and components of our ecosystems. The pine beetle outbreak is just one example,” he said.

The release of Taking Nature’s Pulse represents the completion of the first step in taking action to conserve B.C.’s biodiversity. Conserving the province’s biodiversity cannot be done by any one organization alone. Provincial, federal and local governments will have a role to play, as will conservation organizations, resource industries and First Nations.

The Ministry of Environment has indicated a willingness to respond to the 23 major findings in Taking Nature’s Pulse through the ministry’s conservation framework and through other provincial government initiatives.

Biodiversity BC will be working with its partners, including the Ministry of Environment to determine priorities for addressing these findings. Biodiversity BC will also be working to build awareness and understanding among British Columbians about the importance of biodiversity and to identify tools and incentives to promote stewardship of the natural environment.

The news conference took place at the VanDusen Gardens in Vancouver and was attended by more than 15 media outlets and more than 50 stakeholders. The provincial government used the release of the report to announce its new conservation framework. The framework will use a science-based approach to assess threats to species and ecosystems. It will enable the government to act sooner before species and ecosystems are at risk and act smarter by setting priorities for species and ecosystems that are at risk or in danger of becoming at risk.

The 23 Major Findings in Taking Nature’s Pulse

Taking Nature’s Pulse: The Status of Biodiversity in British Columbia, is a comprehensive, science-based assessment of the current condition of biodiversity in British Columbia. The report includes 23 major findings grouped under the following six themes:

Ecosystem Diversity

Species Diversity

Genetic Diversity

Key and Special Elements of Biodiversity

Threats to Biodiversity

Capacity and Knowledge

The following major findings relate to ecosystem diversity in British Columbia:

1. At the broad scale, four biogeoclimatic zones [Coastal Douglas-fir, Interior Douglas-fir, Ponderosa Pine, and Bunchgrass], representing approximately 5% of British Columbia’s land base, are of provincial conservation concern.

2. At the fine scale, more than half of the ecological communities described in British Columbia are of provincial conservation concern.

3. British Columbia has a majority of the global range for six of the 16 biogeoclimatic zones that occur in the province [Coastal Douglas-fir, Interior Cedar–Hemlock, Montane Spruce, Mountain Hemlock, Sub-boreal Pine–Spruce, and Sub-boreal Spruce].

4. The Coastal Douglas-fir biogeoclimatic zone is the rarest biogeoclimatic zone in British Columbia and is of great conservation concern.

5. Low-elevation grassland communities are the rarest land cover type in British Columbia and are concentrated in the biogeoclimatic zones of conservation concern.

6. Significant areas of wetlands in British Columbia have been converted or degraded, particularly in the two Major Drainage Areas of greatest conservation concern [Columbia River and Fraser River].

7. Estuaries are of concern in British Columbia because of their rarity and the level of human impacts to them.

The following major findings relate to species diversity in British Columbia:

8. Of the species assessed to date in British Columbia, 43% are of provincial conservation concern and these are concentrated in the four biogeoclimatic zones of conservation concern.

9. British Columbia is known to have a majority of the global range for 99 species.

The following major finding relates to genetic diversity in British Columbia:

10. British Columbia has high levels of genetic diversity within species, which is critical for adaptation and resilience.

The following major findings relate to key and special elements in British Columbia:

11. The flow of water in lakes, streams, wetlands and groundwater systems is being seriously impacted in British Columbia by dams, water diversions, logging, stream crossings and climate change.

12. The natural disturbance processes that shape British Columbia’s forests [e.g., wild fire, insects] are being disrupted by human activities.

13. British Columbia’s mainland coast features a number of interconnected key and special elements of biodiversity: intact temperate rainforest, an intact large mammal predator-prey system, glacially influenced streams and salmon-driven nutrient cycling.

14. The majority of British Columbia has intact or relatively intact predator-prey systems, but a major threat to them is motorized access and associated human activities.

15. British Columbia has many significant seasonal concentrations of species [e.g., migratory birds, spawning salmon] that are vulnerable to human impacts.

The following major findings relate to threats to biodiversity in British Columbia:

16. Ecosystem conversion from urban/rural development and agriculture has seriously impacted British Columbia’s biodiversity, especially in the three rarest biogeoclimatic zones [Coastal Douglas-fir, Bunchgrass and Ponderosa Pine].

17. Ecosystem degradation from forestry, oil and gas development, and transportation and utility corridors has seriously impacted British Columbia’s biodiversity.

18. Alien species are seriously impacting British Columbia’s biodiversity, especially on islands and in lakes.

19. Climate change is already seriously impacting British Columbia and is the foremost threat to biodiversity.

20. The cumulative impacts of human activities in British Columbia are increasing and are resulting in the loss of ecosystem resilience.

21. Connectivity of ecosystems in British Columbia is being lost and, among other impacts, this will limit the ability of species to shift their distributions in response to climate change.

The following major findings relate to knowledge and capacity regarding biodiversity in British Columbia:

22. Gaps in our knowledge of biodiversity in British Columbia create major challenges for effective conservation action.

23. The capacity to address some of the gaps in our knowledge of biodiversity in British Columbia is being impacted by the loss of already limited taxonomic expertise.

To view the complete text of Taking Nature’s Pulse: The Status of Biodiversity in British Columbia and the major findings please go to

Other science foundation documents are available on web site include:

Ecological Concepts, Principles and Applications to Conservation

  • Primer on biodiversity (setting out the concepts and principles of biodiversity conservation and restoration)

  • Provides a broad context for the development of the SR

  • Informs the process of developing priorities for conservation

Biodiversity Atlas (due to be completed by fall 2008)

  • Companion to the Status Report

  • Provides a spatial depiction of the components and elements of biodiversity and the threats effecting biodiversity

Science Background Reports

  • A number of supporting scientific and technical reports were commissioned by experts in the field.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 30, 2008 at 7:11 pm

Posted in Environment

The problem with subisidies

leave a comment »

Two articles in today’s Globe and Mail look at why our governments are going wrong, in an entirely predictable way, in tackling global warming.

Neil Reynolds serves up a history lesson of my favourite kind. It is based on railway history. I suspect there will be a lot of people who will find this story familiar either because they read the same books I did or they played Sid Meier’s “Railroad Tycoon” (which, by the way, is now free!).

The other one is from Jeffrey Simpson and cover the familiar ground of the corn based ethanol scam.

It is not that governement cannot make good decisions so much as politicians who would rather give favours to friends than have a process which eliminates the pork barrel and the taint of corruption and makes objective sense based on good arithmetic.  And this is not confined to left or right – politicians of all persuasions are human and thus fallible. And the long and sorry record of stupid decisions shows that only too well. But politicians continue to be surrounded by bagmen and lobbyists, and tend to listen to them rather than the people who are hired to help bring some order to the public decision making process.

Now in the past the penalties we have paid for corrupt and incompetent decisions have been expensive for all taxpayers, and have hit some communities harder than others. But the prospect of failure now is much worse than anything we could have imagined before. The malign influence of the corporations in Washington and  Ottawa has already delayed action until it is almost too late. We now have a very short time indeed to cut greenhouse gas emissions significantly. And we cannot afford another corn fiasco.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 30, 2008 at 11:34 am

No tolls on controversial highway, government says

with 2 comments

The Vancouver Sun subs, as usual, miss the point in their choice of headline. Tolls never were on the table for the SFPR.

It will skirt the edge of environmentally sensitive Burns Bog, remove farm land from the Agricultural Land Reserve, require expropriation of residential properties in several communities in Delta and Surrey, and run over archeological sites containing the remains of aboriginal settlements.

“Skirting the edge” of the bog is not anything like as harmless as it sounds. There remain very strong reasons for avoiding this area altogether, as the bog habitat is both unique and highly fragile, and given what we know is going to be happening to this region should be under plans for expansion not limitation. There are also real fears that interfering with the drainage of the bog could hasten its drying out, increasing the risk of fire and the loss of the bog altogether.

There is no mention, you notice, of salmon habitat. But the construction of the road, and its subsequent operations, are going to impact an area of the Fraser where juvenile salmon spend a lot of time getting adjusted to the switch from fresh to salt water. Of course, global warming, over fishing, fish farms and  development adjacent to fish bearing streams have already pretty much spelled the end of the Fraser salmon runs, so maybe the province thinks it can write them off. The DFO doesn’t think so, of course, and there is still the question of federal approval – although I suspect Kevin knows that these days he is on safe political ground with his allies in Ottawa. Professionals in government departments have all been given very clear marching orders about not putting up too strong a scientific case.

The archaeological sites are another matter entirely. Our record in this regard is shameful – with an approach road to the new Golden Ears Bridge being built on a Katzie historic site of immense significance (it proves there was agriculture in the Fraser Valley three thousand years ago) long before any of the research was completed. Any artefacts there will now be covered in concrete if not completely obliterated. You would think that the local First Nations would be concerned. But they are in the treaty process – the $1bn boondoggle that has produced almost nothing. But if you are part of the process (on either side) you are doing very nicely on government largesse, and do not want to spoil the party, which can be prolonged indefinitely it seems. So the treaty process is supposed to be all the protection these sites need. Which just ups the price a bit more. Nothing effective needs to be done to protect them – just hand over some more cash.

And of course there is no mention at all of way that the government’s Gateway strategy is coming apart rapidly. The justification for this road – an increasing share of a growing trans pacific container trade – is no longer valid. The trade has been in decline for two years – and the increases in capacity at other ports, including Price Rupert, is already more than enough, given that the North West Passage is now ice free and the much bigger Panama Canal will be open by the time the SFPR is finished. Plus there was always a better route with much less impact that would have been cheaper to construct, but was never seriously considered. And that the containers for the rest of  North America leave here on trains, not trucks, and the real problem the port faces is lack of rail capacity.

Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon said the project has undergone significant scrutiny over five years, but he was confident the government had respected the concerns of its opponents.

Which only proves my contention that Kevin Falcon is a liar. The “scrutiny” was cursory at best and the concerns of opponents simply ignored.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 30, 2008 at 10:48 am

Posted in Environment, Transportation

Tagged with

City hall greenlights density hike

with 5 comments

A reader wrote (in a comment on another thread that will not appear there)

Thoughts on this news story?

And normally this is not something I would get into very much, because it is not my neighbourhood. I do not live in Vancouver and I only know the site because of passing through West Broadway.

But on the other hand, West Broadway is one of the most important commercial strips in town. Meredith and I have traded thoughts on the need for rapid transit on this corridor – and whether it should be on the surface or underground. And as you can see from the map, this is the centre of medical business district. Proximity to the hospital means many doctors – and related services, such as labs, xrays, nursing agencies all locate themselves here. Which means most of us have spent more time around here than we would have liked to – and spent a bit in the retail and catering businesses that service the area.

Quite why it needs more residential development is questionable – but again if the people who work here could afford to live close to their jobs, not a bad idea. But as is far too common across the region the parking provision is excessive “122 residential units with 159 residential parking spaces in three levels of underground parking”.  It might be thought a deal to reduce the amount of parking would cut costs to the developer, help to alleviate local concerns about traffic, and also help the car co-op. Indeed there is plenty of precedent for such a deal. People who live here will have very good transit close at hand, and a lot they can walk to, so the need for every unit to have a parking space plus 37 visitor spots seems high to me. No, it isn’t Yaletown, but Vancouver is going to have to accept that as the more people move to the region, greater density in Vancouver outside of the downtown core is going to be essential, if only to get the best return on the rapid transit investment.

The people who come to public hearings always tend to be those who have concerns. And I do not think that these have necessarily been addressed. There will be a shadow effect in winter – so Peter Ladner’s comments are far from emollient. This developer will argue he has already contributed a lot elsewhere, so the parking deal may actually appeal. He gets a lower cost (underground parking being very expensive to build) but the new residents still have access to a car when they need one without the cost of car ownership.

In other cities in North America the requirement for affordable housing would have been much more onerous.

It is also the case that our housing market is about to tip over the edge. There is much more supply on the market now, and buyers are able to be picky. There are fewer Americans buying here – just because their domestic market has gone bad in a very big way. We have yet to see prices actually fall here, but we will, I am sure. And we have also seen other condo developments founder on the combination of rising construction cost and limited capacity of the construction business to take on more work.

So those considerations might have been in the planners’ minds. They got $1m for traffic calming and bike route improvements, and 6 out of 122 units is something if not the 10% most other places aim for.

So not a disaster – but also not nearly as good as it could have been.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 30, 2008 at 10:25 am