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

Declining bird numbers could be swan song for ecosystem

with 4 comments

Vancouver Sun

The Asper empire moves further into blog territory with a new one by Rob Butler on birds.

Butler retired in January after 28 years as a federal researcher with the Canadian Wildlife Service, and is now both a scientist with Bird Studies Canada and coordinator of the B.C. Bird Atlas, the latter an effort to tap the talents of birders to produce a catalogue of nesting birds.

It is a worthy enterprise and I applaud them for it. But the intro piece makes disturbing reading

Population surveys over the past 20 years on the south coast show that olive-sided flycatchers are down 75 per cent, common nighthawks 72 per cent, barn swallows 80 per cent and red-eyed vireos 85 per cent. The list goes on.

And there is only speculation about what is causing this

Whatever the reason — global warming, habitat loss or other factors — the declines could be part of a much bigger picture.

Yes and that bigger picture is human greed and selfishness – as well as the hopelessly ineffective legislation in BC that is supposed to protect the environment, but in reality is aiding its destruction.

Locally we know that the Port Expansion and the Gateway project threaten birds. I have written here many time about the sandpipers – who depend on the slime of the mudbanks near Deltaport. The same banks that will be gone once the port expansion is finished. The sandhill cranes who depend on the unique ecosystem that will be obliterated by the SFPR. The construction of the two long causeways at Tsawassen irreparably altered the coastal ecosystem on which that Nation has depended on for food for millennia. The farmland there will soon be covered in more railway tracks and container storage yards, neither of which will provide must sustenenace for the herons and the hawks that can be seen there now.

Great Blue Heron near Deltaport recently - my photo

Great Blue Heron near Deltaport recently - my photoGreat Blue Heron near Deltaport recently - my photo

Of course Larry Pynn doesn’t mention port expansion, or the Gateway. Or the fact that no project in BC can be stopped by an EA – and even the mitigation that gets offered is often inadequate or simply not done, without any penalties. That the legislation was gutted by Kevin Falcon when he was Minister of Deregulation, and the staff at what was once the Ministry of the Environment has been slashed so that monitoring and enforcement are both a shadow of what they once were. The “beneficiaries” are of course the businesses that support the BC Liberals.The sort of people who like to rub shoulders with the Aspers and their editors at expensive functions.

It is curious that the misfortune of the heron and barn swallow is that no one thinks of shooting them – and that is what is leading to their demise. Where I am now I hear fusilades of shots every morning as the duck population is reduced. But their habitat is protected – because Ducks Unlimited is very wealthy and very well connected. And they have made sure that much of the area around the Reifel Bird Sanctuary on Westham Island is protected. So that they can have ducks to shoot at. Quite why the duck hunters are so well organised and salmon fishermen aren’t is perhaps beyond the scope of this blog. But we do begin to hear that the tourism industry that this government is also supposed to be supporting is suffering since there are few fish to be caught by “sportsmen”. And the numbers of the “charismatic megafauna” that tourists like to see (whales, bears) are in trouble too.

There is now a crisis. And it is loss of species. The bees are gone. The salmon are gone. The birds are going too. It is the result of human activity. And the worst culprits are those who removed what little protection there was in this province, and who now turn their backs on anyone who suggests that they should be doing a better job. And their apologists who like to think that somehow our economy does not depend on the environment – and that continued development and growth (“business as usual”) is the only policy that they can understand.

While bird habitat everywhere is important to preserve, Butler notes, B.C. needs to devote special attention to four key areas in the Strait of Georgia: the lower Fraser River from Hope to Delta; the southern end of the Gulf Islands, where the plume of the Fraser River mixes with the waters from Juan de Fuca Strait; the northern end of the Gulf Islands, around the Discovery Islands; and the area around Baynes Sound and the Courtenay River estuary.

The lower Fraser River is seeing an unprecent assault. The gravel extraction below Hope. The South Fraser Primeter Road. The Deltaport expansion – which is where the “plume” is actually, not the Gulf Islands. Here.

l to r Richmond, Ladner, Westham Island

l to r Richmond, Ladner, Westham Island

Written by Stephen Rees

October 13, 2008 at 8:08 am

Posted in Environment, Gateway

4 Responses

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  1. The end result of all this is, unfortunately, what I saw in many cities in Japan like Tokyo and Osaka. Rivers that these cities once depended on are now shadows of their former selves; their banks have been terraformed, filled, and walled in with concrete. Industrial, commercial or residential development fills the land right to the banks, and only occasionally can you see the odd rice paddy among the houses. There are no birds, fish or other animal life – with nowhere to live and nothing to eat, they’ve all gone the way of the dodo. The water of the rivers themselves is usually a slimy black, and I recall surmising that the only thing alive in there was probably Godzilla, and even then he was having a rough go of it.

    Unless growth (population, economic, or otherwise) stops by one means or another, I’m afraid these pressures to destroy the land will never disappear. The current crash is probably as good a chance as any to ask some serious questions about whether or not growth really contributes to our well-being and the health of the planet.

    Metro Vancouver talks nonchalantly about adding another million people over the next 20 years, and then in the next breath talks about a sustainable region. What pap! Can anyone honestly believe that adding this many people to the region, even if they were all to live in infill developments, will not result in more pressure to build things like the SFPR? What about building a better, more beautiful city for the people already here? What about repairing the past damage done to the ecosystem before we add any more people? The whole thing is a shell game for developers and builders to make more money, that’s why. There is no “livable region.” Regional growth strategy legislation has institutionalized growth for the sake of growth (developers) to the point where we blindly accept that another million people will be good for the region, without even asking what the effects will be. Where will there sewage go? Their cars? Their garbage? Most strategies I have seen are so high level that their only effect is to reinforce growth as a certainty, without specifically dealing with the above issues.

    I have to disagree with you Stephen. Saying that legislation, environmental or otherwise, will be enough to prevent the destruction of the environment when the whole system is based on the commodification and monetization of the nature world is simply not realistic, imho.

    “Money and the Crisis of Civilization” by Charles Eisenstein really drives this point home – until the whole system changes, the sandpipers don’t have a chance.


    October 13, 2008 at 9:23 am

  2. I am happy to report that not all of us share your pessimism, and that there is hope in the planning and design measures that could easily be taken to protect sensitive habitat and food producing soils while at the same time creating livable, sustainable communities.

    The problem, in my view, is not what is possible; too much focus has been placed on what has been done to weaken the possible by pandering to unsustainable political policies.

    I have no problem with the next million, or even the million after provided they live on the land more gently.

    The alternative is to give up and become a grumpy old hermit in a shack north of Haney.


    October 15, 2008 at 1:22 pm

  3. Unfortunately politics seems to trump good planning decisions every time, and instead of responsible development we get the SFPR and its ilk. We continue to demonstrate that the environment is at the mercy of poor and/or self-interested decisions.

    I don’t see that changing anytime soon (or later).


    October 16, 2008 at 11:25 pm

  4. My grandfather homesteaded three separate quarter sections in Northern Alberta starting in 1902. Maybe it’s time to look for a 21st Century homestead.

    On second thought, I read somewhere (Vancouver Sun?) that if Canada had the population of rural England, we’d have 6 billion people, albeit half in the arctic. There is some very pretty country in Britain.

    The same article stated that if all 7 billion people on Earth lived in one city with the density of Chelsea, a rather pleasant London community, it would be only the size of Senegal, one of Afica’s smallest nations.

    In the Desertec proposal it states that a concentrated solar power facility built on a 1,000 x 1,000 km square in the Sahara could supply all the energy needed on the planet, based on existing CSP technology and total energy use. A 100 x 100 mile CSP facility in Nevada could supply all the energy outputs currently from all sources (hydro, nuclear, petroleum, coal, etc) in the U.S.

    It’s said that the Canada Line will move as many people as a 10-lane freeway. Whether that turns out to be true remains to be seen (I doubt it will be that high in the first 10 years), but the principle that transit consumes a fraction of the land, energy and other resources of cars is obvious. Bikes are even better, and walking is tops when it comes to sustainable principles of city design.

    Conclusion: we have choices to make in HOW we live on the land, and it’s more obvious with each passing year it has to be a lot more efficiently.


    October 17, 2008 at 4:06 pm

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