British Columbia is the most biologically diverse province in Canada. Because of the diversity of ecosystems in the province, a large number of the total number of species in Canada is found here. British Columbia is home to more than 60 per cent of Canada's birds, vascular plants, mammals and insects. Diversity in all living things enriches our lives, but more importantly, biodiversity is essential to life on earth. Biodiversity not only maintains a functional environment; it is a resource for food, shelter, clothing and other materials. The economy relies on biodiversity since it provides renewable economic resources and ecosystem services, medical and scientific benefits, and is priceless in term of cultural and aesthetic values. The economic value of biodiversity in the form of natural resources is easy to measure, since its biomass is directly used in commerce. However, the value of biodiversity associated with maintaining these natural resources is much more difficult to assess. Biodiversity provides a variety of ecosystem services, which are critical to human survival and the economy. Different organisms are responsible for controlling invasive or pest species, maintaining soil fertility, pollinating and thereby maintaining diverse vegetation, purifying air and water, detoxifying and decomposing wastes, and regulating climate. These ecosystem services are complex natural processes that are interrelated in ways that are not completely understood. Therefore, the impact of losing any one of these processes on our economy is unknown.
The Fraser River is one of the great rivers of the world, draining nearly 250,000 square kilometers into the Strait of Georgia (Pacific Ocean). The estuary, a coastal body of tidal water where fresh water is mixed with sea water, is a significant natural area with some of the most productive biological systems in the world.
Nowhere in the British Columbia are the environmental pressures and competing demands for space and resources greater than in the fertile and heavily populated area around the Fraser estuary. Over the next 20 years, the growing population in the Vancouver area will reach three million people. These people will be looking to the Fraser River estuary to satisfy demands for housing, commercial and industrial developments, expansion of ports, and recreation. At the same time, the region's residents want to protect fish and wildlife habitat and improve the environmental quality of the estuary.
Many of the species in British Columbia are at risk of extinction. The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) has identified over 100 species in British Columbia that are at risk. In addition to the species that are nationally at risk, the Provincial Government, through the B.C. Conservation Data Centre (CDC), identifies species at the risk of extirpation, or extinction, from the province. The CDC currently has identified 597 Red-listed species and 835 Blue-listed species in B.C. Red-listed species are either extirpated, endangered, or threatened and are considered to be the most at risk. Blue-listed species are considered to be vulnerable to human activities and natural disturbance, and are monitored to evaluate whether their populations are declining. These ‘species at risk’ lists identify species that are in need of protection. There are potentially many more species at risk that have not been included on the current lists because of a lack of ecological data and funding.
The potential loss of wide ranging, common species, like the Downy Woodpecker, which excavates cavities that are used by secondary nesters such as owls and squirrels, could dramatically alter ecological processes and species relationships throughout the Fraser River estuary. The most difficult value of biodiversity to measure is its aesthetic beauty and cultural heritage. Individuals and groups use their own measuring stick to assess these values. Some idealize it, and some define themselves in part by it.
In 1937, British Columbian artist Emily Carr wrote in her journal "It is wonderful to feel the grandness of Canada in the raw, not because she is Canada but because she's something sublime that you were born into, some great rugged power that you are a part of." Unfortunately, benefits from economic goods, ecosystem services and societal values are in jeopardy because biodiversity is declining.
Although, species extinction is a natural process, human consumption of natural resources has accelerated the rate of extinction of species to more than 100 times greater than known background rates. This loss is an early warning of a rapidly deteriorating environment. The documented extinction and endangerment of species, loss or degradation of habitat, depletion of natural resources and associated economic impacts lead to a loss of cultural heritage. The rate of biodiversity loss must be decreased if we are to retain the magnificence of a rich biota, and sustain the natural resources that maintain our growing human population. Wildlife corridors and riparian areas must also be maintained to keep the biodiversity of the region intact.
In an effort to better identify areas and their different protection needs, an international colour classification system has been developed and adopted by governing bodies and their representative agencies. In North Delta, the bluffs and the adjacent shoreline have been designated with red listed and blue listed habitat as well as red coded and yellow coded foreshore areas respectively. Since Red Listed species are considered to be extirpated, endangered or threatened, their habitat is essential and is the highest on the list for protection.
Red coded habitats include productive and diverse habitat features that support critical fish and wildlife functions onsite or as part of a more regional context. Blue listed species are considered vulnerable and the associated habitat is especially important in the Fraser corridor as it is essential that migratory continuity be maintained for amphibians and small mammals as well as for fish. Isolated populations have reduced genetic fitness that will affect their long term survival.
In the latest review by the Fraser River Estuary Management Program (FREMP), some areas between the Alex Fraser Bridge and Gunderson slough were upgraded to red coded, adding to a growing list of red coded and red listed species/habitat in our area. Development in red coded areas is restrictive and may only occur provided that mitigation is applied through site location and/or design to avoid impacts on habitat features and functions of the area. Habitat compensation is not an option as a rule. The only circumstances whereby exception to the above guideline can be considered are where the project is specifically undertaken in the interest of public health and safety. That is not the situation in North Delta. Even in public health and safety cases, alternative siting and design mitigation must be pursued to the maximum extent possible. Areas such as these are protected for a reason…not so they can be swept aside with monetary compensation. No amount of money can make up for the loss of irreplaceable habitat.
In keeping with the objectives and policies of the Delta’s Official Community Plan, we will be working with Delta Council in:
· ‘Developing a wildlife management plan for parks and environmentally sensitive areas including a habitat inventory’ on our bluffs.
· ‘Protecting the natural environment and heritage features’ along our river front. And…
· Pressing the Provincial and Federal Governments to stand behind their environmental protection designations and policies by adequately funding North Delta’s habitat preservation.
As well we expect the Greater Vancouver gateway Council to respect these tenets and support us in preserving habitat that should never have suffered further threat.