Sunbury Neighbourhood Association

the Vancouver Sun - July 15, 2008

The (dead) ducks are all in a row in South Delta

British Columbia may be enjoying praise now for its climate change initiatives, but a world class environmental disgrace lurching about in the attic may blow out our solar-paneled roof in 2010.

One of the marvels of this planet is the migration of five million birds on the Pacific Flyway from northern B.C. and Alaska to southern and central America. Many of them break their journey only once on Canadian soil when they stop to rest and feed in the remaining marshes of the Fraser River estuary and on the adjacent farmlands of South Delta, created when the bulk of the marshes were drained a century ago.

In the other two major staging areas the birds use on the North American continent, the U.S. government has preserved a third of a million acres of habitat (32,000 acres in San Francisco Bay and 300,000 acres in Copper River Valley in Alaska). Over the past 30 years, the Canadian and B.C. governments have responded to calls for such a formal conservation area in Canada by arguing that B.C.’s Agricultural Land Reserve protected the Fraser River habitat.

But trade with China has become a driving force in B.C. and federal policy, and the open spaces of the farmlands and marshes of South Delta are under attack by these governments.

The Roberts Bank port expansion — mere yards from the river mouth where every Fraser salmon passes and three pods of endangered orca feed — has continued for 20 years without the Vancouver Port Authority providing as much as a square foot of land for formal protection.

The federal-provincial treaty with the Tsawwassen First Nation has effectively removed hundreds of acres from the ALR, given the band’s stated intent to develop a port industrial park. Coupled with loss to rail yard expansion and the South Fraser Perimeter Road, a necessity for further port growth, almost 1,000 acres of South Delta ALR land is slated for industrial development.

Moreover, the provincial and federal governments recently rezoned, without public notice, 2,850 acres of foreshore at Robert Bank from conservation to port industrial use. The dead ducks are, so to speak, all in a row.

The federal-provincial Environmental Assessment Panel that approved the most recent Third Berth port expansion refused written public requests for a management plan for the delta on the grounds that it was outside the scope of the site specific application. Such a plan would include the proposed National Wildlife Area and some habitat protection for orca and salmon.

The port authority is now rapidly planning the Terminal 3 expansion that will triple its current size. In two inter-office memos, an Environment Canada biologist wrote that Terminal 2 “threatens the environmental integrality, including ability to sustain shorebirds, of the remaining half of Roberts Bank … preliminary modeling … indicates an alarming disruption of processes over the remaining part of Roberts Bank closest to the Fraser that could put the whole Western Sandpiper migration at risk.” (October 2004.)

While other nations on the Pacific Flyway have protected their significant areas of migratory bird habitat, the Canadian and B.C. governments — despite signing three international bird habitat conservation treaties — are developing a massive industrial complex smack in the heart of the Fraser delta, ranked the most important bird site in Canada by BirdLife International.

Scientists warn that as this South Delta habitat loss continues, it may reach a point where there are not enough feeding and resting areas to accommodate five million birds. If the birds leave Canada without sufficient food and rest, large numbers may die during migration or be unable to breed, “crashing” already declining global populations.

The late Dr. John Kelsall, an eminent Canada Wildlife Service biologist, proposed that 4,100 acres of South Delta farmland be conserved for bird habitat and leased for farming. This estimate concurs with a B.C. Federation of Naturalists’ proposal for a Fraser River National Wildlife Area.

B.C.’s carbon tax will raise $1.8 billion in the next three years. What better way to use some of that money than by buying 4,100 acres of habitat in one of the continent’s most important estuaries, fulfilling our international conservation obligations, and permanently preserving some of the richest farmland in Canada.

And will there be a more fitting occasion to unveil Canada’s new National Wildlife Area than the 2010 Olympics, when the eyes of the world will be on our “green” Vancouver?


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