Friday, February 04, 2005


Is nothing sacred? When is a wildlife reserve truly protected and for how long? Locals worked hard for many years to protect the Englishman River estuary for the good of birds and other wildlife that depend upon that wetland. In 1993, through the Pacific Estuary Conservation Program, the Parksville-Qualicum Beach Wildlife Management Area was established. This victory was a direct result of local citizens who cared, lobbied, rallied, camped out, protested, and persevered.

First Nations once prospered along this coast and centered much of their lives around river estuaries including the Englishman River estuary. In the 1870’s Europeans came to the area and began to farm the Parksville flats and altered the natural flow of water with dikes. They were reminded of the true forces of nature in 1918 when the highest tides of Spring met with seasonal flood waters of the Englishman River. 150 head of cattle were washed out into the Georgia Strait never to be seen again.

In the early 1970’s a stone dike was built, without the approval of the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries, along the Englishman River to hold back flood waters from washing over privately owned land. Several development proposals followed including a golf course, condominiums, and a RV resort that would encompass the entire area known as the Parksville flats. From the 1980’s on people worked hard to bring on board government and private agencies, raising almost three million dollars to buy out developers, in order to create a wildlife reserve on the Parksville flats.

The first action taken by Nature’s Trust, a not-for-profit organization which manages the Englishman River Estuary on behalf of all those who worked towards its protection, was to return the wetlands to tidal circulation. This included breaking the dike and removing a bridge over the renewed tidal channel that separates the Wildlife Reserve from the Surfside RV Resort and the Community Park. Tidal flow has returned to the flats and a buffer has been established between wildlife and a dense concentration of people. A delicate balance has been established to protect habitat for everyone.

In December of 2001, as a member of the Arrowsmith Ecological Association, I attended a meeting, which was closed to the public, where Glen Jamieson made a power point presentation of his proposed interpretive centre on the Parksville flats. Representatives from Nature’s Trust, Federal Ministry for the Environment, Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries, BC Ministry for Water, Land, and Air Protection, Arrowsmith Watershed Coalition, and Canadian Wildlife Service listened to yet another proposal to develop the wetlands.

Many of those present expressed a great deal of concern about bringing thousands of human visitors to a sensitive estuary ecosystem reserved as habitat for birds and other wildlife. Jamieson finally admitted that his plans involved building a bridge over the same tidal channel where Nature’s Trust removed a bridge in order to protect the wildlife reserve from the direct and negative impact of tens of thousands of people.

Surfside RV Resort has a lot to gain with a bridge, which would effectively expand their backyard. Surfside has already altered the nature of the estuary with a massive stone causeway along the beach and mudflats. Crowds of people from the community park would gain easy access to the wildlife reserve. How would this affect wildlife?

All of the organizations who opposed Jamieson’s plans at that initial presentation were noticeably absent from recent negotiations. They must be consulted before continuing with development plans because they can provide insight into the well-being of this wildlife reserve. If you have an opinion please contact Parksville Mayor Randy Longmuir 954-4661or e-mail:

Millions of migratory birds stop in the Englishman River Estuary to feed alongside several species of resident birds such as King Fisher and Eagle. Many birds nest in this lush, sensitive, and very limited ecosystem. All of these wildlife activities are made possible because this area is protected, primarily from human activities.

Birders from around the world make Oceanside a destination to bird watch and photograph wildlife in this picturesque environment, notably during the Brant Festival. They spend money locally but are here for the birds. The concept of an interpretive centre to educate the public about the sensitivity of endangered ecosystems and the wildlife they support is honourable, but cannot come at the expense of the very ecosystem we hope to preserve. The birds? I think they just want to be left alone.

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