Friday, March 04, 2005
PARKS SOLD OUT FROM UNDER CHILDREN
Last week I had the honour of accompanying the grade four/five class of French Creek Elementary School in their exploration of Hamilton Marsh. My last article had sparked a discussion that led to a field trip and I was asked to join them to provide some commentary. The energy and curiosity of more than thirty children wandering through the wetland forest reminded me of my own school field trip along that same trail some twenty-five years ago. I wondered how many classes have explored this unique ecosystem over the years. How many of you remember those tours?
I was inspired by the thrill, joy, and enthusiasm shown by the school children as they hunted for cones from different species of trees, caught then released frogs, and gazed into the water looking for salamanders. Those children reminded me of the inquisitive nature of humanity that many adults have replaced with greed.
Ecologically significant properties around the province have been set aside by regional districts at the request of the local voting public. However, because all crown land is governed by the provincial government (subject to First Nations Treaties which still have not been negotiated or signed), those properties have been leased to local municipalities.
When the BC Liberals took power in 2001 they ordered Land and Water British Columbia to more than double the annual rate of sale by selling-off $77 million of public (Crown) lands each year to private real estate developers. Leases, held by regional districts around the province, were not renewed when their leases expired. This despite the provincial target that 12% of the landbase be set aside for parklands. On the mainland 95% of the land base is publicly owned and managed by the crown. On the east coast of Vancouver island, due to the Dunsmuir Agreement of 1885, only 5% of the land base is crown land.
LWBC is selling off public land in Oceanside. For many years local residents have been assured by the Regional District of Naniamo that Little Mountain, Morrison Creek, and land in Dashwood known as the ‘Lost Trails Wetlands’ have been protected as parks. Recently the leases on all three properties expired and were not renewed by LWBC. That is until local residents began to learn the facts.
In July 2004 Chris Walther, RPF and local resident Ed Jewer submitted a report providing a detailed analysis of the biogeoclimatic variants and aquatic habitats in the Lost Trails Wetlands. As a result LWBC was persuaded to renew a 10 year lease for a small municipal park with the RDN and has committed in principal 3 other parcels. Mr. Jewer is encouraged by this although he would like to see long term protection for these parcels and is still very concerned that there are more sensitive areas that need to be protected. " Of the 11 wetlands identified by LWBC report, only 3 wetlands have full protection, 2 others have partial." In a water assessment document provided to Mr. Jewer by LWBC it is stated that "The water absorption provided by this land likely plays a role in recharging ground water levels and supply of moderating flows to the Little Qualicum River." LWBC currently has the remaining parcels on the market for sale.
These reports, as well as one submitted by LWBC, were assessed by the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection. On January 27, 2005 Ecosystems Officer M. E. Henigman wrote; “As previously advised, the study area lies within the Coastal Douglas-fir, moist maritime (CDFmm) and very dry maritime, Coastal Western Hemlock (CWHxml) BEC zones, within which all forest ecosystems are red and blue listed in the province of British Columbia. As conservation mechanisms to preserve these BEC variants on private land are extremely weak, their protection on Crown land is essential if these ecosystems are to be maintained. Development of the study area, in particular logging the mid-to-older age timber classes, can be expected to accelerate the loss of these ecosystems on Vancouver Island.” This statement is quoted directly from a letter to Mark Hallam - Acting Manager, Major Projects - Strategic Initiatives Division Land and Water British Columbia Inc.
Mr. Jewer is continuing to encourage protection on the remaining Crown Parcels. The limited listing date of March 22 doesn't leave much time. For more information please contact Mr. Jewer at (752-1833) or visit WWW.LTWETLANDS.ORG