Friday, March 21, 2008



Using dynamite to blast the trunks of trees into smithereens may make falling a 600-year-old Douglas fir safer for the humans doing the work. That’s is the contention of the workers compensation board with regards to the contractors working for BC Parks and the Ministry of Environment in Cathedral Grove. According to media reports there are 9 danger trees that must be felled in order to make it safe for tourists to walk on the paths in the Provincial Park.

Spring is here, birds are nesting, Elk are in the valley with calves, and small animals are giving birth to their young. A tour of the area, with parks manager Dave Foreman and several key participants in the falling, revealed that more like 40-50 old growth trees would be blasted along paths, the highway corridor, and anywhere BC Parks identified as a threat. There will be no straight cuts left by chainsaws so the counting will be difficult.

Parks have always been designed by human beings for humans, and when their needs change so do the parameters of the parks. However there is a point where parks are altered by humans to the point that they no longer reflect the nature that they were designed to preserve.

Strathcona Park, the first and oldest BC Provincial Park established in 1911, has been dissected and compromised over the last century. Logging, highways, and mining have been allowed to alter the integrity of this park. Portions of the initial parkland have been pulled out of the protected area by government and sold or traded to logging companies.

Parks can also play a key role in rehabilitating a compromised ecosystem while providing recreational and educational opportunities for the public. A prime example locally is the Englishman River Regional Park, which runs upstream from Top Bridge to Morrison Creek. Officially opened to the public last fall by the Regional District of Nanaimo, the Nature Trust of British Columbia, and several other partners this park includes second and third growth trees ranging in age from freshly planted to approximately 50 years old depending on the age of the cut block. The park compliments the Salmon Enhancement Project, Englishman River Watershed Recovery Plan, and several other rehabilitation projects along the Englishman River. This park combines public needs with restoration presenting many opportunities through stream keepers and other groups that help to educate the public.

The needs of people and nature are interwoven and continue to be linked but society tends to try managing nature in order to tame it. Controlling nature may seem like a practical solution to societies fear of the wild but managing parks for people tends to compromise nature to the point that is destroyed. The BC Parks Act makes no bones about the fact that most parks, with the exception of certain components of a class “A” park, have been set aside for the public to use for recreational purposes.

Carmanah Provincial park, directly across the Island from Oceanside due south on the west coast, was protected in 1989 and the lower Walbran Valley was added in 1991. The public demanded this protection to save some of the last ancient temperate rainforest as well as to establish a reserve for the Marbled Murrelet to nest.

Logging has continued all around the Carmanah/Walbran park and today the clear-cuts run directly along the boundaries. All access to the park is on industrial logging roads and when the trees licensed for logging are gone from the companies that built these roads will have no reason to maintain them. In fact, 2 years ago TimberWest threatened to remove a key bridge so they could move it to another location. Already, the roads entering the park are in such bad shape that it discourages the public from visiting. With fewer and fewer visitors the government is already beginning to grumble that the primary purpose for a park is to provide the public with recreational opportunities. Industry has already built the roads in and would like to continue logging. Where is this leading? No people in the parks, unused timber just standing there rotting, roads in place, need for economic stability in a declining forest industry…

Saturday, March 08, 2008


This week I took a journey into unknown territory, in an environment that kept me out of the sun. I spent two days listening to architects, construction engineers, designers, municipal planners, authors of building codes, certification administrators, energy consultants, and building contractors of every discipline. I learned a great deal as one of 400 participants in the ‘Building Green in a Changing Climate’ conference and trade show held in Courtenay.

Public demand for environmental standards and accountability has sparked change in the construction industry and some companies are complying with tough standards in order to attract customers. Rising material costs, as well as an increase in operational costs for all buildings, have combined with skyrocketing energy costs. The result is that the construction industry is beginning to realize that it must seek out alternatives. In today’s market place building ‘green’ makes sense economically.

A great deal of creative and technical innovation is being generated with amazing results that will effectively revolutionize the building industry. However, only a small percentage of industrial, institutional, or residential construction projects are currently being built using green thinking and materials. The ground swell has begun and now it is up to the public to move it forward so that industry follows through with this green trend.

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design is a market driven system, which is attempting to prove to consumers that building construction meets with the highest environmental standards. LEED is an internationally recognized rating system that encourages the construction of green buildings, administered by the Canada Green Building Council. Accredited professionals are trained and certified to monitor projects in order to award buildings with coveted ratings.

LEED has 5 principle categories by which it assesses construction projects for environmental sensitivity: Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy and Atmosphere, Materials and Resources, Indoor Environmental Quality. Certification is based on the number of points awarded for their compliance with these standards. Innovation in the design process can win additional points and negative points from noncompliant areas can be off set by points gained in other areas of the overall project.

One contractor admitted that they separated all of the construction waste material, went to great lengths and expense to transport it to the proper facility, and then discovered that it was all dumped into the same land fill. None of the material was recycled because the governing authorities had not implement any recycling at that facility. However, the building received LEED points based on the fact that the contractors had done their part to recycle the material. Other large projects reached targets of 95% recycling of waste materials where the proper facilities were available in larger urban centers.

In today’s real-estate market on Vancouver Island, with the potential for massive returns on investment dollars, entire communities are being built from scratch. The theory is that environmental devastation, caused by bulldozing large tracts of land, can be off-set by the ability to plan an entire town based on platinum rated ‘green’ standards. On paper it may work to move environmental points from one area to another, but on the ground when the road is blasted in and the trees are cut down the ecosystem is changed forever.

The term ‘Net-Zero’ refers to the energy consumption of a building, this along with ‘carbon neutral’ were catch phrases used repeatedly throughout the conference. In the forefront of my mine was the term “Green wash!” However, I truly believe that many of the professionals who made presentations at ‘Building Green’ want to change construction and are working towards a green future.

A strong argument was presented about sustainable building practices, since current construction practices tend to produce homes which may only last 30 to 40 years. European models have proven that residential buildings can exist for hundreds of years by using the proper care and attention to design, construction, and materials. The call was for building standards that will increase the longevity of buildings so that they are accountable to the amount of energy and resources put into them, thereby effecting environmental sustainability.