Monday, April 14, 2008



In days gone by Grafton Avenue ran through orchards and field of berries. Royalty in England ate jam from Errington on their scones and crumpets with afternoon tea. During the early part of the twentieth century Vancouver Island farms produced 85 percent of the food that was consumed locally.

Over time the petroleum industry has dominated the food industry by providing increased transportation networks as well as cheap chemical fertilizers. So then suppliers could ship produce around the world and monopolize on cheap labour forces in other regions. Limitations of weather dictated by the seasons could be overcome by ordering produce from thousands of kilometers away, even from the other side of the equator. Consumers began to depend upon these supplies and the low prices with little thought for the cost to the planet.

In other countries pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, genetic modification, can be used with little or no regard for standards or regulations in place where the consumer is buying the produce. People working the fields, preparing the food, and packaging it for transportation are faced with extremely low wages, dangerous work conditions, and long work weeks.

The Brazilian rainforest is being cut down and burned to make way for Soya beans, beef cattle, or corn to produce bio-diesel. The soil is so poor that it has to be abandoned after a year or two and the process is repeated. The lush jungle of the rainforest will take tens of thousands of years to grow back. The produce is then shipping around the globe to provide consumers with cheap food or fuel.

Located around lakes and rivers that can provide water for cultivation, low valley bottoms and estuary deltas have provided humanity with fertile soil to grow the majority of food needed for the growth of civilization. Populations grow with the abundance of food and increasingly demand more land to build houses and commercial structures. This balance between farmland and development has been going on for as long as civilizations have conquered the natural world.

Today some people in British Columbia, and in particular around Oceanside, want to remove land from the Agricultural Land Reserve in order to subdivide their land for housing development, building golf courses, and industry. Their claim is that the land is standing fallow so it should be put to use.

The fact is that the land can bring in more immediate cash today with a heightened real-estate market than if could in the short term as a hay field or low yielding farm. For the most part farming has become a losing proposition locally since it is extremely hard to complete with the global market controlled by multinational corporations.

On April 18, 1973 BC’s Land Commission Act came into effect. The Provincial government appointed a new Commission, to establish a special land use zone to protect agricultural land. The "Agricultural Land Reserve" was established in collaboration with local governments and protected 5% of BC, which was the most critical to the province’s food production. The ALR was very popular for many years because the public saw that development was slowed and farms were being protected.

Today Vancouver Island is almost completely dependant on the rest of the world for food. Try going to any grocery store locally and find an item that was produced on Vancouver Island. If you find one buy the item and tell your friends. A few local markets during the summer provide local farmers with the opportunity to sell their produces.

Cormie’s farm on the south side of Parksville has been growing and selling produce grown either on their own land or by mostly local farmers for over thirty years. There are other examples of local success including Little Qualicum Cheese Factory, Blueberry Fields Farm in Coombs, and the Coombs Country Market with a few local items including the goats on the roof.

Consumers are the only ones who can change this trend by demanding that local farmers be represented in local stores. Paying more for local produce makes sense when you factor in the costs to the plant.

Please let your Mayor and Council, MLA, and Regional Director know how you feel about allowing Agricultural Land to be developed locally.

Friday, April 04, 2008



Walking down by the ‘Clay Banks’ along Englishman River I look up at the bottom of the steep bank that has been eroding into the water for as long as I can remember. Today, just a few spindly trees, teetering on the edge of the vertical drop, roots dangling in the air, top this massive clay monument. Half way down the 40 meter bank is the latest casualty, balanced at a strange angle, rootball exposed to the elements, waiting for the next heavy rains to dissolve the clay before this tree slides down into the river.

Over the last few years TimberWest has logged a massive clear-cut to the edge of this sheer drop-off. Island Timberlands has also been using feller bunchers to cut down the fifty year old tree farm that runs along Englishman River. The forest lands on the south side of the river are privately owned and therefore the BC Ministry of Forests claims no responsibility for ‘forest management’ and the BC Ministry of Environment leaves it up to the companies to do the right thing.

The Federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans does have jurisdiction along the river corridor and has considerable clout to prevent damage to the river. However, as is the case with many other rivers like it across the province, the DFO have approved this logging on the banks of Englishman River.

Directly across the river, is a large salmon enhancement project. Water has been diverted from the natural flow of the river, into man made channels that have been designed for rearing salmon. Local First Nations, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Pacific Salmon Foundation, BC Ministry of Environment, Human Resources Development Canada, Stream keepers, The Nature Trust of BC, and other agencies have all been involved in this ongoing project.

Salmon returns have increased but nothing like those prior to the 1980s when multi-national logging companies began to clear-cut 2nd growth forests/tree farms on privately owned land along the river. Englishman River continues to be listed as one of the most endangered rivers in British Columbia, due to logging and real estate development.

When Weyerhaeuser bought out MacMillan Bloedel in the late 1990s it took the Chief Forester of BC’s recommendation that the rotation of a tree farm be 80 years between harvesting, and cut it in half. 40 years is now the standard rotation time for logging on Vancouver Island by all the logging companies. Much of this land can be logged with feller-bunchers, which means that very few people are employed while vast tracts of land can be clear-cut in a very short time. Island Timberlands, TimberWest, and Western Forest Products own the majority of private land on Vancouver Island.

Many questions arise when managing land: Is the land privately owned, managed by the crown on behalf of the public, and have first nations been consulted? What are the most important values for this land? Should we see the land as forestry, watershed, recreational park, Jurisdiction is key, since much of the time several agencies are responsible and they do not always consult with each other, and plan management together.

Stream Keepers are planting trees to fill in gaps in the forest made by excavators as part of the Englishman River Watershed Recovery Plan. Over the past few years large logs (referred to as large woody debris) have been placed along the river and tied to trees and/or piles of blasted rock with steel cable. The hope is that these log jams will slow the flow of water and create pools, which will provide habitat for fish fry. In the process excavators removed trees and the under-story of brush in order to access the riverbanks. A few months after Stream Keeper volunteers had done their planting, at one site along the bank, excavators returned and crushed all of these seedlings.

Managing nature has been left up to government and private industry for many years in British Columbia. Each election changes the priorities and most initiatives are undertaken on a project-by-project basis. Many different agencies, working on their priorities, overlook the bigger picture in order to complete specific tasks. As a result complimentary projects are not united, and often one project fundamentally undermines another.