Read this story from Mark Hume in the Globe and Mail on the opposition from former Liberal and Conservative fisheries ministers to Stephen Harper’s plan gut habitat protections from the Fisheries Act in his omnibus budget bill. (May 30, 2012)
by Dr. Peter Ross
Since being hired 13 years ago as a Research Scientist at Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), I have been fortunate to conduct research on such magnificent creatures as killer whales, beluga whales, harbour seals and sea otters. I have visited some of the wildest parts of coastal British Columbia, Arctic Canada and further afield. I have been humbled by the power of Mother Nature as we deployed teams to explore and better understand the lives of creatures beneath the surface of the ocean. I have marveled at the evolutionary adaptations of marine mammals to an existence at the interface of land, sea and atmosphere. And as a scientist, I have come to learn that I possess but rudimentary powers of observation when it comes to the mystery and beauty of a vast ocean. For all of this, I remain eternally grateful.
A blend of challenging field work and cutting-edge laboratories has helped me to look into the lives of fish and marine mammals, and the ways in which some of the 25,000 contaminants on the domestic market affect their health. Our research has drawn on the combined expertise of dedicated technicians, biologists, vessel operators and aboriginal colleagues, ultimately leading to scientific publications now available around the world. This is knowledge that informs policies, regulations, and practices that enable us to protect the ocean and its resources, both for today’s users, and for future generations.
I am thankful for the rich array of opportunities aboard Canadian Coast Guard ships and small craft, alongside Fisheries Officers, chemists, habitat biologists and managers, together with colleagues, technicians, students and members of aboriginal communities. I have enjoyed weaving stories of wonder on such issues as the health of killer whales, effects of flame retardants on beluga whales, hydrocarbons in sea otter habitat, trends in priority pollutants in harbour seals, impacts of current use of pesticides on the health of salmon, the identification of emerging contaminants in endangered species and risk-benefit evaluation of traditional sea foods of First Nations and Inuit peoples.
Past scientific discoveries such as high levels of PCBs in Inuit foods, dioxins in pulp and paper mill effluent, and DDT-associated eggshell thinning in seabirds formed the basis for national regulations and an international treaty (the Stockholm Convention) that have led to cleaner oceans and safer aquatic foods for fish, wildlife and humans. Canada was a world leader in spearheading this profoundly important treaty, drawing on ground-breaking scientific research in tandem with the knowledge of aboriginal communities.
I am thankful to my friends, family, supporters and colleagues, who have always been there to converse, share, learn and teach – in the laboratory, in the field, in the cafeteria, in the hallway. These people have made it all worthwhile.
It is with deep regret that I relay news of my termination of employment at Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the loss of my dream job. It is with even greater sadness that I learn of the demise of DFO’s entire contaminants research program – regionally and nationally. It is with apprehension that I ponder a Canada without any research or monitoring capacity for pollution in our three oceans, or any ability to manage its impacts on commercial fish stocks, traditional foods for over 300,000 aboriginal people and marine wildlife.
Canada’s silence on these issues will be deafening this summer and beyond.
For more information about Ross’ work:
Silent Snow: The Slow Poisoning of the Arctic, by Marla Cone, published by Grove/Atlantic http://www.groveatlantic.com/?title=Silent+Snow
Read this story from the Victoria Times-Colonist on the Harper Government’s slashing of jobs at Environment Canada – including the nation’s whole contaminants program, which means one of the world’s leading experts on pollution in orca, Peter Ross, is out of a job. (May 22, 2012)
VICTORIA – Canada’s only marine mammal toxicologist at the Institute of Ocean Sciences on Vancouver Island is losing his job as the federal government cuts almost all employees who monitor ocean pollution across Canada.
Peter Ross, an expert on killer whales and other marine mammals, was the lead author of a report 10 years ago that demonstrated Canada’s killer whales are the most contaminated marine mammals on the planet. He has more than a 100 published reports.
Now, he’s a casualty of the Conservative’s budget cuts, one of 75 people across Canada told this past week his services will no longer be needed because the Department of Fisheries is closing the nation’s contaminants program.
For about a decade, Fisheries and Oceans has been trying to offload the program to Environment Canada, Ross said. Instead, this week, it axed it.
In total, 1,075 people working for the Department of Fisheries received letters Thursday telling them their jobs will be redundant or affected – including 215 in the Pacific Region.
The closure of DFO’s contaminants program in Victoria will see nine marine scientists and staff – two research scientists, a chemist and six support staff – based in North Saanich lose their jobs or be retrained and moved.
The entire Department of Fisheries and Oceans contaminants program is being shut down effective April 1, 2013. Official letters are expected to be delivered in June, and Ross said he’s been told he’ll have a few months to wrap up his files.
“The entire pollution file for the government of Canada, and marine environment in Canada’s three oceans, will be overseen by five junior biologists scattered across the country – one of which will be stationed in B.C.,” said Ross.
“I cannot think of another industrialized nation that has completely excised marine pollution from its radar,” said Ross, who was informed in a letter Thursday that his position will be “affected.”
“It is with apprehension that I ponder a Canada without any research or monitoring capacity for pollution in our three oceans, or any ability to manage its impacts on commercial fish stocks, traditional foods to over 300,000 aboriginal people, and marine wildlife,” Ross said.
Ross oversees pollution files including everything from municipal sewage and contaminated sites to the effect of pesticide on salmon and the impact of PCBs on killer whales.
World Rivers Day founder and Chair Emeritus of BCIT’s Rivers Institute Mark Angelo and prominent fish biologist and BCIT professor Dr. Marvin Rosenau have launched a dynamic new initiative to conserve the enormous ecological values of a critical stretch of the Fraser River just East of Vancouver. Known as the Gravel Reach or, “Heart of the Fraser” for its prime spawning habitat – home to dozens of species of salmon, trout, sturgeon and other lesser known but ecologically significant fish – the region between Mission and Hope is threatened by a laundry list of industrial impacts. That’s why these two conservationists, along with their students and the support of a number of other environmental organizations have developed an innovative new program to help protect it.
Watch this short video on the launch of the program:
The “Shared Vision” document for the program – whose sponsors also include the Nature Trust of BC, the Pacific Fisheries Resource Conservation Council, and the North Growth Foundation – describes the nature of the threat to this critical ecosystem and what is required to protect it:
Political, corporate, and public efforts must be coordinated and applied in order to counter the rapid disappearance of one of the most diverse and valuable aquatic and lowland ecosystems in British Columbia. Our goal is to identify, conserve, protect and restore key portions of the Gravel Reach in order to sustain and secure the biological and ecological integrity of the area…The lower Fraser River riparian lowlands continue to rapidly disappear due to continued encroachment through land development, agriculture, and industrial activities that include extensive resource extraction (i.e., logging and mining).
See videos below on gravel mining in this stretch of the Fraser River – including a talk by Dr. Marvin Rosenau.
This important stretch of habitat, which “functions in a biologically rich and diverse manner because of the extensive lateral and vertical inundation of islands, gravel bars, and the riparian/terrestrial ecosystems over the period of the hydrological year,” is home to an unmatched collection of fish and wildlife values. A list of these values contained in the program’s “Shared Vision” document gives one a sense of just what’s at stake here:
“These attributes include:
- the largest-single spawning run of salmon in British Columbia, and perhaps North America (these are pink salmon which reproduce in the main channel of the Gravel Reach and may well exceed 10 million fish on the spawning grounds in some years);
- the largest population of white sturgeon in North America not influenced by dams or aquaculture (white sturgeon are the largest and longest-living freshwater fish in North America — they can attain lengths in excess of 6 meters, weights of over 600 kilograms, and they can live for over 150 years);
- a spawning stock of Pacific eulachon, which up until only a few decades ago was one of the largest runs of eulachon in British Columbia; this small, anadromous smelt leaves the marine environment to spawn in the lower Fraser River in April and May and all individuals die after spawning; the oil- and protein-rich carcasses provide a significant source of food and nutrients for the aquatic, avian, and terrestrial ecosystems of the Gravel Reach, and are an important, traditional food of Fraser River First Nations communities;
- a migration corridor for some of the largest spawning runs of sockeye salmon in North America (most of these originate from upstream populations);
- juvenile-feeding habitat for local-chum and migratory-chinook salmon stocks that rear along gravel bars and within side channels;
- spawning habitat for local chum salmon stocks in the large side channels, which in some years may exceed 1 million returning adult fish;
- habitat that supports approximately 30 different species of fish, including at least eight fishes that are considered to be at-risk: cutthroat trout, bull char (both resident and anadromous), Dolly Varden char, eulachon, white sturgeon, green sturgeon, mountain sucker, and brassy minnow.
There are also many other non-fish species of animals living in the Fraser River Gravel Reach that are found in complex combinations occurring nowhere else in Canada, including:
- aquatic mammals (seals, sea-lions, river beaver, martin);
- large terrestrial/aquatic omnivores including black (and the occasional grizzly) bear;
- other large vertebrates include blacktail and whitetail deer, cougar, coyote;
- extensive populations of various species of rarer birds including red-tail hawk, green and great blue heron, bald eagle, assorted dabbling ducks, wood duck, purple martin, sandhill crane, turkey vultures;
- the Pacific water shrew (a species at risk);
- amphibians such as the Oregon spotted frog, western red-backed salamander, and the Pacific giant salamander.”
Besides the work of BCIT students continuing to research and map the fish and habitat values of the Gravel Reach, the program is seeking to develop a “Lower Fraser River Ecosystem” working group, comprised of program participants, First Nations, representatives of all levels of government, NGOs and other key stakeholders. The goal of this team would be to advance these conservation objectives through the following tools:
- outright purchase of private properties – Nature Trust or other such entity to manage in perpetuity;
- donations of private land into a protected area envelope;
- evaluation of existing Crown forests within this area to ascertain if a more advantageous land allocation arrangement might be offered to forest companies which would allow the reversion of some sensitive habitats into non-harvestable lands, and subsequent protection;
- conversion of existing, non-used Crown lands into Section 108 reserves, protected areas, and/or Wildlife Management Areas (WMA’s);
- restrictive-covenant agreements on non-purchasable lands; and
- alternative options for protecting First Nation lands need to be explored such as the purchasing of outside-of-dike properties, to be added to existing titles, in exchange for not undertaking development on the lowland riparian lands, or the restoration of currently impacted FN properties.
It’s an ambitious program – but given what’s at stake in this rich ecosystem, what it represents to the people of British Columbia, and the dire challenges it faces for survival, it would also appear a necessary one.
The Common Sense Canadian will endeavour to keep its readers updated as to the progress of the “Heart of the Fraser Initiative” as it evolves.
Videos on Gravel Mining the Heart of the Fraser:
Craig McInnes of the Vancouver Sun today has an article essentially supporting the Enbridge Pipeline and the tanker traffic down our coast. His position is that with all the science available these things can be done safely. Craig deserves a trip to the woodshed or, as also happened in my young days, to have his mouth washed out with soap. This usually careful journalist ignores two essential points: the mathematical certainty of accidents and the appalling consequences that will follow.
With the pipeline, no amount of surveillance will prevent ruptures, leaving aside the possibility of vandalism. As we know, this modern, scientifically savvy company, Enbridge, has had 811 accidents since 1998. Craig seems to forget that we’re dealing with an 1,100 km pipeline through both the Rockies and the Coast Range thence through the Great Bear Rainforest and over 1,000 rivers and streams, including several that are vital salmon spawning locations. This means that even when a leak or rupture occurs, the only way to get to it is by helicopter. Surveillance may be state of the art, indeed, way ahead of its time – but what’s the good of surveillance if you can do nothing?
The tanker situation is brushed aside with the notion that double hulling will end problems. Craig doesn’t seem to know that there have been several major double hulled catastrophes in the past couple of years and none of them hit rocks but other ships!
It frightens me a little that Craig seems to brush aside the concerns of First Nations as if there concerns are of no moment but simply sentimental shots in the war against palefaces. The National Energy Board’s Joint Review Panel on Enbridge heard an earful in Bella Bella from experienced First Nations Mariners about the considerable dangers of navigating their coastal waters – watch video here. The Common Sense Canadian in its March 8 edition also published this must-read account on the topic from longtime coastal fisherman by John Brajcic (also pasted below in its entirety)
These First Nations have lived and fished this super hazardous coast for a millennium or more. Their forte is not the efficacy or otherwise of science but what happens when there is a spill which they and anyone else who has thought it through is a certainty.
Allow me to use my favourite analogy: Suppose you had a revolver with 100 chambers and only one bullet and you stuck it up against your temple. If you are only going to pull the trigger once, the odds are easily calculable. You can do the same with any number. If, however, you are going to pull that trigger with no restriction as to number of times, you are no longer looking at a probability but an explosion waiting to happen. It becomes a mathematical certainty.
Now let’s suppose that the bullet was a marshmallow. It wouldn’t matter because no harm would be done. Bitumen from the Tar Sands is not marshmallow!
Bitumen doesn’t mix with water and for all practical purposes doesn’t evaporate. What it touches it kills. Spills on land or sea are lethal, and here is the worst part – it is all but impossible to clean up. The July 2010 Enbridge spill into the Kalamazoo River, easily accessed, hasn’t been cleaned up yet and likely never will.
It is this fact that puts paid to arguments like Craig’s – the consequences of a spill are utterly devastating – this isn’t like the oil that spilled out of the Exxon Valdez but many, many times worse.
Craig does his readers much harm by not making an honest assessment of the risks involved (in fact they are certainties) and worse – not telling the horrible consequences which must flow.
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John Brajcic’s must-read account of the navigational dangers of BC’s north and central coast
As a fisherman who has worked his whole life on the coast of BC, I have many concerns about oil tankers leaving Kitamaat (proper spelling double “a” and it means ‘people of the snow’).
All of the discussions, I have heard, have been about concerns regarding pipeline ruptures and what can happen on the land route. My concern is what will happen if there is a loaded oil tanker heading to sea and it hits a reef or shore or breaks up causing another Exxon Valdez.
Our family has a long history in the area. My father started fishing there in the 30’s and in 1949, at the age of 13, I went out on his seine boat. In 1957 I became a Captain of a seiner and I fished the area for over 50 years, usually from 5 -20 weeks per year. At present my son operates our family’s seiner and continues to fish this area. Our combined family’s presence in this area is over 80 years.
I have been hired by Fisheries and Oceans Canada to participate in stock assessments for salmon and herring. In 1968 we were hired by Shell Oil Company to assist in the positioning of Sedco’s drill rig in Hecate Straits.
We have spent so much time in Fisheries and Oceans Canada designated area 6 that lifelong friends – the late Alan Hall of Kitamaat and Johnny Clifton of Hartley Bay – were made. I have seen the waterfall at Butedale frozen solid, bone dry and running so hard you could not tie up your boat.
With our family’s 80 plus years of fishing in the Whale Channel area we have firsthand knowledge of tides, weather, types of fish and bird life. The area from Kitamaat to Hecate Straits is designated Area 6, by Fisheries and Oceans Canada and is the most consistent salmon producing region in British Columbia with runs in the odd and even years.
In Area 6 there is:
- Within the Central coast area 128 salmon bearing streams
- Kitasu Bay to McInnes Island is a major herring spawning ground
- All 5 species of salmon, herring, crab, mussels, clams, abalone, prawns, eulachons, pilchards, hake, geoduck, mackerel, halibut cod, pollock, otters, eagles and many birds, plus whales and porpoises
- Tides that fluctuate over 20 feet causing currents of up to 5 knots
- Being a region of heavy snow and glaciers there are very strong freshets from May to the end of July
- The outflow winds from Douglas Channel can be extreme during summer and winter
- Weather in Hecate Straits – because of strong complex currents, waves have been recorded up to 30 metres. The highest wind gusts recorded for November, December, January, February and March is 180 -190-plus km per hour.
If a ship enters Laredo Channel from Hecate Straits at McInnes Island the tanker would have Lenard Shoal and Moody Bank at the bottom of Aristazabl Island. On the east side of Aristazabl Island there are 2 very dangerous rocks known as Wilson and Moorhouse. Campania Sound is also a very treacherous body of water from Dupont Island to Hecate Straits.
There are many rocks and to name a few, Bortwick, Cort, Ness, Evans, Cliff and Janion also Yares Shoal. This area is a minefield of reefs. These rocks are spread out between Rennison Island, Banks Island and Campania Island. This route would be extremely dangerous to tanker traffic. Using the Otter Pass route, Nepean rock becomes a very prominent problem for ships’ travel.
Should a major oil spill occur I feel an oil boom would not be able to contain it because of the velocity of the current in this area and the oil could travel 20-50 miles in one 6 hour tide. This area is not the Mediterranean or a lagoon.
If a spill occurred in Laredo Channel the herring spawning area at Kitasu Bay to Price Island could be totally destroyed, possibly forever. The eel grass which the herring need to spawn on could be wiped out. Some years over 10,000 tons of herring spawn in this area.
A spill at freshet time would be the most devastating. Due to the differences of its viscosity, salt water is heavier and would be lower and the fresh water being lighter, becomes a shallow layer at the surface. The juvenile salmon live in this fresh water layer as they migrate to sea. The juvenile salmon jump like raindrops and if they were migrating in a spill area the oil could wipe out an entire run. Some streams could become barren of salmon.
I have tried to point out, so people know, the dangers of the entire marine area and what could happen if there is ever a spill. I have spent my entire life around Princess Royal Island and the vicinity. I personally am totally opposed to the Kitamaat terminal for oil tankers.
John Brajcich and his family have been commercial fishermen on BC’s north and central coast – where oil supertankers would pass – for some eighty years.
About two weeks ago I was leaked a secret Harper Government document and released it to the public (March 12, 2012). I commented on the significance of that government’s attempted move to eliminate the habitat protection provisions in the Fisheries Act [i.e. section 35(1) – also called the HADD section of the Act – “harmful alteration , disruption or destruction of fish habitat]. The government was to sneak those amendments through Parliament in the Budget Omnibus Bill and few Canadians would have been aware of what had happened.
Since MP Fin Donnelly ambushed the DFO Minister in the House of Commons, Mr. Ashfield had to admit what he was up to and is now trying to rationalize his actions. Based on new information and brief Ministerial statements we can now see what has motivated Ashfield and his government and it is less than convincing and actually a bizarre logic. It is obvious that his plans to neuter the habitat law in the Fisheries Act is definitely not in the public interest and will ensure the continued erosion of Canada’s wild fishery resources that have been in decline for many years.
During the past many days I have been contacted by hundreds of reporters and concerned citizens and those closely associated with the fishery and its essential habitat base. I have been forwarded information on the flooding of the Craven County (Saskatchewan) Jamboree campground (see below). It is indeed that issue that Minister Ashfield seems to depend on most to rationalize the need to eliminate habitat protection from the Fisheries Act. Apparently his actions are based on a flood event that some river experts say, based on probability, will happen once every 300 years.
A Saskatchewan fish and game organization noted that thousands of northern pike and walleye (valuable sports, First Nations and in some areas commercial fish and ecologically significant species in any prairie river) were stranded behind the dyke after river flooding. The obvious way of addressing such a major fish stranding problem would be by the breaching of the apparently poorly designed dyke ‘protecting’ a poorly located campground. The water and entrained fish would then naturally drain out of the Jamboree dyked campground and re- enter the Q’Appelle River and be safe and the campground would be drained.
This is a common sense solution and appears to have been suggested at the time. It is too bad that fish have to die because the Jamboree campground was located in a flood plain which would be an important and uncommon habitat type in an area that is dry and not rich in rivers. Also the building of such a dyke can be counter productive as has been learned in many river systems such as in this very Saskatchewan-Manitoba flood event in 2011 and in the Mississippi River system floods. The river needs to spread out during flood events and dykes block the natural functioning and value of a flood- plain and its floodplain habitat values.
If you do build such dykes you have to construct them in a way to get water out from out behind the dyke once the flood is over. If pumps had to be used, a fish salvage program could and should have been undertaken. This is not rocket science and is standard procedure! Once the dyke is breached to drain flood water, it would have been very logical to put in a drainage culvert and flap valve prior to filling in the breach and in future years the site would drain naturally in the event of another flood. Why would this not be treated as a learning opportunity for all involved versus a knee jerk response by Mr. Ashfield?
This fish stranding example as raised by Mr. Ashfield to rationalize why the habitat provisions of the Fisheries Act go too far in protecting fish habitat. He accused his own staff of declaring the campground fish habitat and obstructed the drainage of the campground. Why has Minister Ashfield declared war on his own staff? Instead should he not budget for their training, better select competent managers and audit their activities before he cuts them off at the knees?
This example makes no sense whatsoever and provides no basis for the Harper government to go off on a tangent and say the present habitat legislation is too powerful to do the necessary job of protecting fish habitat across Canada. Despite the bizarre assertions of Mr. Ashfield, I am certain no court in Canada would accept a campground as fish habitat.
What Mr. Ashfield does not seem to realize is that the example he waves about is not really a habitat problem! If his DFO staff were not muzzled by the Harper Government they could state what actually took place at this incident. The entrainment of fish behind the dyke that would be killed by conventional pumping is really covered by another section of the Act – i.e. Section 32 – No person shall destroy fish by any means other than fishing except as authorized by the Minister or by a regulation passed by the Governor in Council. Therefore why use this incident as an excuse to eliminate the habitat provision of the Fisheries Act?
Even if the Harper Government did get away with the elimination of the habitat provisions in the Act, the very amendment that Mr. Ashfield has proposed and was leaked to Canadians still would have prevented the pumping out of the water from behind the dyke. If his amendment was passed by Parliament, it would still be illegal to do any work or activity that would adversely affect fish of economic, cultural or ecological value. Also in this circumstance the Section 35(1) would not to be used to stop the pumping – it was a fish kill incident that DFO staff were preventing – not a destruction of habitat.
Mr. Ashfield, his advisers and senior staff must get their minds straight on what they are really trying to do and obtain a basic understanding of Canada’s habitat law and the need to protect fish and fish habitat as intended by Parliament in 1976. Mr. Ashfield again speculates that this is not the intent of that section of the Act. Again he is totally wrong. I was hired by DFO in 1969 to protect fish habitat and worked to get this section of legislation into Parliament in 1975. Mr. Ashfield was no where on the radar screen in 1975 so I do not understand how he is now an expert on what DFO staff and a public resource needed or what Parliament intended some 37years ago. Instead of criticizing his staff and attempting to raze the Fisheries Act for no good reason, should a Minister of Fisheries and Oceans not better support his staff and the true intent of the Fisheries Act?
Mr. Ashfield says there has to be balance between development and habitat protection. Where has be he been in the past 50 years? In the Fraser River Estuary (the ecosystem where habitat losses forced the creation of the Fisheries Act habitat protection section [Section 35] and the DFO National Habitat Policy in 1976 and 1986 respectively) about 90% of our Fraser Estuary marshes (essential habitat for fish) have been eliminated by agricultural and other land development. In Ontario 60% of all wetlands have been lost – 75% by agriculture. In BC’s Lower Fraser Valley 20% of all streams have been lost, 63% are endangered, 13% threatened and only 5% remain in a wild state! This is an ongoing pattern across Canada! Is retaining the last remnant key habitat as found in these steams and marshes asking too much – especially from a Fisheries Minister and his colleague the Environment Minister?
If Mr. Ashfield was going to neuter the Fisheries Act habitat law, should he not have made that known to the Cohen Commission which just completed hearings three months ago? Cohen was directed by Prime Minister Harper to do an in depth and lengthy judicial review of what is wrong with sockeye salmon runs in the Fraser River. He and Environment Canada did have several habitat and enforcement experts at the hearing but many were not credible and at no time did any of them indicate that the habitat law would be tampered with or eliminated. Should the government not now recall the Cohen Inquiry so they can tell the truth? Why would Mr. Ashfield make any knee jerk changes to the Fisheries Act before the Cohen Commission final report is released this summer?
One must question what drives the mentality of the Harper government as related to environment issues and especially the tactics and logic used by Minister Ashfield in this instance. What DFO staff did at that campground site seemed proper and should maybe be done again if the Jamboree Grounds owners do not install works to prevent this flood-caused fish stranding from occurring again. Certainly the amendment proposed by Ashfield would accomplish nothing other than to eliminate the use of the habitat law that is needed in thousands of other applications across Canada if future generations are to have healthy populations of fish for economic, cultural or for healthy ecosystem functioning.
I cannot believe that it is the Jamboree Campground or drainage ditches/streams on a few farms that is the issue that has motivated the attempted elimination of habitat from the Fisheries Act. It just a cover, smokescreen or just an excuse to deliver on an anti-environment ideology. Over the years I have heard many complaints from industrial lobby groups like the the BC Business Council and many other such lobby efforts related to the pipeline, oil and gas, electrical and other industries. Their primary goal is to get DFO and habitat protection and environment assessment processes off their backs. Harper and his Natural Resources Minster Oliver have often repeated that very mantra and are willing to undermine whatever legislation is necessary to keep industry and investors happy. It appears that our government and many industries have an agenda for a much faster exploitation of Canadian resources to export as much as possible in as little time as possible without any significant environmental hurdles to cross? Is that the type of sustainability that Mr. Ashfield says he adheres to?
If the habitat law is lost, a key environmental assessment trigger is probably eliminated in Canada and the public and First Nations will be cheated out of a more transparent and consultative approach to human activities that can harm fish and fish habitat. In addition this law trigger allows comprehensive environmental assessment studies related to much more than fish habitat. That is probably the real goal of the Harper government and their industrial lobby friends. One would be a fool to believe that it is just about some fish stranded in a country jamboree campground or in a farmer’s field by a natural flood event – i.e. it’s a red herring!
Many years ago I noted a passage by some author that said: “Business and government do not have an ethic for the environment or future generations.” Over the past few years this has become more and more apparent.
This past week 625 Canadian scientists onto signed a letter calling for the Harper Government to cease its plans to remove habitat protections from the Fisheries Act. The changes were first made public by Common Sense Canadian contributor Otto Langer, prompting many prominent voices across the nation and political spectrum to condemn the gutting of the Act – including former Conservative fisheries ministers John Fraser and Tom Siddon. Read the scientists’ letter below.
If the viewer isn’t visible, you can view the PDF by clicking here.
Read this story from TheTyee.ca on the use of a loophole int he Fisheries Act, called Schedule 2, that enables mining companies to turn healthy lakes into “tailing impoundment areas” for waste rock and tailings – saving them millions of dollars int he process.(March 23, 2012)
Under the little-known Schedule 2 of The Metal Mining Effluent Regulations, healthy wild lakes are being reclassified as “tailings impoundment areas.” The effluent regulations were created to protect Canadian waters, not destroy them. When the Liberal government revised the regulations in 2002, Schedule 2 was a last-minute grandfather clause to legitimize five already-polluted lakes.
Since 2006, the Harper government has used Schedule 2 to sanction the destruction of no less than eight healthy, wild lakes or water bodies, and grandfathered another six already-polluted ones. Mining companies stand to gain enormous cost savings via Schedule 2 “exceptions.” No need to build expensive tailings containments from scratch if the government will let you just dump your industrial waste in a nearby lake and be done with it.
Bizarrely, the mining industry would have Canadians believe that purposely destroying pure Canadian lakes is somehow environmentally responsible. Natural lakes make “safer” containments, they argue, than any structure they could build. This cynical doublespeak merely clouds the ugly truth — that Schedule 2 is a quick and dirty means to profit.
Read this story from the Edmonton Journal on the letter signed by 625 scientists calling on the Harper Government to cease its plans to gut habitat protections from the Fisheries Act. (March 23, 2012)
Pressure on the Harper government to reject private sector pressure to water down the Fisheries Act mounted Thursday as a letter endorsed by 625 scientists warned Prime Minister Stephen Harper against any move to weaken the federal government’s most potent tool to protect the environment.
The letter’s signatories include 18 fellows of the Royal Society of Canada and was written by David Schindler, the Killam Memorial professor of ecology at the University of Alberta.
“Weakening habitat protections will make Canada look irresponsible internationally,” Schindler wrote.
Two former Progressive Conservative fisheries ministers, John Fraser and Tom Siddon, and the Canadian Society for Ecology and Evolution, which represents 1,000 ecologists and evolutionary biologists, have also condemned the reported move.
Otto Langer, a retired federal fisheries biologist, released last week a leaked internal information spelling out planned changes to the Fisheries Act.
The momentum against the Harper government removing “habitat” from the Fisheries Act is growing rapidly – with 625 scientists having signed onto a letter to Stephen Harper urging him to kill the plan. Even former Fisheries Minister Tom Siddon, the prodigal son who was part of the Federal government’s tawdry deal with Alcan, has joined in.
Let’s talk a little about the man who blew the whistle on this latest fiasco, Otto Langer. This man, with no fanfare or appeal to the cheap seats, aka the mainstream media, has been a relentless lifetime fighter for our sacred salmon. He also had the dubious “honour” to be on my last show on CKNW just prior to my being fired in June 2003!
Here’s a brief overview on what Otto has done over his career:
Worked for DFO and DOE for 32 years in habitat and water quality protection issues. Helped organize BC Assoc. of Prof. Biologists and was President of the group. Qualified as an expert witness on over 100 pollution and habitat destruction cases in Canada from Newfoundland to Vancouver Island. Published and directed many studies relating to the protection status of BC habitats. Author of the red, yellow and green habitat color zoning system that is used to protect the Fraser River Estuary. Promoted the inclusion of habitat protection provisions into the Fisheries Act in 1975.
Awarded the BC Government Silver Metal for urban stream riparian protection in 2000; BCWF BC Conservationist of the Year 2009; Co-recipient of BC Best Regional Book Prize 2005 – Stain Upon the Sea – a book dedicated to exposing the salmon farm industry in BC. Awarded the CWF Roland Michener Canadian Conservationist of the Year Award for 2010. Left government in 2001 and joined the David Suzuki Foundation (2001 to 2005) and formed their Marine Conservation Program. Has been retired for past 7 years and does volunteer work for many conservation causes including VAPOR (no jet fuel tankers in the Fraser River) , Fraser River Gravel Stewardship Committee (Chilliwack), oil and oil sands issues, London UK based MSC (2001-2010), BC Marine Conservation Caucus and had legal standing at the Cohen Inquiry on declining Fraser River sockeye stocks.
When Otto speaks, people listen. He is one of my heroes.
Another of my heroes is former Speaker of The House of Commons and lifetime friend, John Fraser – who also came out this week against Harper’s plan to gut the Fisheries Act. Amongst many other accomplishments, John was Federal Minister of Environment at the same time I held the same position in BC. Two 1949 graduates from tiny Prince of Wales had the environment field covered! John has been a lifetime fisherman and his passionate commitment to his province and its amazing runs of Pacific salmon has led to his membership and leadership on too many committees to number and name.
The publicity of the feelings of this pair of passionate defenders of our salmon has a profound effect upon the Environmental movement. I want to be careful here because, as Otto and John would doubtless agree, the backbone of the defence of our province’s environmental integrity has been many, many people who remain largely anonymous. Many community leaders have done yeoman service, often in the face of media and indeed public opposition and mockery.
What Otto brings is an unmatched resumé of public service for our province. It was he who made public the plan to remove habitat protections from the Fisheries Act – the fact it was leaked to him in the first place demonstrates the confidence others place in him.
John has spoken, in no uncertain terms, in criticism of his party and its leader. This has special meaning, for to speak against a party you don’t support is easy compared to dumping on a party you’ve been a part of for your entire adult life.
Otto reminds us that the establishment intentionally overlooks careful examination of environmental issues – that added to his lifetime service to our heritage is an example we in BC won’t overlook and the Harper government can’t ignore.
John brings awesome credibility to our fight, the awesome part being recognized as a thoroughly passionate environmentalist in face of opposition of his party and its leadership. This takes guts, something both Otto and John have in abundance.
Our province and coming generations are blessed to have people like Otto Langer and The Honourable John Fraser provide the leadership and reputations behind which we gird up our loins and continue the fight with renewed commitment and vigour.