Along the Fraser: Local streams heart of our town

Anytime you can have the ear of someone with the pen, it’s a good thing. – Zo Ann Morten, Pacific Stream Keepers.

Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge MP Dan Ruimy

Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge MP Dan Ruimy

Ken Hardie, Liberal MP for Fleetwood-Port Kells, holds a pen. He sits on the federal government committee charged with hearing concerns over the Fisheries Act.

Earlier this month, local streamkeepers had his ear thanks to Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge MP Dan Ruimy who recently put on boots to count spawning chum salmon. Later, Ruimy invited Hardie to meet with local streamkeepers impacted by former prime minister Stephen Harper’s changes to the legislation. Those changes shifted traditional protection of habitat to protection of limited “fisheries” of “significant value.”

“No discussion, no consultation, no debate,” said Hardie, who says some changes had to be made to let cities deal with development around watercourses without extra paperwork, bureaucracy or expense.

True, but recently, weak language let Fisheries approve a property owner’s request to fill in part of Maple Creek in Port Coquitlam to build a bigger house. Such acts could become commonplace without ministerial intervention. Hardie says he wasn’t aware that problems like this were happening.  He’ll share the Maple Creek story with his committee.

“The old Fisheries Act,” says Morten, “prohibited a HADD – harmful disruption, disturbance, or destruction of fish habitat. It’s HAD now – hazardous disruption, hazardous disturbance of habitat. “They took out the word, destruction,” laments Morten. The phrase, “serious harm to fish isn’t clear either. Someone’s deciding what serious is and how many fish. Why isn’t the federal authority?”

Thankfully, what was approved for Maple Creek – a destruction – has been shelved temporarily, but phrases guiding decisions haunt streamkeepers.

“ ‘Of significant value’ gives me heartburn,” Ross Davies of the Kanaka Education and Environmental Partnership Society tells our group.

“Kanaka Creek is not commercial and never will be, but lots of people came to our Good-bye Chums event. That’s significant. So, let’s not just fix the Act, let’s make it better by recognizing the value communities place on streams. Maple Creek could be the poster boy for DFO approval process. If that development had gone through, there’d be no way to restore its full potential,” Davies says.

“Restoration of lost resources is critical,” he adds. That’s why “the basic habitat protection requirements have to be set at the federal level. The Fisheries Act, the big stick, has to be the final say. Municipalities can exceed the requirements, but it’s the Act that has to say this is the result you have to achieve.”

What’s also missing are people on the ground. “They used to be a phone call away. That’s not there any more.”

In fact, when Fisheries management approved the Maple Creek application, it suggested the proponent contact the Kamloops office for further questions.

“DFO’s having a hard time fulfilling their mandate with the resources they have,” noted Davies.

Environmental planner Rod Stott, speaking from “a municipality’s perspective” advocated for elbow room in  decision-making.

“Having firm protection with some flexibility in the system is important. For example, if an environmental professional can demonstrate net habitat gains, excellent final solutions can result. Minimum standards for fish protection is important for DFO, but leave the door open a crack for alternatives that can result in overall net gains to habitat on site.”

Ottawa’s open forum on fixing the Fisheries Act invites anyone interested in the future of wild salmon and habitat to participate in the debate and solutions. The men with the pens are lending us their ears.