Cheryl Ashlie.

MacDuff’s Call: Protecting the ‘Heart of the Fraser’

Department of Fisheries and Oceans ordered owners of two islands to take corrective measures.

The image I have in my head whenever I reflect on the advocacy work that environmental groups working to preserve and enhance salmon and other species of fish in our local waterways is one where the advocates are standing in the centre of a circle with their backs to each other, warding off the next blow to their efforts from a multitude of competing interests that continually make preservation of such a seemingly insurmountable task.

I know this sounds slightly defeatist, and being involved with a local organization myself, the Alouette River Management Society, I know there are many successes.

But as I become more informed of myriad human activities that put salmon at further risk and believing that the loss of this species should be abhorrent to anyone who cares even slightly about the preservation of nature, it is hard to not feel frustrated and baffled at the lack of action on the part of government, especially in the face of obvious environmental transgressions.

For instance, one of the most recent requests to ARMS for advocacy, though a letter of support, was in regards to what has become known to conservationists as the “Heart of the Fraser,” which is an 80 kilometre stretch of the Fraser River between Mission and Hope.

The conservationists have identified this area, with its gravel bars and un-diked islands that naturally flood in the spring, as a “nursery” for fish.

Yet, over the past two years, there has been a shift from the long-standing forestry activity of Kruger Pulp and Paper, which always maintained swaths of trees for cultivation for paper products, when the land was sold to two farming companies who plan on growing blueberries, corn and forage, which has required significant clear-cutting of Carey and Herrling islands.

Mark Angelo, renowned conservationist and rivers chair of the Outdoor Recreation Council of B.C., brought the issue to the attention of ARMS and other environmental organizations as his organization and many others say it will have a significant impact on the habitat for millions of spawning fish.

Strawberry Island in this same stretch of water near Mission has also been significantly clear cut.

A recent news article outlined that the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans has ordered the owners of two islands in B.C.’s Fraser River, Carey and Herrling Islands, to take corrective measures after they allegedly destroyed fish habitat in a crucial area for the survival of salmon, steelhead and endangered white sturgeon.

The news of these orders and an ongoing investigation is a slight relief, but not enough to stop Mr. Angelo and others from losing sleep over a potential further nail in the coffin of this species of fish if the farming and requested infrastructure — the building of bridges to the islands that will cut right through the spawning beds — are permitted to go forward.

Unfortunately, these islands are in the Agriculture Land Reserve, so permission to clear cut the islands is not needed and the argument to preserve farmland is equally important to the public that is striving to gain greater access to locally grown food, which the farming applicants, in their quest to build their bridges that they require permits for, have been quick to point out.

They claim their farming activities will contribute to increased access to locally grown food and assist with moving away from the U.S. and China dominated food supply system.

However, their claim may not be all that altruistic considering blueberries are one of the largest growing export crops as farmers try to break into the expanding Chinese market. Not to mention that there is plenty of farmland in the Lower Mainland that could be put back into production, whereas, this section of the Fraser River that remains un-diked and conducive to providing much needed spawning beds for fish cannot be duplicated and no amount of berries could replace the loss of these much needed spawning beds.

The key to this issue is, the science supporting the importance of these spawning beds and the knowledge of the uniqueness of this stretch of river is not new, yet environmental groups who are often made up of average citizens, like that of ARMS, are the ones that have to do the grunt work in order to get government to do their work, often times after the damage has already been done, such is the case with the logging of these islands.

On a positive note, Mr. Angelo and his colleagues are meeting with provincial and federal representatives this month, as both have jurisdictional decisions related to the bridge application. Mr. Angelo and his colleagues would ultimately like support from donors to purchase the lands, which the present owners are not averse to, and they are also advocating that the area be designated as a conservation area.

Science journals indicate that where humans interface with other species there is a 1000 times higher chance of the other species being impacted to the point of extinction, which is a pretty dismal claim to fame on the part of the human race, however, conservation has been seen as a way of diminishing our impact.

Losing salmon to extinction would have an irreversible negative impact on our oceans and our eco-systems that depends on them, as their bodies provide both food and nutrients to the rivers and streams when they return to spawn and die, not to mention the impact the loss would have on the economy.

Thankfully, Mr. Angelo and his colleagues are in the middle of the circle taking the blows to prevent that from happening. Here’s hoping the government joins them and does the right thing, by deeming this stretch of river a conservation area.

Cheryl Ashlie is a former

Maple Ridge school trustee, city

councillor, constituency assistant and citizen of the year, and currently

president of ARMS.

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