Parks and Climate – A Conversation with Bob Sandford, Chair in Water and Climate Security at the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health.

Peyto Lake, Banff National Park

As noted in a previous blog, I’m assisting with efforts to move Premier Horgan and his majority government to restore funding and staffing for BC Parks. He has said that dealing with climate change is a top priority for his government. Taking him at his word, a number of organizations are making the case that parks and protected areas should properly be seen and treated as a vitally important components of any climate change strategy.

I believe this approach has huge potential to be successful. And so, recently I set up a Zoom conversation with my friend, colleague and intellectual foil, Bob Sandford

Bob and I go back quite a ways, at least 20 years. We met while I was gathering research for my book about the loss of ecological integrity in our country’s national parks. Both Bob and I started our professional careers as park naturalists with what was then the National Parks Branch but now known as Parks Canada. One of things we share in common is our passion for parks and protected areas. 

Bob also happens to be the Chair in Water and Climate Security at the United NatIons University Institute for Water, Environment and Health. He’s a highly respected and much sought after expert on the interplay between climate change and water.

What follows are a series of sound bites I’ve lifted from our conversation which I hope you’ll find interesting and informative.

Restore Panama Flats, Not Farm It.

The following letter to the Mayor and Council of Saanich I drafted and revised for the Victoria Natural History Society, within input from other directors, for signature by our president.  Please consider contacting the Mayor and Council with your support for restoring the wetlands of Panama Flats.

Oct. 23, 2020

Mayor and Council

District of Saanich

770 Vernon Ave.

Victoria, BC, V8X 2W7

Re: Restoration of Panama Flats Wetland

Dear Saanich Mayor and Council,

On behalf of the Victoria Natural History Society, I’m writing to let you know of our Society’s concern regarding the management of Panama Flats. We recognize that Panama Flats are zoned for agricultural use. While we wholeheartedly support the protection of agricultural land, in this location, the ecological importance of this wetland cannot be overstated. Instead of farming it, we encourage you to commit to restoring and protecting it as a nature sanctuary, similar to Swan Lake Nature Sanctuary.

The Victoria Natural History Society is a completely volunteer community organization with a 75 year history in the region and as many as 750 members currently, many of whom are residents of Saanich. Our goals are:

  • To stimulate an active interest in natural history;

  • To study and protect flora and fauna and their habitats; and

  • To work with other societies and like bodies having interests in common with the Society.

Not surprisingly, we take an active interest in regional land use decisions that could adversely impact wildlife and its habitat. Panama Flats provides very important habitat for a great many species despite being significantly degraded by past farming practices. Of particular concern are the adverse impacts continued farming would have on migratory birds using the Pacific Flyway year-round. The Flats are known and promoted as one of the region’s birding hotspots with at least 207 species of birds recorded (via eBird).

It should also be pointed out that the value of a wetland, like Panama Flats, goes well beyond just providing habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife. As many municipalities are discovering, protecting and restoring wetlands also makes good economic sense as shown through the Municipal Natural Asset Initiative. It employs tools to put a value on nature’s ability to provide municipal services, such as water purification, flood reduction, water supply and erosion control. Today, eleven municipalities across Canada have signed on to the initiative, which is leading to more wetlands and other natural ecosystems being restored and protected.

According to Ducks Unlimited, up to 80% of the original wetlands along Vancouver Island’s east coast have been destroyed. Within the Greater Victoria region, as much as 70% of the wetlands have been drained and filled in. Action to protect and restore wetlands within the region is urgently needed.

As we acknowledged in our Sept. 25th letter regarding the Royal Oak Golf Course property, the District of Saanich has a generally well-deserved reputation as an environmentally sensitive steward of public lands. In particular, we applaud the establishment of the Saanich Technical Committee recently with the sweeping mandate to “restore and protect air, land, and water quality, the biodiversity of existing natural areas and ecosystems, the network of natural areas and open spaces, and urban forests.” The restoration of Panama Flats is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate a commitment to this mandate.  

It also makes good economic sense in terms of flood protection and other ecological services provided by the wetland at no cost as alluded to by the Colquitz River Watershed Proper Functioning Condition Assessment commissioned by Saanich in 2009. It concluded that Panama Flats provided important surface water management services and that there was “great potential” for restoring the area as a valuable natural asset.  It went on to provide specific and detailed recommendations as to how this should be done. In the short-term, restoration effort should focus on re-establishing meanders in the Colquitz River channel along with the removal of invasive species and replanting with native species appropriate to the habitat. The long-term goal, according to the Assessment, should be the re-establishment of the broader wetland that once occupied the area.

We fully support these recommendations and urge you to adopt and follow through with these recommendations.

Thank you for your attention,

Philip Lambert

President,

Victoria Natural History Society

250-477-5922 plambert@pacificcoast.net

BC’s Parks and Protected Areas as Part of a Solution to Climate Change

Downstream from Kinuseo Falls, Monkman Provincial Park
Downstream from Kinuseo Falls, Monkman Provincial Park

Climate change has emerged as the world’s most critical threat. While it is a global issue, its impacts are felt most acutely at the local and regional level. They are very real and very personal. Just ask any British Columbia who has experienced losing their home to wildfires or floods driven by the changing climate.

The Center of Disease Control and Prevention in the USA has identified eight ways that human health is affected by climate change including increased respiratory illness, mental health issues, and cardiovascular failure.

But it’s not just human health that is threatened. So is that of the planet. Entire ecosystems that support life are collapsing as the Earth’s temperature continues to rise. In 2016, the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources released a report entitled: “Climate Change Vulnerability of BC’s Fish and Wildlife: First Approximation”. In it, the authors list a host of ways in which climate change is likely to impact BC’s biodiversity, if it isn’t already, including the unavailability of suitable habitat to support migration, increase abundance of invasive species, and development of new disease patterns.

Stone Mountain Sheep
Stone Mountain Sheep

There’s no doubt that Earth is running a life-threatening fever and a solution to climate change needs to be found immediately and urgently. Restoring the planet’s health is an inarguable imperative. Parks and protected areas make an invaluable contribution to achieving this goal.

Wolf hunting along roadside
Wolf hunting along roadside

 British Columbians can be rightly proud of the province’s parks and protected areas system; it is the envy of the world. But the creation of new parks has not kept up with the challenges of climate change and species loss. Nor is the agency – BC Parks – adequately funded to carry out its responsibilities properly. As a result, BC’s ability to mitigate and adopt to climate change is weakened.

The Government of BC must move quickly to expand the parks and protected areas system and to restore adequate funding so the system can be properly managed to protect, maintain and restore ecological integrity/planetary health.

On the Golden Spruce Trail Haida Gwaii
On the Golden Spruce Trail Haida Gwaii