- Bateman Gallery
- Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary
- Eagle Wing Tours
- Hotel Grand Pacific
- Delta Ocean Point
- Oak Bay PharmaSave
- District of Saanich
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,
Victoria Natural History Society
A couple of days ago, the Vancouver Sun and the Ottawa Citizen ran an opinion piece under the headline: “Governments must act now to protect migratory birds.” The piece follow up on an in-depth analysis of the Migratory Birds Convention Act conducted by the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Victoria on the behest of Nature Canada and the Friends of Shoal Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary.
The analysis runs over 30 pages and provides an exceptional pinpointing of critical weaknesses in the Act and the management of the migratory bird sanctuaries. The report concludes with a series of recommendations which aim to:
• strengthen protection for migratory birds and their habitat inside of sanctuaries,
• better protect habitat outside of sanctuaries,
• address the incidental take of migratory birds, and
• work in tandem with the BC government to improve permitting and enforcement.
*Define “habitat” in the Migratory Birds Sancturary Regulations (MBSR) and ensure that the definition is sufficiently broad so that it covers all necessary aspects of migratory bird habitat.
* Amend the MBSR to prohibit activities adjacent to the boundary of a migratory bird sanctuary that harm habitat inside the sanctuary.
*Amend the MBSR and Migratory Birds Regulations to include a comprehensive, science-based definition of “disturb” and “destroy.” The definition of “disturb” should make it clear that rendering habitat around a nest unsuitable disturbs a nest.
*The federal government must convene experts to scientifically determine what migratory bird habitat needs to be protected outside of migratory bird sanctuaries, and provide strong, legal protection for these areas.
*The federal government must follow through with the idea to amend section 5 of the MBR to ensure that incidental take encompasses killing migratory birds (not just destroying nests and eggs). The federal government must develop a permitting scheme for incidental take. Government can build on the extensive materials developed in the 2007-2010 period to develop this scheme. Government must design the scheme to ensure that industrial activities and other activities and structures avoid or minimize incidental take, reducing it from current levels. The scheme must also take into account industrial activities and other activities and structures’ individual and cumulative impact on migratory bird habitat.
Such a scheme could help better protect migratory birds by requiring companies and other actors to avoid or minimize incidental take, reducing the amount of incidental take that currently occurs. However, there is a real danger that the scheme, if not designed correctly, will merely legitimize harm to migratory birds and their nests. For this reason, the permitting regime must be designed carefully in order to ensure that it aligns with the purpose of the MBCA, which is to protect and conserve migratory birds — as populations and individual birds — and their nests.
In addition, to ensure that the permitting scheme does contribute to improving the protection of migratory birds in Canada, as opposed to simply granting government permission for harm to migratory birds, government must ensure that the regulatory scheme is properly funded. This includes funding for monitoring and enforcement, and for the requisite science needed to inform the various steps of the risk management framework.
*When government identifies new critical habitat for a species, they must update the critical habitat information posted online in the SARA registry, in a timely manner.
*The BC provincial government must clarify the status of existing developments in migratory bird sanctuaries located wholly or partially on provincial Crown land. If no permits exist, the provincial government must require people carrying out existing activities, such as people operating marinas, to apply for a permit. All new permits must include stringent conditions that require the activities to be conducted in an environmentally sensitive manner within the sanctuary. If permits already exist, the provincial government must modify the permits in order to include permit conditions that require the activities to be conducted in an environmentally sensitive manner within the sanctuary.
*The BC provincial government must create a policy for permitting decisions made pursuant to section 10(1) of the MBSR, and make it publicly available. This policy must set out detailed criteria for making a permitting decision pursuant to section 10(1) of the MBSR. Similar to the federal permitting policy, the provincial policy must prohibit the granting of permits for commercial and industrial activities in migratory bird sanctuaries, and state that the permit will be denied if the proposed activity will harm migratory birds, their eggs, nests or habitat, or is inconsistent with the purpose for which the protected area was established or not consistent with the management plan of the protected area. The policy should also make it clear that a current permit may be cancelled or suspended if it is necessary for the conservation of wildlife or wildlife habitat in a protected area, and that terms and conditions may be added to permits in order to minimize the impact of an activity on wildlife and wildlife habitat.
*The federal and provincial government must create and publicly post an enforcement agreement that clarifies which level of government is responsible for enforcement activities in BC’s migratory bird sanctuaries.
*Ensure that the federal or provincial government divisions tasked with enforcement in migratory bird sanctuaries have adequate staff and adequate resources to carry out their responsibilities effectively.
Miscellaneous: improve signage
*Ensure that migratory bird sanctuaries have adequate signage.
*The federal government should undertake a science-based, modern reassessment of which birds should be protected by the MBCA.
*The analysis also include a couple of key issues pertaining to the Shoal Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary found near the Town of Sidney, BC
I strongly encourage everyone who value birds and all the benefits they provide to become more informed about the Migratory Birds Convention Act and the 90 migratory bird sanctuaries scattered across the country. And then, to write to Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change calling upon her and her government to implement these recommendations.
If you’d like to learn more about the three migratory bird sanctuaries found with the Capital Regional District or about some of the best birding spots in the region, please contact me.