Briony Penn’s A Year on the Wild side is a total delight. She wrote the essays over a period of 25 years, and every story is enriched by one of her gorgeous colour illustrations.
We now have 24 more copies, which we are selling for $25 (no tax) as a fundraiser for the Yellow Point Ecological Society. Pick-up from my home at 13561 Barney Road, in Yellow Point, just north of Ladysmith. Payment by cash, check or e-transfer. Call me to reserve a copy, Guy Dauncey, 250-924-1445 or email me: guydauncey at earthfuture dot com
She carries you through the year with two essays/stories for every week, from a washed-up Giant Octopus in January to the Rattle of Ravens in December. In between, in prose that is musical, magical and ecologically to-notch, she seduces you into the secrets of Nature’s glorious interconnected detail. As a writer, she makes me envious of her skills.
“How would you feel as you slide through the jaws of a snake? This question has cropped up in my life at various times.”
Each essay makes for great reading aloud to children or grandchildren – but not at bed-time, since your children will be sure to respond with many questions, leading to much discussion.
“I have always been very fond of toilet plungers. They remind me of hot summer evenings under a full moon at low tide on the steaming mud sands of the Salish Sea.”
And be warned! This book will seduce you and your family into getting out into the forest, into the tidal pools, and out on the water.
“Of late, my dreams have taken me into eelgrass meadows – those sanctuaries of emerald-green grass that grow below the sea in quiet bays and estuaries.”
The Yellow Point Ecological Society is starting a regular biweekly blog.
Would you like to try your hand at writing?
by Guy Dauncey
Choose a topic that is specific and tangible, such as the nuthatch, twinflowers, Roberts Memorial Park, a specific idea to solve one of our ten thousand ecological problems, or a personal experience. Make it sound intriguing, such as “The Secret Life of the Merganser” or “My Magical Moments in Hemer Park.”
Limit your blog to around 750 words.
Do your research, to include material that will be new and interesting to most people. Did you know that Midshipman Fish could sing, and that they breed in Ladysmith Harbour? Google your way to instant professorship.
Find an unusual hook to get the reader started. “We were amazed to hear not one but four barred owls calling to each other when we took the children for a night walk at Blue Heron Park a week ago.”
Understand that it is normal to write and rewrite and rewrite and rewrite four times before you get it right. All the best writers do it. Leo Tolstoy rewrote War and Peace (587,000 words) seven times, requiring his long-suffering wife Sofia to do the actual rewriting – by hand.
Avoid socio-consequential prosaic formulations that use long words and complex ideo-formulaic constructions. You are not writing an academic PhD.
Have fun. Be playful with your words and phrases. Let them dance and enjoy themselves – oh, you outrageous rollocking racoons!
Tell a story. “I was in my bedroom when my father rushed in and shouted ‘Come down! You’ve got to see this!’. I was eight years old, always willing to be excited, but never had I expected to see our dog with our kitten sleeping on his head. It was the start of a life-long devotion to the study of animal behaviour.”
Use links. You can embed one into the text by using control K to highlight a word or phrase and Control C then V to copy and paste the link in. Two, perhaps even five is fine, but not twenty. That’s a bit much.
Print a copy and read it aloud. This will tell you whether it flows along like a pleasant piece of music or clunks along like a reluctant blog that needs a trip to the repair shop. You could also ask a friend to read it before you send it off. You never know – they may think it’s great!
Don’t be shy to use spelchek. Don’t Use Capitals except for unique names. You wanted so desperately to visit a park you’d never been to before, so you settled on Eve’s Park.
Choose an image to accompany your story. To be clear about copyright, use Google Image search, click ‘Tools’, then ‘Usage rights’, then ‘Labelled for reuse’. If you want to be creative, drag the image into a Powerpoint page and play around with it to make something creative. Then use Grab or a screen-capture app to turn your new image into a jpeg.
The Yellow Point Ecological Society is happy to announce the $250 Winner of our Nature Photo Contest:
Lynda Stevens, for her gorgeous photo of a Salmonfly Cicada resting on an Oregon Grape flower.
Lynda lives in South Nanaimo, and she got seriously into amateur photography when she moved here from Nelson five years ago, starting with her love of birds then moving onto insects.
She loves the parks and trails around Cedar and Yellow Point, and she took the photo in early spring close to the Coco Café in Cedar, at the start of the Morden Colliery Regional Trail, using an ordinary point-and-shoot camera – a Sony RX104 with a variable range lens.
An Official Community Plan (OCP) is a legal policy document intended to manage growth and guide future development. It represents the community’s vision for the future. The Local Government Act defines an OCP as “a statement of objectives and policies to guide decisions on planning and land use management.”
An OCP typically contains broad goals, objectives for particular land uses, specific policies for each land use, general advocacy policies, maps and development permit areas.
Goals are general statements of purpose
Objectives are strategies to achieve the goals
Policies are specific statements, programs or restrictions that provide direction
An OCP is not a regulatory bylaw. With the exception of Development Permit Areas, OCPs have no direct effect or authority on private landowners or other governments or agencies. Land Use Bylaws regulate the use of land.
To protect the Coastal Douglas-fir, OCPs should set goals, objectives, and policies that support CDF retention and protection, include strong language directing at protection of the CDF zone:
Policies supporting park dedication that protect CDF forests
Development Permit Areas for the protection of the environment, specifically the Coastal Douglas-fir zone and associated ecosystems.
Urban containment boundaries that preserve large lot areas outside of urban areas and direct density to areas zoned for mixed use commercial/residential and smaller lots that can be serviced by adequate water supplies.
Identified protection of the CDF zone as an amenity that can be provided at the time of a rezoning. Establish the connection between development impacts and ecological services.
Enabling policies for conservation subdivisions, amenity zoning, density transfers and density bonusing.
Language and policies that reference and honour the cultural heritage of Coast Salish stewardship, including the protection of culturally important places and archaeological sites.
Galiano’s OCP includes the following Forest Objectives:
All land use decisions for lands in the Forest designation must be guided by the following objectives:
to preserve a forest land base,
to preserve and protect the forest, its biodiversity, integrity and ecological services,
to encourage ecosystem-based sustainable forest management for all forested lots and to encourage economic opportunities through this forest management practice,
to encourage ecological restoration of degraded forest stands, and
to maintain or enhance carbon storage and sequestration.
Suggested prose based on Galiano’s OCP: “This Plan supports the preservation and protection of the CVRD’s many and varied ecosystems, including the Coastal Douglas-fir biogeoclimatic zone, the smallest and rarest such zone in British Columbia with the highest density of species that are of both provincial and global conservation concern. These ecosystems provide key services that sustain human health and wellbeing, including clean air and water, nutrient cycling, carbon storage, and timber and nontimber resources. The forested landscape is integral to the CVRD’s character. Maintaining and restoring the forest ecosystem is critical for ecosystem-based sustainable forest management.”
South Pender Island’s OCP notes that the island is located in a threatened CDF ecosystem: “Protection is to be afforded to the island’s environmentally sensitive areas, according to particular circumstance, by means that may include: landowner stewardship; inter-agency planning and management agreements; protective covenants, voluntary and required; protective provisions in regulatory bylaws; development permit areas; and land acquisition.”
The Land Use Bylaw is the main tool for implementing OCP policies through land use regulations, particularly zoning. Land use bylaws designate the zoning and regulate land use within the area of covered by the bylaw. They contain regulations on the size and siting of buildings and structures and define setbacks from lot lines and water courses. The land use bylaw prescribes the number of new lots, and the shape, dimensions and area of new lots created by subdivision. A land use bylaw often incorporates parking regulations, subdivision servicing requirements, sign regulations, screening and landscaping requirements, flood plain regulations, and run-off control regulations.
Reduce site coverage density in land use bylaws. It is often a default 25%, inherited from older zoning, allowing 25% of the land to be covered with impervious surfaces. Site coverage is often overlooked when updating land use bylaws. High site coverage is inconsistent with the preservation of the CDF zone.
Incorporate conservation subdivision principles into land use bylaw requirements for subdivision.
Increase the minimum average area of lots that can be created by subdivision to a minimum of 10 acres. Remove subdivision potential from some large lots in areas targeted as important for CDF protection and hydrological connectivity.
Negotiate land conservation at the time of rezoning. Make consideration of zoning approvals conditional on the voluntary provision of a covenant or land donation to protect the CDF forest as a public amenity.
Pre-zone land to allow an increase in density in exchange for natural area protection. Unlike amenity zoning, density bonus bylaws offer developers and the community certainty; a rezoning process is not required, and the maximum potential density is known ahead of time.
Residential lots or dwelling units can be clustered during rezoning or at time of subdivision. Land use bylaw density requirements should have minimum average lot area provisions that allow smaller lot areas while limiting the number of lots that can be created. When homes or lots are clustered, the rest can be left as natural area. Clustering reduces development costs as there are fewer trees to clear, less land to grade, and less need for road, water, hydro, and sewer infrastructure. Smaller lots with significant amounts (more than 50%) of protected open space target people who want homes in natural settings with less property to maintain.
Conservation subdivisions combine different tools including amenity zoning or density bonuses at time of rezoning to achieve multiple environmental and social benefits. Lot clustering is combined or traded off with protection of large natural areas (often by means of a covenant). Land use bylaw provisions allow lot averaging to achieve the clustering, ecological design lot layout requirements, landscape buffers, and remove the potential for further subdivision.
The Province does not have legislation that directly regulates forestry on private land. Forestry is exempt from local government regulation and there are few tools to use to protect the integrity of the forest from timber extraction.
Forestry cannot be regulated by local governments. A longstanding common law principle known as profit à prendre entrenches the rights of people to extract profit from the natural resources of the land. Common law land ownership is typically characterized as a bundle of rights. These rights include the rights to use and occupy the land free from interference of non-owners, as well as the right to take or sever minerals, soil, trees and other resources from the land.
This principle was referenced in the reasons for decisions concluding that the Denman Island Local Trust Committee reached beyond its authority in its attempt to regulate forest practices on private land using a Development Permit Area. The BC Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal ruled that the DPA was not broad enough to allow the Trust Committee to regulate forestry, in part because the enabling legislation did not indicate a clear intention to curtail or interfere with the common law right to extract timber. As common law, profit à prendre is not found in statute. It represents deeply held social constructs that favour the rights of individuals to exploit natural resources on private property. Even if societal attitudes towards the best use of land were to shift, it would likely take an act of the legislature rather than a court decision to overturn this principle.
On the other hand, the ability of local governments to prevent logging within riparian zones on private land has already been accepted. So maybe profit à prendre is not such a strong argument, after all.
Twelve Recommendations for Official Community Plans
1. Acknowledge Growth Management as an Important Environmental Protection Tool
Many OCPs and topic-specific plans such as greenway or park plans address connectivity and site-specific environmental protection but fail to put them in the larger and more important context of growth management. A tightly delineated urban area with strong growth management policies that direct a large percentage, such as 90%, of new development into urbanized areas as well as large lot rural policies are better environmental protection measures than site specific regulations such as tree preservation. While both are important, the big picture should be the first order of priority. This includes linking specific policies to the relevant regional growth strategy.
2. Connect Biodiversity and Ecologically Sensitive Areas
It is well accepted that substantial corridors of biodiversity or ecosystem connectivity preserve ecological function better than islands of habitat. The ecological value of open space and parkland is significantly increased when it is connected to other areas of ecological significance. Biodiversity corridors, greenways with ecological values, and other connectivity must be planned before other land uses are layered onto the landscape.
3. Establish Criteria for Evaluating if New Greenfield Development is Needed
Decisions about allowing new development at the periphery of a community on greenfield sites rarely occurs in the context of whether that unserviced land is needed to fulfill growth management goals. It is often seen as an opportunity for new residential or commercial development without considering the direct link between density and environmental stewardship. Prioritizing ecological conservation means establishing a standard of buildout that should occur before a community-wide discussion considers designating further greenfield sites for servicing. Such a standard could be based on one of the following:
Density – the average density in existing built areas must be 1:1 or 1.5:1;
Infrastructure – existing wastewater treatment capacity is allocated to new developments in the following proportions: attached housing 50 percent, commercial and industrial 30 percent, detached housing 20 percent;
Building permits – the percentage of total residential building permits must be 50 percent attached (townhouse to apartments); or
Demographic – the types of development over the past five years meet certain criteria that respond to the existing demographic of the community, e.g. 15 percent supported housing, 50 percent attached housing, 20 percent detached housing and 15 percent commercial/industrial.
4. Do Away with “Residential Reserves” or “Urban Reserves”
Community plans sometimes identify residential or urban “reserves.” The intent is to identify areas or parcels where there is potential for future development that is not anticipated within the life of the current plan. These designations send the signal that the policies supporting infill and building in existing serviced areas are not firm growth management policies. Likewise, plans do not establish a benchmark for evaluating when existing residential areas are built out to the extent that it would be appropriate to consider urbanizing additional parcels. The identification of these residential reserve parcels lessens the incentive to fully build out existing urban areas and make the best use of infrastructure, thus there is no clear phasing for growth or encouragement to build in existing areas. If population growth projections do not indicate a need for these parcels in the next five years then leave them out of the community plan.
5. Do Not Use Small Lot Rural or Small Holdings Land Designations
Residential policies for small holdings are inconsistent with growth management goals, smart growth and sustainability. Generally, they are essentially rural sprawl. Parcels of 0.8 to 2 hectares are predominantly rural residential. They are not large enough to sustain agricultural or other land-based economic activities and significantly fragment the green infrastructure because of the large amount of each parcel that is dedicated to buildings, driveways and residential landscaping (primarily lawn). Concentrations of these parcels near to sensitive ecosystems increase the likelihood of pollution due to septic system failures and runoff from impervious surfaces. In short, they are an outdated land designation that is yielding to hard urban and rural designations. Large holdings of 5 hectares or more in size are more consistent with rural densities where the landscape is largely intact and parcels maintained for resource or agricultural uses rather than hobby farms or rural residential.
6. Cluster Development Away from Functioning Ecosystems
Any new development has the opportunity to cluster new development to protect biodiversity corridors and ecological features, even if on private land. Clustering is used in both urban and rural areas to strictly limit the footprint of development across the landscape with the intention of maintaining designated ecosystem services. These services (riparian corridors, greenways, and sensitive ecosystems) should be included in OCPs as clear designations where development will not occur. Development can be clustered away from these sites.
7. Clarify the Boundaries of Any Amenity (Density) Bonus Program
Whether for rural or urban areas, amenity bonus can assist local governments to achieve goals for community amenity provision, in particular the donation of parkland. However, the majority of local government plans say very little about the parameters of amenity bonus. At minimum, community plans should address three factors to promote understanding of amenity bonus. The first is to define the maximum uplift that a local government will allow in defined neighbourhoods or under a specific zoning. For example, thirty percent uplift over base zoning may be appropriate if other criteria are met. This allows the amount of the bonus to be discussed beforehand with the community and will likely be different for downtown versus rural areas. The second is a list of priority amenities on a neighbourhood-by-neighbourhood or municipal-wide basis so that each neighbourhood is receiving the appropriate amenity contributions. Thirdly, a clear formula is required for calculating the value of the uplift in density and the value of the amenities provided in return. Developers who opt into the amenity bonus program should be providing 50-60 percent of the increase in land value to the community in the form of amenities. Local governments may consider including in the list of community amenities “extraordinary environmental protection measures.” See the Denman Island Official Community Plan treatment of amenity bonus.
8. Plan for Water
Water is clearly an important issue for all communities and will become more critical in the next decades as climate change alters how ecosystems function. There will be more water in undesired places and less water in desired locations. Community plans traditionally have focused on establishing policies for land use but are changing to include planning for water management and establishing policies to develop long-term water demand management programs. Water will become more important than land use, and community plans are beginning to reflect this reality.
9. Define Development Permit Areas for Protection of the Natural Environment by Using the Provincial Government’s Sensitive and Other Ecosystems Map Codes and Descriptions
The trend for local governments in BC is to define ESAs based on the provincial government’s approved sensitive and other ecosystem map codes and descriptions. This provides a province-wide definition for different ESAs, and allows local governments to tailor environmental DPA (EDPA) guidelines to the specific needs of each particular ecosystem-type such as subsections on riparian or watercourse protection, wetlands, grasslands, woodland, mature forest, and other ecosystem types unique to the region. Some general guidelines can apply to all ecosystem types to deal with water and water quality, air and air quality, species at risk, and agriculture and ESAs.
10. Create and Track Environmental Indicators
Indicators can target a specific policy, or be a community-wide indicator of climate impact and ecological health. The following are strong indicators:
Decrease or increase in per capita greenhouse gas emissions
Decrease or increase in land-based carbon storage
Decrease or increase of land in the Agricultural Land Reserve
Decrease or increase of healthy riparian ecosystems
Decrease or increase in the area of undisturbed contiguous forest
Species at risk that are protected or lost
Water quality at specific sites in designated creeks or watersheds – fecal coliform, phosphorus, turbidity
Water flow-rates at specific wells in designated high risk areas
Number of trips taken by foot, bicycle, or other non-motorized means
Percentage of residents living within 500 metres of a shopping centre
Kilometres of trails, bicycle paths, sidewalks and roads per capita
Decrease or increase in per capita solid waste disposal.
11. Create Ways to Enable Farmers to Live on Farm Land
Designate areas for clustered housing on land zoned agricultural on condition that:
The chosen land is low-fertility
The homes are limited in size
The homes are self-sufficient in water through rainwater harvesting
There are bylaws and other conditions requiring the residents to obtain half of their income from farming or farm-related products.
12. Create Ways to Protect the Forest
Map areas where the Coastal Douglas Fir ecosystem needs to be protected, and develop tools to protect it:
Establish CDF Development Permit Areas that require buffer zones and permitting before development can proceed.
Designate standards for the clustering of buildings.
Define the permitted area of a forest that can be cleared for fire safety purposes and firewood gathering.
Define the permitted size of a canopy opening that is allowed for the pursuit of ecological forestry.
Go wandering. Find a place where you can sit and listen quietly to the poetry of the forest. Take time to look at the different trees, to observe the way they grow. Learn the names of the ferns, wildflowers, and forest birds. Find a space to lie down and gaze up, and wonder. The forest has been here for a long, long time.
Learn about the Forest Ecosystem
The forest ecosystem on Vancouver Island is 12,000 years old. Until loggers started clearcutting in the 1940s every forest was an oldgrowth forest, with trees up to a thousand years old. This is the astonishingly rich ecosystem we have lost – but it is slowly returning with each successive year that a forest is not clearcut.
The integrity of the forest is essential for the health and resilience of our watersheds and our drinking water, since the forests filter and clean the water. It is essential for all the wildlife for whom it is home. It is essential for carbon storage, making protecting the forest a key solution to the climate emergency. If you visit Wildwood you can join a workshop or a forest tour where you can learn more about the forest ecosystem.
We also suggest these books:
The Hidden Life of Trees. What They Feel, How They Communicate: Discoveries from a Secret World, by Peter Wohlleben.
Working to protect the forest will be more effective if you can find friends who share your concern, and work with them to make a difference. It will also be more fun. These are some of the groups that are working to protect the forest here on Vancouver Island:
Understand Just How Little Protection The Forest Has
When it comes to the law and regulations intended to protect the forest there are four different forest jurisdictions on Vancouver Island:
Crown Land. 80% of the forest on the Island, including most of the oldgrowth. This is governed by the Forest and Range Practices Act, which is ecologically very weak, and currently undergoing a review.
Private Managed Forest Land. Most of the forest on the east side of the Island up to Campbell River that was in the E&N Rail Grant. This is managed through the Private Managed Forests Program, which is also ecologically very weak, and currently undergoing review.
Private Forest Land. Most of the forest in developed areas along the coast is privately owned. Its management is governed by provincial laws regarding fish and water, and by Regional District bylaws. Forested land adjacent to a creek, lake or wetland gets some protection, though with weak enforcement and minimal penalties for damage done, but other private forested land has no protection at all: it has been ecologically abandoned.
Ask Your Regional District to Do More to Protect the Forest
This is an area that has not been explored much, since many people believe that governments should not interfere with a private landowner’s rights. These rights are already governed by zoning laws and bylaws, however, and by Development Permit Area rules, so there’s good reason to engage with the rules. Often, where forested land is in a Development Permit Area (DPA), there are many exclusions that make the rules irrelevant. We need to discuss ways in which DPA exclusions can be reduced, and the DPAs themselves can be widened to allow logging using ecoforestry principles, while ending clearcutting.
Ask the BC Provincial Government to Do More to Protect the Forest
Members of organizations such as the Sierra Club and the Ancient Forest Alliance have been working for years to try to influence government forest policy, but so far, it has been a slow, uphill struggle. In the 1990s we had success in protecting various areas completely, such as the Carmanah, parts of the Walbran, and the development of the 1990s Forest Practices Code. That was abandoned under successive BC Liberal governments, but we hope for more success under the current NDP/Green Party Alliance. Oldgrowth forests the size of 34 soccer fields are still being clearcut every day, and only 10% of the biggest old trees are left. You can send a letter to Minister Doug Donaldson here.
Restore Damaged Forest Habitat
All over the world, forests are in need of restoration. This is a big topic that people study in universities. If you know of land locally that is in need of restoration, you can plant trees, making sure to install a deer-protector for each sapling. You can also ask your friends to help you clear invasive species such as broom, using advice on how and when to cut from Broombusters.
If it’s a creek or stream that needs restoration, this is a more complex matter that needs care and skills. Dave Polster has some good advice.
Use Ecological Care when Altering Forested Land
If you want to build a home or a workshop, or clear a a spot for a tiny home, the most useful advice is Don’t Rush In. Live on your land for a year to see where the sun falls, where it floods in winter, which way the wind blows, and which species live where. If you cluster buildings together, there will be much less damage to the forest. You may have friends who say “It’s okay to clearcut the forest because it will grow back,” but in areas where the forest has been cleared such as Timberlands south of Cassidy, and along the Nanaimo River Road the temperature on the ground can be ten or twenty degrees warmer on hot days, compared to within the forest. Deer may eat any new trees that try to get established, and the ‘new normal’ of the climate crisis with its extended summer droughts may mean that the forest never grows back.
If you are thinking of working in a riparian area close to water it’s important to know that fish, frogs and salamanders breed in the water and spend much of their lives in riparian areas, as do many birds, invertebrates, including dragonflies, snails, slugs, and native pollinators like bumblebees and butterflies. For these reasons, it’s important to protect riparian areas:
Don’t clear the vegetation. What may seem messy to us is an undisturbed paradise for fish, birds and dragonflies.
Don’t use herbicides or pesticides near a riparian area.
Don’t allow livestock there, since they will cause damage by trampling and grazing, releasing sediments that could degrade spawning habitat for kilometres downstream, while their wastes can be a source of harmful bacteria like E. coli, harming downstream fish and other creatures.
Don’t dump grass clippings or pruned branches, since they can smother the native vegetation and introduce invasive species such as ivy, Japanese knotweed or flag iris.
Don’t dredge, channel or alter the water itself.
Don’t dig or extract soil from a riparian area.
Don’t build a driveway in a riparian area.
Don’t let a septic field drain into a riparian area.
In the CVRD, development is not allowed:
within 30 metres on either side of a stream, measured from high-water mark;
within 30 metres of the top of a ravine that’s less than 60 metres wide with a steep 3:1 slope;
within 10 metres of the top of a ravine more than 60 metres wide with a steep 3:1 slope.
In the RDN, riparian setbacks range from 9 meters to 30 metres depending on the slope of the land and the nature of the watercourse.
If you own a parcel of forest and you manage it ecologically using ecoforestry methods you will speed its restoration to its original oldgrowth character. A good way to learn about ecoforestry is to attend a workshop at Wildwood: it’s all about retaining the canopy, preserving the strong seed trees, preserving wildlife trees and protecting the soil. Here’s a short video that can get you started.
Place a Conservation Covenant on Your Forested Land
If you own a parcel of forest and you want to protect it forever, you can work with a Land Trust to place a Conservation Covenant on it. This will bind future owners to protect it, with a heavy penalty for a breach of the covenant and a requirement for restoration. The downside is that it will cost you around $25,000: $12,000 for surveying and legal work and $12,000 for the Land Trust whose staff and volunteers will need to visit the land to monitor the covenant every year or so, for eternity. One option is to write the wish that you want your land covenanted into your will, leaving money to cover the cost. On Vancouver Island, you can discuss placing a covenant on your land with these organizations:
Take Action If You Learn that a Forest May Be Harmed
You have heard a rumour that a forest you love is threatened with being clearcut. What to do?
First, call a friend or two, so that you can discuss the problem together. Then gather as much information as you can.
Next, ascertain if the land is private, private managed forest land or Crown land. If it is not private, you will need to contact the Ministry of Forests and try to learn more about the rumour.
If it is privately owned and within a municipality, contact the municipal planning department and ask what they know about the planned activity. If it is privately owned and in a rural area, contact your Regional District and ask the same. The landowner may or may not have been required to apply for a development permit. If he or she has, you can ask to see the permit and any requirements it may contain.
If the chainsaws or feller-buncher machines are already at work, try to take a close look at their work, to ensure that they are doing what is required to protect the riparian area, and to stick to the rules (see #8 above). If they are not, call the 24-hour RAPP line (Report all Poachers and Polluters) to report a violation: 1-877-952-7277 or #7277 on the TELUS Mobility Network.
Work Towards an Ecological Democracy in which Nature’s Rights are Protected
We need to develop a vision of the future in which Nature is respected and protected. We need to hold a clear intention that forests will be valued for all that they offer, with proper protection under the law. The trees and wetlands cannot speak for themselves: we have to speak for them: that is what ecological democracy means. And they need rights.
Christopher Stone, a law professor at the University of Southern California, has written that just as we have given legal status to non-human entities such as ships and corporations, society should also give legal rights to forests, oceans, rivers and other so-called ‘natural’ objects in the environment. Corporations cannot speak either: lawyers speak for them. In 2017, New Zealand’s lawmakers granted the Whanganui River the legal rights of a human, ensuring that it will be represented by guardians in all legal matters that concern the waterway.
The members of the Yellow Point Ecological Society work to understand, appreciate, protect and restore the ecosystems and watersheds in the Yellow Point area of Vancouver Island, and to inspire and support local residents and visitors to do the same. www.yellowpointecologicalsociety.ca
In BC, we have Crown forests. We have private forest lands, where most people live. We have public forests that are protected as parks. We have community forests, such as North Cowichan’s. And we have the Private Managed Forest Lands, which are actively harvested while being under private ownership.
Each type of forest is governed by different people and different rules. The urgent need that faces us, at this unprecedented time of climate and ecological emergency, is to find ways to manage the forests in which our needs for timber, income and jobs can be met while nature is nourished, carbon is stored and water is protected.
Very much to the point, the BC government is asking for our ideas on how the governance and management of Crown Lands and Private Managed Forest Lands might need changing. This paper is focussed on the latter. Our thoughts about Crown lands can be found on our website.
The climate emergency is such that we need to reduce our harmful carbon emissions as rapidly as we possibly can, while simultaneously increasing the means by which Earth’s forests, farms, grasslands and oceans re-absorb the dangerously excessive carbon.
The ecological emergency is such that the team of scientists who have written the Global Deal for Nature are urging that we need to preserve 50% of Earth’s lands in a natural state by 2030 if we are to have a hope of keeping global heating under the “danger zone” target of 1.5 degrees Celsius, and prevent the world’s ecosystems from unravelling.
The History of the Private Forest Lands
The Private Managed Forest Lands on Vancouver Island have their origin in the 1875 E&N Rail Grant, when a quarter of Vancouver Island from Sooke to Campbell River (two million acres) was given to Robert Dunsmuir as part of the arrangement to build a railway on the Island. In the years between 1925 and 1960 the Dunsmuirs sold most of their lands to coal and forest companies.
Two big companies own the most Private Managed Forest Lands on Vancouver Island: TimberWest and Island Timberlands. Some of the Dunsmuir forest lands were bought by MacMillan Bloedel, which was later bought by Weyerhauser, parts of which were later bought by Brookfield Asset Management, which then created Island Timberlands, seeking a 12-15% return on equity, presuming industrial logging followed by real estate development.
Other forest lands were bought by the American pulp and paper conglomerate Crown Zellerbach, parts of which were bought by Fletcher Challenge, which over time became TimberWest in 1997. In the late 1990s, TimberWest developed a sustainability agreement with the government in which their Oyster River Division in the Comox Valley would harvest 400,000 cubic metres a year. In the late 1990s, however, TimberWest’s owners decided to become an Income Trust, which required them to provide a guaranteed 8% return to their unit holders. In pursuit of this they ditched the sustainability agreement and increased harvesting to 1.2 million cubic metres a year, to much community protest. In the years between 2008-2011, Brookfield Asset Management, Western Forest Products, Weyerhauser and TimberWest donated $290,000 to the BC Liberals.
In 2011, TimberWest and Island Timberlands were bought by the British Columbia Investment Management Corporation, the Public Sector Pension Investment Board and the Alberta Investment Management Corporation for just over $1 billion. TimberWest’s core business is selling hemlock and Douglas fir logs from their 327,000 hectares to B.C and Pacific Rim markets. In 2011, Asian exports accounted for 70% of their log sales and revenue. In 2018 the two companies entered into an agreement to provide for shared use of facilities, align best practices and enhance forest stewardship, and they are now managed jointly by Mosaic Forest Management.
With an eye on the long-term, TimberWest has earmarked 17% of its 322,000 hectares as being suited for real estate development in addition to forestry. Island Timberlands has done the same for 5% of its 256,000 hectares.
The Private Managed Forest Lands in total includes 278 private managed forests covering 818,000 hectares, from which 4.76 million cubic feet were harvested in 2017, representing 7% of BC’s timber harvest.
On Vancouver Island there are 201 managed forest, on which 33 owners harvested 8,861 hectares of forest, yielding 4.27 million cubic metres of timber (482 cubic metres/hectare), 28% of the Island’s timber harvest. At 40 cubic metres per logging truck, that’s 107,000 trucks, which parked nose-to-tail would stretch 1819 km from Vancouver to Winnipeg.
BC’s total average annual timber harvest is 77 million cubic metres, or 1.95 million logging trucks, which parked nose-to-tail would stretch for 33,000 kilometres, 7,000 km short of the circumference of the Earth.
Ecologically Sustainable Investments
The wants and needs of investors are defining motivators at heart of modern economies, accompanied by the externalization of costs to nature, communities and workers, in accordance with the principles of neo-classical economics. The natural growth rate of timber in forests on the east coast of Vancouver Island is 2%-4%, but TimberWest’s investors at the time demanded 8%. The only possible sources of a return higher than the natural growth rate are increased productivity, which is currently pushed to the limit with the use of feller-bunchers, decreased wage-costs, reduced payment of taxes, or unsustainable harvesting. The additional return could be achieved by liquidating the forest over 20 years and then selling the company to a private equity (leveraged buy-out) firm, but this would be vulture capitalism at its worst, close to piracy, with the forest being the stolen booty.
As the sole intermediary between the government and the private sector, the Private Managed Forest Lands Council bears the responsibility for ensuring that large land-owning companies do not abuse the privileges they receive through the Program by exploiting the forests under their stewardship in a non-sustainable manner. The forests have been here for 12,000 years, and if we manage them responsibly, and if they can survive ecological disruptions caused by the climate crisis, they will be here for many thousands of years to come.
Island Timberlands Forest LandsTimberWest Forest Lands
Many people in the Comox Valley, the Nanaimo watershed and the Cowichan Valley have been troubled by the way the big companies have been logging. In the Comox Valley, mountainsides have been stripped bare of their timber, silt and mud is being washed away, the rivers are flooding in winter, and there are boil water advisories in the summer. In consequence, the CVRD is having to build a sophisticated underwater pumping station and an onshore pump station with filtration, chlorination and UV treatment, costing local taxpayers a probable $125 million. When New York City’s 9.5 million residents were faced with a $10 billion cost to build new water filtration plants, plus $100 million a year to maintain them, they found that they could achieve the same result by investing $1.5 billion in watershed restoration with 368 local landowners.
In July 2019 the Narwhal reported that: “In Peachland in the Okanagan, where extensive logging has taken place nearby, a landslide downslope of a logging road contributed to boil-water advisories and the need for a new $24 million water treatment plant funded by the community. In Grand Forks, sprawling clearcuts are believed to have played a major role in a monster flood in 2018 that inundated houses and led to the closure of 28 downtown businesses. In the Regional District of Central Kootenay — which stretches from the U.S. border to north of Nakusp and includes Glade and the cities of Nelson and Castlegar — at least seven communities face clear-cut logging on slopes that are home to the creeks that supply their drinking water.”
Because of the heavy logging, the Columbian blacktail deer that used to browse on lichen hanging from old growth trees at upper elevations to get them through the winter have been forced down into the valleys to feed on gardens and fruit trees. In the Cowichan Valley, similar problems have arisen: mountainsides stripped bare, flooding in winter, and the Cowichan river drying up in summer, threatening the spawning grounds of the coho, and the spring salmon, on which the southern killer whales depend. The warming climate and shrinking glaciers are also contributing, demonstrating how the different impacts combine.
Troubles on the Land (2) – Climate Impacts
Clearcut logging has big climate impacts. A healthy growing forest is a carbon sink, absorbing CO2 through photosynthesis and storing it as carbon in the timber and soil. In consequence, over the millennia BC’s forests have become a huge store of carbon. Old growth forests in the Pacific Northwest with a timber volume of 1500-1800 cubic metres per hectare hold carbon stocks that vary from 750 to 1130 tonnes per hectare, with 30-50% being stored in the soil and 400 to 500 tonnes in the trees.
When the timber is cut and used for pulp or paper and the soil is disturbed each cubic metre of timber releases a tonne of CO2. The 4,270,000 cubic metres that are logged each year in the Private Managed Forest Lands on Vancouver Island therefore release some 4.27 million tonnes of CO2, the equivalent of a million cars driving on the road for a year. BC’s total harvest, averaging 77 million cubic metres, releases 77 million tonnes of CO2, compared to 62 million tonnes for BC’s annual emissions from everything else.
Once clearcut, a hectare of forest debris becomes a net source of 22 tonnes of CO2 per hectare per year. The shift from source to sink occurs at around 17 years, and a near-end-of-rotation stand (50-60 years-old) stores 15 tonnes per hectare. The Sierra Club has estimated that Including forest fires, BC’s net forest emissions totalled 209 million tonnes a year in 2017 and 2018, three times more than all other emissions combined. For the average log, the Sierra Club estimates that 23% of the carbon is stored in timber products; the BC government estimates 52%.
How Does the Private Managed Forest LandsProgram Work?
In 2004, the Forest Land Reserve Act was repealed, the Forest Land Reserves were dissolved, and the Private Managed Forest Land Act was enacted “to encourage sustainable forest management and protect key environmental values on private managed land.” The owners of the 278 managed forest properties, which range in size from 3.5 hectares to 166,000 hectares, make a commitment to meet five general environmental objectives, covering soil conservation, water quality, fish habitat, wildlife habitat and reforestation. They pay for the program’s operating costs through a levy of 13 cents/cubic metre, and in return they receive a municipal tax reduction. In 2011, on Cortes Island, Island Timberlands paid $5-6/acre, compared to $62/acre for other landowners. On its 1,800 hectares, over 20 years the program will save Island Timberlands $4.7 million in property taxes.
The program is managed by a five-person Private Managed Forest Land Council, consisting of two owner reps, two government reps, and a jointly chosen chair. They make and enforce regulations, make compliance determinations, conduct inspections and audits, review landowner applications, and review annual declarations by the owners. Inspections are made by hired professional foresters at least once every 5 years, and they boast a 99.5% compliance rate, based on a 15% inspection rate. There is no First Nations engagement, no community engagement, no public environmental engagement, no public input into logging plans, and no long-term planning.
Regarding methods of logging, forest landowners are not required to submit a plan for approval, and they are not constrained on their annual timber volumes – there are no sustainable harvest level requirements. They have to follow standards of practice with regard to harvesting, stream protection, road construction/maintenance, and reforestation, and they have to honour the five environmental objectives. The devil is in the details, however:
Soil conservation: Owners have to follow set practices with regard to road-building, but not for general logging.
Water quality: Owners have to pay attention to Local Water Intakes (LWI), but not to water run-off in a watershed as a whole.
Fish habitat protection: streams are classified by width, and whether they are fish-bearing or upstream of an LWI. Tree-retention is required for most, varying from 30 metres for A to 15 metres for C. On streams classified D or E, which are less than 1.5 metres wide, no tree retention is required. Riparian buffers are measured on slope distance without being corrected to horizontal, enabling smaller buffers with less tree retention adjacent to steep slopes.
Wildlife habitat: measures must be taken to protect species listed in the Wildlife Act and the Species at Risk Act such as the red-legged frog, but not for non-threatened species. Biological studies are not required before harvesting, so unless an owner chooses voluntarily to engage a professional, there is no formal means by which species and habitats at risk might be identified and protected.
Reforestation: newly cleared forest areas must be restocked within 5 years and successfully regenerated within 15 years, but there is no requirement to protect the best or oldest trees that drop seeds of proven genetic quality, allowing natural regeneration while also producing the big dead wildlife snags that have ecological value.
There is no mention of any need to consider or mitigate forest carbon loss.
There is no mention of any need to protect community drinking watersheds.
There is no mention of any need to take measures to reduce fire risk.
There is no mention of any need to consider cumulative ecological and hydrological impacts from activities within a shared watershed.
How can a broader, more ecologically inclusive perspective be brought to the governance of the program?
We suggest expanding membership of the Council to include more people, bringing in people who have climate, ecological, and ecological forest management expertise, and First Nations heritage.
We suggest forming regionally-based Forest Stewardship Advisory Councils, including participants from First Nations, universities, regional districts, local communities, local mills, forestry organizations and ecological organizations, to meet twice a year to review practices and make recommendations for change.
We suggest that forest owners be required to post their harvesting plans and invite public input prior to operations commencing.
We suggest widening the mandate of the program, adding six new objectives to serve the common interest in ways that are clear and measurable.
To ensure that watersheds that are the source of drinking water for local communities produce consistent, high quality, naturally filtered drinking water.
To reduce average forest carbon emissions per hectare and increase average forest carbon storage per hectare over the long-term (200 years).
To increase climate resilience by means of ecological forest management.
To reduce fire risk by thinning and other means at both stand and landscape levels.
To engage in long-term 200-year forest planning and set sustainable harvest and thinning rates which will help to advance a regenerating forest along the old growth curve, using ecological forest management methods including landscape planning, canopy retention, multi-age trees, the preservation of wildlife snags, and natural regeneration from identified seed trees.
To engage with First Nations and local communities to identify community values, sites of special interest, and locations for hiking and mountain bike trails on ownership parcels larger than 1,000 hectares, in accordance with the spirit of the Right to Roam legislation that was put before the BC Legislature in 2017 to ensure the right of citizens “to access public lands, rivers streams and lakes and to use these spaces to hunt, fish and enjoy outdoor recreation in accordance with the law.”
When considering how forest owners respond to the proposed new mandates, we recommend that a distinction be made between large and small landowners, since there is a big difference between the management of forest land covering 166,000 hectares and land covering 40 hectares.
We suggest four site-management changes:
60-metre no-harvest zones along lakes and Class A streams, 40 metres alongside streams Class B and C, and 20 metres along streams classes D and E, all to be measured on slope distance corrected to the horizontal from the high water mark of a stream.
End slash pile burning, in accordance with work being done by the Coastal Forest Sector Revitalization Initiative and partners in the Cowichan Valley. We suggest that measures are developed to quantify air quality changes and the anticipated reduction in respiratory ailments, bringing healthcare cost savings.
End spraying with glyphosate and other harmful herbicides to eliminate trees that are economically less valuable but still ecologically important. Glyphosate has been shown to increase the risk of cancer to those exposed by 41%.
Require a secondary species planting program on recently harvested lands including cottonwood, maple, bitter cherry and alder, mimicking the natural forest succession process and providing important forest ecology properties including wildlife habitat.
Wildlife and Species at Risk
If a biological or ecological study is not conducted it is not possible to identify species at risk before harvesting. Given the urgency of the global ecological crisis, regarding which the International Union for the Conservation of Nature reported in July 2019 that a third of all assessed species are now red-listed as being in danger of extinction, we suggest that a study by a professional biologist prior to harvesting is required, and that criteria for the protection of identified endangered species and their habitats should be codified.
In order to protect community drinking water supplies that depend on the hydrological integrity of a watershed as a whole, not just on Local Water Intakes, we suggest that the community watershed guidelines that were grandparented into the Forest and Range Practices Act in 2004 be written into the legislation governing the Private Managed Forest Lands, and that a hydrological study followed by sign-off from the relevant Regional District be required before harvesting in a community watershed can occur.
When the Forest Practices Board studied community watersheds managed under the FRPA in 2014, they found that:
Requirements to protect drinking water were not clear or well understood.
Commitments made in forestry plans were not always enforceable.
Greater emphasis needed to be placed on erosion and sediment control on forestry roads.
In support of the FPB’s recommendations to ensure that the government’s objectives for community watersheds are achieved, we suggest that the Private Managed Forest Lands Program:
Clarifies requirements for the protection of water.
Defines the concept of cumulative hydrological effects.
Requires publicly available harvesting plans to include hydrological analysis which includes cumulative hydrological effects.
Ensures that professional reliance assessments are meaningful.
In partnership with Regional Districts, monitors water quality in community watersheds and tracks their status.
We further recommend that members of the Private Managed Forest Lands Council urge the government to fully implement the Water Sustainability Act, which would go 60% of the way towards protecting critical community watersheds.
We suggest that large forest land owners be required to set aside a financial reserve in a Private Managed Forest Lands Program Account for the purpose of ecological restoration following defined damage, those moneys to be foregone if the restoration does not proceed, or if the consequences of the damage before restoration have to be offset (for instance) through municipal water treatment. Carefully defined criteria will be needed to evaluate damage and create financial and legal certainty.
Other Suggested Changes
Silviculture Savings Account: Considering the uneven annual flow of income to land owners owning smaller parcels of forest, resulting in higher taxation in harvest years and lower taxation in non-harvest years, we suggest that the Ministry of Finance create a Silviculture Savings Account, similar in character to an RRSP or RESP, allowing earnings to be stored and taxed when they are withdrawn, unless the withdrawal is for a silvicultural investment.
Conservation Tax Incentive Program: Considering the ecological values that are enhanced by the practice of ecological forest management, retaining the canopy and managing a forest with the intent to restore old growth qualities, we suggest that the Ministry of Finance consider creating a Forestry Class Exemption, and/or a Conservation Tax Incentive Program similar in spirit to the Agricultural tax reduction.
Density-transfer: Considering that some private forest land owners may have no intention or desire to develop their land in accordance with their permitted residential densities, we suggest that the Ministry of Municipal Affairs develop a province-wide set of density-transfer regulations, enabling forest land owners to sell their density rights into other approved areas.
Two hectare lower limit: Considering that many small land owners may be interested to harvest timber from their forest lands in a sustainable manner, we suggest that where landowners become members of a locally established forestry association or cooperative, as is common in Finland, the lower limit for the program be reduced from 3.5 to 2 hectares.
Other Forestry-Related Suggestions
We would like consideration for these related suggestions, which may or may not fall under the Private Managed Forest Land Program’s remit:
Trees as a Farm Crop: On private land classed as farmland, we suggest that the Ministry of Forests work with the Ministry of Agriculture to enable trees to be declared a farm crop for farming purposes, enabling forest-farmers to qualify for the agricultural land tax credit. The current list of qualifying crops only includes Christmas trees and the intense cultivation of plantations of poplar and willow.
A Forest Thinning Incentive Program: We suggest that the Ministry of Forests work with the Ministry of Finance to develop a forest thinning incentive program to reduce fire risk, increase multi-age species representation, and advance a forest down the oldgrowth curve.
A Forest Carbon Incentive Program: We suggest that the Ministry of Forests work with the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Finance to develop a Forest Carbon Incentive Program, establishing regulatory mechanisms and financial incentives to reduce average carbon emissions per hectare and increase average carbon storage per hectare, to contribute to the missing 25% of emissions reductions in the province’s CleanBC 2030 goals.
Transition to Ecological Forest Management: We suggest that in light of the urgency of the climate and ecological emergencies, the Ministry of Forests work with the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions at UVic and the UBC School of Forestry and the Ministry of Finance to develop a ten-year transition for all forests in BC to ecological forest management. The knowledge base already exists through fifty years of ecological forest management science, some of which was well-expressed in BC’s old Forest Practices Code. We suggest using incentives for five years, followed by a regulatory approach if the incentives do not produce the needed results.
Contact: Guy Dauncey, President. email@example.com 250-924-1445
The American Robin is the quintessential ‘Bird of Spring’ for most of North America, but we’re lucky enough to have them as year-round residents on eastern Vancouver Island. They’re common almost everywhere but are especially visible after rain (so, yeah, mostly in the winter months) chasing down worms that wriggle to the surface to avoid drowning in the soaked soil. They have a gentle call and a sociable nature, preferring to roam in flocks (almost herds at times), but will scold you if you get too close.
Anna’s Hummingbird Calypte anna
I first moved to the West Coast in the winter, and while exploring the Lower Mainland’s waterfront one day in January I came across a truly unbelievable sight—a hummingbird in a tree! I couldn’t believe my eyes. I figured this poor little thing had somehow gotten caught up in a storm in California and blown north, which seemed an unbelievable journey for such a small and delicate creature. But of course, we West Coasters know an even un-believabler truth; these perky creatures are year-round residents. I’ve taken photos of them in raging snowstorms, sipping perkily on the sugar blend in my feeders, and I recently found out that local birds are even choosing to BREED in the winter, presumably to reduce competition from their territorial summer humming-mates, the Rufous Hummingbirds. They originally only overwintered on the Baja California Peninsula and Southern California, but the slow and steady march of exotic ornamental plants and willing feeder-fillers northwards has allowed them to spread their incredibly small wings and capitalize on an incredible opportunity.
The bald eagle is an iconic bird of the Canadian West Coast, although its range essentially encompasses all of Canada and the United States, outside of the Arctic tundra. Their population density is highest on the coastal Pacific, due to the incredible variety of easily accessible food, and they tend to concentrate near known salmon runs in the winter months…although they seem to be found at their highest density near the Cedar Dump. They’re not dumb. They know what’s there.
Barred Owl Strix varia
I’m about 60% certain the above owl is a Barred Owl. The only photo I have is from directly beneath an owl perched on a power line, and it’s not very flattering. The WordPress royalty free photo service’s search function for specific birds is…challenging, to say the least.
The barred owl has about the most distinctive call you could imagine—the quintessential ‘who cooks for you?!’ you’ve probably heard in the distance as the sun sets (or, more alarmingly, from directly overhead and the cats are still out).
They’re a large owl, native to eastern North America and generally considered invasive here on the West Coast. Invasiveness is a difficult thing to measure sometimes—typically if something is introduced by mankind and outcompetes the local species, it’s an easy call. But the Barred Owl is a tougher nut to crack…it came here all by itself, enabled by our unfortunate ability to wittingly and unwittingly change the landscape around us as we settle. The straw that breaks the camel’s back in this case seems to be that they also handily outcompete our local owls, such as the Burrowing Owl.
Bewick’s Wren Thryomanes bewickii
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These cheerful little birds are easy to hear and difficult to spot, sharing the usual wren traits of flitting quickly and noiselessly from branch to branch while seeming to scold you from 12 directions at once. They’re fairly ordinary looking but are full of character, being especially curious in the early spring while they look for a spot to settle down and nest. I’ve come across their nests in a variety of unlikely locations, but my favourite so far has been in the eaves of my shed, nestled into the insulation. One of the reason they’re less known is that they’re obligate insectivores—you’re not going to see these at your seed feeders, unless the seed feeders happen to attract large numbers of bugs (in which case you should probably get that checked out). Nonetheless, I find their antics make them one of the most enjoyable yard birds to observe, particularly when they arrive with a beak full of spiders.
The bushtit commonly adheres to the Milford School’s mantra of being ‘neither seen nor heard’. On the rare occasions you do notice a flock, it’s usually little more than a bit of an extra rustle in the leaves of a nearby bush, or maybe a very quiet peeping if you’re really paying attention. They’re very plain looking and flit quickly between the branches searching for ants and other small bugs to eat. And if you’re really, REALLY paying attention, you might spot their very distinctive nests high in the trees or bushes; it resembles a pendant, built with moss and lichen, assembled with spider silk, and lined with the bird’s own feathers.
Southern BC is actually the very northernmost tip of the bushtit’s range, but they can be found all the way south to Guatemala and southern Mexico.
Read more about the American bushtit on Wikipedia (they’re the only New World bushtit, so we omit the ‘American’ part for brevity).
California Quail Callipepla californica
The California Quail is one of my favourite birds, if for no other reason than its perfectly ridiculous plume. They’re year-round residents on the Island, though their behaviour changes radically throughout the season. As I type this in the spring, the quail have paired off and can be found two-by-two while they accomplish their courtship, mating, and nesting. Typically in the early summer they’ll take a page from the bushtits and be ‘neither seen nor heard’ while they raise their chicks hidden deep in the brush, but come late summer they’ll emerge with their fully mobile chicks and join together into much larger groups, often twenty or thirty strong. They’ll remain like this through the fall and winter, staying in their large groups until the spring comes again.
I had a covey of quail who decided to settle into my lilac bushes for the winter, and it gave me great excitement to see them swing by my ground feeders (and the ground under my non-ground feeders) as part of their daily circuit. Alas, the excitement was short lived, as what started off as a group of ten seemed to dwindle by one or two birds per week, getting smaller and smaller as December ground into January. By early February, only two birds were left, and I was confused—why did the others leave? Watching from my basement window one day, my question was answered—the remaining two were flushed from their ground feeder by a very plump looking Sharp-shinned hawk. After that, one remained—and she, only for a week. So ended my winter with the quail.
Canada Goose Branta canadensis
As a pilot, I have a very conflicted experience with Canada geese. On the one hand, they’re loud, gather in large groups, poop everywhere, and are known to be somewhat ornery when approached. On the other hand, they fly into airplanes with somewhat alarming regularity. So that’s…well, I guess that’s not very conflicted.
Many Canadian cities struggle with large number of Canada geese—Toronto and Montreal in particular have seen an explosion of the geese in their downtown parks, with all their concomitant issues. Vancouver has a similar issue, but with snow geese, and only in the spring when they stop in for a nibble in Richmond winging their way north to the Arctic. Here on the Island, we’re just far enough off the western flyway that we have neither of these issues, for which we are mostly thankful.
That said, we do have a fairly healthy population of Canada geese resident throughout the year. I’m just now in from mowing the lawn, and one of these geese in particular took a disliking to me encroaching on his territory (read: my lawn). Hissing ensued, and then I got to mow through a large pile of goose poop. It was delightful.
Cedar Waxwing Bombycilla cedrorum
The Cedar waxwing, in my eyes, is one of the most beautiful birds we have here on Vancouver Island. Despite their bright plumage, I really only notice them in late spring, when the cherry trees are bursting with fruit and large (10-12) flocks of waxwings wing out of nowhere and begin to gorge. I’ve heard they’re far less common in built up areas, but in our part of the world, if you have cherry trees, you’ve probably experienced the waxwings. (Alternatively, if you’ve noticed many of your fruit have small triangular beak-marks removed, then you’ve DEFINITELY experienced the waxwings).
Chestnut-backed Chickadee Poecile rufescens
My first experience with this west coast chickadee was while visiting a friend in Vancouver. Walking through Stanley Park, I found myself being followed quite closely by a bird resembling the black-capped chickadee I knew from Ontario, but not quite. It seemed very inquisitive, and on a whim I held out my hand to see what it would do. It cocked its head, seemed to think for a moment, and then flitted over and perched on my finger for a few seconds before flitting away again. Our eastern birds were MUCH ruder than that. I was instantly in love. It wouldn’t be a huge stretch to say that this one experience played an outsized role in convincing me to move here. And I’m happy to report that Vancouver Island’s chickadees more than rise to the level of their mainland counterparts—if you’re out for a hike, visiting a friend’s house, or even just see one near you feeder, try holding out your hand—you might be in for a delightful experience.
Common Raven Corvus Corax
The common raven is simply one of the most impressive birds you could ever hope to meet. I can’t even hope to describe it myself, so I’ll just defer to the Wikipedia description.
The common raven (Corvus corax), also known as the northern raven, is a large all-black passerinebird. Found across the Northern Hemisphere, it is the most widely distributed of all corvids. There are at least eight subspecies with little variation in appearance, although recent research has demonstrated significant genetic differences among populations from various regions. It is one of the two largest corvids, alongside the thick-billed raven, and is possibly the heaviest passerine bird; at maturity, the common raven averages 63 centimetres (25 inches) in length and 1.2 kilograms (2.6 pounds) in mass. Common ravens can live up to 21 years in the wild, a lifespan surpassed among passerines by only a few Australasianspecies such as the satin bowerbird and probably the lyrebirds. Young birds may travel in flocks but later mate for life, with each mated pair defending a territory.
Common ravens have coexisted with humans for thousands of years and in some areas have been so numerous that people have regarded them as pests. Part of their success as a species is due to their omnivorous diet; they are extremely versatile and opportunistic in finding sources of nutrition, feeding on carrion, insects, cereal grains, berries, fruit, small animals, and food waste.
Some notable feats of problem-solving provide evidence that the common raven is unusually intelligent.Over the centuries, it has been the subject of mythology, folklore, art, and literature. In many cultures, including the indigenous cultures of Scandinavia, ancient Ireland and Wales, Bhutan, the northwest coast of North America, and Siberia and northeast Asia, the common raven has been revered as a spiritual figure or godlike creature.
In conclusion, big, smart, fast, widespread, long lived, godlike. Questions?
Common Yellowthroat Geothlypis trichas
These beautiful little birds are commonly heard near ponds and lakes, living and collecting small bugs and flies among the reeds and grasses. They’re far less common in dry areas. You’ll probably recognize their ‘wickety-wickety-wickety’ call if you’re spent any time hiking near a marsh, but they’re fairly retiring and will leave quickly if they sense you nearby. I set up a small viewing platform with a lawn chair in a tree overlooking our small beaver pond and was rewarded for sitting still for long periods of time with the above shots, which I considered a win. My wife considered it all ridiculous.
The Dark-eyed juncos took a while to grow on me when I first moved here—they’re pretty plain looking birds, and seem entirely too abundant in the fall and winter to really leap to the eye. But they’re surprisingly complex little birds—their plumage varies wildly across the species, ranging from dominantly black to containing little to no black at all. I’ve often seen strange looking birds at my feeders in the winter and have spent many minutes excitedly searching for my binoculars only to realize “it’s just another junco” once I get close up. They also have a very nice little song, being known within the birding set as an excellent bird through which to study ‘bird language’. I’m not QUITE at that level yet, but, you know…good to know.
Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto
The Eurasian collared dove is, as you might guess, invasive in North America, and pretty much everywhere else on the planet too (but not Iceland, which says more about Iceland than it does about the Eurasian collared dove). Evidence suggests that they’re not overly damaging to their environment, nor do they tend to outcompete the local mourning doves, so their presence here merely…is. They’re fairly unremarkable, but they do tend to make some unexpected noises that’ll have you reaching for your binoculars and then disappointedly realizing “oh, it’s just a dove”.
Golden Crowned Sparrow Zonotrichia atricapilla
I was actually thinking to myself, “You know, there’s not really much to say about the golden crowned sparrow—wait, I’ll check Wikipedia to see what interesting facts I can dig up to seem knowledgeable!” And Wikipedia in one line tells me…
The golden-crowned sparrow (Zonotrichia atricapilla) is a large American sparrow found in the western part of North America.
I feel less bad about my ignorance now. There is one small note, which is that the golden crowned sparrow is very similar to the White-crowned sparrow, which has (you guessed it) a white crown instead of a gold one. Apparently the lineage split very recently. My entry on the white crowned sparrow, it seems, will be equally short.
Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias
You know how it’s a thing now that birds are modern day dinosaurs? Maybe you’d find that difficult to believe, up until you heard two Great blue herons yelling at one another. I KNOW what they sound like, and to this day hearing one nearby makes me nearly jump out of my skin and run for cover. They’re quite beautiful, beyond the noises they produce.
Southern Florida boasts a sub-population which is coloured entirely white, and is known as the Great white heron, which is kind of neat. Beyond that, Wikipedia tells me that we grow ’em large here in BC—our average heron is almost half a pound heavier than those found further east.
Try not to think about that next time one yells at you from a nearby tree or bush.
House Finch Haemorhous mexicanus
The House finch seemed all too common and unremarkable to me to be worth much attention. Coming from out east, I had a variety of experiences with the similar but smaller purple finch, and kind of assumed the House finch was a large, duller, and less interesting version of my beloved Purple finch.
But MAN can these guys sing. The audio file doesn’t really do them justice (notwithstanding the bonus raven)—they have one of the most varied and interesting songs of any of the common feeder birds here on the Island. Wikipedia further tells me
The Marsh wren is another very common summer bird in local marshes and wetlands—chances are you’ve heard its distinctive chitter from afar as you hike nearby. Our very small beaver pond hosts three or four of them in our reeds, and it’s about as small as wetland habitats get. Like most wrens, they’re very entertaining to watch, and generally quite curious about interlopers, but I’ve never managed to get as close to one as I have to the Bewick’s. Also like the Bewick’s, their nests can be quite easy to find—you just have to watch the bird with binoculars for a few minutes and see where it concentrates its time.
Read more about the Marsh wren on Wikipedia—and be sure to check out the range map. I find it oddly beautiful.
Northern Flicker Colaptes auratus
The Northern flicker is another of those local birds that I would describe as ‘weirdly beautiful’, not that my photo does it much justice (and searching the WordPress royalty-free image gallery for ‘Northern flicker’ returns three pages of aurora borealis and (for whatever reason) two blue-footed boobies, so that’s not much help). They live here year-round, although I’ve come to associate their screeching cries with the onset of fall. They’re virtually silent the rest of the year, but when the rain starts to fall—boy-o, that’s their time to shine.
Flickers are woodpeckers, as you’d come to know if you ever had one take a sudden interest in your eaves. Putting aside the somewhat alarming fact that they’re only there because you have tasty bugs in your walls, they can be fairly difficult to dislodge once they’re there—and they can do damage ranging from ‘why won’t he leave the chimney alone?!’ to ‘screw it, I’m just going to replace the entire wall’. Our friend in the BC interior had difficulty tracking down an odd knocking in her furnace, incurred two separate repair callouts, and finally had the guy come in while the noise was still occurring—he knew exactly what it was. She then invested in a slingshot and proudly told us later that it took her a while but she’d ‘gotten some feather’ and thought the episode at an end.
Our fingers are crossed.
Also, simply because it’s delightful—from Wikipedia:
Over 100 common names for the northern flicker are known, including yellowhammer (not to be confused with the Eurasian yellowhammer), clape, gaffer woodpecker, harry-wicket, heigh-ho, wake-up, walk-up, wick-up, yarrup, and gawker bird.
I’ve only ever seen the Pacific wren in coniferous forests, and then only incidentally—they’re tiny, virtually noiseless, and about as flit-ty as they come. Wikipedia really says it best:
Its movements as it creeps or climbs are incessant rather than rapid; its short flights swift and direct but not sustained, its tiny round wings whirring as it flies from bush to bush.
Pileated Woodpecker Dryocopus pileatus
The Pileated Woodpecker is the second-largest woodpecker in North America, or even the largest if you (like most experts) consider the Ivory-billed woodpecker to be extinct. ‘Pileated’ refers to its bright red chapeau, but in far fancier terms, which is unfortunate when you think about it. Wouldn’t a black-pileated chickadee seem much more exotic?
Based on my personal experience, the best spot by far on the Island to spot a Pileated Woodpecker is on the telephone pole in front of my house. I’m assuming this means it’s full of tasty, tasty grubs, which I try not to think about whenever the wind is blowing.
Its call, which has been likened to a tin trumpet, is high-pitched and nasal. It breeds in coniferous forests across Canada, Alaska and the northeastern and western United States. Though often a permanent resident, it regularly irrupts further south if its food supply fails. There are records of vagrants occurring as far south as the Gulf Coast and northern Mexico. It forages on the trunks and large branches of trees, often descending head first, sometimes catching insects in flight. It eats mainly insects and seeds, especially from conifers. It excavates its nest in dead wood, often close to the ground, smearing the entrance with pitch.
High-pitched and nasal?! I find the ‘meep meep’ of the nuthatch to be among the more calming of the songbird calls. It doesn’t hurt that the bird is just bursting with character, full of curiosity about its surroundings, poking pretty much every hidey-hole it finds for morsels of food, and seemingly defying gravity by hopping up and down vertical tree trunks facing whichever direction it likes. As for calling it a vagrant, well…I guess that’s fair. Vagrant in this sense just means that it shows up where it shouldn’t, which is a little judge-y, but you’d think the people on the Gulf Coast and northern Mexico would be delighted.
Anyways, count this among my favourite birds (there’s more than a few of them in this list I’ve called my favourite, I know, but I have a big heart).
Red Breasted Sapsucker Sphyrapicus ruber
Have you ever been out walking and come across a tree riddled from root to canopy with lines of little horizontal dots? That’s this guy at work, drilling out the wounds in the tree to get sap flowing to the surface. Akin to a beaver, the sapsucker actually creates food and habitats for other creatures while going about its day.
A sapsucker’s tongue is adapted with stiff hairs for collecting the sap. Red-breasted sapsuckers visit the same tree multiple times, drilling holes in neat horizontal rows. A bird will leave and come back later, when the sap has started flowing from the holes. Repeated visits over an extended period of time can actually kill the tree. The insects attracted to the sap are also consumed, and not only by sapsuckers. Rufous hummingbirds, for example, have been observed to follow the movements of sapsuckers and take advantage of this food source.
That’s actually a pretty nice segue to the
Rufous Hummingbird Selasphorus rufus
…which is, unsurprisingly, one of my favourite birds on the Island! I know, I know. I promise this one is the last one. The rufous is noticeably smaller than the Anna’s, but makes up for its small size by packing in three times as much personality. These birds are astounding migrants, making a circuit up to 3600 km long throughout the year. They show up here surprisingly early in the spring, often in late February or early March, and almost immediately begin their very distinctive aerial mating display. I’ve tried to describe it to friends and family in the east using a combination of hand motions and enthusiastic noises, but I always feel like I’m giving them short shrift—there’s only so much you can do with your hand to make it seem like a hummingbird’s rear waggling in mid air while you say ‘buh-buh-buh-BEW!’ over and over. I’ve tried to get a video of the tiny hummingbird moving at high speed from a hundred feet in the air in an parabolic arc curving towards wherever you are not, but that turns out largely as you might expect…so hand waggling and weird noises it shall have to be.
Once they’ve fledged their chicks, the whole kit and caboodle take off for the upland wildflowers as the summer wears on, meaning they’ve often left our little corner of the Island by mid July. They’ll follow these alpine wildflower blooms all the way back down to their overwintering grounds in the Mexican state of Guerrero (think Acapulco—not so different from the average Canadian).
I have a bit of a conflicted relationship with the Red-winged blackbird. They’re beautiful, yes, but we live near a small beaver pond that boasts a THRIVING population of these birds. It turns out there IS such a thing as too much of a good thing—I found that I was having to fill up my bird feeders once a day because the blackbirds were happily popping over from the bullrushes to feast. They will happily eat anything that is accessible, and they have a voracious appetite. I finally achieved a semblance of balance when I figured out what size chicken wire was enough to keep the blackbirds out, but let the towhees in (they’re pretty close in size). Notwithstanding the fact that my feeders all look like tiny little bird prisons now, and the smaller females and young birds are able to get in, I’m happy with the status quo.
Song Sparrow Melospiza melodia
The Song sparrow is a very plain looking bird with two wonderful features—they like to eat spiders and bugs, and they have a beautiful song. That, as they say, is good enough for me.
Singing itself consists of a combination of repeated notes, quickly passing isolated notes, and trills. The songs are very crisp, clear, and precise, making them easily distinguishable by human ears. A particular song is determined not only by pitch and rhythm but also by the timbre of the trills. Although one bird will know many songs—as many as 20 different tunes with as many as 1000 improvised variations on the basic theme,—unlike thrushes, the song sparrow usually repeats the same song many times before switching to a different song.
Song sparrows typically learn their songs from a handful of other birds that have neighboring territories. They are most likely to learn songs that are shared between these neighbors. Ultimately, they will choose a territory close to or replacing the birds that they have learned from. This allows the song sparrows to address their neighbors with songs shared with those neighbors. It has been demonstrated that song sparrows are able to distinguish neighbors from strangers on the basis of song, and also that females are able to distinguish (and prefer) their mate’s songs from those of other neighboring birds, and they prefer songs of neighboring birds to those of strangers.
Trumpeter Swans Cygnus buccinator
These swans are welcome visitors to our island in the fall, winter, and spring, migrating much further north in the summer for their breeding season. They, along with many ducks and other waterfowl, call the often-unfrozen waters of Vancouver Island home at the southern terminus of their migration, which is a wonderful feature of life on the island—there are often just as many migrant species here in the winter as in the summer, compared to the quiet winter forests and lakes of the rest of the country. My favourite part of hosting these birds on my pond in the winter is their tendency to keep together in large groups and ‘dance’ with one another—heads bopping along to a beat only they can hear.
The trumpeter swan (Cygnus buccinator) is a species of swan found in North America. The heaviest living bird native to North America, it is also the largest extant species of waterfowl with a wingspan that may exceed 10 ft (3.0 m). It is the American counterpart and a close relative of the whooper swan (Cygnus cygnus) of Eurasia, and even has been considered the same species by some authorities. By 1933, fewer than 70 wild trumpeters were known to exist, and extinction seemed imminent, until aerial surveys discovered a Pacific population of several thousand trumpeters around Alaska’s Copper River. Careful reintroductions by wildlife agencies and the Trumpeter Swan Society gradually restored the North American wild population to over 46,000 birds by 2010.
Spotted Towhee Pipilo maculatus
The Spotted towhee is most notable for its bright red eyes, but the rest of it is almost as striking. They’re a very common feeder species in our neck of the woods—in the winter months to only birds more common than the towhee at my sunflower seed feeders are the house finches. They have a very inquisitive sounding call that almost sounds like they’re asking a question.
The spotted towhee is a large New World sparrow, roughly the same size as a Robin. It has a long, dark fan shaped tail with white corners on the end. They have a round body (similar to New World sparrows) with bright red eyes and dull pink legs. The spotted towhee is between 17 cm (6.7 in) and 21 cm (8.3 in) long, and weighs in at between 33 g (1.2 oz) and 49 g (1.7 oz).
Adult males have a generally darker head, upper body and tail with a white belly, rufoussides and white spots on the their back and white wing bars. Females look similar but are dark brown and grey instead of black. The spotted towhee has white spots on its primary and secondary feathers, the Eastern towhee is the same bird in terms of its size and structure but does not have white spots.
Steller’s Jay Cyanocitta stelleri
These birds are characters of the first order—like many jays, they’re curious and entertaining to watch. They tend to summer high in the mountains, which means that we tend to see them in the fall and winter, when they drop to the lower elevations seeking food. If it’s a good year for pinecones in the montane areas, though, they might not show up at all.
The Steller’s jay (Cyanocitta stelleri) is a jay native to western North America, closely related to the blue jay found in the rest of the continent, but with a black head and upper body. It is also known as the long-crested jay, mountain jay, and pine jay. It is the only crested jay west of the Rocky Mountains.
Steller’s jay shows a great deal of regional variation throughout its range.Blackish-brown-headed birds from the north gradually become bluer-headed farther south. The Steller’s jay has a more slender bill and longer legs than the blue jay and has a much more pronounced crest. It is also somewhat larger.
The head is blackish-brown, black, or dark blue, depending on the latitude of the bird, with lighter streaks on the forehead. This dark coloring gives way from the shoulders and lower breast to silvery blue. The primaries and tail are a rich blue with darker barring. Birds in the eastern part of its range along the Great Divide have white markings on the head, especially over the eyes; birds further west have light blue markers and birds in the far west along the Pacific Coast have small, very faint, or no white or light markings at all.
Swainson’s Thrush Catharus ustulatus
The Swainson’s thrush makes one of my favourite calls, commonly heard in late spring and early summer as the sun is setting and the air is cooling (although you do hear the same call during the day, it’s competing with far more bird calls for your attention—at dusk, they stand alone). I’ve spent long periods of time seeking to photograph a bird I hear calling in a nearby tree or bush, only to give up in frustration when this reclusive thrush keeps deep in its hiding place. They’re fairly common in our area, though, as you can tell from the preponderance of its calls as the sun sets.
These birds migrate to southern Mexico and as far south as Argentina. The coastal subspecies migrate down the Pacific coast of North America and winter from Mexico to Costa Rica, whereas the continental birds migrate eastwards within North America (a substantial detour) and then travel southwards via Florida to winter from Panama to Bolivia.
Varied Thrush Ixoreus naevius
The varied thrust is largely a forest bird, and I’ve only ever seen them out in the open in our winter months. They’re absolutely beautiful birds, though, about the same size as the American robin. With their distinct orange colours, there’s no mistaking one when you see it.
“The varied thrush breeds in western North America from Alaska to northern California. It is migratory, with northern breeders moving south within or somewhat beyond the breeding range. Other populations may only move altitudinally. This species is an improbable transatlantic vagrant, but there is an accepted western Europeanrecord in Great Britain in 1982.
Nests in Alaska, Yukon Territory, and mountains in British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon. Prefers moist conifer forest. Most common in dense, older conifer forests in high elevations. Moves to lower elevations during the winter where it is often seen in towns and orchards and thickets, or migrates to California. Seen in flocks during winter of up to 20 birds. It is well known for individual birds to fly eastward in winter, showing up in just about any state, then returning to the west coast for breeding.”
Virginia Rail Rallus limicola
The rail is a bird commonly heard, but not seen. I’ve gotten lucky twice—both times while occupying the lawn chair I set up on a platform I built on a tree overhanging our pond, and reading quietly for tens of minutes and then noticing subtle motion incidentally out of the corner of my eye. They’re secretive, but their loud chuckles as the sun sets are pretty distinct.
The Virginia rail (Rallus limicola) is a small waterbird, of the family Rallidae. These birds remain fairly common despite continuing loss of habitat, but are secretive by nature and more often heard than seen. They are also considered a game species in some provinces and states, though rarely hunted. The Ecuadorian rail is often considered a subspecies, but some taxonomic authorities consider it distinct.
White-Crowned Sparrow Zonotrichia leucophrys
As promised above, I have very little to add to Wikipedia‘s short description:
The white-crowned sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys) is a species of passerine bird native to North America. A medium-sized member of the American sparrow family, this species is marked by a grey face and black and white streaking on the upper head. It breeds in brushy areas in the taiga and tundra of the northernmost parts of the continent and in the Rocky Mountains and Pacific coast. While southerly populations in the Rocky Mountains and coast are largely resident, the breeding populations of the northerly part of its range are migratory and can be found as wintering or passage visitors through most of North America south to central Mexico.
The Audubon’s warbler (Setophaga auduboni or Setophaga coronata auduboni) is a small New World warbler.
This passerinebird was long known to be closely related to its eastern counterpart, the myrtle warbler, and at various times the two forms have been classed as separate species or grouped as the yellow-rumped warbler, Setophaga coronata. The two forms probably diverged when the eastern and western populations were separated in the last ice age.
In North America, the discovery of a hybrid zone between the two forms in western Canada led the American Ornithologists’ Union in 1973 to recognize them as a single species.
Audubon’s warbler has a westerly distribution. It breeds in much of western Canada, the western United States, and into Mexico. It is migratory, wintering from the southern parts of the breeding range into western Central America.
The summer male Audubon’s warbler has a slate blue back, and yellow crown, rump and flank patch. It has white tail patches, and the breast is streaked black. The female has a similar pattern, but the back is brown, as are the breast streaks.
This form is distinguished from the myrtle warbler by its lack of a whitish eyestripe, its yellow throat, and concolorous cheek patch.
The breeding habitat is a variety of coniferous and mixed woodland. Audubon’s warblers nest in a tree, laying four or five eggs in a cup nest.
These birds are insectivorous, but will readily take berries in winter, when they form small flocks.
The song is a simple trill. The call is a hard check.