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Rare and special places not protected by government

Viewpoint, Gulf Islands Driftwood, October 02, 2003

By Donna Martin

Anyone who has seen Walker Hook recognizes that it is a special place.

Even our government has recognized and documented that there are three rare and fragile, sensitive ecosystems on this site. A salt marsh wetland, a sparsely vegetated sand spit and a coastal bluff/woodland complex. Only 1.9 per cent of the entire Gulf Islands contains either wetland, sparsely vegetated or coastal bluff ecosystems. Walker Hook contains all three.

Envirorunent Canada has warned that even minor changes to wetland hydrology, or limited changes in nitrogen or phosphorous levels, can harm and reduce the area in which specific wetland inhabitants can live.

First Nations have used this land for hundreds of years and kept it pristine. The elders warn that if further development occurs, the entire tombolo, where their ancestors are buried, will be washed away. Despite these warnings, Sablefin Hatcheries Ltd. has dug up this fragile spit and intends to pump filtered hatchery effluent into it. The filtering removes solids but does not address the nutrient loading or any chemicals or medicines used in the hatchery, or the massive quantities of water that will be removed and reinfused into the spit.

The tombolo (sandspit) is one of the largest archaeological sites recorded in the southern Gulf lslands. There is no siting criteria for aquaculture development that recognizes the fragility of this area. It is disturbing that an industrial aquaculture facility can be sited in an environmentally sensitive area. It is a tragedy that any company would filter its effluent through a First Nations gravesite.

Perhaps the greater tragedy is that our government and industry don't recognize when development is inappropriate and when to protect rare and special places.

As a community we've voiced our opinion. We have requested an environmental impact study. We have had many meetings (with standing-room-only attendance) with our trustees and with government officials. We have written a record number of letters to our trustees. We have written to all government levels and parties. And what have we received? Only polite replies thanking us for our concern. It is important to note that the islands trustees did not approve the subdivision of this land for the purpose of this development. It was the provincial government, who in direct opposition to local wishes, authorized this project to proceed.

The provincial government is using the Right to Farm Act to disregard local democracy. While we see Walker Hook as worthy of protection, the provincial government and industry see it as an economic opportunity. First Nations know better than anyone what happens when industry and government ignore people, how we lose culture, heritage and environment.

The irony is that Environment Canada supports our efforts to conserve this ecologically valuable site yet the provincial Liberal government is determined to ram aquaculture down our throats to the benefit of a few and to the huge cost of our collective legacy to future generations.

What can you do? Educate yourself, read Fishy Business by Dale Marshall, available at www.policyalternatives.ca; Net Cage Aquaculture by Neil Frazer; and Those Who Fell From the Sky: A History of the Cowichan Peoples by Dan Marshal.

Write letters to John van Dongen at the MinistIy of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, and letters of support to the Penelakut First Nation, PO Box 360, Chemainus, BC, VOK1KO. Donate to the Syuhe'mun Defence Fund. The fund's purpose is to preserve Syuhe'mun by various means, including public education, research and legal action. All donated funds will be held in a lawyer's trust account. Myrus James, as advised by the Penelakut elders, will be the trustee.

The writer works with SSI Residents for Responsible Land Use in opposition to the industrialization of Walker Hook.

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