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
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