Welcome to Garden City conservation

October 27, 2016

For Roberts Bank Terminal 2, scroll down to the two articles below this one.


Richmond, British Columbia, Canada has long been known as the Garden City. This blog aims to provide informed in-depth opinion on a range of conservation issues of interest to the Garden City community, which is centred in Richmond but extends around B.C. and the globe.


Background for newcomers

It began when the citizens had a vision for the Garden City Lands, a 136-acre field in the city centre that had always been green through historical good fortune. By acting together and with BC’s Agricultural Land Commission process, they saved it—from dense multi-billion-dollar development—for the higher value of its Agricultural Land Reserve uses for community wellness. That is one of Richmond’s priceless legacies from the past for the present and the future 20, 50 and 100 years or more from now.

Turn down the pH in here!The lands have become a city park, with a major park enhancement process under way, and the citizens aim to help steward the lands in the ALR for agricultural, ecological and open-land park uses for community wellness. That would include restoration of the sphagnum bog on much of the lands. Sphagnum moss, illustrated at right, is the keystone genus (group of species) that spent millennia leading the forming of the lands.

We began as the Garden City Lands Coalition and evolved into the Garden City Conservation Society, active in various conservation issues in Richmond and beyond, with many “Friends of Garden City.” 

Coming Events

Richmond Tree Bylaw Information Meeting, Thursday, Oct. 27, 6–8 pm, City Hall. Details here. Went well! There’s an encore session on Thursday, Nov. 26, at the West Richmond Community Centre, 9180 No. 1 Road.

massey-poster_2016-10-18Alternative Open House on Massey Bridge/Tunnel Project, Thursday, Oct. 27, 7 pm (Doors open 6:30), Ladner Community Centre. Hosted by Delta-Richmond Council of Canadians. Panelists include Coun. Harold Steves. Press release. Free.

Friday, October 28 is the deadline to respond to the Review Panel for the federal environmental assessment about the Roberts Bank Terminal 2 project.

Respond to the Environmental Assessment Review Panel re Roberts Bank Terminal 2 by Oct 28, 2016

October 24, 2016
Rendering of proposed Terminal 2, Roberts Bank

Rendering of proposed Terminal 2, Roberts Bank, Delta, British Columbia

If you have concerns about Port Metro Vancouver’s proposed Terminal 2 at Roberts Bank, you have till Friday, October 28 to respond. (That’s until midnight, but send your comments before 9 p.m. Pacific Time to be safe.)

Email to the Review Panel, Roberts Bank Terminal 2 Project, Panel.RBT2@ceaa.gc.ca, with your comments in the message or an attachment.

If you’re still learning about it, you could scroll down to “Roberts Bank Terminal 2 versus environment,” the article just below this one, for background.

Also, Delta conservationist Susan Jones knows the issue better than anyone, and she has prepared this sheet of “Many reasons to reject Terminal 2 at Roberts Bank.” It’s a Word document so that it’s easy to copy and paste points—and typically then refine them for one’s comments to the review panel.

Your submission does not have to be long.  The following are two examples of short but powerful letters that have been submitted:

We wish to go on record as being adamantly OPPOSED to any further expansion of the Deltaport. Volumes have been written outlining the fact the flyway for migrating birds will be adversely affected. After it has been done, there will be little gratification in hearing those responsible say “sorry”.

The location of the proposed terminal is the best Dungeness crab grounds on the Fraser river flats. There is no way that these crab grounds can be duplicated anywhere else. This is a shame if those grounds are lost. It looks to me that Port Metro won’t give up until they turn Delta into an industrial park regardless of habitat and the environment.

On the Terminal 2 page at the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, you can see various ways to follow up. One way is to look at some of the comments the Review Panel has received so far.

Please take action by mailing your comments now.



Roberts Bank Terminal 2 versus environment

October 23, 2016
Port Metro Vancouver rendering of Terminal 2 (lower left) on Roberts Bank, south of Richmond

Port Metro Vancouver rendering of Terminal 2 (lower left) on Roberts Bank, south of Richmond

Port Metro Vancouver, with its self-granted “supremacy” over Metro Vancouver and the ALR, has changed its name—to Port of Vancouver—but kept its ways. They’re not so great for our island city and estuary, the Fraser River Estuary. That’s a challenge.

A current issue is the port’s proposal for Roberts Bank Terminal 2. It would require an artificial island twice the size of the Garden City Lands. As well, aspects like a widened causeway and dredging would make the project directly harmful to wildlife and fish in a much larger area.

A B.C. Ministry of Environment guide describes what’s at stake: “Estuaries, formed where rivers enter the ocean and fresh water mixes with the saltwater environment, are among the most productive ecosystems on earth.” That’s still fairly true of ours, but the port’s empire building doesn’t help.

Fortunately, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency has a review panel assessing Terminal 2. At the panel’s request, Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) recently expressed its view, which is subtly scathing.

Excerpt: “ECCC concludes that there is a risk of significant adverse environmental effects to biofilm and consequently migratory shorebirds, in particular Western Sandpiper. Resultantly, the predicted effectiveness of the proposed monitoring and follow-up program is insufficient.”

And “Changes to biofilm composition at Roberts Bank have the potential to affect nutrient availability at Brunswick Point during the key spring migratory period, which could have species-level consequences to migratory birds.”

The wonder-food biofilm, along with the vast but at-risk flocks that refuel with it, is a well-known ecological factor. Yet the port brushed it off!

I should also mention that 15 million cubic metres of fill would be dumped in the estuary to form the Terminal 2 island. It’s almost impossible to find that much clean fill, and much of the fill would likely be laced with PCBs. After building up in fish, those chemicals can harm the health of fish eaters.

For British Columbia, especially Richmond and our estuary, there’s a much better alternative to Terminal 2. It could even be good for the port (as a crown corporation), with a chance to regain respect in a new role after getting too full of itself. I’ll have to save the solution for another “Digging Deep.”

For now, you know enough to become involved if you wish. If you’d like to comment to the review panel, act quickly. Deadline: This Friday, October 28.

In any case, by getting this far you’ve already done something to help. You’ve grown in awareness, and it adds up.

Basically,  you can put your comments in an email or in an attachment to the email. Then send it to Panel.RBT2@ceaa.gc.ca. For more tips and links, go to this short and helpful article.

Richmond Tree Protection Bylaw Information Sessions

October 22, 2016

Update, Oct. 27: It went well! There’s an encore session on Thursday, Nov. 26, at the West Richmond Community Centre, 9180 No. 1 Road.

The City of Richmond is holding Info Sessions on the Tree Protection Bylaw. The first one is on Thursday, October 27, from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m., at the Thompson Community Centre, 5151 Granville Avenue, Richmond.

The purpose of the session is to outline how trees are assessed for both retention and removal. There will also be information about the city’s street tree program.

Sharon MacGougan, President, Garden City Conservation Society, Richmond, BCGarden City Conservation has been working with Save Richmond Trees, a group concerned about the significant loss of mature trees from neighbourhoods. I have made Garden City Conservation Society recommendations to council about this, and Cindy Lee and others have come up with Tree Group Strategies.

The information sessions are an opportunity to learn and have our concerns heard. Please consider attending one of the sessions to speak for trees.

Sharon MacGougan
President, Garden City Conservation Society

Trudeau gov’t favours dirty U.S. coal, not our agriculture and eco-rich river?

October 13, 2016

Hon. Lawrence MacAulay, Canadian Minister of Agriculture“Port development trumps agriculture: federal minister MacAulay” says the headline of Country life in BC, October 2016. It adds, “Senior level of gov’t has the right to exclude BC farms from land reserve.” Breathtaking, like a sucker punch to the solar plexus.

A bit of relief begins with the date of his comment, September 12, two weeks before Steveston–Richmond East MP Joe Peschisolido hosted Hon. Lawrence MacAulay (right), along with many Richmond citizens, at Richmond Country Farms  on September 25. MacAulay is Agriculture Minister in the Trudeau government.

As far as I can tell, Joe Peschisolido is trying hard to represent his constituents. When Joe introduced me to the minister, I tried to share a little related insight (with little response), and Joe told me later that he had turned that into an opportunity to explain our Richmond/BC perspective.

So far I’ve seen no tangible result, but I’m still hoping that something is in the works, especially since the threat of deep dredging of the Fraser River ship channel is so closely tied to the still-absent federal environmental assessment of the “Port Metro Bridge” project.

I’ll share the main part of the Country Life article below and then an outstanding letter to the minister and others from Susan Jones of the Boundary Bay Conservation Committee and then a link to an also-excellent Stephen Rees blog post.


Here’s the letter from Susan Jones to the minister, prime minster et al.:

Federal Liberal Government misled by Port of Vancouver misinformation

It is alarming that the new Liberal Government of Canada is being completely misled by the Port of Vancouver.  

It is difficult to believe the statements by the federal Minister of Agriculture, Lawrence MacAulay in reference to B.C. agricultural land protected by the provincial Agricultural Land Reserve: “Lower Mainland farmland could be sacrificed to ensure agri-food exports can move to market quickly and efficiently, federal agriculture minister Lawrence MacAulay told Country Life in BC” (“Port Development trumps B.C. agriculture: federal minister MacAulay, Country Life in B.C., October 2016).”

Canada wants to increase export-ready agri-food exports to China and other Asian countries.  It is ironic that the Port of Vancouver claims it needs to industrialize Canada’s best farmland in order to export agricultural products.

There is no evidence to support the claim that we need to industrialize farmland.  This is a ploy by the Port of Vancouver to expand its real estate holdings which will enrich the crown corporation and associates.  It has nothing to do with sensible port business.

Exporting agricultural products has been, and continues to be, important to the Canadian economy.  It can continue without using the precious 5% B.C. farmland.  

The largest increase in agricultural exports is wheat and other grains, which are being accommodated by a new massive grain terminal in North Vancouver.

In terms of processed foods, which were stressed in the article, Vancouver exported 20% more tonnage in 2010 than in 2015.

Fraser Surrey Docks is a wonderful terminal with a large stretch of industrial land which is ideal for the export of specialty crops and processed foods.  The current plans for funneling dirty US thermal coal through this great site are uneconomical and a waste of our precious port lands.             

The Prime Minister and federal Ministers of Agriculture, Transport, Natural Resources, Environment, Fisheries, and Trade don’t seem to be aware they are being duped by the Port of Vancouver.  Isn’t it time to stop listening to paid lobbyists and old guard civil servants and advisors? 

Isn’t it time to listen to public concerns about protecting the ecosystems of the Fraser River delta which interactively support the world’s best salmon river, Canada’s rich farmland, and Canada’s Most Important Bird Area for shorebirds, waterfowl and birds of prey?

For further insight, see Stephen Rees’s blog post, “Port development trumps agriculture.”

Is the Christy Clark Bridge the best way?

October 11, 2016

Christy Clark’s “vanity bridge” adventure is hurtling the wrong way. Can anyone save the day?

Superman? Batman? Richmond?

Christy Clark Bridge

Richmond can! Council’s Harold Steves, Malcolm Brodie, Carol Day and Linda McPhail have enlisted Metro Vancouver and other allies. With public support, they’re striving to get through to our premier or, if necessary, the next one.

As well, they’re seeking a federal environmental assessment. It’s crucial and urgent.

But a change requires an alternative. Luckily, a prior BC Liberal government developed a better plan than Christy’s.

To begin, the BC Liberal plan assumes the seismic upgrade of the existing Massey Tunnel will be completed. (A decade ago, the upgrade stalled after the internal phase, leaving tunnel users at undue risk until the external phase gets done.)

The external seismic upgrade will stabilize the ground around the four-lane legacy tube—the existing tunnel—and its approaches. It should benefit from advances in methods in the lost years, as well as insights from recent seismic analysis for bridge purposes.

Beyond that, the plan envisions an added two-lane tunnel tube, better interchanges and overpasses, and an extensive transit strategy.

The transit aspect features a high-capacity Rapid Bus route on Highway 99 between White Rock and Bridgeport, with a dedicated lane each way for “clean energy buses” and emergency vehicles.

Shoulder bus lanes have gradually appeared along the highway. The present need is for many more buses, along with related transit action such as a big increase in Canada Line capacity. That would reduce car use, freeing road space for other transport.

The new tunnel tube will be placed in a new trench, a little east of the legacy tube, though still seen as part of the Massey Tunnel.

The new tube will have to be installed in time to replace the legacy tube when it undergoes major renovations, closing a pair of lanes at a time. After that, there’ll be six good lanes.

By now, it’s apparent that Christy Clark’s bridge adventure would cost more than stated, but even the stated $3.5 billion could fund the BC Liberal plan very well with a couple of billion to spare. (No need for tolls!)

As well, preempting the cost overrun of the Christy plan could enable seismic retrofit of the B.C. schools that still need funding for it. That might save many families from tragedy.

Also vital: While the Christy plan would assist deep dredging of the Fraser ship channel, the BC Liberal plan deters it. That averts severe harm to the river’s ecology, including already-stressed salmon runs, and to the river delta’s agriculture, including Richmond’s.

It’s time to move on from the “vanity bridge,” a towering symbol made of folly.

The alternative, the dusted-off Liberal plan, is feasible, and it will enable efficient cross-river trips. If they’re pleasant, reliable and safe for all kinds of users, that will be success.

“Massey bridge” screams for independent review

September 20, 2016

For me, George Massey Tunnel replacement problems such as defiled estuary, misused billions and traffic constipation multiply and merge like a nightmare interchange.

We can thank Richmond staff and council—and Metro Vancouver too—for addressing the mega-problem. We can thank the Massey Project and MLA John Yap for illustrating it.

Model of Steveston Interchange if a bridge replaces the tunnel between Richmond and Delta. Photo courtesy of Richmond Councillor Carol Day.

Above, a photo of a Massey Project 3-D model looks south where Steveston Highway meets Highway 99 in 2022, a few billion dollars from now.

Years ago, ahead of its time, the province came up with a much simpler Steveston Interchange redesign than that. I liked it and featured it in an April 2013 “Digging Deep” column. It would have quickly paid off in traffic safety and commuter time saved.

john-yapThat brings us to the Yap precept in a recent Richmond News column: “To do less than replace the tunnel would shamefully and irresponsibly risk the safety of daily commuters.”

Mr. Yap unwittingly implies that Premier Christy Clark is shameful and irresponsible.

How’s that? As late as November 2012, Mr. Yap applauded the premier’s announcement of “the start of work to twin or increase the capacity of the George Massey Tunnel.” (That’s from a John Yap “Constituency Report,” a Shaw TV service to let MLAs showcase themselves.) His comments conveyed that Ms. Clark was not set on removing the tunnel.

Strangely, he didn’t call her irresponsible for that. Later, he stayed silent when the Massey Project’s “Exploring the Options” phase offered four options that are “shameful” by his suspect standards. (All four require seismic upgrades, which he calls “not possible without the risk of damaging the tunnel.”)

Three years ago, the premier announced her choice. To no one’s surprise, it was the fifth option, a big bridge. A few months ago, she began listing safety above congestion as the top reason for the choice, with lots of hype and not much substance.

Looking back, I keep wondering why Mr. Yap didn’t act years earlier to spare us from “irresponsible” thoughts about keeping the tunnel. He was already an MLA when a 2007 report supposedly indicated “serious concerns the tunnel could shift during the required in-stream excavation and stone columns installation” to enhance the tunnel.

Why “supposedly”? When I checked the 2007 report, it said “low risk of accidental damage” (low, not serious) and offered ways to manage it. I mentioned that weeks ago in a column that debunked the safety-scare tactics. As I said then, “we need an independent, wide-reaching and fast-acting analysis of the safety aspect of the Massey options.”

And the project continues to need a federal environmental assessment by a review panel. It’s vital for conserving our vibrant Fraser estuary. I mention it now because we’re being distracted from seeking it.

To end on the bright side, let’s be glad our Richmond and Metro leaders are acting with real vision.


Update, Sept. 21, 2016: Mr. Yap’s guest column has already drawn a scathing response from a Richmond citizen, Amy Brooks. InBC Liberals’ bridge trumps our children” in today’s Richmond News, she writes, in part:

My question is, wouldn’t seismically upgrading schools in the Lower Mainland also provide construction jobs, as well as making where children spend a quarter of their day actually safe? For the BC Liberals, it appears commuter safety trumps children’s safety.

Massey transmission needs federal review

September 13, 2016

BC Hydro’s rendering of two future transmission towers, 75 and 120 metres tall, carrying high-voltage power lines over Deas Island Regional Park and then over the Fraser to another 120-metre tower (not shown) in Richmond. The view looks northeast toward a rendered Massey bridge.

“I am deeply concerned about the overhead transmission lines. What are the health risks? How would it affect the viewscape?” Those comments from Carol Day, a Richmond councillor, stemmed from a Richmond News article, “BC Hydro reveal plans to reroute power lines from a decommissioned Massey Tunnel.”

The context: In Hydro’s illustration, the two transmission towers fading behind a tree would be on the west side of Deas Island Regional Park, near the south and north shores. Transmission lines would hang between them.

From Deas Island in Delta, the lines would be suspended over the Fraser River to a third tower on the Richmond side. It is not depicted, perhaps so it won’t be noticed until it rises higher than a 37-storey building.

My response to the concerns: There was a long struggle in Tsawwassen about electromagnetic fields (EMFs) from high-voltage overhead lines, with possible links to problems like leukemia. If towers start dangling high-voltage lines over the park, there won’t be much left of viewscapes and viewers.

As a recent Metro Vancouver report puts it, “The proposed bridge and the associated BC Hydro transmission relocation project will . . . create permanent noise, debris and visual impacts.”

Sensibly, the City of Richmond has insisted that the towers are the worst option for a transmission route. Despite “consultation” with Richmond, Metro and a few citizens, Hydro has stuck to the decision it started with.

An engineer who took part in the consultation as a Delta resident tells me it’s safe and easy enough to lay transmission cable “within a box girder on, under or above the bridge deck.” For Hydro, though, it’s cheaper to quickly build separately—with no careful cooperating—before people catch on.

To Hydro: To save a thousand times as much, stop Site C. Or, to help enable a transmission cable under the riverbed, get Port Metro Vancouver to not dredge the ship channel four metres deeper. That might even save $3.5 billion, the stated cost of a bridge.

The urgent need is for a federal environmental assessment, preferably by review panel, to address the overall impact of the Massey project, including Hydro and Port Metro aspects. It would have teeth, unlike the feeble B.C. assessment that ignores such aspects.

Our best chance is to support the powers who care. That would involve Metro Vancouver and at least one Member of Parliament with influence in Ottawa and a belief in action for the nature of the Fraser.


This article was also published in the Richmond News as a Digging Deep column, “Transmission lines plan needs review,” September 7, 2016.

Some premier tunnel-safety tips

August 17, 2016

premier-christy-clark-from-common-sense-canadianSafety has become Premier Christy Clark’s top reason to scrap the Massey Tunnel, and she’s voiced three safety concerns on TV. I’ll ask her about them.

Concern 1: Christy, on Shaw’s “Voice of BC,” you told Vaughn Palmer, “If there was an earthquake of significant size, everyone who was in the tunnel would probably never walk out.” Actually, though, an early warning system was installed years ago to reduce the risk.

After an earthquake, sensors pick up harmless seismic waves that arrive much sooner than destructive seismic waves. As CBC News put it, “The moment the sensor detects the first waves of a damaging earthquake, the tunnel closes to traffic.” Vehicles can’t get in, but the ones already in can head out.

Concern 2: Christy, you told Global News, “There is a vital safety issue in the Massey Tunnel. In ten years, that tunnel will no longer be safe to navigate.” Navigate? You may be conflating the need to refurbish the tunnel in ten years (ventilation, lighting, etc.) with your wish to remove it so a deeper channel can be dredged for mega-tankers.

Concern 3: On Shaw and Global, you warned about a major earthquake (magnitude 7.0): “Communities on the other side of the river would be cut off, so we have an urgent safety issue to deal with.” Want a suggestion, Christy? Add a two-lane tunnel tube for transit and emergency services—at high seismic standards. (Many people favour solutions like that.)

Readers, let’s hope this gets the premier’s fears on track. Maybe she’ll add the new tube right away? I also suggest she revive a half-done risk-reduction project.

The Massey Tunnel safety risk is mainly from flooding via cracks. The project’s interior phase, which was completed a decade ago, improved the tunnel’s strength and flexibility to meet a set standard: one hour to get out. The exterior phase was put off to save money.

Thanks to technology advances while we waited, this phase is more valuable than ever. At a hundredth the cost of the touted “Port Metro Bridge”!

It would reduce liquefaction, using the best current methods to keep the tunnel aligned and usable. It would also quakeproof the tunnel approaches/exits, replace crash magnets like the Steveston Interchange, and upgrade overpasses. Vehicles leaving the tunnel would then have a drivable route in emergencies.

But the province has recently disparaged this still-needed phase of the old project. They say a 2007 report indicated “serious concerns the tunnel could shift during the required in-stream excavation and stone columns installation.” Not really. It actually said “low risk of accidental damage” and offered ways to manage it.

Christy, to put safety first, we need an independent, wide-reaching and fast-acting analysis of the safety aspect of the Massey options that the current project and informed citizens propose. That includes the bridge, and my engineer advisor is concerned about earthquake-safety questions the bridge team doesn’t know how to answer.

We do know that earthquakes happen. So Christy, please act today. Thank you!

This article was published as a Digging Deep column, “I have safety concerns over Christy Clark,” in the Richmond News, August 17, 2016, and as “Premier questioned over tunnel safety,” August 26, 2016.

Learning from wildlife in the Lulu Island Bog

July 27, 2016

“Friends in the Lulu Island Bog”—butterfly, vole and killdeer with bog blueberry and peat moss. Suzanna Wright art, courtesy of the Garden City Conservation Society.

Note: To download Lulu Island Bog colouring sheets and coloured artwork, see “Colouring the Lulu Island Bog,” the article below this one.

The Lulu Island Bog is a treasure of biodiversity. For conserving the Garden City, it’s a natural place to start.

Ready for an armchair tour? Let’s look at the “Friends in the Lulu Island Bog” tableau, a cartoon that stars a small mammal, a bird and an insect.

The setting is a series of four large peat-bog remnants north of Westminster Highway. They stretch from Jacombs Road to Garden City Road.

At lower left in the tableau, a vole pops up for a peak. It better be quick, since one usually sees voles on the bog as bones in coyote scat. And raptors strike fast too.

A local vole like ours got its colour photo in a wonderful book about the Lulu Island Bog. The book details the findings of a study that—among other methods—trapped, recorded and released small mammals unharmed.

Both book and study are called “A Biophysical Inventory and Evaluation of the Lulu Island Bog.” The Richmond Nature Park Society published the book in 2008.

At 356 pages, it is thorough and fascinating. You can pick it up for only $20 at the Richmond Nature House. While you’re there, enjoy the exhibits and Nature Park trails.

If you love a challenge like spotting a vole in its habitat, go to the Richmond Nature Study Area at the east end of the bog. Enter from Jacombs Road near the corner with Westminster Highway. The inventory study found many voles there in dense salal.

The butterfly in “Friends of the Lulu Island Bog” is a western tiger swallowtail. The study found lots of them along Shell Road, between the Nature Park and the Department of Natonal Defence (DND) Lands.

The cheerful bird is a killdeer, or ring-necked plover. Killdeers have often nested in the gravel of the main Garden City Lands entrance from Garden City Road at the west end of the bog.

Near the killdeer in the tableau, you’ll notice bog blueberries, which First Nations people and settlers used to gather. The bushes are short. Bog blueberry thrives on the Lands because the city mows the area annually, which limits taller invasive plants.

Peat moss (sphagnum) is the keystone species of the bog ecosystem. It flourishes best in the DND Lands. We need the federal government to keep protecting that area.

Colouring the Lulu Island Bog

July 10, 2016

As my Digging Deep column in the July 13th Richmond News says, you can download Lulu Island Bog colouring sheets from this blog. Here they are, along with examples coloured by the artist:


And here’s the column, “A timeless story of the Lulu Island Bog.”

The lively tableau below depicts native pollinators with native plants in the Lulu Island Bog.

The native birds and insects were here long before Europeans brought honeybees to North America. In recent years, a disorder that wiped out many honeybee colonies was a stark reminder of the need to conserve robust native diversity.


At top left in the tableau, with the Pacific crabapple blossoms, there’s a rufous hummingbird. It weighs only a few grams, yet it migrates north from Mexico in spring and south again in the fall.

On the right, feeding from a fireweed flower, there’s an Anna’s hummingbird. It’s so hardy that it lives here all year round.

The bumblebee in the middle is gathering nectar from a bog laurel flower.

At bottom left, a painted lady is flying above the peat moss—sphagnum moss, the keystone species. This kind of butterfly likes rain, but it migrates to warmer climes when the weather gets cool.

Also at bottom, a blue orchard bee is almost hidden among the bog cranberries. Naturally, blue orchard bees are good at pollinating fruit flowers.

By the way, all the native plants in the tableau except the bog laurel have traditional uses for food, warmth, health care, etc. One never knows when a further value will emerge, but for now the bog laurel is pretty, and the bumblebee likes it.

The Lulu Island Bog extends from Westminster Highway north to Alderbridge Way and from Garden City Road east to Jacombs Road. It’s two square kilometres of remnants of peat bogs that once covered almost half of Lulu Island.

The Lulu Island Bog is also called the Central Wetlands. That’s fitting, since the peat bog keeps losing ground to “succession,” evolving to bog forest and fen, which is wetland without the peat moss, bog shrubs and acidic water of bogs.

The decline of the bog ecosystem makes the surviving peat bog more precious—worth restoring and enhancing. Besides conserving natural legacies, the Lulu Island Bog has an interpretive centre, the Nature House, in the Richmond Nature Park.

Each April, there’s a “Hummingbird Homecoming” event in the park. In summer, the fen in the southeast corner of the wetlands (beside Garden City Road) is abuzz with native bees.

People picked up hundreds of Lulu Island Bog colouring sheets like the pollinator one from the Garden City Conservation booth at the Salmon Festival. As well, you can download them from the top of this article.

Tableaus condense natural scenes, and this one uses cartoon style. Still, artist Suzanna Wright and ecology advisor Michael Wolfe, who are teachers, have kept it true to life.


Note: This blog has a related article,Pollinating in the Lulu Island Bog,” from a year ago.

Natural success with Sharon MacGougan

June 29, 2016

Sharon MacGougan, President, Garden City Conservation Society, Richmond, BCThe Garden City Conservation Society has a new president, Sharon MacGougan. This may make it easier for the City of Richmond to join with the community in conserving the Garden City, the ecosystem of Richmond.

I’ve come to appreciate Sharon as a colleague, especially in her role as vice president for the past two years. Let me introduce you.

A lifelong Richmond resident, Sharon takes special interest in trees and their various benefits. For instance, their branches enable homes for songbirds, and their root systems are typically teaming with life. Sharon is always sharing insights on topics like that on Facebook at Save Richmond Trees and Garden City Conservation.

Thanks to trees, Richmond’s neighbourhoods have been vibrant natural networks, but moonscaping by developers keeps wiping them out. Yet the City has an impressive Ecological Network Management Strategy. Sharon likes to work with City staff and citizens to make the published strategy the living reality.

In other words, Sharon bucks the trend in order to help the Garden City ecosystem to survive and thrive—to help restore the natural value that’s being wasted. That’s what I’ve seen in action.

Unlike the previous president, me, Sharon is petite and soft-spoken. At the same time, she is expert in White Crane Kung Fu, which she has taught for many years.

Of course, conservationists value diversity, and Sharon is diverse. For instance, she’s a retired band teacher who wrote manuals for music teachers, and her fiction writing includes a novel, The Mayan Mysteries.

That title hints at Sharon’s immersion in Mexico, where she has visited many Mayan sacred sites, become an Aztec dancer, and grown in her lifelong gratitude for the natural world.

Sharon has ongoing involvement with Amnesty International, with a focus on indigenous issues. She is a former chair of Amnesty International Canada. And she has remained a habitually happy person.

As the new Garden City Conservation president, Sharon leads a close-knit group of capable directors. Along with thousands of supporters over the past nine years, we happily give our best efforts to the Garden City community.

Often the community puts the City in a position to succeed, as with the Garden City Lands. These days, a great need is to succeed together in turning the tide for the Garden City ecosystem, along with respect for the legacy name “Garden City.”

Sharon MacGougan will lead well, and together we will succeed.


Notes: The past president, Jim Wright, is still a director. This article is also published in the Richmond News of 29 June 2016 as the Digging Deep columnNatural success, with our new president.”

2015–16 Year in Review — Garden City Conservation Society

June 21, 2016

interactive Save Garden City bumper stickerThis accomplishment of Garden City Conservation this past year may seem small: finally helping the City of Richmond to try harder to get the most from the ALR values of the Garden City Lands than to get around the ALR status. But it’s a milestone.

Most Friends of Garden City took action for that, at least by signing a petition, many years ago when the future looked bleak until we saw through the challenges. For some, it has taken ten years or more to get this far.

Mary Gazetas, R.I.P., image adapted from photo by Chung Chow, Richmond NewsAs the late Mary Gazetas, a key founder of the society, would say, “Keep at it. It’s worth it.” We now happily apply the same optimistic tenacity toward conserving the Garden City ecosystem, the estuary, and the province and world beyond.

Please see for yourself in the full 2015–16 Year in Review, as well as at the Annual Gathering on the evening of Thursday, June 23.


Note: The Save Garden City logo at top right is one version of our logo bumper stickers. Mysteriously, a couple of letters from “Garden City” at the bottom had disappeared when the donor who made them delivered them. As a conservation society, we chose to make them the interactive version. People noticing them tend to fill in the missing letters and thereby have at least a small “Save Garden City” role.

New president of Garden City Conservation

June 16, 2016

Sharon MacGouganAll going well, Sharon MacGougan will succeed Jim Wright as president of the Garden City Conservation Society on June 23, 2016. Sharon has been vice president for the past two years.

No stranger to leadership, Sharon is a former local president of Amnesty International and then president of Amnesty International Canada.

A career band teacher, Sharon is the published author of two books about teaching music, and she went on to publish a novel, The Mayan Mysteries. She is actually dressed for promoting that book in the photo at right.

Sharon also teaches kung fu and (not necessarily related) was the president of a local non-partisan group, Team Richmond, that helped elect candidates in Richmond elections.

Sharon likes to work with the City of Richmond in implementing its excellent Ecological Network Management Strategy, which can be thought of as an approach to restoring the Garden City. She was pleased with the response to her Earth Day 2016 letter to the City (delivered on behalf of  Garden City Conservation) on that topic.

Sharon is currently also active in Save Richmond Trees. That is in keeping with her personal commitment to saving trees and bird habitat and her ongoing related efforts with Garden City Conservation.

At the Annual Gathering on Thursday, June 23, 2016, Sharon will lead a half-hour discussion to bring out the directions that are important to members. That could well include trees, but it’s up to the members.

If you support the Garden City Conservation purposes and wish to take part in the Annual Gathering, please respond with this innovative RSVP form.


Note: Scroll up for a newer and more thorough article about Sharon MacGougan as the new president of the Garden City Conservation Society.

Garden City Lands as a model for the world

June 10, 2016

Update, June 12: I eventually submitted—to Let’s Talk Richmond—this chart of input about the Garden City Lands as one of the world’s great central parks.

This post is a slightly filled-out version of a recent Digging Deep column in the Richmond News. To further fill this out, you will find a number of related articles by scrolling down, as well as the above chart (added on June 12, 2016).



Background for the Let’s Talk Richmond feedback form for the Garden City Lands project.

The City of Richmond project to enhance the Garden City Lands is gaining momentum, so it’s time for a shared challenge. Let’s bring the Lands, our central park, to the top echelon of the world’s parks.

The community has always wanted to help steward the Lands with ALR values for agriculture, ecological conservation and open-land park recreation for community wellness. The land has stayed ready too.

satellite image of Garden City Lands, with darkness showing wetnessIt hasn’t been altered yet. It’s now best not to build dike-road trails this year, and that’s lucky.

To illustrate, the satellite photo at right is old but looks current. If you’re new to this, the Lands are the large field bordered by Westminster Hwy (south edge), Garden City Rd (west), Alderbridge Way (north), and No. 4 Rd (east). Each stretch of arterial road is about half a mile long (800 metres).


(re  Let’s Talk Richmond feedback form)

In this window of opportunity, what will it take to succeed?

  1. Focus on the goal of an ALR central park that celebrates the ALR.
  2. Ensure full benefit from the Garden City Conservation Society, with its insight and commitment. It exists to help like this. Consult them.
  3. Ensure accessibility. Design the infrastructure—such as dike-road trails—for wheelchairs, mobility walkers and strollers.
  4. Ensure ample capacity. That means, for example, wide-enough trails for the highest anticipated use, looking far ahead. It might also mean a long and narrow parking area on the Lands beside No. 4 Road.
  5. Be radically inclusive. Take the perspectives of people living with poverty, social anxiety, security concerns when near woods, need for nearby washrooms, etc. (Helpful action will tend to benefit all users.)
  6. hugelkulturEncourage all sorts of agriculture. For example, permaculturists might love to use hügelkultur to make a hard-to-irrigate part bounteous. Also, foresee how much land will be needed for community gardens in the future (10 ha, 25 acres?), and ensure that interim uses will improve the soil.
  7. Use dike-road trails around the restorable sphagnum bog on the east side to enable bog-specific steps. Save the southwest fen, a distinct and thriving ecosystem with native pollinators. Also consider a bird-oriented feature like the Terra Nova Natural Area.
  8. Act promptly toward a range of bog restoration methods, including those of Canadian peat moss associations and the Camosun Bog Restoration Group.
  9. On the north edge, re-establish a mixed urban forest by transplanting trees that would be lost with demolitions. Also honour the perseverance of the Lands’ pioneer trees—the truncated shore pines and crabapple trees.
  10. Protect the green viewscapes and salvage the lost ones. (A viewscape takes in everything from a viewing point all the way to distant features such as mountains.) As it is now, people get angry when they look north across Alderbridge at the destruction by construction.
  11. Make the Lands an exemplary hub in Richmond’s Ecological Network Management Strategy, an outstanding plan to put into action.
  12. Live up to our role as a model for the world. (IESCO, a UN affiliate, selected us as an International Eco-Safety Demonstrative City in 2010.)

Readers, this will be the heart of my feedback at Let’s Talk Richmond. Download the current Garden City Lands PDF there and see pages 4 and 11. Beat the feedback deadline, June 12.


Scroll down (past the Welcome) for several more articles on this topic.

Restore the GCL peat bog excellently

June 3, 2016

GCL-peat-bog-conservation-areaNote: There is overlap between this article and earlier ones (lower on the web page). Although there is a bit of repetition, the emphasis is different  in each article.

A recent update by the team for the Garden City Lands park enhancement project left me wondering if they intend to restore the sphagnum peat bog at all.

Project maps show the bog as more than half the park, as shown at right.

For certain, we don’t need the ecosystem to evolve to bog forest. In the big picture of City of Richmond parks, the Richmond Nature Park already fills that role.

I believe that the sphagnum peat bog restoration is vital. It should begin first, even before the central dike-road trail. It could even have begun when the city got title six years ago. The need was clear in 2009 when the city offered to buy the Lands, and any buyer would look ahead.

The update identifies project phases, and there’s no bog restoration phase. It’s not even in the future phases, years down the road. So far the city just does an annual cutback on the Lands, which does have net value. (But I wish they’d stop lopping the stunted pines, which are red-listed in association with sphagnum.)

When I talked to project team members at the project’s open house, they at least seemed to have restoration in mind in a warm and fuzzy way. A start.

In any case, it’s crucial to restore the keystone species—the sphagnum peat mosses. And systematic effort is required. In contrast, it seems now that the legacy bog could actually be harmed by other phases unless the bog restoration becomes more credible soon.

rerouting central dike-road trailIt’s also crucial to restore an area that’s actually peat bog. The best available info is from local expert Michael Wolfe (2011) and project consultant Terry Taylor (2013). The diagram at right gives a sense of where the central trail would best be placed.

Since the project is also trying to create a fen (in the SW area, the diagram also shows how the perimeter trail could be jogged to conserve an existing fen with a distinct ecosystem the project would mostly destroy.

Note: Michael Wolfe recommends a modified area that retains the unique ecosystem but best suits the pollinators that have chosen to make their home in that southwest corner.

What must the Lands project do now to succeed?

May 31, 2016

Received a request: Tell us bluntly what the Garden City Lands project must do now to succeed.

Okay, but first a review. We’ll use the sky view of the Lands. It shows where water settles in rainy season. (Darker is wetter.)

Central dike road trail

The graphic also draws on findings about vegetation patterns by local expert Michael Wolfe (2011) and consultant Terry Taylor (2013), which were similar.

The green lines represent the main routes for dike-road trails. Notice the curving green line, the central dike-road trail.

As dikes, the trails retain rainwater in the sphagnum bog restoration area on the No. 4 Road side. That’s a natural legacy.

The bog ecosystem needs a high water table, so it’s good the bog area is wet. There’s a drier area near the centre, but it surrounds a wet saucer of sphagnum moss, the best patch of that keystone species.

The graphic was made for a column in early 2014, after citizens used a late-2013 survey to demand that dike-road trails be built without delay.

The Taylor study was the biophysical inventory, an essential, but the funding was skimpy, and it shows. The project needed to fill it out with an inventory of soil and vegetation at a practical level of detail. Act now, I urged.

Ha-ha. Parks staff enlightened me, “We always take years and years.” So true.

This brings us back to the dike-road trails. With better guidance, they could be placed just right and built with little harm to nature. The aim is to start building them soon, so Garden City Conservation gave council an urgent report last week.


The report’s focus was on the central dike-road trail. In the project plan, the southern half of it drifts far to the west, bringing in many hectares that are beyond restoring as sphagnum bog ecosystem.

I’ve added the “PEAT BOG” label to what the City of Richmond’s project is showing as peat bog, with a whole lot in the southern half that is far along in ecosystem succession that it will never  function as a peat bog ecosystem again. It could be used well for other conservation or for agriculture, but not in the peat bog area.

Including all those extra hectares could defeat the purpose of the enclosed bog restoration area. It was to raise the water table with precipitation and keep it raised, enabling year-round water for native bog vegetation.

The problem is that invasive plants use up a lot of water and harm the water quality. (They harm the desirable acidity and add undesirable nutrients, e.g., by dropping birch leaves). To support the legacy ecosystem, we have to get rid of invaders, not welcome them. Anyone planning the central dike-road trail route should know that.

rerouting central dike-road trailIn contrast to what I’ve described in the City’s map, the central dike-reoad trail route I’ve drawn in at right follows what the project’s Biophysical Inventory consultant and Michael Wolfe imply to be the natural boundary for the southern half. 

It’s essentially what I showed on the satellite map early in this article but a little closer to being precise.

It is knowledge-based to the extent that is possible at this time.Unfortunately, the project has seemed more whim-based than knowledge-based.

What’s more, if hired experts are given whims as a starting point, their answers to the wrong questions are just a waste of money.

On the bright side, a May 30th project update has made use of community input. Also, we’ve come a long way from the days of 2008 when thousands of us had to fight to save the Lands from development, making the park possible.

Now we need the City of Richmond to whole-heartedly do what’s right.

Once again, Garden City Conservation urges results-oriented consultation with the goal of celebrating the ALR quality of the Lands. That could still lead to one of the world’s great parks.

At less cost. In less time. With joy.

Appeal to council for better GCL action

May 27, 2016

satellite image of Garden City Lands, with darkness showing wetnessGarden City Conservation recently sent the follow message about the Garden City Lands to Richmond council, especially the parks committee. The responsive have so far ranged from supportive to undermining.

For now, you will find it informative to go beyond the email to the attached letter from the Garden City Conservation Society.

Note: In the satellite image, darkness indicates wetness.

Mayor and Councillors, especially Parks Committee,

It would be a mistake beyond remedy to proceed with the construction of the dike-road trail infrastructure on the Garden City Lands at this time. The project continues to be whim-based, not knowledge-based, despite the expertise of the consultants who build on the non-foundation to the limited possible extent.

The most visible issue is the central dike-road trail route. It is crucial in itself, and we have focused on it in the attached letter because it is time-sensitive and manifests the underlying issues. They include gaps in basic knowledge that was scheduled to be gathered and analyzed in the first year of the project.

There is still tremendous potential for all-ALR use of the Lands that showcases the ALR’s benefits—along with Richmond ALR agri-eco legacies—for our community and the world. That’s what the community showed it wanted when the issue was front and centre in 2008, and it’s an aspect of what’s at risk.

Garden City Conservation retains the community vision along with current expertise—in service to the citizens of the Garden City and, for them, to the City. Please read the attached letter for community insight.

I will write more about the results as they become clearer.

Together we see hidden paths to success

May 18, 2016

Katie Karker, Steve Larigakis and Michelle Larigakis at transfusion conference, Vancouver

My friend Steve sent this photo with a single word: “Sisters.” It was last Friday, after his keynote talk for the 2016 Canadian Society of Transfusion Medicine Conference in Vancouver. He’s hugging his sisters of two kinds.

Exactly five years earlier, he was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive lymphoma at a late stage. It was soon clear he needed a stem cell transplant.

From the time of that diagnosis, Steve has shared the story so his many friends and well-wishers can have a part. It’s in “Dr. Steve’s Blog,” still online and full of ups and downs and truly never-say-die cooperation.

Michelle, in Steve’s left arm, is his sibling, always ready to listen or help. Siblings often make good transplant donors, and she tested for it but didn’t match.

Then she helped with a huge donor drive, including many Greeks, their ethnic group, somewhat likely to be matches. No such luck.

Even in Bone Marrow Donors Worldwide, a registry with over 17 million donors at the time, no one fully matched. But there was one near-match.

Katie, in Steve’s right arm, lives in the village of Kingsley in northern Michigan. As the near-match, she gladly went to a lot of trouble to donate the needed stem cells for an unknown recipient. She saved his life.

Early on, the donor drive had got me back to giving blood. A year after Steve began his life anew, I went to his “re-birthday celebration.” He called me his mentor, so perhaps I’m a good influence too.

Recently, I helped Steve refine his talk for the transfusion conference.

Minor roles like mine add up, and anyone can have a key effect. During his recovery, Steve had a further brush with death when donor cells attacked host cells, and it was a pharmacist who came across a therapy that worked.

As I reflect, it strikes me as earned luck. It’s the sort of thing that happens when unselfish people focus on a goal and roll up their sleeves to do what needs to be done.

That has paid off with Steve’s return to health and a visionary role in family medicine. As well, the success energizes everyone who cares, and it motivates me to keep using simple means that get results.

At the conference, Steve’s words and slides relived his journey with cancer. Near the end, he introduced Katie, his “blood sister.” Standing ovation. He’d never met Katie till last week, but she’s become family and a star.

There was even a feature article on the front page of the Vancouver Sun. (Just google blood sister stem cells.)

Adding a new adult sister is rare, but aiming together for values—as so many did for Steve’s recovery—lets us see hidden paths to our goals.


This article has also been published as “May we all find our hidden paths,” a Digging Deep column in the Richmond News.

For related news articles with video, visit the Vancouver Sun and CKNW and UpNorthLive.


Highly accessible trails vital for Lands

May 5, 2016

rerouting central dike-road trailMay 5th tour info. Richmond News version. For related survey tips, scroll down.

Update: We have added an illustrated explanation of the value of rerouting the central dike-road trail from the route that is shown in the City of Richmond’s April 2016 plan. For a larger version, click on the thumbnail image at right.

Looking north from the main (west) entrance to the Garden City Lands, we see a seasonal pond, a grassy raised area (about 100 metres by 400), some vehicles that are moving along Alderbridge Way, the treed environmentally sensitive area (ESA, already compromised on the west side by Walmart site preparation), and the Coast Mountains. The treed ESA and the scene of woods and mountains are mentioned in the third and fifth points in this article.

Richmond’s central park, the Garden City Lands, is coming along. The planning focus now is on the arterial trails: the dike-road trail system of central and perimeter trails. Last week there were wonderful open houses—thanks to staff, consultants and citizens. A survey is online at Let’s Talk Richmond till the end of Mother’s Day, May 8.

Of course, the park itself is thanks to the community of Richmond. Twice (2005 and 2008), we had to ask the Agricultural Land Commission to keep the Lands in the ALR. We showed that ALR uses of the Lands offer more community benefit than the non-ALR uses the City of Richmond and its developer partners wanted.

Now, long after the Commission sided with us, we see glimmers of ALR respect in the City’s planning, with less weaseling around the ALR status. If the City adopts our desire to celebrate the ALR, the Lands can still become one of the world’s great parks for community wellness. You can use the survey to encourage that.

Oddly, only the first question is about the dike-road trail system. It offers two options about cycling. I favor the option with bikes on an adjacent path. That simply separates bikes from the wheelchairs, service vehicles, joggers, etc., on the main path. A safer choice, it helps everyone to enjoy open-land park recreation, an ALR activity.

Luckily, the survey has a “General Comments” box. I’ll use it to urge meaningful park access via free-flowing arteries for the lifeblood—us—in all seasons. I may add that opportunities to interact with agriculture, ecological conservation and related recreation around the Lands are as vital as clog-free paths.

As an example, my photo shows the Lands from the Garden City Road entrance in 2012, when a pond formed, like ponds in the plan. Now imagine you’re there in 2018. A sign tells your future self that the pond stores water for crops, and a dike-road trail keeps your feet dry as you commune with the ducks in the agri-eco-rec milieu.

For more now, come to the Garden City Lands eco-tour from the No. 4 Road entrance on Thursday, May 5 at 7 p.m. Besides tour guide Michael Wolfe, biologist Mike Coulthard of Diamond Head Consulting will take part. It’s priceless and free. Details at GardenCityLands.ca.

Since it’s spring, you may find it easy to get around, but you’ll also sense why a free-flowing all-season trail system matters. A crucial aspect is sufficient width for people to choose their pace—and pause to chat or find a nearby spot for tai chi. We need a main-path width of at least 5 metres, plus a metre-wide shoulder on each side.

The Let’s Talk Richmond survey is tricky, but my blog tips will help. (To reach them, scroll down.) I hope you’ll support year-round accessibility for Garden City Lands fans of all mobility modes, ages, security concerns, washroom needs—you name it. In any case, all informed input is good. See you Thursday!

2 ways to steward the Lands

April 29, 2016

legacy view of North Shore mountains from Garden City Lands, including the damaged area where the mall developers have killed trees and deposited sand

Advance a goal of Garden City Conservation: steward the Lands for best ALR uses for community wellness:

(1) Get up-to-date on the May 5 eco-tour.

(2) Do the Garden City Lands survey well.


1 Get to know the Garden City Lands:

The Thursday, May 5, 2016 eco-tour starts at the East Entrance (No. 4 Rd) by 7:10 p.m. It’s guided by conservationist teacher Michael Wolfe, joined by key project member Mike Coulthard, Diamond Head Consulting. See details of May 5 and May 29 tours.


2 Then do the current Garden City Lands project survey well:

Online resources tip: The survey is on Let’s Talk Richmond and also here in PDF. Click on GFX links for relevant graphics. (Update: This referred to a survey that is now closed, but a simpler feedback opportunity is open until the end of Sunday, June 12, 2016.)

Success tips: Compose your answers in Word so it’s easy to refine them. Then paste them into the survey’s text boxes after refining. Notice that some text boxes limit the number of characters (to 256) and that the “General comments” box near the end has no limit.

Question 1 (GFX-1) limits the options for the perimeter trail to:

  • Option A, only an all-use path just 4 metres wide—for pedestrian/mobility, bike, service, and (in illustration) pet use
  • Option B, a pedestrian/mobility/service path just 2.5 metres wide, plus a separated bike path (on outer side in illustration)

Option B—the option of two separated paths—is more pleasant and safe for all uses. However, the stated pedestrian/all-use path widths are woefully constricting. (See “General Comments” near end.)

Questions 2 (GFX-2), 3 (GFX-3) and 4 (GFX-4) are phrased to prompt a “Yes” response (e.g., with “enhance the ecological performance”). Take care with question 4, as the “Rise” is the best part of the Lands for agriculture. (If we use the image of eggs in one basket, the “Rise” basket is loaded with rec eggs. Free-flowing trails should enable ALR rec needs to be met all around the Lands—eggs in many baskets.)

Question 5 (GFX-5): The least intrusive place for ample parking is on the wide strip of disturbed land down No. 4 Road. Between entry and exit, there could be fishbone parking with an aisle down the middle. Re surface, if there’s runoff, accessibility should trump permeability.

General comments (near end):
Assuming Option B, there’s:
(1) a basic network of perimeter and central dike-road trail plus
(2) a separated bike stream on the same routes. In that context:

  • The entire basic network should be wide enough for the community to enjoy the park together—on foot, in a stroller, or using a mobility aid such as a wheelchair or mobility walker.
  • The surface could be treated clay that’s more durable than asphalt, slightly convex for runoff, with white lines (broken centre line and solid margin lines), and with room to pause and enjoy or chat or use interpretive features.
  • For the basic network, a 7-metre total width could be just enough, even with only 5 metres for thoroughfare (2.5 m in each direction). That enables two metre-wide shoulders for safety and enjoyment. It also enables occasional service vehicles to carefully share the trail.
  • Eliminating the proposed kilometre of wooden viaducts over the bog (a headache for bog restoration) would save more than enough cost and space to let this basic infrastructure be done right.

Thank you for helping to steward the Garden City Lands!

Re-creating Richmond’s mixed urban forest

April 25, 2016

Garden City Lands legacy landscape

Have a look at the photo, taken from Richmond’s City Centre. It’s one-fifth of a panoramic scene. The rest of the panorama includes the Lions to the west (left) and Mount Baker to the southeast. It’s a viewscape—all one can see from near to far, from wetland to mountains and sky.

In between, you see part of Richmond’s last mixed urban forest, also known as the Alderbridge wildlife corridor. It’s on the north edge of noisy Alderbridge Way, but you could crouch there on a sunny day and feel bathed in the sounds of nature.

It’s special to sense nature’s life as you soak in natural viewscapes from the middle of a city. What unique good fortune! No wonder the City of Richmond put this legacy viewscape on the covers of its 2014 Legacy Landscape booklet.

The bad news: We’ve lost that legacy viewscape. Although the forest had layers of protection, the city brushed them aside, ignoring informed citizens. That doomed the mixed urban forest.

A band of developments has taken its place. As a legacy step, it’s like sticking duct tape on Leonardo’s Mona Lisa at eye level.

The good news: We can unlose what’s lost. In effect, we can shift the mixed urban forest south across Alderbridge. We can regenerate it on the Garden City Lands between the Alderbridge sidewalk and the dike-road trail. If the city acts on this, it will enrich a Legacy Landscape idea—perimeter woods.

Before the doomed forest was moonscaped, people looked north at it and wondered which side of Alderbridge it was on. From the photo, you may wonder too. In that aspect, the old and new forest will eventually look the same.

Efficient technology and potential funding exist to transplant mid-size trees from demolition sites for this purpose. Crucially, there’s a manager on staff who could lead it well.

Lately, in a Bridge Street development area with over 250 trees, only nine were kept. Although we want to retain more trees where they are, let’s re-home trees as need be. In that way (among others), the lost legacy of mixed urban forest can take shape again as an engaging ALR feature of our ALR central park.

As I see it, there will be most kinds of Richmond trees there, especially evergreens that grow to a happy-medium height, screening the developments but not the mountains.

Along Alderbridge in the northwest corner of the park, half the 50,000 cubic metres of clay in “the mound” could be moved to make way for forest soil and trees. (That clay would then be mixed with organic soil for agriculture.)

As before, the Alderbridge mixed urban forest would stretch from Garden City Road to No. 4 Road, but the ends of the strip would ideally curve south. From most angles, that would screen the intersections, making for greener viewscapes.

All going well, the ecosystem of the lost legacy will thrive again, with values for wellness, wildlife and more.

Let’s get this right.


Update, April 25, 2016: Lots of people have asked what’s going on with the City of Richmond cutting down trees on the Alderbridge Way median between the last vestiges of the former mixed urban forest and the Garden City Lands (and also on Garden City Road). The removal enables the median to be cut back, for new intersections and turn lanes. On the reduced median, the removed trees are supposed to be replaced by several kinds of new coniferous evergreens. The plan is described in this staff memo.

The Alderbridge median trees that will supposedly be added seem fine except that some will grow taller than ideal from a viewscape standpoint. However, from the standpoints of mixed urban forest, wildlife corridor and natural screen (for City Centre northward viewscapes), that step is no replacement for the kind of mixed urban forest I have proposed as the optimal form of what the GCL park enhancement team has proposed for the north edge of the GCL.

A safety aspect too: Of those that would be too tall, what stands out (accidental play on words) is grand fir, which can grow to over 250 feet. The inclusion of grand fir also leads me, as a former member of “joint occupational health and safety committees” on postsecondary campuses, to be instinctively concerned. One kind of factor we were routinely conscious of (in scheduled inspections and in an ongoing way) was anything that might fall on people, especially in situations when it would complicate emergencies, which would include wind/rain storms and earthquakes.