Wetland of International Importance?

The big question

Should the Garden City Lands be a Wetland of International Importance?

If the answer is Yes, the Lands would be one of about 1,900 “Ramsar sites” in the world, wetlands conserved for appropriate use under a 35-year-old treaty, the Ramsar Convention. It is a unique ongoing kind of international cooperation for the good of our shared Earth.

Friends of Garden City bring up that question from time to time. It’s arisen more lately because of a recent Vancouver Sun article about Metro Vancouver seeking to get Burns Bog included as a Ramsar site. It’s a long-time goal of Burns Bog advocates, but the Metro step has raised the profile and brought out some new ideas.

Personally, I can’t give an outright Yes to the question, but I do agree that the Garden City Lands have a unique or very rare aspect—or at least will have after the bog has been restored. That key aspect is the location in a city centre, with related easy access for large numbers of visitors from residents and ecotourists (with precautions to minimize adverse effects). However, that will work best if the Lands are part of a cluster of related parcels that function as a single site for Ramsar purposes.

Possible multi-parcel Ramsar site

There are some obvious Richmond parcels that would complement the Garden City Lands in a Wetland of International Importance:

  1. The Department of National Defence Lands are immediately to the east of the 136-acre Garden City Lands (from No. 4 Road to Shell Road) and a little larger at 146 acres. The northwest corner of the DND Lands is still in military use for the fairly new armoury, along with a large parking lot, but perhaps the federal government could make the property available, either entirely or to some extent. (If that involves a transfer, there would be a Musqueam Indian Band claim, which is not necessarily a concern, but that’s another topic.) The armoury would be a good place to tell visitors the story of a history that goes back millennia. Until that becomes possible, perhaps at least the bog  area of the DND Lands could be part of the Ramsar site with webcam access, e.g., directed toward coyote dens.
  2. The two-parcel Richmond Nature Park, a total of 212 acres, is east of the DND Lands from Shell Road to Jacombs Road. It has significant infrastructure, including an existing interpretive centre and a trail system. Drainage is causing the ecosystem to evolve too rapidly, but that problem will actually help tell the bog evolution story. The Garden City Lands, DND Lands, and Nature Park are together known as “the Lulu Island Bog” and have also been called “the Lulu Island wetlands.” Roughly two miles by half a mile, they are the largest remnant of the ancient Greater Lulu Island Bog. Going from west to east, one can experience the evolution from sphagnum bog ecosystem to bog forest ecosystem.
  3. The Ecowaste wetlands have been publicized recently, unfortunately with the label of “Lulu Island Wetlands.” The wetlands are described in an introductory post and follow-up post in this blog. Briefly, the 79-acre Ecowaste property is a  Greater Lulu Island Bog remnant that is a mile south and half a mile east of the Nature Park. Southeast of No. 6 Road and Blundell, the property is no longer much of a sphagnum bog because the peat was largely mined. However, the ponds that fill the pits have helped make it the best-functioning wetland in Richmond, with sandhill cranes and a deer herd.  Public access to a parcel like this one would have to be limited, and I envision it as normally being via webcam video. The parcel is privately owned, and I’ll discuss that at the end of the post in order to help tie some loose ends together.
  4. The 34-acre Northwest Bog Forest is a little-known City of Richmond property accessed from River Road (to its north) near the Queensborough (New Westminster) boundary. Though it too should have limited access, it would be the Ramsar site’s best example of a bog forest and the site’s only remnant of the Lesser Lulu Island Bog, which used to be separated from the Greater Lulu Island Bog to its west by a wide channel that the Fraser has filled with silt.
  5. Perhaps the Ramsar site could have broader inclusion. An example would be Fraser Estuary wetlands on the shores of Lulu and Sea Islands, such as the Sturgeon Bank. It could also include low-lying islands in the river, some held by land conservancies. One of the values of the broader inclusion would be to show the relationship between the different types of river delta wetlands on and bordering the Richmond islands.

There is no minimum size for a Wetland of International Importance. However, the typical size is fairly large. Even the 538 acres of the first four items in the above list would be considerably more credible in size and ecological importance than the Garden City Lands alone. Adding the fifth item would take that effect further. If one of the most obvious names is used, the site as a whole would be the Lulu Island Wetlands or the Richmond Wetlands (or Garden City Wetlands), depending on how extensive the site is.

There is an alternative possibility. Some or all of the Richmond parcels could be lumped in with Delta’s massive Burns Bog as a Ramsar site. The Sun article suggests that idea:

Delta council in September voted in favour of the application. Its plan includes asking the mayors of Richmond and Surrey to add land designated as provincial wildlife areas in those municipalities to the Ramsar application.

That sounds okay in principle, but it might not get an enthusiastic response from Richmondites. They might prefer to be internationally important on their own, and that would be relevant from a conservation standpoint, since local buy-in would help ensure success.

The Ecowaste wetlands piece of the puzzle

This brings us back to the ownership of the Ecowaste wetlands.  It’s possible, though not yet probable, that collaboration with the owners could help tie a Ramsar site together, making many parties happy.

The Ecowaste property is owned by a Graymont subsidiary, Ecowaste Industries Ltd., which operates the Richmond Landfill. A couple of years ago, Ecowaste approached the City of Richmond for the required municipal support for an application to the Agricultural Land Commission. Graymont wanted ALC permission to use the peat-mined pits for uncontaminated fill, with the promise to top it with soil generated from garden waste (grass, trimmings, etc.), enabling subsequent agricultural use. That application effort was dormant for a year or so but was recently awakened, apparently by Nature Vancouver.

The Ecowaste company is pleasant to deal with and open to a trade-off, but reaching a win-win agreement would still not be easy. For a start, there is no reason to think that the City of Richmond would have any interest in buying the property with either dollars or support for rezoning of any of Ecowaste’s other ALR land (e.g., for residential development).

Let’s consider the positions of the would-be conservers of the Ecowaste property and its current owner:

  • From a conservation standpoint, any problem is minimal. The property needs approval from the City of Richmond and the Agricultural Land Commission before the proposed fill is allowed to occur, and the province’s ALC legislation gives priority to environmental legislation. Even before naturalists have studied the property closely, it is said to be the nesting grounds for at least one BC blue-listed species, sandhill cranes. The property includes land that is designated as environmentally sensitive area (ESA), and it would be hard to imagine the whole property not being designated that way in the upcoming revision of Richmond’s ESAs.
  • In contrast, if one tries to put oneself in the business shoes of the current owner, their problem seems greater. Ecowaste has an overvalued wetland property (79 acres of ALR land assessed at $8.3 million) on its hands. The wetland is tying up capital and incurring annual taxes ($52,375) and administrative costs.

The Ecowaste company could donate the wetlands to the City of Richmond or to a land trust (or conservancy), showing the world that Graymont is environmentally responsible, but at the moment the return from that doesn’t seem large enough. This is where the Wetland of International Importance designation comes in, since it would multiply Graymont’s public relations value from the donation—perhaps tenfold or a hundredfold. That’s one way in which a great result for all is actually possible. It would, however, require a number of informed parties working together toward a challenging goal.

The conclusion and perhaps a beginning

So should the Garden City Lands be a Wetland of International Importance?

  • As a stand-alone site, No.
  • In the right set of parcels and with great cooperation, maybe Yes.

It would require a complex campaign led by advocates who are passionate about it. I personally would not take on that kind of role, and it’s peripheral to the main goals of the Garden City Lands Coalition Society, although we would undoubtedly be supportive. Richmond’s Advisory Committee on the Environment (ACE) would be a natural fit, but at this point I don’t know whether they would consider bringing it into their planning.

A final preference

If the Garden City Lands ever are included in a Wetland of International Importance, I hope that status will not conflict with the agricultural value of the lands, which supporters of saving the Lands have typically seen as co-existing harmoniously with their ecological value. As it happens, most of the native species that a bog restoration would encourage have historically had value for food, clothing, healing, etc., with the effect that the intervention that is necessary at this stage could be considered agricultural in a broad sense. Also, since the Lands are located on the edge (“lagg”) of the bog, some parts of the parcel could fittingly be used for agriculture in a stricter sense, ideally with the whole lands as a single permaculture unit.

______

January 2014 update: Since this article was written in late 2010, there have a few changes:

  • Most important, Burns Bog was designated as a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance, and the site was later greatly enlarged, as described in a later article on this blog.
  • Adjacent property was added to the Northwest Bog Forest, which was renamed.
  • A strip of Sturgeon Bank between Blundell Road and Westminster Highway (if those roads are imagined to extend westward) was obtained by the City of Richmond and Ducks Unlimited from private owners, but that doesn’t change much.
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1 Comment »

  1. 1
    Al Says:

    No…

    Don’t add internationally – based handcuffs to the site.

    Keep the local autonomy it has now, ie it’s 100% owned by the City and only beholden to the ALC and the resolve of the latest Musqueam lawsuit.

    Otherwise, a future Council will not have many options. The site is being mowed as we speak, such a designation would be a farce.

    Basically GCL is 136 acres of ALR- included peat soil that is mowed annually for the past several decades. Leave it at that .


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