Opportunism & Ecological Network Management Strategy

ENMSThe City of Richmond’s Ecological Network Management Strategy continues to be largely well done. In this article, I’ve picked out some key points and commented on them. I drew on the content when talking to a council committee about the strategy today on behalf of the Garden City Conservation society.

Note: If you open the Ecological Network Management Strategy in a separate window, you can refer to it as you read this article. In the page numbers, the “GP” stands for “General Purpose Committees.”

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Being opportunistic

I was pleased to notice that the Ecological Network Management Strategy states the importance of being opportunistic, which is a helpful reminder. In other words, turning the strategy into ecological reality means consistently making the connection between good ideas and effective action at each decision time, each opportunity.

The intent is a well-connected network “in which residents thrive” (GP-15). Along with the networking emphasis, the parts need to be ecologically effective for the connected parts to function.

Furthermore, the strategy can only work if the good ideas are put into effect at decision times. For instance, the segment of the Alderbridge Wildlife Corridor between No. 4 Road and Garden City Road that is nearing extinction is an example of the “Corridors and Connectivity” component. It would have been saved and enhanced, with immense net benefit at little cost, if the City had decided to keep it when the community called for that. (The six components are listed on GP-16.)

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Consultation & Engagement

In “Consultation & Engagement” (GP-31), there are themes like these:

  • Strike a better balance between accommodating development and maintaining natural areas in the city.
  • Prevent habit fragmentation and loss from development activities. Emphasize preservation of native vegetation and wildlife corridors.
  • Keep natural areas in the city as they are and protect them from future growth and development.

In the example of the westernmost segment of the Alderbridge Wildlife Corridor in the recent past, all three themes were ignored. Consultation that is not heeded (as just shown) would merit a different heading: “Window Dressing.”

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Traditional Neighbourhoods

Traditional Neighbourhoods Strategy Area (GP-56 & 57) identifies issues such as these:

  • Loss of vegetation
  • Increase in impermeable surfaces
  • Tree removal

The aim is implicitly to stop the losses and make things better. My concern is that this report was circulated to council members a month ago, and opportunities have come and gone. For example, council approved a zoning application in Item 1 of the September 8th public hearing without even a moment of discussion. That was even though an informed conservation biology teacher, Michael Wolfe, had pointed out that the application would cause a significant removal of trees, not just on the applicant’s property but on the neighbouring property.

When a house gets demolished to make way for a new one, the builder often moonscapes the whole lot. We’re led to believe that the purpose is to build up the site pad to a required elevation for flood protection. However, when I talked to city staff about the elevation requirement, I learned that the builder can accomplish it by simply constructing a higher foundation for the house. Apparently it costs more, but the ecological management point is that it reduces the loss of vegetation. In other words, it is constant opportunity to resolve one of the stated issues for the Traditional Neighbourhoods Strategy Area.

There is no mention of maximizing developers’ profits as an aim in this strategy. And a higher cost for building a replacement house does not even reduce the availability of affordable housing. After all, higher costs would make developers less likely to destroy the existing housing, which many of us perceive to be more likely to have lived-in rental suites than the new ones that destroy vegetation.

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Central Wetlands

Central Wetlands Strategy Area (GP-62 & 63): For the Garden City Lands, a fundamental flaw is that the strategy fails to identify the issue of restoration of the sphagnum bog ecosystem—and does not even identify the ecosystem. It also fails to identify cooperation with the Department of National Defense to conserve and restore the sphagnum bog ecosystem there, and that is a huge lost opportunity to open the door to a unified Lulu Island Bog with federal-municipal collaboration.

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West Dike and Sturgeon Bank

West Dike Strategy Area (GP-66 & 67) and Wildlife Management Areas (Sturgeon Bank): The two strategy areas beyond the West Dike exemplify how the City’s actual conduct is sometimes the opposite to the intent.

In the summer of 2013, five backhoes on the tidal wetland destroyed the extensive array of habitat logs beyond the West Dike, piling them into a “corral.” I was shocked when I came across it. It was not in the approved plan and not cleared with the parks committee or even mentioned to the chair. There was also no study to compare the ecological value of what was destroyed with the anticipated value from the intervention.

A salmonid habitat enhancement project that’s been successful in the last couple of years in the Seymour River estuary in North Vancouver has done the opposite, bringing logs into the area and tethering them so they remain functional, helping protect the fish from seals. A Vancouver Sun article last month (August 19, 2015) used the term “habitat complexity,” for the intent, which provides “plenty of tiny nooks and crannies for the plants and animals.” (See also the Province article of June 13, 2015).

It is certainly not obvious that the massive intervention in the ecosystem was wise. The one obvious course of action was to proceed with care after a thorough study of all conservation effects, with consultation and approvals, and that is precisely what did not happen.

Conclusion

It is clear that the most important piece of the Ecological Network Management Strategy is not within the document. It is a deep shared commitment to implement it. It’s up to council to add it.

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