CRC writer ignored biological issues

By Alejandro Frid
Bowen Island Undercurrent, Jan 11, 2008

Development proponents for Cape Roger Curtis (CRC) published two propaganda pieces in the Undercurrent last December. While I credit author Bob Ransford for fine examples of condescending writing, I am disappointed by the biological issues that were not discussed. Below is a non-exhaustive list of questions that would make for more relevant material in future articles by development proponents.

Do development and conservation plans consider invasive species explicitly? The probability of exotic plants invading an area increases by orders of magnitude when subdivisions are developed. Construction gravel is a vehicle for the spread of exotic plants. A recent article in Ecology Letters (9:1293–1298) concludes that “The number of exotic species is more closely associated with the size of the human population than with ecological conditions“. This is of huge concern for rare and endangered plants.

Although much of CRC was disturbed by old logging, is the ecological restoration potential of the area being considered in a bioregional context? Existing disturbances should not be misconstrued as license for development. CRC, being located near major population centres with a long history of resource exploitation, is surrounded by areas where low-elevation coastal-fringe forests are very fragmented and degraded. Given this bioregional context, the unfragmented forest polygons in CRC that are maturing toward the older stages used by habitat-specialist species represent a tremendous opportunity for first restoring and then preserving vanishing habitats.

Is habitat diversity being considered in a bioregional context? CRC includes meadows, coastal bluffs, riparian areas, coniferous forests and marine environments. This mosaic contains high species diversity. While the proposed shoreline protection is commendable, each habitat type that contributes to the mosaic must be protected at spatial scales appropriate for regional representation.

Are development and conservation plans considering wildlife trees explicitly? Standing dead trees in forest interiors are important wildlife habitat that is susceptible to wind disturbances when development creates openings in their surroundings. These openings also alter microclimates and the types of species present. Climate change models predict increased frequency of high-intensity storm winds, which would exacerbate these problems.

How are run-off impacts on the marine environment being considered? Construction debris and road herbicides might enter the water table and flow to sea. These impacts could, potentially, impact blue mussel beds and the surf scoters that feed on mussels.

How are threatened and endangered species being considered? The consultant report by Pottinger-Gaherty highlights several ‘species of management interest’ that would be impacted by development. For instance, the band-tailed pigeon is a blue-listed species present in CRC and likely nesting in old-growth Douglas firs and large deciduous trees. Townsend’s big ear bat (blue list) and Keen’s long-eared myotis (red list) are acknowledged by that report as potentially present in CRC, but specialized surveys are lacking. CRC harbours many other species of concern.

How would trees cut during development be utilized? This comment applies only to the unavoidable cutting of trees associated with development. The construction industry is a huge generator of fossil fuel emissions, partly because materials often are shipped from sources far away. Should development occur, would an on-site sawmill be built to use local lumber and reduce the fossil fuel emissions required for transport of materials?

Placing 1,000 units in the area would mean a huge influx of pets; do conservation plans consider this? Research documents the impact of dogs on wildlife through stressful disturbance (for instance, Wildlife Society Bulletin 29:124-132). Also, domestic cats often prey on native songbirds.

Do conservation plans consider climate change? New research deals with how the design of nature reserves must consider climate change explicitly (for instance: Global Change Biology 10:1618-1626; Biological Conservation 125:1-9). Ignoring climate change likely will lead to the failure of proposed reserves to protect biodiversity into the future. In short, the more we fragment a landscape, the less resilient to climate change that landscape becomes. And fragmentation is precisely what development does.

[Bowen Island resident Alejandro Frid earned a PhD in ecology from Simon Fraser University and, in association with universities or as an independent consultant, has been studying terrestrial and marine ecosystems for almost two decades.]

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