November 2015

Crippen Park and Development of Lot 3

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Originally published November 22, 2015 written by Denis Lynn

On 4th November 2015, Edna Thomson (Vol. 17, Num. 21) expressed concern that development of Lot 3 “would really mean the eventual loss of possibly the entire Crippen Park” as a consequence of  “weakening (the trees) via the loss of their root systems and complimentary structural support systems”. We are beginning to understand that the trees in our forests are indeed intimately connected, not by roots but by a complex network of fungal mycelia, which provide nutrients and water and transmit chemical signals between trees. Damage to these mycelia could indeed impact the health of the trees. Nevertheless, we should remember that much of the present forests on Bowen has regrown following significant logging in the early 20th Century. This regrowth is possible because ecological systems have evolved over millions of years to respond to changes, often catastrophic. An ecologically significant catastrophe in recent times in the Pacific Northwest was the eruption of Mount St. Helens on 18th May 1980. Its steamy blast blew down and scorched forest over more than 500 km2, leaving a seemingly lifeless landscape. And yet, these ecosystems are recovering. What is it about the behaviour of ecosystems that enables this recovery?

In 1973 Prof. C. S. Holling, University of British Columbia, proposed two kinds of ecosystem behaviour. One he called stability – “the ability of a system to return to an equilibrium state after a temporary disturbance”; ecosystems that rapidly return to the equilibrium state are more stable. The other he called resilience – “a measure of the persistence of systems and their ability to absorb change and disturbance and still maintain the same relationships between populations”.  Prof. Holling discusses the spruce budworm community in eastern North America, which is a highly resilient, but unstable, community, characterized by periodic outbreaks and a sequence of recovery steps that leads to the next outbreak.  Another example he mentions is the response of Wisconsin forest communities to fires – over time since the fire they “reconstruct” themselves until the next fire starts the process all over. To these, we might add the response of forest communities in the Northwest to fire and volcanoes.

The long-term study of the forest and other ecosystems after the Mount St. Helens volcano has lead to some important and unexpected findings. The timing of the eruption was significant – an early spring morning meant that nocturnal animals, like mice, were in their burrows while spots covered by spring snow and ice were protected from extreme heat, permitting seeds to survive and colonize the more impacted habitats. The number of ponds and lakes increased as lava flows and mudslides blocked rivers and streams, creating new aquatic habitats. Surprisingly, amphibians and other organisms rapidly colonized these, so that lakes and streams are again showing communities typical of this forested region. Terrestrial habitats have been slower to recover, although there is greenery covering most of the blast area. This vegetation has provided habitat, even in the significantly disturbed areas, to support the colonization by almost all small mammal species of undisturbed forests. On the other hand, the return of bird species has lagged correlated with the slower recovery in structural complexity of forest habitat.

As Bowenians, we can appreciate this slow recovery as the forests that we value today have taken years to recover from earlier deforestations. Mount St. Helens has provided another lesson here, for the quantity of living and dead trees remaining in areas has significantly influenced the rate of recovery of the forested areas. These “biological legacies” now provide a management tool for some foresters who, rather than clear-cutting for logging, will leave a certain portion of standing trees – a biological legacy – to enhance the recovery. The biological legacies left by Mount St. Helens and by typical forest logging practices are probably much less than 20% of the original forest. This impact of biological legacies has been modeled and shown to increase the resilience of forest ecosystems to the impact of fire, even when about 20% of the forest is left in remnant patches.

Lot 3 runs along the east side of Miller Road and behind the RCMP Detachment, north and east from the Trunk Road, for about 300 m. If all trees were logged from this lot, it would represent, I believe, about 20% of the area of Crippen Park between Miller Road and Cardena Road, leaving 80% of the forested area untouched. While this would be a significant “empty space”, it hardly approaches the 20% or less of the forest left standing by logging operations or volcanic eruptions. I would guess that Edna Thomson is correct that the trees and shrubs bordering Lot 3 would be impacted. However, as a biologist, I am confident that the 80% of forest remaining would be very resilient to this disturbance, and that the future of Crippen Park is not in danger.

Further Reading: Dale, Crisafulli, Swanson. 2005. Science 308:961; Holling. 1973. Ann. Rev. Ecol. Syst. 4:1; Seidl, Rammer, Spies. 2014. Ecol. Appl. 24:2063.

– Denis Lynn

To Mayor and Councilors,

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Originally published November 4, 2015 written by Edna Thomson

Our recent past council focused their attention on Lot 2 of the community lands.  They succeeded, just immediately before a new election in November 2014, in gaining bylaw approval for Land Use rezoning to change from  “village/residential/institutional” to “village/commercial/institutional” for the area.
Their purpose for doing this was to accommodate sale of Lot 2 for subsequent development for an extremely extensive and density-ambitious proposal.
Lot 2 provides many important ecological functions:  it is a wooded area that the wildlife, the birds, and the children benefit from.   Lot 2 is land that lies next to the school campus, and as well, it has a very steep slope at its eastern border.  The many trees provide a root system that acts to absorb water, and hold the bank, while their branches provide the carbon sink that keeps the air fresh. That steep slope is also directly behind about 12 properties that benefit from the sound buffer provided by the trees.  Similar, and some, ecological benefits apply to Lot 3.
Recently, November 2014, islanders elected a new council with the expectation of full and transparent planning and inclusion of public input in accordance with democratic principles of government for and by the people.
Our current council took immediate steps in addressing many previously expressed concerns of the good citizens of Bowen; and good things began to happen.  As for example, Council declaring, “The right of local residents to a healthy environment.”  Part of that decision states, “…the rights of every resident to participate in decision making that affects the environment.”
That sense of security, resulting from those commendable steps taken, seemingly announcing  ‘participatory democracy’ in action on Bowen, has been disappointingly damaged though, by the summer ‘charge ahead’ approach.  Unexpectedly, this was evident in the proposal for, first, a new fire hall complex, AND then, ALSO a parking lot; all on Lot 3.  Disturbing evidence of that approach has been the immediate “site suitability testing” for the Fire Hall complex, (mid July).
Equally astonishing, and while discussion was still taking place regarding a parking proposal on Cardena Dr., work was seemingly started at the proposed entrance site for the proposed parking lot in Lot 3.  Entrance and exit in-roads that are in the design, (as posted recently by council) to go on either side of the mailboxes off Miller Rd. would require moving the mailboxes.  This actually WAS DONE on September 17th. . No signage was provided at Lot 3, as was done at Cardena.  Why?
A “BIM Plan Park Update,” recently introduced, when eventually effective, would of course, be too late to have Lot 3 of Crippen Park given the consideration it deserves, if it isn’t left standing!
Here is my belief: First, it is that the principles of democratic governance must take precedence over any development proposals, and thus council needs to provide adequately for fair and complete opportunities for public input.   Second, it is for acknowledgement of the concerns already expressed in two letters put to council regarding development on Lot 3. And, 3rd, it is for signs that show the plan!
In those letters, the concerns expressed are regarding the two proposals under consideration. Should either or both be adopted, it would really mean the eventual loss of possibly the entire Crippen Park park.  The number of trees that would have to go down for construction, promises that, by extension, others would follow simply through a weakening via the loss of their root systems and complimentary structural support systems, and through probable damage to the root systems of trees left standing during the construction period. And, there would be subsequent predictable loss through the advent of windstorms, and heavy snow falls on those left-standing, weakened trees.  All of those forces, and simply ‘over use’ of a damaging potential, would complete the rest of the destructive process that will have been set in motion.
I request the application of fundamental equality in the observance of citizen’s rights. And, it is for serious, open discussions as to how the benefits versus impediments to Bowen’s future would be affected by the developments proposed for Lot 3.
I ask that Council please open up to the community of Bowen, adequate discussion opportunities as to the the worth of Lot 3, as a carbon sink and an important service-providing intact natural environment of enormous eco-value, a wildlife sanctuary, and a thing of beauty and enjoyment at the entrance to what many describe as a living, breathing island paradise.
What we need now is less pandering to outdated concepts of how to ‘develop’ in the Cove. Now it is important to get educated and more able and ready to meet the new challenges of a changing climate. Equally important is embracing input from the larger community into ALL development planning that would so dramatically affect the island entrance area.  In the interests of a healthy environment that supports the rights of citizens to that environment I’m asking that, now, more than ever, the concept of the Islands Trust mandate to protect and preserve be our banner.

– Edna Thomson

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