The Fraser River runs 1,300 kilometers from the Rocky Mountains to the Salish Sea, and creates a wide river delta that attracts millions of migrating birds. You can walk along the Fraser River or visit the George Reifel Bird Sanctuary (call ahead for a reservation during Covid times) to see some of the millions of migrating birds that pass through this area.
Roberts Bank where the Deltaport Shipping Terminal is has mudflats that are kilometers long during low tide, and provide nutrients for over half a million Western Sandpipers daily during the spring migration. It is a highly sensitive area in terms of habitat and use.
This article in Business In Vancouver by Nelson Bennett describes a new study that has just been published in the journal Conservation, Science and Practice. This study was undertaken by a team of University of British Columbia scientists who estimate that “100 species in the Fraser River estuary could go extinct over the next 25 years, unless better habitat management, restoration and loss prevention is implemented in a more harmonized way”.
The species identified include Southern Resident Orcas, the four types of local salmon~chinook, coho, chum and sockeye, and the Western Sandpiper that uses the Roberts Bank area as one of their sole feeding grounds on their migratory route.
Habitat loss is a contributing factor, as well as climate change. And the fact that nearly three quarters of the biggest cities are located on estuaries puts tremendous pressure on the biodiversity. Add in items like Deltaport’s proposed Terminal Two expansion which would take out the biofilm required for migratory birds at Roberts Bank, and you can see the pressures on this ecologically unique area.
The scientists did conclude that there was a solution, and noted that there was not one overall piece of legislation and not one overall managing governance structure for the estuary, that would represent federal, provincial and First Nations leadership.
They proposed a 25 year investment of $381 million dollars ($15 million a year) to develop an overall regulatory act and to develop a “co-management” governance system. That on a per capita basis for each person in Metro Vancouver is the equivalent of one beer a year.
While river deltas and estuaries are recognized as important, they have not been clearly identified in legislation. The federal government manages the marine environment and the province regulates the foreshore and lands. FREMP ( Fraser River Estuary Management Planning Group) was such an overall governance body but was dissolved in 2013 as a federal cost-cutting measure. It was expected to be replaced.
Besides the ecological losses, there are cultural ones as well. There are over thirty First Nations groups along the Fraser River estuary that have deep cultural connections to the estuary. Science reporter Ivan Semeniuk in the Globe and Mail spoke to Murray Ned, executive director of the Lower Fraser Fisheries Alliance who represents those important interests. Mr. Ned stated:
“For First Nations people with a connection to the estuary, there is even more at stake if the effort to preserve the region’s unique natural bounty falters. At the end of the day it’s our entire cultural identity and the loss of who we are. I don’t know how else I can translate its importance. That’s the reality we live in.”
This just released YouTube video by the Raincoast Conservation Foundation outlines the Fraser River Estuary issues.