Righting the Wrongs

May 12, 2000

By Michael Jessen

Even a rain-shrouded, chilly May weekend in the Kootenays is filled with such beautiful moments, it's easy to believe that "all's right with the world" as the poet Robert Browning wrote. Yet two new reports - one by an independent research center in Seattle and the other by BC's environment ministry - continue to warn of environmental danger signals. And at a memorial service for one of the province's environmental leaders, it is mentioned again that the messengers of such warnings are not always treated with the respect they deserve.

My Saturday begins with a walk on the Pilot Bay Provincial Park trail, on the east shore of Kootenay Lake. Although there is a threat of rain, my partner and I only walk briskly to keep warm. As I marvel at the lush green growth and wildflowers, I remember what I learned for the first time in the "State of the Northwest 2000" report written by John Ryan of Seattle's Northwest Environment Watch.

"British Columbia contains a greater diversity of species and distinct ecosystems than any other province in Canada and far more species of mammals than any country in Europe," says Ryan. "With less than 10 percent of Canada's land area, the province supports more than half the nation's higher plant species."

Looking out over the bay, I spy an osprey circling above then landing in a tall cedar tree. Suddenly, the osprey dives toward the bay, hitting the water with a smack and emerging with a fish.

I recall what I read in "Environmental Trends in British Columbia 2000," a report of indicators that provide an overview of the health of BC's environment.

"The poorest performance has been in the protection of natural diversity," says the study prepared by the provincial Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks (MELP). "A significant percentage of plant and animal species has been identified as threatened or endangered or candidates for these designations, and the range of several wildlife species has decreased."

Later in the afternoon, I am sitting on the beach at the Yasodhara Ashram listening to the wind-whipped, Kootenay Lake waves relentlessly following one another onto the sand and rocky shore. I look across to the mountains above Procter where patches of clouds cling to the trees that are veiled with a dusting of fresh snow. I am filled with the inner peace that the Ashram is renowned for generating.

I recollect that not all lakes in our bioregion are able to escape the consequences of resource development. "Northern Idaho's Lake Coeur d'Alene has some of the worst heavy-metal pollution ever documented," writes Ryan. "A century of mining in the surrounding valley has deposited 75 million tons (68 million metric tons) of sediment heavily laden with lead, cadmium, mercury, and other metals on the lake floor, and more metals continue to wash into the lake."

Ryan mentions that in the first six months of 1997, after 500 tons of lead washed into Lake Coeur d'Alene on a single day in February 1996, 200 bottom-feeding swans are found killed by lead poisoning.

In BC, per capita domestic water use has remained among the highest in the country. According to the environmental trends report, British Columbians use 35% more water per capita than the average Canadian, and over twice as much as the average British citizen. It states that the number of streams believed to be over-allocated or allocated to capacity has more than doubled since 1970.

My partner and I are enjoying an excellent dinner prepared with love and care in the Abracajava Café in Crawford Bay, feeling the warmth of the setting sun shining through the west-facing window. Only the passing of a noisy car breaks the ambiance. I am reminded that roughly 1.5 million more cars and trucks occupied Northwest roads in 1998 than in 1990, according to Ryan. The MELP report enumerates that the 1997 total greenhouse gas emissions in BC were 61.9 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, an increase of 21% since 1990. Increased emissions are largely attributed to transportation. The MELP report details that road density on over one-third of the BC's forested land is high enough to have a negative impact on the populations of many large mammals.

As the ferry MV Anscomb nears Balfour, another osprey dances across the deepening dusk of an almost cloudless sky. A first-quarter moon punctuates the heavens as two Canada geese honk, skimming over the water sliced by the bow of the ferry.

The MELP study concludes that over the past century the Interior of BC has warmed at about twice the rate of the global average. Northwest Environment Watch states that since 1990, climate-damaging carbon dioxide emissions have increased by at least 13%. According to the Kyoto accord signed by Canada, our emissions are supposed to be decreasing.

On Sunday, I gather with about 150 people, crowding into the main room of the Retallack Resort west of Kaslo to celebrate the life of New Denver resident Grant Copeland who died on January 8th. Copeland - an author, planner, and entrepreneur - is renowned for his work in conserving BC's wild spaces. His qualities as a teacher of values and truth is recalled not only by his son Ryan but also by other boys who grew up to be young men remembering Grant as their "second father." Sally Lamare interrupts the proceedings to report that an osprey is circling outside the resort. "It's Grant," she says.

Vicki Husband of the Sierra Club praises Grant's forthrightness for stating his opinions then laments that both she and Grant suffered "slings and arrows" for speaking their minds. It strikes me that as a society we punish environmentalists twice - once for their visions and again if their predictions prove correct. It makes me wonder if our commitment to an environmental ethic is really as strong as we suppose. If we don't heed the alarms raised by the Copelands and the Husbands, will we pay any attention to these latest two reports that conclude many pivotal environmental problems have continued or worsened?

In his book "Acts of Balance," completed just a few months before he died, Copeland urges us to make changes now if we hope to make a difference. "We don't have any time to lose," he concludes.

ONE SMALL STEP - The provincial government has only until year-end to fulfill its promise to protect 12% of BC's land base. According to "Environmental Trends," 11.4% of BC's land was protected by the end of 1999. Vicki Husband suggests contacting Premier Ujjal Dosanjh and asking him to protect the lower Stikine River watershed in Grant's name. The Stikine was one of Grant's favourite areas. You can e-mail Premier Dosanjh at Premier@gov.bc.ca.

RESOURCES - "State of the Northwest" is available from Northwest Environment Watch BC, P.O. Box 42076, 2200 Oak Bay Avenue, Victoria, BC V8R 6T4. The organization's e-mail address is newbc@home.com. Its web site URL is http://www.northwestwatch.org/. "Environmental Trends in BC 2000" can be ordered from Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks, Corporate Policy Branch, P.O. Box 9335, Stn Prov Govt, Victoria, BC V8T 5J9 or downloaded from http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/sppl/soerpt. Grant Copeland's book is available from New Society Publishers. The Yasodhara Ashram is located on Walker's Landing Road between Kootenay Bay and Riondel. The Ashram's phone number is 250-227-9224. The Abracajava Café is located on Highway 3A in Crawford Bay. Its phone number is 250-227-9696. The Retallack Resort is on Highway 31A and can be found on the Internet at www.retallack.com and e-mailed at retallack@netidea.com. The resort can be telephoned at 250-358-2777 or 1-800-330-1433.

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