Pacific Fisheries Resource Conservation Council

Pacific Fisheries Resource Conservation Council

June 13, 2005 09:30 ET

Pacific Fisheries Resource Conservation Council/Communique: Resolving Agriculture Conflicts in Fraser Valley Essential to Protect Salmon Says New Report

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA--(CCNMatthews - June 13, 2005) - Pacific Fisheries Resource Conservation Council -

Tax incentives, environmental farm plans, preserving key riverside areas some of the solutions

Intensive farming in the eastern Fraser Valley is threatening to destroy what little remains of the rich riverside habitat along the Fraser River which salmon stocks depend on for survival, but it's not too late to protect these vital areas, says a new report released today by the Pacific Fisheries Resource Conservation Council (PFRCC).

In the report, entitled Conflicts Between Agriculture and Salmon in the Eastern Fraser Valley, authors Dr. Marvin Rosenau and Mark Angelo examine how more than 100 years of farming activity in the area between Mission and Hope have impacted salmon and steelhead habitats. Recognizing that the growth in intensive farming as well as the re-zoning of land for residential and industrial activity will continue, the authors offer some solutions that would allow farms and fish to co-exist more peacefully.

"There aren't too many places in the world where a great city like Vancouver is located in such close proximity to an incredible stretch of river, such as the Hope to Mission section of the Fraser River, that remains largely in a natural state," says Angelo. "However, many of the values of this great river will continue to be lost unless we act quickly to protect areas along the Fraser and its tributaries that support salmon stocks. There is a great opportunity for many partners, including government, farmers, First Nations and conservation groups, to work together to protect this valuable natural asset."

The Fraser River watershed supports some of the world's largest salmon runs. At the same time, the valley is one of B.C.'s most significant agricultural production areas, generating more than $1 billion annually in gross farm receipts.

The report found that if nothing is done to address the impact of intensive farming and its related activities, such as clearing native vegetation along river banks, and channelization, diking and diversion projects along the Fraser, Chilliwack and Harrison Rivers and their floodplains, it could prove to be the final straw for the area's valuable wetlands and riparian zones which have been under pressure from agricultural activities since the mid-19th century.

Riparian zones are the places alongside streams and rivers where native grasses, shrubs and trees protect fish by providing food and shelter and helping to regulate water temperature and water quality by acting as a buffer from pollutants on land. The report highlights the strides that have already been made by senior and local government agencies in dealing with the fish-agriculture conflict such as improving the way manmade ditches and channelized streams are cleaned and maintained to reduce the impact on fish, and introducing the BC Environmental Farm Plan initiative, but it concludes more needs to be done.

The report's recommendations include:

- Expanding the BC Environmental Farm Plan program - currently a voluntary initiative for individual farms - to be more systematically applied throughout the Eastern Fraser Valley and perhaps made compulsory.

- The purchasing of key private land with high riparian value along the Fraser and Chilliwack rivers by governments or private conservation groups.

- Introducing tax incentives to encourage the restoration and protection of small streams alongside intensively cultivated fields.

- Developing a land use plan for the Hope to Mission stretch of the Fraser, based on input from all stakeholders, aimed at protecting and better managing key riparian areas. This could include initiatives such as establishing greenway belts along larger streams similar to what many other communities worldwide are now doing.

- Discontinuing deep-pit gravel mining on the Fraser River floodplain near areas with high riparian values and, where feasible, decommissioning the rip-rap (i.e. concrete armouring used along streambanks to prevent erosion) in favour of more innovative approaches such as set back dikes.

- Curtailing further development for intensive farming purposes in marginal agricultural lands with high wetland values.

TO OBTAIN A COPY OF CONFLICTS BETWEEN AGRICULTURE AND FISH AND TO VIEW PHOTOS FROM THE REPORT, VISIT: www.fish.bc.ca

Established in 1998, the PFRCC is an independent body with a mandate to report annually on the status of B.C.'s salmon stocks, their habitat and related ecosystems. PFRCC reports advise the public and governments on salmon conservation issues, and provide recommendations with a long-term strategic focus.

BACKGROUNDER

Fast Facts & Figures

June 13th, 2005

Conflicts Between Agriculture and Salmon in the Eastern Fraser Valley

- $1.4 billion+: The amount of annual agricultural production in the Fraser Valley in gross farm receipts

- 240,000: The number of people living in the Fraser Valley

- 80%: The percentage of wetlands, marshes and riparian forests in the lower Fraser River (including the Eastern Fraser River) that have been logged, diked, drained and converted to agricultural uses since the 1880s. (Many of these farmlands have subsequently been developed into urban, commercial and industrial development.)

- 75%: The estimated percentage of historical fish habitat that has been lost in the conversion of Fraser Valley floodplain land to agricultural development land.

- 60%: The percentage of the Fraser River's outer bank in the eastern Fraser Valley (55 km out a total of 137 km) that is now hardened (straight-jacketed) disrupting habitat from functioning naturally.

- 50%: The percentage of budget for drainage works that the City of Chilliwack now spends on environmental monitoring and fish salvage during stream cleaning.

- 30: The number of fish species that inhabit the lower Fraser River from Hope to Mission making this the most diverse and productive waterway in B.C.

- 7: The number of salmon species found in the Fraser River: Sockeye, Chinook, Pink, Coho, Chum, Steelhead trout and Cutthroat trout (the last two species are now officially classified as salmon)

Five Reasons Why Salmon Depend on Streamside (Riparian) Vegetation

- Trees and shrubs growing riverside hold banks in place and also trap sediment and pollutants, helping keep the water clean.

- When dying or uprooted vegetation falls into the water, it slows the flow of water creating pools and riffles - sections of rivers and streams where water runs faster - where many salmon spawn and rear.

- Salmon and trout eat mainly aquatic insects when they are in fresh water. Many of these aquatic insects feed on the leaves and woody material of decaying riparian vegetation.

- River and streamside leaves and branches shade the water in summer helping to keep water temperatures cooler.

- During flooding, riparian vegetation helps to slow and dissipate floodwaters.

Timeline of Fish-Farm Conflict in the Fraser Valley

8,000 B.C.: Eastern Fraser Valley becomes habitable to plants, animals and humans following the end of the last ice-age.

Pre-1850: The Fraser River and its tributaries are free-flowing and their natural cycles of flooding and erosion, water meander and silt deposition create ideal environmental conditions for the spawning and rearing of rich stocks of salmon and other aquatic species. Due in part to the remarkable river-based bio-diversity, the area is home to highly-developed indigenous cultures.

Mid-1800s: Following Simon Fraser's visit to the region in 1808, non-aboriginals begin to settle the region as prospectors and other Europeans arriving see its rich agricultural value. Communities including Chilliwack, Mission and Kent/Kilby begin to develop as major agricultural and commercial centres.

1885: The Canadian Pacific Railway is built through the Fraser Valley and a spur line is built to Sumas. The farming sector begins to expand rapidly and land clearing accelerates.

1894: A major flood inundates much of the Fraser Valley. Major diking begins to protect the valley's farms from natural flooding processes. One of these projects, a dike project to protect town of Chilliwack, severs a substantial number of the area's large secondary channels from the Fraser River.

1910: Construction begins on the BC Electric Railway across the Vedder River floodplain. With it begins 80 years of activity to harden the river's banks to protect the railroads track beds and bridges from erosion and floods. The river's ability to create habitats through natural processes is permanently damaged.

1920s: Sumas Lake is drained to support farming activities causing major impact to the area's aquatic ecosystems.

1948: Another major Fraser River flood devastates the valley causing thousands of people to be evacuated and millions of dollars in damage to property, agriculture and infrastructure. Since then, major dikes have been constructed throughout the region. From Chilliwack to the mouth of the river there are now more than 600 km of flood control dikes on the Lower Fraser.

1970s: Recognizing the pressures urban development is placing on farm lands, the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) is created to protect land for agricultural production. The ALR protects much of the Fraser Valley farmland from urban development, but some agricultural lands and wetland habitat have to be eliminated to make way for highways and housing.

Mid-1990s: Provincial and federal fisheries staff working in the eastern Fraser Valley see that despite years of farm practices to drain and excavate ditches, these watercourses are still important spawning and rearing habitats for salmon and trout. Recognizing how potentially destructive these ditch-clearing practices are, fisheries agencies begin to exercise their authority to protect fish habitat under the Canada Fisheries Act resulting in community conflicts. The controversy spurs the three levels of government to start working together to resolve the long-standing agriculture-farm conflict in the valley.

2003: The Environmental Farm Plan Program is launched to encourage and support B.C. farmers to incorporate environmental stewardship practices into their businesses. The voluntary program is a partnership between Agriculture Canada, the BC Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries and the BC Agriculture Council. Farmers are eligible for financial incentives up to $30,000 in value. Together the federal and B.C. provincial government invest $34 million dollars in the program.

About the Authors

Dr. Marvin Rosenau comes by his agricultural experience of the eastern Fraser Valley honestly. He was born in Chilliwack, raised as a child on a dairy farm in the area.

It was his fascination with the fishes in the ditches, sloughs and streams around his home and the Fraser River that led him into the field as a fisheries-habitat scientist. He still maintains a strong connection with the area. He has seen many changes in the eastern Fraser Valley landscape over time, many of them not for the better, in his opinion.

Until recently, Dr. Rosenau was a fisheries biologist with the British Columbia Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection. Currently he is on a dual secondment to the UBC Fisheries Centre as a visiting scientist working on a variety of issues including a 50-year fishery-harvest data base for British Columbia examining historical changes in this province's marine fisheries, and the British Columbia Institute of Technology teaching its Fish Management course.

He holds a Bachelors Honours and a Master's degree in the zoological sciences from the University of British Columbia and a DPhil in biosciences from the University of Waikato in New Zealand. He has co-authored with Mark Angelo five different habitat reports for the Pacific Fisheries Resource Conservation Council since 1999.

Mark Angelo is a noted river conservationist, outdoor leader, teacher and writer. He is program head and instructor of the Fish, Wildlife and Recreation Department of the British Columbia Institute of Technology. He is a recipient of the Companion of the Order of Canada and also holds the Order of British Columbia in recognition of outstanding achievement in preserving Canada's waterways.

Mr. Angelo was also the first recipient of the National River Conservation Award as Canada's most outstanding river conservationist in the past decade. His involvement with conservation issues in British Columbia spans three decades, and he has published more than 200 articles and editorials. Mr. Angelo's "Riverworld" presentation, which takes the audience on an around the world journey by river while making a passionate plea to better protect the world's waterways, has been shown to enthusiastic reviews and packed houses across North America. He is the founder of BC Rivers Day, which attracts up to 75,000 participants annually, and his river conservation efforts were recently recognized by the United Nations as part of the International Year and Fresh Water and Wonder of Water celebrations. Mr. Angelo was recently appointed Chair of the inaugural World Rivers Day celebrations.

Contact Information

  • Pacific Fisheries Resource Conservation Council
    Gordon Ennis
    Managing Director, PFRCC
    (604) 775-6070
    or
    Pacific Fisheries Resource Conservation Council
    Michelle Cook
    PFRCC Media Liaison
    (604) 833-2734
    www.fish.bc.ca