Sanctuary pond a bird-brained idea

Once again, the Vancouver Park Board is making a sham of public consultation. This time they are accompanied in this misguided adventure by the city-controlled Pacific National Exhibition (PNE).

While the park board is still in the midst of clearing up the mess it made of its relationships with the citys community centres, it has engaged in a bit of bullying involving the Hastings Community Association.

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The particular issue is a Learn to Fish program to teach East Side kids to become anglers. Its a charming idea to be sure. I can still fondly recall warm summer days as a child catching perch my mom would cook up for lunch.

But this particular program has meant threatening one of the citys major refuges for migratory and resident birds by turning it into a fishing hole open to anyone with a license.

The specific area is the small man-made pond and surrounding bush known as the Sanctuary, a four-hectare bit of tranquility located on the PNE grounds. It was established as a wildlife habitat back in 1999. And while there was some initial thought the body of water would be suitable for fish and fishing, it instead evolved into one of the citys three major greenways, including Stanley Park and Queen Elizabeth Park, which support spring and fall migrations of birds as well as breeding grounds for resident birds. A remarkable 130 species of birds have been identified there, including the relatively rare green heron I was lucky enough to see the other morning.

The idea of stocking the pond and opening it up to fishing was raised more than a year ago. There was a tour of the site led by Dave Hutch, a city planner attached to the PNE. It included Donalda Greenwell-Baker of the Hastings Park Conservancy, a group of environmentalists who, among other things, act as advisers to the Hastings Park Community Board. It was explained at the time that the pond would be stocked with trout and an area would be cleared at the north end of the pond, a favoured nesting site for water birds, and a ramp and floating dock would be installed.

Greenwell-Baker says her group was troubled by the project from the outset because of the impact it would have on birds. In July 2012, the Conservancy executive voted unanimously to oppose it.

But, she says, they heard nothing more about the project until it turned up as a line item in the Hasting Park Community Association program guide for 2013.

Conservancy members immediately went to the community centre board to explain their objections. And according to community center board member Sherry Breshears, her board decided to ask the park board and the PNE to put the program on pause. At this point the dock was not yet installed and the lake was yet to be stocked.

The park board bulldozed past the community board (no surprise there) and said it would run the program if the community centre refused.

In March of this year, Greenwell-Baker wrote a letter to the park board stating in detail their objections to the project. Ho-hum.

Meanwhile, the program continues.

A B.C. non-profit, the Freshwater Fisheries Society of B.C. will restock the lake every spring and fall. This coincides with major migratory and breeding activities of birds. They have also paid for the $30,000 dock.

But then they have a vested interest in all of this. The society is funded by revenues from the sale of freshwater fishing licenses. They are also, according to park board chair Sarah Blyth, the group that will assess any impact on bird nesting concerns.

Ironically, this threat comes at a time when both city council and the park board passed motions declaring support for a wild bird strategy. The city even created a committee made up of wild bird experts among others to support the strategy. The committee was not consulted on this project.

But others have raised objections, including George Clulow with the B.C. Field Ornithologists. And Stanley Park Ecology Society biologist Robyn Worcester, who is both a fisher and birder, says there is no question that fishing has an impact on bird life. How much impact will only be known over time.

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