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Surrey proceeds with road construction during breeding season of endangered species

Local activist speaking for animals denied standing in BC Supreme Court on Jan. 8 2018

by Roslyn Cassells

Media release – Jan. 9, 2018 in Surrey, BC. With regret a Supreme Court judge ruled Monday against a local woman’s petition to halt construction on a North Surrey park, home to a number of endangered, threatened, at risk, of special concern, and provincially blue and red-listed species.

The legal battle to halt destruction of the delicate ecosystems and riparian and terrestrial habitats in the park came after the City’s draft Environmental Impact Report was released to the public on Dec. 20, 2017. The report cited the likelihood of the presence of a number species under the jurisdiction of the Species At Risk Act, Committee On the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, and the Conservation Data Centre (CDC).

While the report cited likely presence of 13 species at risk/provincially listed species (Cutthroat trout, Great Blue Heron, Rough-legged Hawk, Common Nighthawk, Barn Swallow, Band-tailed Pigeon, Barn Owl, Townsend’s Big-eared Bat, Little Brown Myotis Bat, Western Toad, Northern Red-legged Frog, Western Painted Turtle, and Monarch Butterfly), no surveys were done to identify where the animals were living or to protect their habitats, a violation of the various species’ Recovery/Management plans mandated under Section 44 of SARA, and downloaded to provincial responsibility by the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk in Canada, and the Canada – British Columbia Agreement on Species at Risk.

In addition to the species cited in the report, local biologists and naturalists identified several other species likely to be in the park, including the Pacific Water Shrew (SARA Schedule 1, COSEWIC – endangered, and provincially red-listed), Oregon Forestsnail (SARA Schedule 1, COSEWIC – endangered, provincially red-listed), Vancouver Island Beggartick (SARA – Schedule 1, COSEWIC – special concern, provincially blue-listed, and the Western Screech Owl ( SARA – schedule 1, COSEWIC – endangered, and provincially blue-listed).

The Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy George Heyman was urgently contacted on Dec. 27, 2017 by biologist Ken Bennett, who sat on the Recovery Strategy for the Pacific Water Shrew in BC, was involved in developing shrew habitat in North Vancouver, and worked as a biologist for 35 years for Surrey, District of North Vancouver, and Richmond.

Bennett identified portions of Hawthorne Park as habitat suitable for Pacific Water Shrews, Western Toad, and Northern Red-legged Frog. He urged the minister to halt the project in Hawthorne Park “until the proponent can satisfy the Minister that the obligations under SARA and the Recovery Plans and the Best Management Practices have been met.” Bennett wrote “The Pacific Water Shrew is not mentioned in the report, however, based upon the rating system of the Best Management Practices for the shrew, the forested areas within 100 metres of Bon Accord and Hawthorne Creeks can be considered as moderate habitat for the shrew and the shrew must be considered present. There are known occurrences in North Surrey and the historical range would have included many of the creeks and riparian areas in Surrey but are now fragmented. The forested riparian areas of Hawthorne Park fit the description of potential or capable habitat for the Pacific Water Shrew.”

The Environment Minister did not do his duty to the animals under his jurisdiction and has not, to date, called on the City of Surrey to survey for these species and protect their habitats as is required under SARA, the BC Wildlife Act, the various Recovery/Management plans, and Best Management Practices.

With habitat and wildlife destruction to begin on Jan. 8, 2018, former Vancouver park commissioner and teacher Roslyn Cassells filed a petition in BC Supreme Court on behalf of the neglected wildlife species on Dec. 29, 2017. The City, provincial Environment ministry, and federal Environment ministry ignored to petition, which requested work be halted on the Hawthorne Park road project until such time as the City complied with SARA, the BC Wildlife Act, and the various Recovery/Management plans. On Friday Jan. 6, 2018, Cassells, a former Vancouver park commissioner, got leave for a short notice court date and forced the City of Surrey to appear in BC Supreme Court on Jan. 8, 2018.

The Best Management Practices Guidelines for Pacific Water Shrew in Urban and Rural Areas – May 2010 – V. Craig et al. BC Ministry of Environment, Ecosystems Standards and Planning, Biodiversity Branch states “All environmental assessments that occur within the range of the Pacific Water Shrew, and involve projects that will occur within, or result in habitat modification within 100m of any waterbody (stream, creek, wetland, march, ocean, ephemeral or intermittent watercourse) should include Pacific Water Shrew”. The City of Surrey’s report did not.

It continues - “Where a Pacific Water Shrew is captured, or in areas of habitat rated as high or moderate capability for Pacific Water Shrew (based on ratings available from the Ministry of Environment), these guidelines recommend the implementation of a 100m protective area around the habitat.” Ken Bennett states the habitat in Hawthorne Park is “moderate”. So even if surveys were not done, or surveys were done and no shrews were found, the city is obliged to provide the 100m riparian setbacks, which it is refusing to do.

According to the Best Management Practices and the Recovery Plan for the animal the major threats to the shrew are habitat loss, habitat degradation, and habitat fragmentation. All three of these will be caused by the Hawthorne Park road construction project. The BC Wildlife Act prohibits killing the shrews, harassing them, or destroying their homes and habitats…all of which will happen when the road construction goes ahead.

Although the Best Management Practices as well as the Recovery Plan for the shrew call for a number of objectives the responsible Minister and Ministry of Environment is negligent in his duty to protect this species on the brink of extinction. Specifically the BMP and RPPWS call for, among other actions: protection of known extant sites, restoration of historical and important potential habitats, prevention of habitat fragmentation and ensuring habitat connectivity, prevention of loss of not yet discovered populations, and the addressing of immediate threats to mortality.

Taking a page from the former federal Conservatives (who cut funding for weather research so they could deny existence of global warming), the City of Surrey is refusing to survey for species at risk so they can deny their likely existence in the park and therefore their habitat protections which would necessarily halt the road construction.

The City, with its rapacious developers gobbling up prime wildlife habitat and delicate ecosystems with their thirst for profits and their worst management practices, have turned Surrey into an environmental pariah among the more progressive municipalities in the lower mainland. Ultimately serious council decisions are handed down to city council by a handful of wealthy developers, who funded the last election to the tune of $902,000.

Our city, and our ecology deserve better. We deserve elected officials who stand up for the best interests of all the residents of the city, be they wealthy or poor, a bird, an animal, an insect, or a plant. Until our society respects all species’ intrinsic values, and their right to exist, the assault on biodiversity and social justice will have a terrible effect on the world we leave for future generations. A better world is possible, let’s make it so!

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