12 July 2012

Developing Vancouver's municipal golf courses could be "disastrous for biodiversity"

Mayor Gregor Robertson may downplay the value of city-owned golf courses such as Langara for their green space and biodiversity—and dream of housing developments on bulldozed links—but nature experts disagree.

“In recent years, a lot of the golf courses, particularly in Vancouver, have changed their tune to a much happier degree for wildlife,” Mike Mackintosh, urban-wildlife manager and 30-year veteran at the Vancouver park board, told the Straight by phone. “The reduced use of herbicides and fungicides…has been very good.”

Asked about biodiversity, Mackintosh said the courses generally have ponds, thickets, hedgerows, and areas of planted trees “that do provide habitat for a much greater diversity of species than we used to see”.

Last month, Robertson told the Vancouver Sun it was “debatable” whether Langara Golf Course “is valuable green space”.

“The public can’t access it; it is not biodiverse and there is no strong business case,” the paper quoted the mayor as saying on June 26. Robertson went on to say that he was amenable to the idea of allowing housing on the golf-course lands.

The mayor was not available for an interview with the paper before the Straight’s deadline.
Then, at their July 9 meeting, Vancouver park-board commissioners voted 4–2 in favour of Vision Vancouver vice chair Aaron Jasper’s motion to ask staff to “compile and report back usage and revenue metrics” of Vancouver’s golf and pitch-and-putt courses; the motion was amended to state that there was no suggested use of golf-course land for commercial or residential developments.

According to the park-board website, Vancouver’s three major municipal 18-hole courses—Fraserview, McCleery, and Langara—together comprise 186 hectares, almost 15 percent of the city’s parkland. The site also states that all three provide “prime habitat for numerous
species of birds, mammals and aquatic wildlife”.

The Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary System of Canada has certified all three courses, the board site also notes.

Jasper told media last week that Langara could be turned into a nine-hole golf course and the rest of the site made into parkland or the entire property could become a public park.
Jude Grass, a naturalist who worked for 24 years with B.C. Parks and Metro Vancouver Parks, chairs the birding section of Nature Vancouver (formerly the Vancouver Natural History Society). She said the consequences of developing housing on the Langara course are obvious: “That would be disastrous for biodiversity,” she said by phone.

Grass said the results of turning the course into parkland might not be much better for wildlife. “I think I would be against turning it into a park, because the city always seems to want to put in playing fields and lights,” she said. She added that Nature Vancouver’s 2011 bird count for the Langara course identified 70 species, and “I suspect it’s a lot more than that.” She also noted that it probably even supports deer.

Robyn Worcester, a biologist with the Stanley Park Ecology Society, told the Straight that lots of wild animals make their homes on the properties. “I know the golf courses are hot spots for coyotes, and I know that they have some waterfowl in the ponds, like geese and mallards and gadwall, and I know that they do have a variety of songbirds in the spring and fall entering into there, as well as bats,” she said by phone.

Worcester said she wasn’t sure how high the “small mammal” population was on the courses, but she noted that coyotes eat mice, rats, and other such animals and that there is probably at least one coyote den on each of the properties.

The Cambie Corridor Plan approved by city council in May 2011 includes the provision of “much needed habitat for local wildlife”, as well as strategies that “enhance and connect both aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity” in the corridor, which includes Langara Golf Course. The plan also included the Langara course in a list of the corridor’s “significant natural habitats”, and noted that the opportunity to “enhance…biodiversity within parks” was “especially high, given the scale of open space such as Queen Elizabeth Park and the Langara Golf Course”.

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