22 April 2016

Controversial fishing program at Hastings Park Sanctuary puts Vancouver's new biodiversity policy to the test

VANCOUVER, B.C. - On the agenda of the public PNE/Hastings Park Board meeting Friday evening, April 22 (6 PM, PNE Hastings Room) is a motion to endorse the continuation of the controversial “Learn to Fish” program first implemented at the Hastings Lagoon and Sanctuary in Hastings Park in 2013.

But at least one regular park-goer, Vanessa Scott - who has lived adjacent to Hastings Park since 2007 and has a background in communications, governance and environmental science - will be attending tonight’s meeting to say “not so fast.”

According to Scott, Hastings Lagoon & Sanctuary was originally constructed as a biofiltration wetland, intended to naturally filter pollution from urban runoff soiled by the emissions of nearby major streets, parking lots and a nearby gas station. It has since become an important anchor for biodiversity in the area, attracting at least 137 bird species, including nesting species-at-risk Green Herons and Bald Eagles.

Scott worries about the public health effects of consuming fish caught in a lagoon designed to capture and filter toxic pollutants, and about the cumulative impacts of the fishing program on the overall biodiversity of the Sanctuary and surrounding area.

“I was thrilled to learn that the City of Vancouver this week adopted a biodiversity strategy that explicitly recognizes the importance of constructed wetlands to biodiversity, and that also recognizes the Hastings Lagoon and Sanctuary as one of the largest of Vancouver’s rare freshwater wetlands,” said Scott. “I sincerely hope that in light of this new strategy, the PNE Board will reconsider the fishing program at the Sanctuary.”

Green Party of Vancouver Park Board Commissioner Stuart Mackinnon, long an advocate for Hastings Park to be placed under Park Board governance is more scathing in his criticism.

“The 'fishing program' is in a place called the Sanctuary. It was purpose built just for that: to be a Sanctuary for people and wildlife. This venture goes completely against its purpose and design. This is an outrageous attempt by the PNE and Vision Vancouver to turn every square inch of Hastings Park into an amusement park,” said Mackinnon.

Green Heron photographed at Hastings Lagoon and Sanctuary April 16, 2016. Photo credit: Jock McCracken (https://www.flickr.com/photos/141768494@N08/26407814776/)

19 April 2016

Vancouver Park Board increases city’s biodiversity with salt marsh

Vancouver Park Board
News Release
April 19, 2016

The Vancouver Park Board is creating a salt marsh in New Brighton Park to restore fish and wildlife habitat along the shore of Burrard Inlet, and improve access to nature for park visitors.
The Board approved a concept plan for the creation of this unique two-hectare (five-acre) intertidal wetland last night. Coastal wetlands are critical for juvenile salmon as they migrate from rivers and streams, as well as for shorebirds and waterfowl that use them as resting spots. 
“The salt marsh is unique in Metro Vancouver and will provide critical habitat for juvenile fish, shorebirds, waterfowl and migrating birds in one of our most beautiful shoreline parks,” said Vancouver Park Board Chair Sarah Kirby-Yung. 
“This ambitious project stems from the Park Board’s Biodiversity Strategy to create healthy ecosystems and enhance natural areas throughout the city. It’s going to be an exciting opportunity for park visitors to see the ebb and flow of tides into the salt marsh, and the seasonal patterns of bird activity and vegetation change.”
The salt marsh is a partnership between the Park Board and the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority. The concept plan was created after three rounds of public consultation and ongoing engagement with Aboriginal groups. The salt marsh design includes viewing platforms, interpretive signs, picnic tables, and enhanced access to the east beach.
The Park Board has committed $400,000 to the project, while the Port will fund the remainder of the project’s $3-million budget. Park Board staff will work with the Port to advance the concept plan through detailed design, permitting and construction with a completion target of spring 2017. 
“Our partnership with the Vancouver Park Board on this project supports the goals of our Habitat Enhancement Program, which focuses on creating, restoring and enhancing fish and wildlife habitat,” said Duncan Wilson, Vancouver Fraser Port Authority’s Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility. “New Brighton Park provides a significant opportunity for the program and we look forward to working with the Board to complete the project.”
The salt marsh supports the Park Board’s BiodiversityStrategy and BirdStrategy, and was proposed as part of the 2011 Hastings Park / PNE Master Plan. 
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Media contact:
Vancouver Park Board

07 April 2016

When is a park...not a park?

There is a lot of concern in the Fraserlands neighbourhood [an area of Killarney that runs along the Fraser river from the foot of Victoria drive to Boundary road] about a casual playing field attached to Riverfront Park. This field has been a feature in the neighbourhood for a couple of decades and has become integral to the warmth, beauty, and sense of belonging of the community. People play pick up football here. An Ultimate league plays here. Kids learn to play games, adults socialize, lovers picnic, and dogs gambol in this space. Some would call it the heart of the neighbourhood.

This is where folks meet a lot of their neighbours. This is where people congregate to talk, exchange neighbourhood news, and where the community comes out to play. But this might just come to an end because this field...is not a park.

The Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation has exclusive jurisdiction over parkland in Vancouver. But because this field is not parkland, but city owned land, the Park Board has no control over what happens here. Many would think this strange, as the Park Board maintains this field, programs this field, and in every way looks after it. Strange that a field that appears to be part of Riverfront Park is not. And stranger that the city seems to have plans for this field and has not consulted with the community. At all.

Word spread like wildfire after the city started soil testing. I had many folks approach me asking what was going on. My inquiries resulted in being told that it was just routine maintenance and nothing out of the ordinary. But keen community members delved further and discovered, not easily, that the city actually does have plans for it.

Since the late 80's, when this formerly industrial (Canadian White Pines mill) land was redeveloped into a beautiful residential area, this particular piece of land has been zoned for an elementary school or daycare. The years went by and, as school enrolment and budgets declined, this field was all but abandoned by the city and became an integral part of the local community.

Enter the River District [formerly known as the East Fraser Lands or EFL], the new development between Kerr st and Boundary road. This new community, which will feature more than 10 000 new residents, includes a daycare and a school. But according to one source, who spoke to the City Planner for the EFL, the "city has been unable to find a suitable site in the sprawling East Fraserlands [River District] on which to quickly and cheaply build a child care facility". So they are looking to city land outside the new community.

That land just might be this playing field.

Casual playing fields are at a premium in any neighbourhood, but are absolutely non-existent in the  Fraserlands. The neighbourhood has a beautiful river walk, a children's playground, and a lovely picnic area with washrooms, but no field to play on. Taking this away would be a huge blow to the neighbourhood.

It is hard to believe that in the huge new development of the River District, the city cannot find space for a day care facility. It is mind blowing that city planners did not think of this in all the years that this area was under consideration. The official development plan from 2006 envisioned a daycare facility in the new 'town centre' which is currently under construction, but the planner spoken to said it was too close to a main arterial road: Marine Drive.

It would seem that there is plenty of space in the new development that could be used for this necessary amenity without taking another valuable amenity in another neighbourhood away.

So far none of this information has been readily available. Residents have had to investigate for themselves. The whole process seems to be shrouded in secrecy. Why has the city not told residents about the proposed changes?  Day care is vitally important, but so is recreation. So is consultation. There must be a way of resolving this conflict.

But first there needs to be dialogue with the community.

Since publishing this blog, the City held an open house on Wednesday, May 4, 2016 and has asked for input. You can give yours here.