The Globe and Mail newspaper reporter Mark Hume has just reviewed the Community Mapping Network (CMN) work which sampled the 151 habitat restoration projects along the Fraser River estuary built in the last three decades. These projects were to compensate for development that occurred in this environmentally sensitive area.  Unfortunately, a new study shows that the Fraser estuary is slowly being eroded by development despite a 30-year-old federal policy that has sought to protect the area from any net loss of habitat by requiring developers to replace any that are destroyed.

“The Fraser River estuary is a globally important zone of biodiversity with 17,000 hectares of rich wetlands used annually by 1.4 million migratory birds and 2 billion juvenile salmon. The area’s importance was recognized in 2012 under the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance. “Of a sample of 151 projects,  only one-third of sampled marsh habitat compensation projects created between 1983 and 2010 are acceptably compensating for habitat losses; and that several riparian habitat compensation projects from this same time period had significant deficiencies”. 

Replacement marshes were choked with invasive plant species and projects failed to resemble natural riparian environments in their structure, function and connectivity to the aquatic environment.” Despite a policy of “no net loss”  “developers have been carving up prime wetlands and replacing them mostly with something of lesser value, while the government has been claiming no net loss of habitat”.

The actual report says  it more directly: “We found only 1/3 of the sites surveyed achieved a No-Net-Loss target as required by Fisheries and Oceans policy. This represents a significant failure to compensate for habitat destroyed for land use development in the current Port Metro Vancouver area of responsibility”. Those Port Metro Vancouver ads talking about outstanding habitat management appear to be “post-truth”.

As the Globe and Mail states “Vital wildlife habitat in the Fraser estuary is being managed so it looks nice to people, not for the survival of wildlife“. Put that in the perspective of the  proposed federal government expansion of the Roberts Bank Terminal 2 which would take out the layer of biofilm that is absolutely essential to  migrating sandpipers, and cannot be replicated or duplicated anywhere else on the migratory route. Naturalists believe that without these replenishing nutrients that the western sandpiper may cease.

So there you have it. We can expand to a second port terminal, or we can keep a species alive. There will be lots of  industrialists that will say that another habitat can be recreated, but biologists say that is not so. The concept of “no net loss” is crucial to any environmental assessment. As the Globe and Mail states: “The proposed new container port would encroach on mud flats used by 100,000 migrating western sandpipers. That is vital habitat, and it is hard to see how that project can go ahead when the report makes it clear that “no net loss” is largely a myth”.