Thursday January 27, 2011

Environment 

Fish Fracas May See Sucker Ditched

Stam and Huttema come out swinging at DFO over fish

Staff/Voice

 

f the idiom "never give a sucker an even break" were to apply here, then it would be safe to say that any Salish Sucker, in any farm ditch in the Upper Fraser Valley, will become even more threatened than it already is.

At issue is the flooding of farmland due to weed-choked ditches that need to be scraped clean every now and then. If not, then there is an inherent flood risk which grows yearly and threatens the livelihood of farmers in the Fraser Valley lowlands.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), says the ditches are habitat to Salish Suckers, and because of that, some Chilliwack farmers could face expropriation of between 15-meters and 30-meters of land adjacent to ditches on their land.

The scenario is not unlike what Governor James Douglas did with Fraser Valley Stó:lō Natives in the early 1860s when he expropriated their land.

Councillor Chuck Stam said at last week's regular City Hall meeting, that both he and Councillor Ken Huttema attended the DFO Open House on Jan. 17 at the Coast Hotel.

The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the DFO's plans to protect the imperiled Salish Sucker and stop the degradation of it's habitat.

According to Coun. Stam, the meeting was attended by 200 landowners who voiced their concern over the possibility of losing hundreds of ditch-acres which could be expropriated from the Agriculture Land Reserve (ALR) to give right-of-way to the fish. He said that there was "very little supporting evidence that the Salish Sucker population is actually in decline."

The argument isn't whether the endangered fish may or not may be in decline. The crux of the problem is preservation of what habitat it has left so it doesn't go into further decline. After all, these tiny fish have been around since the last ice age and they deserve every protection that Ottawa can afford it.

"The effective policy, when you read the interim report, or the draught report, it says 'thou shalt not plow, disturb the soil, mow the grass' or anything within that 15-meter or 30-meter set-back, which according to our GIS (Geographic Information System) staff here, effectively removes 502-acres from the ALR," explained Coun. Stam.

Coun. Stam said that the meeting saw some heated but fruitful discussion however, arguments for the preservation of the fish were what he called "thin" adding that he has been gathering information to strengthen the farmer's opposition to DFO.

"There was no evidence other than the fact that it's on a list in Ottawa is the only reason this is being carried out, said Coun. Stam who promised a fight.

"We'll be building a bit of a case as to how to take this forward and which departments we want working on this," he said.

"I thank the DFO for coming to the community and for opening up their doors and for allowing this discussion to start, but it's far from over."

At the previous council meeting, Coun. Huttema made a motion, which was passed, to amend city bylaws allowing council to add their comments when forwarding an application to the Agricultural Land Commission for removal of land from the ALR. Previously, council withheld any remarks so as not to influence the outcome of an application.

Once that motion was passed, council as a whole, were able to add their comments in support of a dairy farm application in Greendale who's operators want to have farmland removed from the ALR for the purpose of expanding their business interests.

One can argue that with West Nile Virus here to stay, the City can use all the help they can get controlling the mosquito population. According to DFO's website, the diminutive Salish Sucker lives for 4-5 years and eats insect larvae. Also as a matter of interest, when looking at the sucker habitat area on a BC map, one thumb can cover the entire area in the corner of the Upper Fraser Valley that it calls home.

Chilliwack council will have to work hard to reach a happy medium with farmers and DFO over the preservation of this endangered species or once again the environment loses.

 

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