Tree Killer Caught

Back in August I wrote that a number of mature trees in Vancouver had been poisoned by someone who apparently wanted to improve their oceanfront view.

The Vancouver media reports some good news:

"Five trees were poisoned with herbicide along Beach Avenue in Vancouver’s west end. A woman who owned a condo directly opposite them has been charged."

Link: Woman suspected of poisoning beachfront trees appears in court.

Continue reading “Tree Killer Caught”

So who’s gonna grow the food?

Here are some interesting factoids about Canadian agriculture from the Canadian Agriculture Museum Website

  • every day, each of us consumes or uses something produced on farms
  • there are approx. 280,000 farms in Canada
  • today, only 3% of Canadians live on farms; in 1930, Canada became more urban than rural (i.e. more than 50% of the population lived in cities)
  • in 1900 one farmer could produce enough food to feed 7 – 10 people; today a Canadian farmer can feed 90 people or more due to more efficient production methods
  • we export 40% to 50% of our gross agricultural produce
  • major exports are grains, red meats and oilseeds
  • major markets are USA, China, Japan and the former USSR
  • major imports are fruits, vegetables and nuts
  • Canada’s food prices are among the lowest in the world
  • more than 98% of all farms in Canada are family owned and operated.

So we import most of our fruits, vegetables, and nuts, eh? The food we eat? That doesn’t surprise me. All of Canada’s good quality farmland — the kind that produces the food that nourishes us — is located in a narrow strip along the southern border. Settlers were attracted to these areas for exactly that reason, however now small settlements have grown into huge cities that are chewing up first class farmland and spitting out suburbia and highways. This is a huge problem in Ontario, and is particularly serious in the lower mainland of B.C., where suburban growth is exponential and most of the province’s miniscule 1% of good farmland is being eyed for housing developments. The region’s Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) policies have been somewhat successful in holding back the tide of suburbia, though vulnerable to corruption (in BC politics??? no!!!) and powerful development interests.

For an idea of how “the other side” rationalizes in favour of development, check out this article from the “Planning and Markets” Website:

In terms of stated policy objectives, Vancouver’s ALR was quite successful. The rationale was that it was important to protect prime agricultural land in the Lower Mainland because 3 percent of the agricultural land produced 40 percent of British Columbia’s agricultural output. But is this rational? Given that there is a world food market that is easily accessible to wealthy nations and regions, and that British Columbia accounts for a trivial proportion of world food output, why should a rapidly growing metropolitan region (a projected 65 percent increase by 2021) need to have any agricultural production at all? The only answer, and perhaps it is an acceptable answer, is that 85 percent of the electorate approves of the ALR. The only objection to this position is whether the electorate was fully informed about some of the costs of the ALR, in terms of higher house prices and other costs. If the remaining ALR was abolished, it could accommodate 3.6 million more people at current incremental densities!

Apparently, ordinary common sense is not a requisite for a good education, as this writer very nicely illustrates. Yes, let’s all depend on someone else to take care their good farmland and supply us with food, and pray that they don’t follow our own example. God help us.

Fortunately, there are good people who do have some common sense, and who are fighting a battle that shouldn’t have to be fought. In Abbotsford, on the lower mainland outside of Vancouver, Dave Sands is helping lead the charge. Dave was a speaker and panel member at a public forum in June called “Our Foodlands Under Threat”, and as he said, “We shouldn’t even be having this seminar. We shouldn’t even have applications for our farm land.”

…tomato grower Dave Ryall caught many people in the audience off guard when he made an emotional plea to cities to preserve the local farm land.

“We don’t have to live on soil that can be producing food. With the stroke of a pen, the power of a bulldozer, we can destroy what took nature millions of years to develop,” he said. With just three per cent of Canadians working as farmers, they have no political voice left, so “it’s up to urban residents to protect food lands,” he said.

It’s worth repeating: With just three per cent of Canadians working as farmers, they have no political voice left, so it’s up to urban residents to protect food lands.

Think about it.

Poisoned Trees in Vancouver, B.C.

Having lived in North Vancouver, B.C. for several years, I know first-hand how jealously people protect their “views”. A elderly neighbour once told me that she snuck down to the local waterfront park one night and removed the bark around the perimeter of a very large Douglas Fir to try to kill it, because it was blocking her view, and the city had refused all demands to take the top off the tree. She thought I would be pleased with her because, being her neighbour, the tree partially blocked my view of the water as well.

Ugh. I’ve always felt badly that I didn’t report that ignorant old bag. But she’s not alone in her attitude, many a neighbourly war has been fought between those who love trees, and those who’d like them all reduced to the size of bonsai plants.

Case in point: This disturbing article from the Vancouver Courier.

A West Side woman says if mature trees aren’t planted in place of the ones poisoned on Beach Avenue earlier this month, a dangerous precedent will be set.

“If whoever did this gets away with it, people will look at that and say ‘Hey I can do that too,'” Adele Kowsewg said. “How would the city look if everyone just cut down trees to improve their view?”

Three of the five 30-year-old trees, two London planes and an oak, died after they were were injected with a powerful herbicide available only in the U.S. Police believe the poisoning was motivated by a resident wanting to clear the view of trees. Horrified at what happened, Kowsewg wants to start a fund to help the parks board replace the trees with others of the same size. She’s willing to put up $100 and has already recruited a friend to throw in another $50.

“Darn it, no one should be able to get away with this,” she said. “These were beautiful trees that gave shade to the public. They should have been left alone.”


These folks need some help from PlantAmnesty (“PlantAmnesty‚Äôs mission is to end the senseless torture and mutilation of trees and shrubs.”). Here is an excellent article from their Web site, 5 Reasons to Stop Topping Trees.

The Great Canadian Couch Tour

I’ve finally finished my Grand Couch Tour photo album and it’s now online.

Ya, I know that what you really want to see is pictures of Munich! I’m getting there. I couldn’t cope until I got this load off my back.

And to add a touch of relevance to this post, the photo album does contain a picture of a native orchid that I spotted during a hike to Cheakamus Lake near Whistler, B.C. It was a hunch, really — the plant was clearly saprophytic — one that has no leaves and no clorophyll, so it can’t make it’s own food. It gets its nutrients through a symbiotic relationship with a subterranean mycorrhizal fungus. Anyway, it looked a lot like the coral root orchids I saw on the Bruce Peninsula.

close-up photo credit

I sent a photo to North American orchid expert David McAdoo, who very helpfully wrote back immediately with this reply:

You are right about the plant – it is an orchid. It is a coral root by the name of Corallorhiza mertensiana. If you got to the Bruce this year, you might have seen C. striata and/or C. maculata which are about the same size. There are 3 more – C. trifida (spring), C. wisterina (spring), and C. odontorhiza (fall) – but they are much smaller. We have one more in the south – C. bentleyi – that you don’t have. It was only discovered and named about 5 years ago. That is all that there are in North America.

Another nice find during my tour was a breathtaking clump of bunchberry in bloom in the forest — a entire meadow full of them. The forest floor was white with their starry blooms. I won’t forget that sight.

Vancouver Highlights

I leave Vancouver early tomorrow morning. How do you lose two weeks? It feels like I just got here.

The highlight of my visit was an overnight trip to Whistler with Meeg and Kris this past weekend. We wandered the village, drank beer and ate chicken wings, and took full advantage of the lodge’s sauna, hot tub, and swimming pool. It’s truly God’s country up there — everything about it is spectacular, including the price of housing. I had to laugh when I came across a real estate listing in the local paper — $1,195,000 (yes, that’s one million) for a modest home, and the ad was quick to point out the income potential from the rental suite made this property “a great value”. Good grief, can you imagine some first-time buyer with a million bucks to spend turning to his wife and saying, “yes Gladys, this is a good one because we can rent out the basement and cover some of the mortgage” !?

cheakamusOn Saturday we did a wonderful hike to Cheakamus Lake, a glacier-fed lake in Garibaldi Park just outside of the village. It’s an easy 3km hike to the lake, though the 8km drive from the highway to the parking lot was a bone-shaking 4-wheel drive experience. The scenery is … fantastic. I never forgot my first and only visit to this beautiful lake about 10 years ago, and was very glad for the opportunity to visit again.

The path wound through a forest of gigantic cedar and douglas fir, ancient trees big enough to make you feel like a small child, full of wonder. Bear scat on the trail added that extra frisson of excitement, and though I appreciated Kris’ lough calls to warn off any lingering grizzlies, I secretly thought he would have chosen something better than “Here Bear! Here Bear!”. To the left I’ve snitched a picture from the Web to show you just how lovely this place is — I’ll post my own pics as soon as I can. I did come across a gorgeous large clump of bunchberry (a very small relative of Dogwood) in bloom, some wild orange lilies, and what I think are orchids. I’ll post those pics too when I get settled long enough to download them from my camera. Fortunately we started early, because by the time we turned around and made our way back to the car, hikers were coming at us by the dozens. So much for a pristine wilderness experience!

IMG_1572cOn the subject of grizzly bears, today Meeg and I took the gondola up Grouse Mountain today, and visited the two resident cubs — Grinder and Coola. Though the two orphaned bears are surrounded by what can only be described as a “tourist trap”, Grouse Mountain is adamant that it’s all in the name of science and education, not marketing. Well, I have my doubts but have to admit they seem like happy bears in a nice enclosure, and it was cool to see grizzlies up close. With an electric fence between me and them, I can say with all honestly that they are extremely endearing. Powerful, magnificent creatures, and cute.

Bye Meeg and Kris, I’ll miss you!

Chasing birds

Hot and sunny weekend days in Vancouver are not the time to be wandering around…every one of the 2 million people who live here, plus the 2 million who have come to visit, are out on the street, on the beach, and in their cars. All desperate for a quiet spot to commune with nature and gaze dully at the spectacular scenery. I am no exception, except that unlike many visitors, I know HOW to escape the crowds within city limits.

great-blue-heronI went to a museum. I wandered through the trails of Pacific Spirit Regional Park. I sat on a quiet spot on a log just inside the boundary of Wreck Beach, nodding hello to the sunworshippers passing by on their way to the nudie section. I sat for a long time and watched a group of 13 Great Blue Herons feed at the edge of the incoming tide, until a dog chased them, followed them down the beach until they gracefully landed, and chased them again. A woman waved her arms and whistled, to which the dog responded with the classic canine version of the middle finger — it kept running.

Later, I passed this same woman on the path. She gave me a vapid smile and a hello, and I was almost past her when the impulse hit me to stop and have a word.

“I saw your dog chase those herons. It was very upsetting.”
“Oh”, she replied in a plummy Jane Goodall british accent, “the problem really is that it’s a off-leash area, yew know, wot wot”.

I was less than impressed with that response.

“No actually, the problem is owners who don’t control their dogs and allow them to chase the wildlife. I was very angry that you allowed your dog to do that.”

It was like bouncing a ball off a hard wall. She blithely carried on in a manner that indicated she had been watching too many nature shows on TV, and thought she actually knew what she was talking about. “The herons are preparing for their 7 o’clock feeding and they will return at the next tide to…” blah blah blah. “They are accustomed to the dogs on the beach….” blah blah blah, topping it off with an inane “law of the wild and all that, yew know, wot wot”.

“Madam”, I replied to this idiotic lecture, “there is more than enough pressure on wildlife without your generous assistance. If you are going to let your dog off-leash, then it is your responsibility to ensure that your dog is under control at all times, and THAT means, the dog comes when he’s called the first time ’round.”

woodpeckerShe just looked at me with stupified smile on her face, one normal resevered for imbeciles and born-again Christians. I turned and continued walking, fuming at yet another stupid dog owner, the kind that ruins a good thing for everyone else.

I fumed for a while longer. A few of the herons came back to feed, until they were disturbed by someone wading in the water toward them. Point taken. Human stupidity is not the sole domain of dog owners.

In spite of this, I enjoyed my walk through this giant forest in the middle of the city. It’s bigger and better than Stanley Park, and few tourists even know about it. One of the highlights was coming across a beautiful pileated woodpecker. He was on the ground, and jumped to a nearby tree about 10 feet away as I passed. I got a good, long, close-up look at this handsome fellow.

Here endeth Sunday’s epistle.

I’m Over the Hump Now…

Last monday marked the end of my travels as influenza’s answer to Typhoid Mary. For a week I wandered from friend to relative, from relative to friend, passing my germs and leaving a trail of people waving goodbye with index fingers firmly pressed on hissing cans of Lysol spray disinfectant. I finally had to leave the province, and am currently hiding out in Vancouver with my best buddy, Meegan, and her husband, Kris, for two solid weeks. I did call ahead to warn them. Meegs, who loves me no matter what, welcomed me with open arms but warned me to steer clear of Kris, who is competing in a very important Dragon-Boat Festival this weekend. I kissed him on the cheek last night, and told him that I felt sure I was past the contagious stage, and if not, he couldn’t possibly get sick that fast. He cocked an eyebrow and did not look reassured.

Thanks to the miracle of modern antibiotics, my body has given up all attempts to cough up a lung. My energy is still only making abbreviated appearances, however, causing me much anxiety. Well, it’s the weather that caused the anxiety, initally, but I’m starting to relax. I’m used to a Vancouver where everyday life comes to an abrupt stop when the sun comes out. A Vancouver where, at the first glimpse of blue sky, you drop whatever you’re doing and make a frenzied dash for some outdoor recreational activity, before the rain falls again. Hence my anxiety at the cloudless blue sky and my concurrent inability to roust myself from the couch before noon each day. That was Monday. By Wednesday I stopped worrying. Now it’s Saturday, and the forecast calls for more clear skies and hot weather into the middle of next week. No fear of rain — I think that global warming would be a more realistic concern right now.

I have managed to get out on some interesting outings, for all that.

For the first couple of days, I took some scenic drives, and did some scenic sitting-on-beaches — Porteau Cove, Horseshoe Bay, a wonderful afternoon at Lighthouse Park, and Deep Cove.

Yesterday I felt well enough to attempt an easy hike. I hankered to sit at the top of Mount Seymour again, and take in the spectacular 360 degree view of the city, the ocean, the mighty Fraser River, the volcanoes Baker and Rainier, and to the north, the endless Coast Mountain Range, frosted with snow. I’ve never forgotten my last visit to the summit, nor the overheard conversation of the adventurers perched nearby, discussing the thrills of going airborne over the infamous “Humber Hump” on Toronto’s Gardiner Expressway at 120km per hour. That was ten years ago. Back then I had a canine hiking buddy and a lot more energy, and was far more nonchalant about encountering bears. Life in Toronto since then has softened me up (the Humber Hump, after all, was smoothed out soon after my return), not to mention a good bout with the ‘flu. So, I consulted the “Lone Pine Pocket Guide to the Best Hikes and Walks of Southwestern British Columbia”, and looked for something easy to get me started.

I found one that sounded perfect: “Dog Mountain”. Easy, it said. “…it’s a great first hike for kids…for a quick summer hike after work…for older folks.”

“Heck”, he writes, “my 68 year-old mum accompanied me on one outing with no problems…”

Oh, the shame. I soon discovered that this “easy hike” was more of a tap dance among tangled roots and sharp rocks, challenged by my not-quite-broken-in hiking boots built for expeditions up the Swiss Alps, boots that felt like cement casings at the bottom of wobbly legs. And though the sun was shining and it was hot at the sea level, up here be snow, still. Rotting spring snow. Trail markers 20 feet up in the Douglas Fir trees assured me that the snow was in the final stages of retreat, but, every second footstep I took broke through to mid-thigh, leaving me cursing and with bootfuls of cold wet…snow. In places where the snow had melted, the trail followed active stream beds ankle deep in water, with lots of mud, and flies. Not fun. On my way out, a young Asian couple passed me, dressed in sneakers and club-wear, delicately picking their way quickly over the trail like forest sprites, seeming oblivious to the conditions. Maybe they were in love. Or I am truly, shockingly, out of practice on this hiking business.

It was enough to send me back to the couch. Remind me to send a grouchy letter to that author.