Fraser River estuary being maintained to benefit people, not wildlife: study

BY MARK HUME originally appearing in The Globe and Mail 

VANCOUVER – Few cities in the world can claim the kind of wild backdrop that Metro Vancouver has.

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.

The estuary, which spreads along the shorelines of Delta, Richmond and Vancouver, is a remarkable natural treasure that deserves the highest level of protection a government can provide. 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.

A paper recently published by the Community Mapping Network (CMN) looked at a large sample of the 151 habitat-compensation projects completed over nearly three decades. It found that most of the projects had failed to achieve the goals set by government.

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Site C likely a failed megaproject

BY MARK HUME originally appearing in The Globe and Mail

The great divide over the Site C hydroelectric project on the Peace River was evident at an energy conference in Vancouver last week when two former British Columbia premiers expressed polar opposite views.

Mike Harcourt, New Democratic premier from 1991 to 1996, said the project is “a disaster” that should be abandoned, even though billions of dollars have already been spent on it.

“You cut your loss at $2-billion or you go ahead and blindly build” and end up $15-billion to $19-billion in the hole, he said, predicting massive cost overruns. Continue reading →

Under Pressure

It powers industry and is the lifeblood of healthy communities. But years of reduced federal oversight, Mark Hume writes, have left the government with major decisions about managing a resource we take for granted.

BY MARK HUME originally  appearing in The Globe and Mail 

Canadians, unlike billions of people around the world, see clean water as their birthright. Images of pristine water are rooted deep in the Canadian psyche, from Tom Thomson’s Cold Spring in Algonquin Park, to photos of Pierre Elliott Trudeau canoeing on fresh northern lakes.

As a commodity, water touches every facet of the Canadian economy. It powers industry and washes away industrial, urban and agricultural waste. Without it, turbines don’t spin, croplands become dust bowls, and rainforests burn.

But water resources can’t be protected by our good intentions alone – that takes government policy. Continue reading →

Sharks and burning scorpions in the lost islands of Myanmar

BY MARK HUME originally appeared in The Globe and Mail

MERGUI ARCHIPELAGO – The silhouette of the shark is black against a patch of dazzling white sand, then with a tail thrash it vanishes against a dark backdrop.

“Can’t anchor here without breaking coral … but you can go in,” the yacht’s skipper calls from the wheel as he starts to back away from a shallow reef on a remote island off the coast of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. The cruise has taken us into a remarkable place where we have encountered sea gypsies, giant hornbills and burning scorpions. And that’s above the surface. What lies beneath is what really drew us halfway around the world to visit a mythic country that is striving, with promises of political reform, to open itself to outside tourism.

Balanced on the transom, I look for the shark’s shadow in the vivid blue Andaman Sea, then step over as the catamaran, Ruby, a charter vessel out of Phuket, Thailand, moves away. You never know what you will see when you go into the water wearing a snorkel and mask, but here in the Mergui Archipelago, a collection of 800 isolated islands near the southern tip of Burma, we have come to expect the incredible. Continue reading →

The revelation of Paris in winter

By MARK HUME originally appeared in The Globe and Mail travel section.

Friends told us Paris was different in the winter, that it was better, as if somehow the cold rains of November and December had washed away the false patina left by the tourist crowds of summer.

Paris, which has a population of just over two million, gets more than 35 million foreign visitors a year, and most of them come in the six months from May to October. Notre-Dame de Paris, the Gothic cathedral that looms majestically over Île de la Cité, gets 13.6 million visitors a year. At the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur, which looks out from the heights of Montmarte, 10.5 million visitors annually are stunned into silence, and the Musée du Louvre, with a collection of art that is mind-numbing, draws 8.3 million tourists.

In the heat of summer, when Parisians largely flee to the seaside, tourism peaks. Want to meet an American in Paris? Book a trip in July or August. You will also meet a lot of people from a lot of countries – and most of them will be in front of you in a lineup.

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Notre-Dame, and above photo of interior alcove. (M.Hume photos)

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Hemingway and Tolstoy on the River

BY MARK HUME originally appearing in A River Never Sleeps

There’s no mistaking the lineage as Jack Hemingway comes striding up the river bank with a big trout tied around his waist, the blood of the catch staining his waders.

He looks for a moment if not like his famous father, Ernest Hemingway, then at least like one of the characters from his father’s stories. Nick, maybe, from Big Two-Hearted River, a man who loved wild places and wild fish.

“Thought it was a steelhead,” Jack says, untying the cloth rod case he’s used as a sash, to secure the fish, so that his hands would be free to continue casting. Continue reading →

The Run of the River

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Place your finger anywhere on a map of British Columbia and you will be pointing at a  river. There’s an abundance of fresh running water, seemingly enough for every use: water for our homes; white water rapids that thrill rafters on the Tatshenshini; green gurgling water that’s home to grizzlies in the Khutzeymateen; damned water to produce electricity and run smelters on the Peace, Nechako, and Columbia. There is ample water for salmon, commercial fishermen, and flyfishers from the Stikine in the north, through the sprawling rivers of the Interior, to the Cowichan on Vancouver Island.

In The Run of the River, Mark Hume celebrates eleven B.C. rivers, but also raises questions about the cost of development and the cost of wilderness. Is it possible to have industry – forestry, smelting, fishing, and even tourism – and still maintain the rivers and wildlife that support them? And what are the hidden costs of development when pollution is poisoning fish and the people who eat them, when overfishing eliminates genetic stocks developed over millennia, and when dams, mines, or clearcuts create a new environment?

This book convinced the B.C. government not to build another dam on the Columbia River near Trail, and it spurred an ongoing debate about the environmental value of the province’s free running rivers.

 

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