Delta Nature Reserve gives the public a peek at Burns Bog

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      Most Vancouverites would never guess that they live beside the largest undeveloped urban landmass in North America. If the North Shore’s Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve springs to mind, guess again. Burns Bog, apparently, takes the cake, at least according to information posted on the Corporation of Delta’s Web site. Perhaps that claim should be further qualified with a notation that the bog, like much of the LSCR, is also a relatively inaccessible piece of urban geography.

      Since being acquired by a consortium of four government agencies in 2004, principally Metro Vancouver, the 2,042-hectare wilderness—featuring the largest raised peat bog on the west coast of the Americas—has been kept off-limits to visitors. Metro Vancouver Parks spokesperson Mitch Sokalski, chair of the Burns Bog Ecological Conservancy Area scientific advisory panel, told the Georgia Straight why. “In 2007, our panel identified the highest priority as raising water levels in the bog. Opening the bog to public tours is our lowest priority and probably won’t happen for at least 15 to 20 years.”

      Sokalski’s reasoning irks the likes of Delta South independent MLA Vicki Huntington, who told the Straight that “Nahanni [Northwest Territories] and Gros Morne [Newfoundland] national parks have boardwalks that run through their bogs. There are a lot more visitors there than here. People need to get to the heart of the bog to appreciate and protect it.” As one of the most outspoken proponents of preserving the bog from development since the 1990s, the former Delta council member knows whereof she speaks.

      Actually, a small portion (60 hectares) of Burns Bog—Delta Nature Reserve, located on the northeastern corner of the bog—is open to the public and well warrants a visit, whether to explore on foot or by bike.

      Over the past year, Sarah Howie, urban environmental designer with Delta’s engineering department, has been studying the bog’s forested transition zone, formally known as a lagg, or ecotone. When contacted by the Straight, the doctoral candidate said her research has focused on whether or not the ecotone can be restored. “One way is looking at other natural bogs in B.C. to compare them with what logging and peat mining have done here. I’m examining the broad landscape—the hydrology, chemistry, and ecology—but not current anthropogenic influences, such as the South Fraser Perimeter Road.” Although construction of the controversial highway—part of the provincial government’s ambitious Gateway Program intended to link the Delta Container Terminal at Roberts Bank with the new Golden Ears Bridge—is two years behind schedule, its impact on the bog’s delicate hydrology is still squarely on the minds of scientific advisory panel members and visitors to the Delta Nature Reserve alike.

      Katie Bianchin, the Burns Bog Conservation Society education development officer, told the Straight that on guided tours she often fields questions about the impact of the new road. “The bog occupies 40 percent of Delta,” she noted. “A lot of people don’t realize when they cross the Alex Fraser Bridge that the massive green patch they see is Burns Bog.”

      Throughout the year, Bianchin introduces school groups—from elementary to university levels and drawn from as far away as the U.K.—to the bog’s unique ecology. Several times each month, she also guides public tours of the Delta Nature Reserve. A recent graduate of UNBC’s environmental-studies program, the outgoing Bianchin said that leading tours fits perfectly with what she likes to do. “I grew up in Richmond and remember visiting the bog on a field trip in elementary school. Fall is a great time because the wet season is here and, after dry summer months, visiting the reserve becomes a truly boggy experience again. Mushrooms are popping up and there are still plenty of salal berries to taste.” Remember to bring your rubber boots, she cautioned.

      As soon as you enter the reserve at one of four entrances along a 2.8-kilometre network of boardwalks, the landscape immediately transforms. No comparable environments in Metro Vancouver spring to mind. A ground cover of evergreen Labrador tea thickly blankets the spongy forest floor, intermingled with salal bushes heavy with fruit. The boardwalk rarely follows a straight line for long, as it zigzags between stands of stunted pine. “This is a globally unique ecosystem,” Bianchin observed during the annual shoreline cleanup earlier in September. “The bog’s size is the reason most people have heard of it, even if they haven’t actually been here. Our tours are highly interactive. We bounce on the moss to make the trees shake, visit old bear and fox dens, stop at a sunken tractor—a big hit with boys—and touch, smell, taste bog plants.”

      Come along and get tuned into the ecotone.

      ACCESS: Burns Bog Conservation Society’s last public bog tour of the year takes place Saturday, October 2, in the Delta Nature Reserve. To reach the Delta Nature Reserve, take the River Road exit at the south end of the Alex Fraser Bridge, turn right on Nordel Court, and park beside Planet Ice at the end of the road. Follow a paved pathway east from the south side of the building that leads beneath a highway overpass and beside Davies Creek to the reserve’s entrance, a 10-minute walk.