Critics skeptical of Metro Vancouver's ecological health action plan

Metro Vancouver is seeking public input into its recently released draft ecological health action plan (EHAP). Yet already some health and environmental experts say they’re skeptical of the organization’s commitment to human and natural well-being.

The action plan is billed as the next step in Metro Vancouver’s sustainability framework commitment to “protect and restore an interconnected network of habitat and green space, account for ecosystem services, and enhance the connection between people and nature”.

“We know that the health of the environment is critical for our own health, and with a healthy ecosystem, air quality is better, the water we drink is better, and the food we eat is better,” says Ann Rowan, Metro Vancouver acting sustainability strategist in a phone interview. “Metro Vancouver incorporates ecological health into all of our work”¦.The plan is wide-ranging, which reflects how integrated we all are with the environment around us.

“In Vancouver we have a high quality of life and we have good ecological health. Around the world, ecosystems are beginning to collapse. The stress will increase as more people move to the region. We need to do more to protect what we have rather than react to what we’ve lost,” she adds.

Following the lead of the United Nations, whose 2005 Millennium Ecological Assessment called for “urgent and transformative changes” to declining ecological health, Metro Vancouver describes its plan as just one part of its existing interconnected regional-management plans geared to sustainability.

The plan, which is available at, identifies four broad areas to improve ecological health in the region: making connections between natural landscapes to facilitate species migration; supporting salmon in the city; reducing toxics that are used and disposed of in the region; and using green infrastructure, such as restoring existing pollinator habitats and increasing on-site rainwater infiltration and detention. It also suggests 15 initial projects, including the restoration of the Lower Seymour River, enhancing the ecosystem at Centennial Beach, and building public engagement in reducing toxics.

Members of the public are invited to share their views at an open house on Tuesday (August 9) from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Metro Vancouver’s head office (4330 Kingsway, Burnaby). A webinar will take place on August 11, and feedback is also being accepted by mail, fax, or email until August 15.

Medical doctor Fred Bass, a former Vancouver city councillor, says he’s heartened that such a plan exists but says much more needs to be done.

“This is a step in the right direction, but it’s not heroic,” Bass says. “And to save our ecosystems, we need to be heroic”¦.We’re facing a real ecological emergency.”

He says he’d like to see specific, measurable goals that use concrete numbers instead of generalized notions, such as the objective to “secure critical and sensitive habitats and environmental corridors”.

Furthermore, Bass says he’d welcome more focus on regional food production, specifically emphasizing vegetable sources of protein as opposed to those that come from meat and dairy. Plant proteins offer a more environmentally friendly alternative to those derived from animals, he says, and are also better for human health.

However, having been released on the heels of the provincial government’s approval of Metro Vancouver’s plan to burn some of the region’s garbage in incinerators (using the heat to generate electricity), the plan is drawing harsher criticism from others.

Ben West, healthy-communities campaigner with the Wilderness Committee, says Metro Vancouver’s aspirations as outlined in the plan ring hollow given its proposal to burn trash.

“It’s nonsense,” he says of the EHAP. “They say they’re doing everything with the best possible technology. That’s what BP said about drilling in the Gulf [of Mexico]. We’re talking about burning more stuff, stuff that was never intended to be burned. That doesn’t hold up to the most basic logic.”

Linda Gasser, incineration-campaign coordinator of Prevent Cancer Now, a national organization focused on eliminating the preventable causes of cancer, notes that she can’t comment on the plan itself but says that incineration flies in the face of promises to improve environmental health.

“Burning garbage would be inconsistent with attempts to improve air quality,” Gasser tells the Georgia Straight. “Incinerator emissions are a source of exposure to toxic emissions that would be avoidable because there are less risky options. Burning garbage isn’t sustainable from many perspectives.”

After public consultations wrap up mid-month, Rowan says Metro Vancouver hopes to finalize the plan in the fall and then begin implementing approved projects.

Implementation will require additional development work, and funding will need to be secured, the draft plan states. The final plan is to be reviewed in three years.

Increasing demand for food, water, and energy in recent decades has compromised and destroyed ecosystems, resulting in declining fish stocks and loss of wetlands and forests that provide a habitat for countless species of living creatures, as well as natural pollinators, the plan notes.

According to the United Nation’s Millennium Ecological Assessment, the deterioration of the world’s ecosystems, combined with the buildup of nitrogen and phosphorus in lakes and estuaries, will have a devastating impact on human communities.



Randy Chatterjee

Aug 5, 2011 at 9:16am

Water...not what WE drink, but what we dish out to every other species in the Lower Mainland.

Metro Vancouver is unique in North America given its size and wealth for failing to treat its sewage essentially any more than with a sieve.

While we recently spent billions to improve our water supply--one we had long been told was already the best in North America--we continue to dump untreated sewage directly into the Fraser, Burrard Inlet, and Georgia Strait--and this is not just during heavy storms, but ALWAYS.

All of Metro's local sewage "treatment" plants are Primary stage only, essentially just screens and settlement ponds to break up and separate larger clumps, minimizing the kind of visible fecal matter that long caused such scandal in Victoria. But the material effluent--industrial organics, heavy metals, chorine, detergents, and human waste--flow unimpeded. This highly-toxic waste material not only directly poisons our entire watershed--rivers, inlets, wetlands, and oceans--but also robs it of the oxygen it needs to clean itself.

While most of the developed world, including countries far poorer than we are, is shifting from Secondary to Tertiary treatment levels--literally potable effluent--we are selfishly stuck in the ecological stone age and our explosive population growth in the Lower Mainland is adding insult to injury.

What is happening in Trout Lake this summer is just a microcosm of the biological destruction we are wreaking on every body of water around us.

And we wonder why there are fewer and fewer fish and other aquatic life in our waters, increasing red tide plumes, and more and more biological "dead zones" in the waters all around the Lower Mainland.

'Supernatural BC' we are not.

E. Murphy

Aug 8, 2011 at 10:58am

It is rediculous that Metro Vancouver is proposing an Ecological Health Action Plan after just passing the regressive Regional Growth Strategy (RGS) that has eliminated the previous Green Zone in the Liveable Region Strategic Plan (LRSP). The RGS puts agricultural and conservation lands at increased risk of redesignation into industrial or urban development. For example, the RGS's Urban Containment Boundary is extended to potentially allow urban development of the forests in West Vancouver all the way up to the peak of the mountains and potentially beyond. Vision Vancouver Councillors and Mayor Gregor Robetson who are on the Metro Vancouver Board all voted for the RGS. This EHAP is like the Greenest City Action Plan that takes token measures such as growing wheat in urban yards, while Vision Vancouver supports the RGS that increases development preasures on agricultural lands in the ALR where we should be growing crops. This is all a greenwash.