Tag Archives: conservation

The Elders’ Declaration

by Stan Hirst

Some things are worth repeating.  Like walking the Lynn Creek canyon on the North Shore in early winter when the grey rain keeps everybody else indoors. Like watching the flocks of band-tailed pigeons make their annual brief sojourn to my neighbourhood to guzzle whatever they can find in the greenbelt trees. Like pilfering another piece of my wife’s blueberry cobbler.  All quality things.

Here’s another.  While cleaning up my sorely overloaded hard drive I came across a set of drafts compiled by the SE Executive Committee more than six years ago.  One of them was an Elders’ Declaration.

Over the ensuing years we have done our collective best to honour the principles embedded in that declaration. We haven’t always succeeded in meeting our own high goals. I rather doubt we ever expected to, but we’ve certainly had an honest go at it.

As I said, some things are worth repeating, and this declaration  is one of them.


grafik-6We are the elders of this great planet Earth, the only planetary home we know and will ever know. Before our fellow sojourners on this planet, we affirm our deepest commitment to protect and preserve the earth and its ecosystems and to share them with all future generations.

In our time we have witnessed astonishing developments in engineering, medicine, transportation and telecommunications. When we first ventured forth into this world much of the technology that is now taken for granted had yet to be invented. Our lives have benefitted immensely in health and material comforts and in membership in a strengthening global community. But we remember too the horror of wars that inflamed the world and the great economic depressions that inflicted massive global hardship. We know that there is no guarantee that these will not occur again.

When we first trod the earth as humans, our numbers were only a third of what they are today, and only a quarter of what they will be when our grandchildren one day assume the role of elders. When we set out, vast areas of the planet – much of its tropical and boreal forests, the ocean depths, the coral reefs and the great savannas – were pristine and undeveloped. Within the space of a lifetime, ecosystems and species have succumbed to our economic demands. The air, water and soil have become dumping grounds for our toxic wastes. Conflicts over water and food supplies are now a growing threat to our most vulnerable societies and to world peace.

We have forgotten that, as biological beings, our very survival and well-being are completely dependent on nature that gives us clean air, clean water, clean food from soil, and clean energy from the sun.  We have to acknowledge that without these fundamental things, we can only sicken and die. We have come to the realization that all species on Earth are our kin and are related to us through a common evolutionary history. In an unparalleled act of generosity, our earthly relatives have continued to cleanse, replenish and create our most fundamental needs. We now see that economic activities that benefit the few while shrinking the inheritance of the many are wrong. Environmental degradation has severely eroded our priceless natural capital and will continue to do so until we desist and come to the realization that truly sustainable development has to account fully for all ecological and social costs. We are but one brief generation in the long march of time; the future is not ours to erase.

As elders, we declare that we cannot stand idly by and witness the desecration of our planetary home, its biosphere and all its creatures that provide our life essentials and our companionship. We realize that we have lost our way, our sense of home and our feeling of belonging to the rest of Creation. We know that this does not bode well for our children, their children, and all the generations that will follow us.

Therefore, we commit to doing our part to prevent further catastrophic environmental harm. We will take all necessary actions to minimize future climate change.  We will work to preserve habitats for endangered and threatened species. We will advocate for sustainable practices individually and in our communities, based on values of fairness, justice, and compassion for all. We believe that we can make a difference and we urge others to join us in our efforts.

We call on all governments to bring about binding international, national and local accords to sustain the intricate web of ecological relationships on our planet. We call on our leaders and fellow citizens to respect the earth’s diversity and ecosystems, and to seek peaceful paths to sustainable economies.




Coast to Cascades Grizzly Bear Initiative

CtoCThe Coast to Cascades Grizzly Bear Initiative seeks to protect and recover threatened grizzly bears and safeguard their habitat in southwest British Columbia through science-based planning and community involvement.

Our goal is to restore the five threatened grizzly bear populations in southwest British Columbia and to connect grizzly bear habitat while encouraging environmentally responsible development. We can accomplish this by protecting grizzly bears from mounting threats and stemming their loss from our wild places, safeguarding year-round ample habitat, and ensuring connectivity between grizzly bear populations.

Who We Are

We are a local and regional coalition united by a vision of thriving human communities and healthy, connected wildlife habitat. We have organized to highlight concerns around the plight of grizzly bears in the Coast to Cascades region of British Columbia – a biologically and culturally rich area at the intersection of the Coast, Chilcotin, and Cascades mountains.

Why Bears?

Grizzly bears are barometers of wilderness and the health of ecosystems. They require large tracts of wild habitat with rich, diverse and seasonal foods like berries, roots and salmon. When grizzly bears are present, we know that these same healthy wild landscapes also provide our society clean water, robust forests and diverse wildlife. Coast to Cascades grizzly bears are an early warning system indicating how well we are stewarding natural systems for future generations. For more information watch the video Why Bears?

Why now?

Two hundred years ago, a person could walk from central Mexico to the shores of the Arctic Ocean and regularly see signs of grizzly bears the entire way. Today, the great bear has been wiped out along the west coast as far north as southwest BC. Small numbers of grizzly bears have managed to hang on in the wilder and more isolated corners of the Coast to Cascades – literally in Vancouver’s wilderness backyard. For example, in the Garibaldi-Pitt, only a few grizzly bears remain. In the Stein-Nahatlatch, there are just 24 grizzly bears, with six females dead since 2006. We must act now to protect those that remain. Click here to see how grizzly bears are managed by the Government of British Columbia.

What can you do?

Join us! Can we count on you when we need action for grizzly bears? Please sign up for our action list.07

If you are hiking or recreating in grizzly bear country, remember to travel safe. Grizzly bear or black bear? Learn the difference. And if you do see a grizzly bear, please report it to our reporting hotline: 1-855-GO-GRIZZ ( FREE1-855-464-7499).


A sense of the sacred

I’m getting to that part of my life where I’m spending great chunks of time in clearing out the memorabilia of a lifetime.  Some unkind people refer to it as junk.  A baboon skull, a lion’s tooth, a wooden hornbill in  a nest, a brass ship’s clock from a freighter which ran aground in the Bay of Bengal. That’s what the shopkeeper in Chandpur told me it was.

And photographs. Reams and reams of photographs. Some in albums, a few in chintzy frames, lots of them still stuffed into paper envelopes, some still in use as markers in books I’ve never read. Cartons full of 35mm slides – the projector gave up the ghost ten years ago. Yet more pictures in the form of digital images on hard drives, compact discs and even floppy disks.

Some images have people in them – people I knew, people I worked with. Grinning faces, serious faces, faces of people long forgotten and some of people not with us any more. Most of the images show scenery – trees, mountains, streams, grainy shots of wild creatures peering through dense brush, roads vanishing over faraway ridges.

I’m drawn to some of the images. Here’s one of the World War I beaumont hamelMemorial at Beaumont Hamel in Picardy, showing the famous statue of a caribou facing the plain where 660 Newfoundlanders died on 1 July 1916. Here’s another (well-composed if I may say so) of St. Peter’s Basilica glowing brilliantly white against a slate blue Roman autumn sky. A 35 mm slide from three decades ago shows the massive white hemisphere of the Boudnath stupa in Nepal with its four sets of Buddha eyes and multiple streams of prayer flags. My wife is shown in one more recent image, looking very small next to an 800-year old Douglas Fir in Cathedral Grove, Vancouver Island.  And here is a black and white print, taken nearly a half-century ago, of an even older tree – a 1700 year old baobab at Modjadjiskloof, South Africa.

Why do these particular images of such diverse places and localities have a special attraction?  I believe it has to do with them evoking a sense of the sacred.

I recall sitting on the stone wall at Beaumont Hamel, looking at the peaceful and beautiful French countryside and reflecting that the place once witnessed the death of millions.  There is surely something sacred about a place where so many ordinary people gave up their lives nearly a century ago for what they believed to be a noble cause, however vague and elusive it may all seem to us today.

BoudhnathSacred typically implies an association with holiness. Traditionally that has been associated with perceptions of divinity, but it can also denote a high level of spiritual respect. Places and structures such as Boudnath and St Peter’s are perceived as sacred since they are centres for spiritual purposes such as meditation and worship, and they are associated with individuals regarded as  holy. The great stupa at Boudnath is at least 600 years old, possibly as old as 1400 years, and is a massive representation of a Buddhist mandala, with 13 rings from the base to the pinnacle symbolizing the path to enlightenment. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims pass by every year, all of them attesting to the sacredness of the place.

I recall a visit to St. Peter’s and a long time pieta4spent in taking in the splendour of the art and architecture. I confess I am no Catholic, so why would a view of Michelangelo’s Pietà  give me an emotional jolt? The German philosopher and cultural critic Walter Benjamin, who died in 1940 while trying to escape the Nazis, explained in his classic The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction that magnificent art has a unique existence at the place where it happens to be. A viewer can sense “a direct and timeless link with the creator, a knowledge of the piece as embedded in a meaningful tradition, an aura felt by virtue of the viewer’s proximity to such all extraordinary, almost other­worldly object”

Is sacred a  valid descriptor for natural places?  The world’s indigenous peoples all believe so. Uluru (Ayer’s Rock), Mato Tipila (Devil’s Tower), Mt Kilimanjaro, Mt Kailash, Sagirmitha/ Chomolongma (Mt Everest), Lake Titicaca, Lake Baikal, the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers are just a few of the sacred natural sites  that include some of the most iconic places on Earth.  According to UNESCO the total number is huge, uncounted and, in a sense, uncountable. In these places nature and humanity meet, and people’s deeper motives and aspirations are expressed through what is called  “the sacred” .  Many of  these places are virtually ignored, some receive pilgrims by the million, and others are the closely guarded secrets of their custodians.  People of faith or religion, or of no particular faith, find inspiration in these places, and they resonate across a wide spectrum of humanity.

There are  many thousands of distinct belief systems around the globe and links with the conservation of land and water occur in every one of them. Sacred natural sites represent, for many, the areas where nature, connection to the greater universe, and collective or individual recollections come together in meaningful ways. For some, sacred natural sites are the abode of deities, nature spirits and ancestors, or are associated with hermits, prophets, saints and visionary spiritual leaders. Some sites are feared, many are benign. For the religious they can be areas for ceremony and contemplation, prayer and meditation. For those of no particular faith they inspire awe and induce a sense of well-being.

DSC_0893Up on the North Shore of Vancouver lies Hunter Park, wedged in between great strips of suburban homes. Hastings Creek flows through the park on its way downhill to join Lynn Creek and then onward to the Burrard Inlet. Two centuries ago the Coast Salish people wandered through here, and just 120 years ago one of the largest known Douglas firs was felled not far from here. Now its all just an urbanized fragment of coastal rain forest, with huge cedars and hemlocks and 120-year old red alders. No steelhead or chinook any more, but coho and cutthroat  still make it up the crystal-clear gurgling creek. Remnant of past greatness it may be, but the park is just 300 metres from my house. That’s sacred enough for me.


posted by Stan Hirst

Ants and grasshoppers

by Bob Worcester

All summer long the ants worked industriously, gathering grain from the fields and storing it away in their underground store houses. While the ants worked, carefree grasshoppers danced, sang and took long naps in the summer sun.

One day a grasshopper asked, “Why do ants work so hard hour after hour, day after day, all summer long?” Another grasshopper replied, “They work for a dark queen who commands them to serve her every need. Everything they do is planned out in precise detail and they work for almost nothing.”  “Our life is much better,” said the 1st grasshopper, “Because we are so clever, we do what we want and have much more fun.”

“I have a plan,” said a 3rd grasshopper. “Let’s demand that the ants pay a toll for the path they take from the fields.”  They sent word to the Ant Queen that the grasshoppers would require 1 seed in payment for each 100 seeds that passed on the path from the field.  The Queen agreed but stipulated that they must replant 9 of 10 seeds collected before they kept one.

The grasshoppers were delighted and passed their new plan on to their friends. Other grasshopper agreed to plant seeds in return for a percentage of the planting.  Each new grasshopper received 9 seeds, planted 8, and kept 1. They found even more grasshoppers that would plant 7 seeds, keep 1 and so it went.  Soon hundreds of grasshoppers were engaged in the seed trade and the head grasshoppers were collecting bags full of seeds which they used to encourage even more grasshoppers to get involved in the planting process. The Ant Queen was happy that so many seeds were being planted for the next year’s harvest. The grasshoppers were happy that so many seeds would be growing into juicy green shoots. The head grasshoppers danced, sang and gambled with one another for the seeds that they expected to collect from the ants.

One day some of the grasshoppers discovered they had promised to plant more seeds than they had actually collected, so they began using notes that counted the seeds that would sprout in the next season since each seeded plant should produce 10 more seeds.  It was easier to write notes than to plant seeds.

Then it occurred to the grasshoppers that they could also sell other grasshoppers the rights to the juicy green plants that would grow from the seeds that they had promised to plant. Grasshoppers could claim all the new plants that would grow from each packet of seeds they promised to plant. The more they promised to plant the more they could gamble or sell.

Soon the grasshoppers spent more time gambling with their promissory notes than they spent actually planting seeds. The worried Ant Queen finally sent out a message that no more seeds would be given to grasshoppers that had not actually planted the seeds as promised.

Then the weather turned bad and it became difficult to plant any more seeds. All the grasshoppers that had come to gamble for seeds began to look around for food and could only find leaves from the last of the plants the ants were harvesting.  Soon the fields were stripped bare and the hungry grasshoppers demanded to see the Ant Queen.

“We are starving,” they said. “Let us have some of the seeds you have stored away for the winter!”

“My ants need those seeds to survive the winter so I cannot give you any from our storehouse. You wasted many of the seeds we gave you to plant or traded them for pieces of paper that you can’t eat,” she said. The head grasshopper reminded the Ant Queen that he had promises on paper from the grasshoppers to plant thousands of seeds. “Yes,” said the Ant Queen but those grasshoppers will not survive the winter and they have eaten all the plants that were producing seeds this year.”

“But what will we do?” asked the head grasshopper.

“Learn to eat paper,” said the Ant Queen.

“What will you do if no grasshoppers plant the seeds for next year? “ said the head grasshopper.

“Learn to eat grasshoppers,” said the Ant Queen.

An elder walk on Kitsilano Beach

by Jim Park

On July 30, under the warm summer sun, a group of concerned elders met in Volunteer Park on Point Grey Road in Kitsilano, Vancouver, to walk the beach where a proposed seawall extension is to be located. Led by Suzuki Elder David Cook, a geologist and naturalist, and assisted by Sheila Byers, a marine biologist, the walk spanned the area between the Vancouver and Jericho Yacht Clubs. With the two scientists were six Suzuki Elders, Mel Lehan from the Point Grey Foreshore Society, and two Vancouver Parks Board Commissioners, John Coupar and Trevor Loke. The walk was planned to show the participants the diverse intrinsic value of this beach area and to examine the features worthy of being preserved in their natural state.

David presented the geological history of this part of Kitsilano Beach and its unique characteristics, including coal veins, two basalt channels bounded on both sides by sandstone, a fossil repository, and other fascinating earth lore. Sheila discussed the rich and complex intertidal web of life found here, and emphasized the fragility of the beach ecosystems. There were many opportunities for hands-on experiencing of the topics being discussed by David and Sheila. Each handful of sea water that Sheila cupped in her hands contained a myriad of tiny life forms. It seemed so miraculous, I felt like a kid again. When David led us to a fossil repository and showed us a beautiful plant fossil that he had found there, I became the ten-year-old amateur paleontologist of my youth and started scouring the ground looking for T. rex bones. I didn’t find any bones but I did find a wonderfully detailed leaf fossil. In some ways, I think we all became children again as we slowly explored the seashore. Everyone was excitedly talking to each other, broad smiles of delight framing eyes bright with the joy of new discoveries and realizations. This is what a spiritual connection with nature does.

There will always be a need for more housing and more recreational areas for the public to access, but these needs are, in my opinion, greatly outweighed by the absolute necessity to keep some places free of human influence, left wild in their natural state to heal, grow and evolve. This area of Kitsilano Beach is one such place. As Elder Diana Ellis noted, it has a rich history of occupation by the indigenous peoples who lived here for thousands of years, as well as by many other settlers from all over the world who chose to make it their home in more recent times. In our time, it has been allowed to be itself, to slowly erase all signs of human occupation and to return to its natural state. These areas are becoming increasingly rare within urban environments.

It is hoped that, as a group, we conveyed our strong feelings to the two city commissioners who kindly made the time to join us, and that they will convey our wishes to the Vancouver City Council. If they felt any of the magic that we felt down on the beach, then I’m confident that they will recommend against building a seawall along that portion of Kitsilano Beach.

Thank-you to David Cook and Mel Lehan for organizing two walks that were deftly merged into one, and to each participant who added to the knowledge pool of this area. It was fun!

Left to right: David Cook; Sheila Byers; Jim Park; Diana Ellis; Cynthia Lam.

Northern Spotted Owl Recovery Programme

by Patricia Grinsteed

I visited the Mountain View Conservation and Breeding Centre near Fort Langley, B.C., in the fall of 2010 with a group of elders from North Shore Neighbourhood House, North Vancouver. We were shown a film on the near-extinction of the Northern Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis caurina).  We then toured the facility and became educated on the long term breeding programmes intended to create healthy colonies of the species for release back into the wild. I promptly fell in love with these creatures. When asked “why?” I answered “because this experience has been the first in my life where and when I had come face to face with a near extinct species”. In 2010 the Conservation Centre, operating on shoe string financing, had only 6 pairs to breed from. This year they are hoping for 8 breeding pairs. Although the Centre maintains small numbers of other endangered species from Canada and around the world, including the critically endangered Vancouver Island Marmot, for me the plight of our B.C. Northern Spotted Owl affected me the most. Perhaps I was just responding to the deep wise look they appear to have.

The Mountain View Conservation and Breeding Centre was founded in 1986 by Gordon and Yvonne Blankstein. Initially comprising 55 acres of temperate rainforest in the Fraser Valley, it has since been expanded to over 300 acres. Mountain View’s mission and purpose is to save rare and endangered Canadian wildlife species from extinction by breeding them into thriving family groups and returning them to their natural habitat. More than 50 different species of rare and critically endangered animals have been hosted at the Centre over the past 25 years. The main facilities now include a large barn with quarantine areas, veterinary and keeper service areas, several hoofstock barns, an aviary complex, and several small carnivore houses. Important components are the Vancouver Island Marmot breeding facility, a 20 acre Northern Spotted Owl habitat area, and a wetland built specifically for marine & amphibian species.