B.C. clearcutting, bridge building seen as threat to sturgeon, 'Heart of the Fraser'

Marvin Rosenau looks down from the helicopter and expresses disgust at the clearcutting of critical islands in the Lower Fraser River, near Agassiz.

In some cases there is no riparian area of vegetation left at all to help stabilize the banks alongside the water, and in some places only a single row of trees remains. A plume of smoke rises from a brush-pile fire.

“They’ve cleared it right up to the edge,” laments Rosenau, a BCIT fisheries instructor and former

provincial fisheries biologist. “From the air, you can see how much damage has been done.”

What’s especially concerning is that the clearcutting is taking place within critical habitat for threatened white sturgeon, the subject of a popular catch-and-release fishery. The gravel channels are also important spawning or rearing habitat for several species of salmon and oolichan.

Bridge-building plans to the islands are raising further concerns over damage to fish habitat.

“This whole channel is the most important sturgeon spawning area in the province,” confirms Mark Angelo, rivers chair of the Outdoor Recreation Council, seated next to Rosenau and a Postmedia News reporter in the helicopter. “I could go on and on about the values here.”

He looks upriver at a mosaic of ever-changing gravel bars influenced by the seasonal flows of B.C.’s greatest river. “See the way the river braids? Incredible beauty, productivity and diversity — the Heart of the Fraser.”

Adds Rosenau: “I don’t think there’s anything like this in the world.”

This week, the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development wrote Rosenau regarding the land clearing and proposals to construct bridges to both Herrling and Carey islands.

Allan Johnsrude, regional executive director, said staff are reviewing applications under the Land and Water Sustainability acts, including for “potential impacts to fish and fish habitat, hydrology and sediment transport.” The City of Chilliwack, the Fraser Valley Regional District and local First Nations are also being contacted for comment.

Because the lands are private, however, “the logging and brush-clearing aspect do not fall within any legislation enforced by the compliance and enforcement branch,” he said. Natural resource officers have “conducted an aerial exploration of the islands, and at this point, there does not appear to be any indication of contraventions” of the water act.

Johnsrude concluded that the change in land use from tree farm to crop production on both islands is authorized by the Agricultural Land Commission and is outside the ministry’s purview.