Monthly Archives: July 2010

Cohen Commission… like sands through the hour glass; these are the days of our lives

And on it goes…

The Tyee (BC independent news) is reporting today:

Cohen Commission hearings delayed over document hold up

Hearings scheduled for early September have now been forced back to late October because it appears the Department of Fisheries and Oceans can’t get their poop together and are delaying document release.

“We need to review tens of thousands of documents, and the federal government is disclosing those to us, but we don’t have all the documents yet,” … “For example, we’re waiting for over 200,000 emails that we’ve identified need to be disclosed, and that’s coming, but it’ll probably take several months for the government to review and disclose them.”

Suggests the PR firm owner who is the spokesperson for the Commission. Yet, ‘public’ hearings will be held province-wide in September.

Would members of the public not want to have an opportunity to comment on the hearings and documents, reports, etc. released by DFO?

Justice Cohen is supposed to deliver an interim report this coming month (August) and remember this Commission is supposed to be signed, sealed, and delivered by May 2011.

_ _ _ _

The article also suggests that the Panel is now potentially adding another panel member after Brian Riddell resigned last week:

While Shore says it’s not a question of replacing Riddell, the commission is looking into adding a panelist that has some “traditional fisheries ecology experience.”

“When we held the opening hearings in June, some of the participants, notably First Nations groups, suggested to us that it might be useful to bring in someone to our science advisors that has [that experience], so we’re investigating that right now,” Shore said.

I tend to be someone who calls it, as I see it…

Is not hiring one “traditional fisheries expert” a good example of “tokenism”?

The Cohen Commission now has five “eminent fisheries experts” (a few of which still have potential conflict of interest implications or at least of optics of such and could also be called as witnesses); and now there’s the potential opportunity for one traditional fisheries expert… hmmm…

Why not a panel of “eminent” traditional fisheries experts?

Especially when in Canadian law, and as part of the Canadian Constitution (Section 35, if I remember correctly), First Nations people have first right to salmon for food, social, and ceremonial purposes — after conservation needs have been met.

Plus last time I checked traditional knowledge is something that is handed down over generations — meaning hundreds of years, if not thousands.

How long has “fisheries science” been around?

Is it “good news”, or, are we jumping the gun?

Link to an article out of Oregon:

Record Columbia River sockeye run is a bounty for Northwest fishermen

Apparently this year’s sockeye run on the Columbia is one of the best in quite some time, edging towards 330,000:

from Oregonian article

This is pretty decent news, and good for folks to be able to secure some income from selling fish.

However, there is a pretty key sentence that should keep things in perspective:

Before dams were built on the Columbia and Snake rivers, sockeye run estimates reached 3 million fish.

That was only about a human generation ago. In the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Similar story as the Fraser River sockeye. Estimates from the Fraser River suggest sockeye runs peaking at 160 million  in the 1800s, and runs approaching 100 million in the early 1900s.

Last year… 1.3 million or so.

Before everyone starts getting too ecstatic, maybe numbers should be put in perspective. Department of Fisheries and Oceans also likes to put out graphs of Fraser sockeye populations that only go back as far as the 1940s as well.

A gentle reminder may need to accompany those numbers: in the 1940s world population was also only about 2.3 billion… it’s just under 7 billion now according to United Nations estimates in 2008.

The population of Oregon was a little over 1 million in the 1940s; it’s now about 4 million. Washington State was about 1.7 million; it’s about 6.7 million now. Seattle and metro areas were well under 1 million in the 1940s, they’re now approaching 3.5 million.

Vancouver, B.C. and metro area has grown from a few hundred thousand in the 1940s to over 2 million now.

_ _ _ _ _

Is there not a trend here?

is this familiar?

Part of the problem (at least south of Alaska – however I won’t mention the preponderance of salmon ranching to support Alaskan salmon fisheries) is that the moment that salmon runs demonstrate a glimmer… a glint… a smidgen of positive news, government management institutions and lobby groups exclaim:

“LET’S GO FISHING!!”

And yet, many folks seem to have lost track of the historical – or just choose to ignore it. Not all that often do government reports, scientific research, or bureaucratic brethren draw the link between the trend lines I sketched above. At best, it gets passing mention…

And isn’t there another trend in here?

shit to salmon

I recognize “shit” is not a very technical term… in this case it captures a wide classification including: shit-shit and the increases of which a much larger population excretes into waterways; prozac/ estrogen/cialis and other endocrine disruptors showing up in alarmingly increasing amounts in sewage treatment plants; “shit” in a figurative sense; and so on…

_ _ _ _

If salmon habitats (e.g. ocean and freshwater) are displaying lower productivity than in the past, for example, look at the Fraser River estimates of sockeye productivity (from the Pacific Salmon Commission and part of the late 2009 Salmon Think Tank statement):

Salmon Think Tank -- Fraser River sockey productivity estimates

Remember that for a population of almost anything… there must be at least two reproductive adults per “spawner” reaching sexual maturity — ideally one female and one male — to allow any critter to simply maintain a population, let alone provide for ‘growth’.

It might be suggested that at present productivity even a “record” sockeye run would not even reproduce the same size run in four years — even if left entirely alone.

For example, if 15 million sockeye showed up in the Fraser River this year, at a productivity of less than 1 adult returning per spawner — the run four years from now would not even be the same size; it would be smaller. And this… even if we leave the runs entirely alone (i.e. no fishing).

And thus on the Columbia, a “record” run of over 300,000 (despite recent historical runs over 3 million) and everyone wants to go fishing. I’ll quietly put in here that the cost of that 300,000+ return is massive… hatcheries, barging baby salmon past dams, habitat restoration, controlling dam flows, dismantling dams, and so on, and so on…

Will we see the same on the Fraser River this year?

Early indications suggest some higher than predicted run sizes, or at least in the lower probability range (as DFO likes to call it). Will there be a push to go fishing?

There is on the Skeena River (northwestern B.C.) right now… Skeena Fisheries Blog. Nothing like “harvestable surplus”…

politicians and mudholes… when elected officials say the stupidest things

Fish Lake - Teztan Biny; Friends of Nemiah Valley header photo

Sometimes politicians can say the stupidest things… but then maybe I’m stating the obvious…

The Globe and Mail ran an article yesterday:

Trout above B.C. gold deposit proving to be fine kettle of fish for Ottawa

In the article BC’s Mining Minister Bill Bennet is quoted:

“The federal report would leave you with the impression that Fish Lake is this spectacular sport fishing lake that would be almost sacrilegious to change,” Mr. Bennett said in an interview this week.

The reality is quite different, he said. “This is a tiny little pothole of a lake.”

That’s not the description that springs to mind when looking at photographs of the 12-square-kilometre lake. Mr. Bennett hasn’t been there, but his staff tell him it is “a shallow, mucky lake with too many small rainbows in it.”

That’s brilliant… just brilliant. “I’ve never actually been there, but it has too many fish and it’s basically a mudhole…”

Mr. Bennett this is a mud hole:

Mud hole...

This is not a mud hole:

Teztan Biny -- www.thecanadian.org

In fact this little “pothole”-mudhole of a lake… the Province has, in the past,  found worthy to publish a postcard of… and is the subject of many photos:

Click on image below to read article by Tony Pearse.

www.thetyhee.ca

Mr Bennett waxing on:

“I personally have come to the conclusion that the federal process is not as good a process,” he said. “If they are going to be harmonized – what a terrible word these days – we have to agree on a process that includes all factors that influence sustainability.”

Yet… the federal environmental assessment process took longer and considered more input:

In its report, the federal panel tartly suggested that the province’s rush to review limited its input. “In particular, the panel notes that the province was not able to consider the final comments from federal departments [e.g. Department of Fisheries and Oceans] nor was it able to take advantage of information received during the public hearing from First Nations. …”

Uh, huh…

Maybe Mr. Bennett needs to visit his ministry’s website and read some of the hot air espoused there:

"The Four Cornerstones of the BC Mining Plan"

I guess when it comes to Taseko’s proposed Prosperity project Mr. Bennett only wants to build with two cornerstones… why bother with that First Nations stone, or “protecting the environment” stone…

… especially when there’s all that stone to be ground up and dumped into a fish-bearing lake that drains into one of BC’s most significant sockeye rivers: the Chilko…

Or, more so, Mr. Bennett, “we have to agree on a process that includes all factors that influence sustainability”?.

I have an idea… let’s start with BC’s Sustainability in BC Mining Criteria:

BC Mining Sustainability Criteria

This diagram has some accompanying material:

  1. Health and Safety: The project/operation is acting to ensure the health and safety of workers and the community.
  2. Effective Engagement: The relationships with those affected by a project/operation are characterized by integrity and trust.
  3. Respect for Indigenous Peoples: The project/operation respects the rights, culture and values of Indigenous Peoples.
  4. Environment: Actions are being taken to ensure the maintenance and strengthening of environmental integrity over the long term within the region of influence of the project/operation.
  5. Full Mine or Operation Life Cycle: A full mine or operation life cycle perspective is being applied for planning and decision making that spans exploration through post-closure.
  6. Resource-use Efficiency: The project/operation is seeking to minimize resource inputs—energy, water, reagents, supplies, etc.—while also minimizing contaminant outputs to air, water and land.
  7. Continuous Learning and Adaptation: The uncertainty inherent in mining operations is recognized, and a commitment to continuous learning is displayed.
  8. Benefits: The project/operation is enhancing the potential for creating economic, social and cultural benefits for the local community or region.

Based on those inputs and what the federal review panel of this particular project found; I’ve re-drawn the diagram for Mr. Bennett and Mr. Campbell:

Sustainability... my ass...

A few highlights related back to this pretty diagram:

  • Integrity and Trust? Mr Bennett’s comments alone about Fish Lake display a lack of integrity and trust, as do his colleague Mr. Hawes (jr. mining ministry) regarding the recent Harvard Law study report regarding the Province’s mining laws and the Takla Lake First Nation.
  • Respect for First Nations? Both these two Provincial ministers are also demonstrating their “respect” for First Nations… “yeah, I never been there, but my staff tells me its a mud hole…”  Nice. atta boy Bill. Plus the fact that the Xeni Gwet’in have this issue in the courts due to the Province’s stance and utterly flawed treaty process in BC (now close to 20 years ongoing)
  • Environmental Integrity? Yeah, the federal review panel certainly supports the fact that environmental integrity will be held up; even the frigging Provincial review panel said there would significant environmental effects…
  • Full Mine Life Cycle?… Yup, sure, from operation through post-closure. Well, Mr. Bennett, post-closure means monitoring the proposed dam and tailings facility forever. If the dam ever gave way, this would be devastating from the Chilcotin all the way to Vancouver and out into the Georgia Strait-Salish Sea.
  • Resource-use efficiency? Oh yea… the best Taseko can do is suggest they can build another lake (Prosperity Lake) that will only support about 20,000 rainbow, less than a quarter of current estimates in Fish Lake. We won’t mention the other water issues… such as having to use water to submerse acid-generating waste rock… that’s a great use of water.
  • Continouos learning and adaptation? Ummm… yeah, in 2007, there was this Joint Review Panel decision on another similarly proposed project — Kemess North several hundred km north of the proposed Prosperity Project. Northgate Minerals wanted to turn pristine Amazay (Duncan) Lake into a tailings facility. They were denied — largely based on enviro effects and First Nations opposition. Yup… the Province is learning alright…
  • Benefits? uh, huh… the federal review panel found that this proposed project would have significant negative social and cultural impacts on the region.

first resignation at Cohen Commission

Appears the start of summer heat may be getting to the Scientific Advisory Board at the Cohen Commission as Dr. Riddell has resigned from his appointment. Globe and Mail article:

Globe and Mail article photo

Senior scientist quits Cohen Commission panel

The single reason given is: “Salmon specialist has chosen to be a witness instead.”

Vancouver-based Conservative MP John Cummins continues his attack on some members of the Cohen Commission Scientific Advisory Board. A press release from yesterday:

“The resignation of Brian Riddell from the Cohen Inquiry`s scientific advisory panel is a step in the right direction for the judicial inquiry into the decline of Fraser River sockeye”

_ _ _ _ _

I’m not so sure I agree with the suggestion of a “step in the right direction”… I find it troubling and concerning.

What I find troubling, over and above the potential conflict of interest present for many members of the scientific team (see earlier post Cohen Commission — more sticky territory), is that:

He [Dr. Riddell] said he agreed to serve on the panel of the inquiry out of a commitment to studying and sustaining Pacific salmon, “with my initial understanding that panel members could also be called as witnesses.

“However, that understanding has now changed. The commission policy is now that panel members cannot be called as witnesses.”

This certainly begs the question… ummm, why was that “commission policy” not made clear at the beginning?

I’m no legal expert; however, how the hell does someone serve on an advisory panel to a quasi-judicial process and also get to appear as a witness?

That’s a problem.

Would this have been acceptable in the recent Braidwood Inquiry into tasering death of Mr. Dziekanski, or Maher Arar inquiry? Tell you what Mr. Smith (Taser company CEO and cofounder), you can serve on our advisory panel and be called as a witness…

Could one not draw the parallel between being on a jury and also being called a witness?

By no means is the scientific advisory a “jury” per se… but pretty damn close. It’s been made abundantly clear that this Commission is all about the “science” of declining sockeye on the Fraser River. If it’s not, then why the hell would there be six scientific advisers (wait… five, now) AND an “independent” scientific consultant?

I’m just a little flummoxed that “commission policy” appears to be getting made up along the way. Plus now Dr. Riddell, as Cohen Commission P.R. rep suggests:

Carla Shore, a spokeswoman for the inquiry, said it’s “highly likely” Mr. Riddell will be called as a witness, and noted that he had made a “helpful” contribution, to date, to the inquiry process.

If other members of the panel are to be called as witnesses, they will be asked to step down, she said.

Why was this not thought through in the beginning? Why design a “judicial-like” legalese process, then, have these sorts of slip-ups? Why spend a ^*#*load on lawyers, and then let a quasi-legal process run about as tight as a small town school board?

So now, a “highly likely” witness to the process has been on the inside making “helpful” contributions. And, better yet, if other members of the scientific panel are called to be witnesses (e.g. working on the inside of the process) they will have to step down.

Geeee… sure sounds like a water-tight ship.

Meanwhile, some of the legal teams working for organizations granted standing are making participants in those processes sign legal documents of strict confidentiality…

I bet this sort of “here’s the rules… oh no wait… we mean here’s the rules… no, no… sorry, here’s the rules…”-type fumbling makes the legal experts involved a little frazzled.

This is a shmozzle.

I wouldn’t suggest it’s FUBAR yet… but it’s officially a shmozzle (at least in my small book of humble opinion…).

salmon modeling practices to be presented at Cohen Commission

Related to the posts of the last couple of days on “modeling” to “simplify complex situations…

“If you ask a physicist how long it would take for a marble to fall from the top of a ten-storey building, she will answer the question by assuming that the marble falls in a vacuum. Of course, this assumption is false. In fact, the building is surrounded by air, which exerts friction on the falling marble and slows it down. Yet the physicist will correctly point out that friction on the marble is so small that its effect is negligible. Assuming that the marble falls in a vacuum greatly simplifies the problem without substantially affecting the answer.”

Department of Fisheries and Oceans has developed a range of different computer models for modeling salmon run sizes (e.g. “simplifying complex situations): I think they’re working towards one per species… (see previous posts on Fraser River Spawning Sockeye Initiative – FRSSI to see some of these brilliant tools in action…)

Justice Cohen: ummm... I think it's supposed to be "in a vacuum"

–click the image to see it a bit bigger–

the role of assumptions…

If you ask a physicist how long it would take for a marble to fall from the top of a ten-storey building, she will answer the question by assuming that the marble falls in a vacuum. Of course, this assumption is false. In fact, the building is surrounded by air, which exerts friction on the falling marble and slows it down. Yet the physicist will correctly point out that friction on the marble is so small that its effect is negligible. Assuming that the marble falls in a vacuum greatly simplifies the problem without substantially affecting the answer.

The art in scientific thinking — whether in physics, biology, or economics — is deciding which assumptions to make. Suppose for instance, that we were dropping a beach ball rather than a marble from the top of a building. Our physicist would realize that the assumption of no friction is far less accurate in this case: Friction exerts a greater force on a beach ball than on a marble because a beach ball is much larger. The assumption that gravity works in a vacuum is reasonable for studying a falling marble but not for studying a falling beach ball.

More from one of my economics textbooks…

Thus my questions to fisheries biologists that came up with the concept of Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) is this: when we assume… are wild salmon a marble falling from a building, or, more like a beach ball?

_ _ _ _

See, for about 50 years, wild salmon (and East Coast cod) have been largely “managed” by the concept of Maximum Sustainable Yield. It’s based largely on the scientific assumption that habitat for salmon (ocean or freshwater) remains static over time and will produce a similar amount of baby salmon every year, which will swim out to the ocean (the pasture), and return in similar numbers 4 or 5 years later.

(MSY is a great assumption for farming fields… maybe not so much for looking after an essential species that depend on a range of ecosystems including the North Pacific).

Not only that, MSY as practiced, suggests that humans can kill 80% of a predicted salmon run, and assume that the remaining 20% that “escape” fisheries will reproduce the same size run in perpetuity.

In essence, fisheries biologists (employed by Departments of Fisheries and Oceans and running hallowed halls of educational institutions) assumed that wild salmon were a marble falling from the building (in a vacuum). See the evidence in this recent graph produced by the Pacific Salmon Commission and placed in the Dec. 09 Salmon Think Tank convened by Simon Fraser University in Vancouver.

Percent of Fraser River sockeye harvested each year

So there you go… 40 years of taking about 80% of the estimated run. Then in the early 90s that marble in a vacuum became a cannonball. (Or, “oh shit…”)

Now the worst part about this whole story is that Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) is still an essential component of ‘managing’ wild salmon in Canada. It’s in the Wild Salmon Policy

Wild Salmon Policy and MSY

And it’s in this year’s 2010 salmon “management planning” documents. Curiously… it’s not called MSY in the 2010 Fraser Sockeye Escapement Strategy. It simply states that killing 60% of some of the sockeye runs is the goal (no… wait, sorry… it’s “mortality”; not kill).

This is a cut and paste from the first page:

Note: "low abundance" (DFO oxymoron)

So take heart… as I’ve heard a DFO rep explain to me recently: “look we’ve reduced MSY to 60% from 80%”… as if that was a step in the right direction…

This is also directly related to the continued mantra from fisheries folks everywhere: “it’s complex, we just don’t know what’s causing these dramatic declines… could be the ocean… could be climate change… could be [enter externality here]…. could be [enter lack of taking responsibility here]”

_ _ _ _

So… assuming that a salmon swims upstream — in a vacuum — or, falls from a building — in a vacuum — (wait… what falls faster a humpy or a sockeye…?  A chum or a spring?)

… what sort of things are we “assuming” out of our equations for achieving MSY? (like the friction on the falling marble, or on the falling beach ball)

Well… there’s those darn seals, orcas, eagles, osprey, bears, squid, mackerel, sharks, parasites, disease, river rapids, hot water, and so on, and so on.

Those darn critters and externalities exert a bit of ‘friction’ on the upstream migration of salmon and successful spawning. Not to mention, the ‘friction’ exerted on baby salmon as they arise out of the gravel and begin their journey downstream and ocean-bound (like all of our shit, prozac, cialis, pulpmill effluent, urban paved road run-off, and so on…)

Just as “Assuming that the marble falls in a vacuum greatly simplifies the problem without substantially affecting the answer”… assuming that wild salmon swim in a vacuum greatly simplifies the problem; however, it also greatly affects the answer. Especially, when the answer = n salmon that we can kill according to MSY equation.

The problem is that Fisheries and Oceans and other North American fish managers have been ‘managing’ salmon according to assumptions that wild salmon are like a marble falling from a building in a vacuum.

When in fact, they are significantly more like a beach ball, which sways all over the place as it falls, and may even go back up on the right updraft… and might get eaten or maimed by some several hundred other things on its journey to the ground. Added, that some of those ‘several hundred other things’ depend greatly on the annual falling of beach balls — in other words the “friction” is essential to life of all involved.

As with the lower benchmark, the upper
benchmark will also be determined on a case-bycase
basis depending on the species and types of
information available, and may apply:
• A proportion of the number of spawners (S)
estimated necessary to provide maximum
sustainable yield (MSY) on an average
annual basis given existing environmental
conditions (e.g., Smsy

All models simplify reality in order to improve understanding…(hmmm)

“All models — in physics, biology, or economics — simplify reality in order to improve our understanding of it.” So suggests my Economics textbook.

"ANGEL " doll face, toy wings, tape, bathroom scale approx 6 x 12" by Simon Davies

Is it me… or is “simplify reality” sort of like an oxymoron. It rings in the same frequency of Department of Fisheries and Oceans new favorite phrase: “low abundance”.

Yeah… “low abundance” is the new phrase used often in meetings by DFO to describe crashing Fraser River sockeye runs and other dwindling BC wild salmon populations. Yup, “abundance” the word that means: “a profusion; a great plenty; an overflowing quantity.”

So what is a “low” overflowing abundance?

I’m not sure if the phrase is used purposefully, or just one of those bureaucratic bumpf phrases spawned from the hallowed halls of government expediency. (I’m getting into the spirit of it…).

It’s sad, really. It’s the same innocuous phraseology that suggests that innocent people killed in western airforce bombings in the Middle East are “collateral damage” or that “terrorists are hiding behind human shields…”

It’s the same cardboard phraseology that suggests that ‘biological models’ or ‘economic models’ —- “simplify reality”. Not forgetting that the word reality means “the quality or state of being actual or true.” So how is it that we “simplify” things that are in a state of being actual or true?

If we simplify these things… does this not mean that we then subtract from the “actual-ness” or “true-ness” of these things?

_ _ _ _

“High school biology teachers teach basic anatomy with plastic replicas of the human body. These models have all the major organs — the heart, the liver, the kidneys, and so on. The models allow teachers to show their students in a simple way how the important parts of the body fit together.” — (more from my Economics textbook).

Is this “simplifying reality”?

Well, no… because as much as certain components of the human body can be displayed in plastic, with pretty painted colors, it does not answer many of the great mysteries of life, or mysteries of the human body.

“Of course, these plastic models are not actual human bodies, and no one would mistake the model for a real person. These models are stylized, and they omit many details. Yet despite this lack of realism — indeed, because of this lack of realism — studying these models is useful for learning how the human body works.”

Sort of.

It teaches how bits and pieces work — like food goes in, poop comes out. Blood moves through veins and arteries and the heart beats to pump it through, and so on, and so on… However, these “models” don’t give us enlightenment into the human brain and the mysteries therein.

Economists use models to learn about the world, but instead of being made of plastic, they are most often composed of diagrams and equations. Like a biology teacher’s plastic model, economic models omit many details to allow us to see what is truly important.

There’s the fundamental issue. I’m curious, who is making the value call on: “what is truly important”?

This is like suggesting that the “models” of a Paris runway fashion show: “allow us to see what is truly important”. (personally, seeing someone’s hip socket and all their ribs is not really my idea of reality — especially in a society that currently includes over 60% of the population obese or overweight).

Or that the “reality show” Survivor models reality of a group of people surviving on a deserted island — when we know that this reality, in true actuality, can mean cannibalism and desperate choices (watch the movie or read the book “Alive: the story of the Andes survivors” by Piers Paul Read)

This is the same set of assumptions that suggests that looking under the hood of a car allows people to see “in a simple way how the important parts of the car fit together” and that we therefore understand how the car runs. Well… no… we might understand the mechanics, but this does not mean we understand combustion and how that combustion is harnessed and how the oil needed to be extracted from the earth to make that car run, and how that oil is comprised of long dead critters, and how the oil was transformed into gasoline, and how the engine parts are comprised of various minerals that needed to be mined somewhere, and so on, and so on.

This is exactly the issue.

If economists assume that they understand human economies through diagrams and equations — i.e. “simplifying reality”; and that doctors understand human bodies through plastic replicas; and that biologists understand ecosystems through mathematical equations and computer programming… well… then we have some serious problems on our hands. (and we do).

(not to forget that I listened to a Dr. in economics explain at a recent conference in Portland — in no uncertain terms — that no system exists for modeling social and cultural impacts of economic decisions. This is an important point in relation to yesterday’s post re: Taseko Mines proposing to turn Fish Lake into a waste rock – tailings facility — Or, in relation to crashing BC salmon populations and the social and cultural impacts on First Nation and settler societies)

_ _ _ _

So how do we deal with some of these issues?

"Dancing Block Head" by Simon Davies

Well… we create empty, innocuous language that skirts around the margins of the issues — rather than get right into the heart of the issues. (Or, we create another model… that “simplifies reality”…). We convene about 5 – 20 meetings, teleconferences, and conferences per month and talk around the issue, collect our healthy day rates and per diems and full benefit packages, eat our greasy hotel breakfast, and await the minutes from the last, and agenda for the next…

We call crashing salmon populations — “low abundance”. We call people maimed and killed by incredibly destructive and non-selective weapons — “collateral damage”. We have government institutions say things like “conservation is our number one priority” but then prove time and time again that “conservation” doesn’t actually mean don’t do something at all (e.g. fishing an endangered population of fish) — it actually means government agencies will “balance perspectives and stakeholders”.

(Meaning: thou with the most lobbying power will be succesful)

For example, “conservation” of Early Stuart Sockeye in the Fraser River right now (a once great population, now a mere shadow of its former self in less than 100 years) means catching an estimated 10% of the population every year in “test fisheries”. So we are forcing this population further down the road of extinction, for the simple purpose that we can count it.

Why do we need to count it?

Because we need to put those numbers into more models and equations to predict the overall run size (i.e. “simplify reality”).

Why do we need to predict the overall run size?

So that we can go fishing.

This is brilliant.

_ _ _ _ _

“Simplify reality”… that’s what we need models for.

Models like the Fraser River Spawning Sockeye Initiative (FRSSI), or other various fisheries models and equations utilized by fisheries management institutions — are meant to “improve our understanding”.

So I’m wondering how that “improved understanding” through the “modeling” — i.e. simplifying reality — of salmon runs, through “conservation first”  — i.e. conservation = some of us are going fishing — is assisting us these days?

Wait… I have the answer: last year on the Fraser River 10 million sockeye forecast; 1 million actually returned.

Yup, models… they simplify reality.

I don’t know if it gets much simpler than: we’re F^*^%d unless we start meaning what we say, and saying what we mean.

Difficult decisions: if not now; when?

Doesn’t the great hallowed phrase “sustainable development” mean something to the effect that we have to ensure we leave something for future generations?

Teztan Biny – Fish Lake: Tsilqot’in territory

Another mining company (and complicit advocates) learns the hard way that turning lakes and waterbodies into acid-generating waste rock tailings facilities is not an acceptable form of economic development.

Teztan Biny/Fish Lake from Globe and Mail article: Xeni Gwet'in

Yesterday, a Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) Panel ruled that Taseko Mines Ltd. proposed Prosperity Project on the Chilcotin Platau (west of Williams Lake, BC) would have significant environmental effects and the Panel ruled that the project should not go ahead as proposed:

The Panel concludes that the Project would result in significant adverse environmental effects on fish and fish habitat, on navigation, on the current use of lands and resources for traditional purposes by First Nations and on cultural heritage, and on certain potential or established Aboriginal rights or title. The Panel also concludes that the Project, in combination with past, present and reasonably foreseeable future projects would result in a significant adverse cumulative effect on grizzly bears in the South Chilcotin region and on fish and fish habitat.

The Executive Summary of the CEAA Panel is available online.

In short, my read of the summary is that the panel basically suggests: ‘Taseko Mines, what the hell are you thinking…?’ There isn’t really much in the summary that suggests anything good about the project going ahead.

Fish Lake – Teztan Biny – is suggested to have anywhere between 75,000 – 90,000 resident rainbow trout. Taseko was proposing to drain, dam, and re-flood this lake so that it could be used as a tailings facility for acid-generating waste rock and waste materials from the milling process to extract copper and gold. By submersing these materials underwater the acid-generating process is slowed.

To compensate for the loss, Taseko was going to create a “new” lake: “Prosperity Lake.”

Here’s the kicker… the newly created “Prosperity Lake” was only going to support 20,000 rainbow trout.

That makes sense… especially when the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has a specific policy called “No Net Loss” for fish habitat. If fish habitat has to be destroyed then new habitat has to be created at an equal or better level. (I won’t comment on the level of assumption required here, or the complete lack of monitoring to ensure this is met, or lack of funding to do it, etc…)

The numbers speak for themselves on this one issue with the lake.

Yet, that was not all that the CEAA Panel found issues with; it’s a solid list of issues.

My question is what the hell does this say about the BC Environmental Assessment Agency, which approved this project last January?

Their conclusion was that: yes, the proposed project would have significant environmental affects; however the economic benefits were worth it.

So in essence, they attached a dollar value to all of the negative impacts that the federal enviro assessment agency identified.

While the B.C. assessment foresaw harm to the environment, it concluded that was outweighed by a predicted $5-billion economic injection over the 20-year life of the mine and $600-million of revenue for various governments.

From Globe and Mail article yesterday:  Harper to decide fate of controversial B.C. mine

So does this mean that the folks on the BC Environmental Assessment Panel – and the current BC government which fully supports that BC EA decision and not the CEAA decision of yesterday – feels that a 90,000 rainbow trout lake, vital grizzly bear habitat, aboriginal rights and title, traplines, guide outfitter territory, tourism (the Provincial government actually has a “postcard” of Fish Lake in their recent tourism material), and ranch-grazing land is all worth $600 million in government revenues and a few hundred jobs — for a period of only 20 years (the proposed life of the mine)?

This is of course all based on the assumption that stock markets remain firm and commodity prices such as gold & copper (the main minerals to be extracted from this proposed mine) remain high. Anyone who has watched the markets over the last couple of years (or longer) recognizes the danger in this giant assumption.

These are curious dollar figures to contemplate as a society and further pushed to balance: economic vs. environmental.

Here’s another serious problem. As, the Globe article suggests:

Richard Walker, a spokesman for Natural Resources Minister Christian Paradis, said the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency is independent and he did not comment on what the government will do.

Yet, the BC government counterparts don’t seem to get this issue. EA panels are independent review bodies… because of exactly this issue. Government officials tend to have some issues with respecting this part of democracy:

Bill Bennett, B.C.’s Mining Minister and a former fishing guide, will push Ottawa to give the green light to the mine, located about 250 kilometres north of Vancouver.

“I’m not rape and pillage. I’m a life-long conservationist,” Mr. Bennett said in an interview. “If this was what some people have said it is, an environmental travesty, I wouldn’t support it either.”

A final answer will come by early September, as cabinet has 10 weeks to make a decision, a spokeswoman for the review panel said.

“We frankly would like to see this project happen,” Mr. Bennett said. “I’ll be discussing this with my federal counterparts to whatever extent they’re willing to talk to me about it.”

Mr.Bennett… that’s exactly the problem with you, your colleagues, and your current leader… you’ve already made up your mind before the enviro assessment panels are done their work. Even when an independent review panel of experts on the issue rule that the project is too risky… you and your colleagues decide to do things “to whatever extent” you need to.

You’re supposed to act on the will of your constituency and even on the decisions of independent review panels (that’s the whole point); not the will of your political party and water cooler colleagues.

An independent review panel of three experts in this matter have ruled that it will be largely an environmental and social travesty if the project goes ahead. Seems to be spelled out in the ruling…