by Roselyn Savady
A truly unique and magnificent ecosystem lays right here in our backyard. Located in Delta, BC, Burns Bog covers 2,821 hectares of land (eight times bigger than Stanley Park). It is the largest undeveloped urban wilderness in North America.
The reason why Burns Bog is so extraordinary is because of its chemistry, form, flora and large size. It is a raised peat bog (also known as a domed bog), which is uncommon in Canada. This occurs when the water table is at or near the ground surface for most of the year, making the plants decompose extremely slowly when they die. The vegetation is mostly sphagnum moss that thrives in acidic and low-nutrient wetlands. When the sphagnum moss and other plants decompose, they create peat that slowly accumulates into a domed shape on the bog.
For thousands of years, Burns Bog was used by Tsawwassen, Semiahmoo, Musqueam, and other First Nations people. They hunted large mammals and water fowl, as well as gathering berries and medicinal plants.
European settlers began farming in this area in the 1870’s.
In 1906, Dominic Burns bought the Great Delta Bog for $26,000. It became known as Burn’s Ranch, where they raised cattle and sheep.
Peat mining began in the 1930’s to the early 1980’s. It was used as a source of fuel and was exported to the United States to make a catalytic agent in refining magnesium for fire bombs in World War II.
In June of 1999, the ecological review of Burns Bog was undertaken by the Province and Delta Fraser Properties Partnership to determine the factors crucial to preserving the ecological integrity of the bog.
On March 24th, 2004, the Government of Canada, British Columbia, Metro Vancouver and the Corporation of Delta, purchased 2,042 hectares of Burns Bog for $73 million to be protected as an Ecological Conservancy Area (ECA).
The wetlands is a habitat to rare flora and fauna. It is a major stopover for more than 103 migratory birds, including the endangered Greater Sandhill Cranes.
Burns Bog is a carbon sink that soaks up and stores carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. It is 10 times more effective than any other ecosystem because of the deep peat deposits. The Burns Bog Conservation Society calls it “the lungs of the Lower Mainland” because of its role in maintaining air quality.
Although Burns Bog is protected, an area adjacent to the bog, owned by MK Delta Lands Group, proposed a plan for a large-scale residential and commercial development for a 35-hectare parcel between 64th avenue and 72nd avenue (which would be built on the lagg). The lagg buffers the bog from the outside environment that would harm the delicate ecosystem in Burns Bog. The plan has yet to be approved.
That is just one of the big threats. Other threats include, the proposed coal terminal and the South Perimeter Fraser Road.
Read more here: www.burnsbog.org/fight-current-threats
A legally binding conservation covenant was established to ensure Burns Bog is protected and managed effectively as a natural ecosystem. These are the objectives identified in the covenant act:
- “Maintain Burns Bog in perpetuity as a large, contiguous, undeveloped natural area for the purpose of protecting the flora and fauna that depend on Burns Bog.
- Manage Burns Bog as a functional raised bog ecosystem as understood by the best science of the time.
- Maintain the extent and integrity of the water mound and the peat that enclosed it, and in particular the upper porous acrotelm, upon which the persistence of the bog ecosystem depends.
- Prevent any occupation or use of Burns Bog that will impair or interfere with the current state of Burns Bog or its Amenities (except with respect to statutory rights-of-way).”
In May of 2007, the Burns Bog ECA Management Plan was completed. Their mission is:
“To restore the raised bog ecosystem and maintain its integrity in accordance with the best scientific principles and stewardship practices of the time, in collaboration with the community, offering opportunities for education/interpretation, sustainable recreation and scientific research.”
The Burns Bog Conservation Society works to protect and sustain the bog, as well as promoting education and awareness about the ecological benefits and the need to save it. They also provide tours, field studies and community events on the Delta Nature Reserve, located in the north-eastern corner of the bog (the only area of Burns Bog open to the public).
Last November, the society marked their 25th anniversary by organizing a successful fundraising gala and announced the launch of a campaign to build an education and interpretive centre in Delta.
Burns Bog use to be 4,800 hectares. It took over 3000 years to form but over the last century, half of it has been destroyed by human activity. The water table has been disrupted by decades of peat extraction. As a result, the water level is lowered and the surface is drier, leading to higher risk of wildfires.
In the summer of 2007, man-made dams were placed to block and repair damages of the drainage ditches that have been dug throughout the bog during the peat mining days. Beavers have (naturally) also built dams to help raise the water table levels and regenerate sphagnum moss.
Access to the wetlands is off limits to the public to keep it safe from destruction and to preserve the sensitive ecosystem.
Therefore, without the preservation, conservation and restoration of Burns Bog, the ecosystem would collapse and the bog would eventually succumb to forest, the endangered species living in the bog would become extinct, there would be more floods and the CO2 would be released back into the atmosphere and cause climate change. That is why it is crucial to protect Burns Bog for future generations.
 Burns Bog Ecological Conservancy Area Management Plan
 Burns Bog Ecological Conservancy Area Management Plan