The Beauty of Burns Bog

by Roselyn Savady

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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.[1]

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.[2]

History

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.[3]

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.[4]

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.[5]

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.[6]

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).[7]

Importance

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.[8]

Threats

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.[9]

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

Conservation

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).”[10]

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.”[11]

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.

Restoration

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.[12]

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.[13]

Preservation

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.

[1]http://www.metrovancouver.org/services/parks_lscr/regionalparks/Pages/BurnsBog.aspx

[2] http://www.burnsbog.ca/science.html

[3] http://www.burnsbog.ca/pre-european_years.html

[4] http://www.burnsbog.ca/pioneering_days.html

[5] http://www.burnsbog.ca/peat_mining.html

[6] http://www.burnsbog.ca/events_chronology.html

[7] Burns Bog Ecological Conservancy Area Management Plan

[8] https://www.burnsbog.org/burns-bog/

[9] http://www.thenownewspaper.com/news/mk-delta-unveils-third-burns-bog-plan-to-council-on-monday-1.629902

[10]http://www.metrovancouver.org/services/parks_lscr/regionalparks/Pages/BurnsBog.aspx

[11]http://www.metrovancouver.org/services/parks_lscr/regionalparks/Pages/BurnsBog.aspx

[12] Burns Bog Ecological Conservancy Area Management Plan

[13] http://www.burnsbog.ca/restoring.html

CLIMATE CHANGE: Food Waste in our Landfills

By Roselyn Savady

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Many people are not aware of what happens when they throw away their leftovers, but composting is just as important as recycling plastic bottles and cans because it affects climate change.

In Metro Vancouver, nearly 1 million tonnes of waste goes into our landfills each year. About 40% of our garbage is food. By 2015, all organic waste will be banned from the landfills.

Why is it important to compost?

  • When organic waste decomposes, it gives off carbon dioxide (CO2).
  • Food waste will be covered in garbage and will decompose without oxygen and create methane gas (CH4), which is 20 times more potent than CO2.
  • Both CO2 and CH4 are greenhouse gases (GHG).
  • When too much of the gas goes into the atmosphere, it pollutes our air and creates a blanket around the surface of the earth.
  • That blanket becomes thicker and thicker as we create more waste, while absorbing heat from the Sun.
  • Our planet is now becoming hotter, which is known as global warming.

How do we compost?

  • Most municipalities in Metro Vancouver offer green bins to be picked up, usually once a week and taken to a composting facility.
  • All consumable food waste, soiled paper (even pizza boxes), and yard trimmings can go into the organics cart. Things that are not allowed are plastic, metal, glass, pet waste, and diapers.
  • Start a backyard, balcony or a worm compost. It is great for your garden because of the nutrient-rich fertilizer it creates to help the soil retain moisture.
  • You can call your municipality to purchase a bin for approximately $25 each and they can help you set it up.

What’s in it for you?

  • Composting is not only great for the environment, it helps save us money.
  • We can reduce the amount of food we throw away by planning meals carefully and buying fewer products with less packaging to avoid unnecessary waste.
  • Municipalities in Metro Vancouver also save money by spending less on managing recycling and operational costs. Your tax dollars could be used on more important matters.
  • The most sustainable way to manage waste is to compost.
  • You can stay healthy by growing vegetables in your own garden or community garden, throwing the left over organic waste into the compost, and then turning it into fertilizer which goes back into your garden. This cycle converts all the organic waste from our landfills.
  • We will have much higher air quality.  Less garbage means fewer trucks on the road and fewer trucks on the road means less GHG emissions going into the atmosphere.

Each household in Metro Vancouver produces about 860 kilograms of garbage a year. Just one household makes a huge difference. Imagine if every residential and commercial property in your community separated their food scraps and garbage. This would  keep millions of tonnes of garbage out of our landfills each year and we would live in a much cleaner environment.

Let’s encourage others to be more conscious of disposing waste and make use of the green bins. It’s time to take action!