UBC Reports
October 16, 1997

Experts warn Fraser Basin on edge of ecological ruin

by Sean Kelly
Staff writer

A little more than a century ago the area extending from Vancouver to the town of Hope was a forest of giant trees with extensive swamps and wetlands along the river courses.

That area is now being swallowed by the growing metropolis of Greater Vancouver, and the newly released $2.4 million Fraser Basin Ecosystem Study warns that present trends are leading us directly away from environmental sustainability.

"The lower Fraser Basin exemplifies all the social, environmental and economic problems of modern industrial nations," says Prof. Michael Healey, principal investigator and an ecologist with the Institute for Resources and Environment.

"Rapid population growth, changing ethnic makeup, conflict between rural and urban lifestyles, and clashes with aboriginal peoples struggling to maintain traditional ways are problems which are not going away and it is high time that we faced up to them."

The researchers call for changes to the way we manage population, land and resources, consumption and waste management.

Indicators of serious environmental decline cited in the report include high nitrogen pollution in groundwaters and the presence of visible abnormalities on more than 90 per cent of the fish samples taken from the Fraser River.

As many as 50 streams in the greater Vancouver area that once supported runs of Pacific salmon have been turned into storm sewers, and many of the remaining streams are being degraded because of pollution from automobiles, agriculture and other sources.

The study also indicates a high level of concern among British Columbians about environmental problems, but suggests concern doesn't always translate into action.

Only 14 per cent of people surveyed said they use public transit, even though that is the activity with the greatest benefit to the environment.

"The infrastructure isn't responsive to alternate kinds of behavior," explains Healey.

He suggests that the infrastructure would be improved if governments paid up front to improve rapid transit instead of waiting until ridership increases.

The four-year study involved 23 experts from 20 disciplines at the university, including planning, geography, sociology, fisheries, economics, commerce, biological sciences, social sciences and medicine. More than 40 graduate students took part.

The team makes 44 recommendations intended to help governments and individuals move towards sustainability, including:

Funding for the study was provided by the federal government's Green Plan.

Details of the report are available on the Institute's Web site at www.ire.ubc.ca/ecoresearch. Copies of the complete report are available from the Institute of Resources and Environment by calling 604-822-4705.