AGM Report  (Includes 2017 Financials)

 

A complete accounting of events and presentations from AGM 2018

BC Nature AGM and Conference: Promoting Health in Nature

– by Susan Fisher

As part of this year’s centenary celebrations, Nature Vancouver (NV) took on the job of hosting the BC Nature AGM and Conference, which it had not done since 2004. The conference brought 150 naturalists to the UBC campus; about a third of the attendees were NV members.

The hosting committee, chaired by Bev Ramey, began its work nearly two years ago, with negotiations to secure the conference venue – the Forest Sciences Centre at UBC. It proved an excellent location. On the practical side, UBC campus offers restaurants, accommodation, bike routes, and transit. It also has amenities of particular interest to naturalists: research labs, the Beaty Biodiversity Museum, UBC Farm, Pacific Spirit Park, and the UBC Botanical Garden.

The conference theme, “Promoting Health in Nature: Past, Present and Future,” provided a broad focus for the fifteen invited presentations. The notion that natural environments promote health is often talked about as if it were a modern wellness discovery, like kale, yoga, or mindfulness. But naturalists have known this for a long time. In 1919, in his first annual report to the Vancouver Natural History Society, founding president John Davidson made the link between the society’s goals and health: “If we encourage our boys and girls to make a hobby of some branch of Nature Study, we do much to ensure the moral and physical health of our young men and women of the future.”

 

The conference opened with a presentation by Bill Kinkaid, outgoing NV President, on the diverse environments of the Lower Mainland. Bill’s wonderful images provided a great introduction to our region. He was followed by Rob Butler, a biologist, author, artist, and champion of BC’s wild spaces. Dr. Butler was optimistic about the evidence that attitudes to nature are changing, and he emphasized the role that naturalists can play in leading and hastening this change.

 

The UBC Faculty of Forestry provided not only a venue for the conference but also two of the presenters. John Innes, Dean of the UBC Faculty of Forestry, spoke on the future of BC’s forests. BC is still focussed on sawmills and derivative industries. We need to recognize the opportunities for new forest products and diversification of forest goods and services. Innes argued that if we are going to convince governments and citizens to protect our forests, then we need to attach value to them. One way to do this would be to emulate countries like Finland that are extracting new value from their forests by producing textiles, bioplastics and innovative building materials. Interestingly, John Davidson was one of the first to sound the alarm about the need to protect BC’s forest resources, which to many of his contemporaries seemed inexhaustible. His 1923 pamphlet “The Handwriting on the Wall” pointed out the dangers of continuing to harvest timber in the Capilano watershed.

Professor Cecil Konijnendijk, also from the Faculty of Forestry, spoke on the large body of research demonstrating that urban forests and green spaces enhance well-being. For example, living in a green neighbourhood reduces the chance of early death; health disparities based on income levels can actually be reduced by greener environments; and green spaces and green school environments are correlated with better cognitive development. Those of us who live in Vancouver can take hope from the city’s announced intention to act on this research. Nick Page, the Vancouver Park Board biologist, described in his presentation how the city’s biodiversity strategy aims to increase the size and quality of our natural areas and to expand vital habitat for pollinators, birds, urban salmon and herring, and wildlife. Sandie Hollick-Kenyon, a community advisor with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, described the rehabilitation of salmon streams along the north shore of Point Grey.

Rick Taylor from UBC Zoology, the current chair of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), spoke on what he called the Sisyphean task of making progress on species at risk. While the members of COSEWIC provide expert advice and monitoring, only government can declare that a species is at risk and thus invoke the protections of the Species at Risk legislation. Professor Taylor pointed out that habitat degradation is overwhelmingly the major threat to biodiversity. Biodiversity is greatest in the southern portion of Canada – ie in the areas of greatest population growth. Professor Taylor offered some hopeful examples: the humpback whale and the peregrine falcon did recover when action was taken to protect them. But, in his assessment, recovery is underperforming largely because of the culture of consultation and the byzantine processes of the federal government. Professor Taylor thought that we all should be up in arms about the status of the Pacific salmon. While Canadians seem to support the SAR program in principle, we’re not really doing anything about it.

Egan Davis, the Chief Educator at the UBC Botanical Garden, gave a talk entitled “Implementing Ecological Principles in Urban Green Spaces.” Why, he wondered, do we invest such effort in weeding, watering, fertilizing? Maybe we can create gardens that will flourish with fewer inputs and less maintenance. He provided some inspiring examples of gardens in Europe that work with local environmental conditions rather than struggling against them.

 

Long before the term “citizen science” was coined, VNHS members were collecting data and specimens and contributing to the research efforts of professionals like John Davidson. In his presentation on citizen science, Brian Klinkenberg, a UBC geographer and the editor/coordinator of the E-Flora and E-Fauna BC, spoke on the contributions that naturalists are making to these indispensable digital resources.

 

The Important Bird Area (IBA) project sponsored by BC Nature is another example of citizen science in action. Krista Kaptein, coordinator of the IBA Caretaker Network, explained the role of IBAs in increasing public understanding of the need to protect vital habitats. James Casey, a program manager for Bird Studies Canada, spoke on efforts to protect the Fraser River Estuary IBA, which, despite all that is known about its value for migrant and wintering birds, remains threatened. The struggle to protect the estuary is an old one: as long ago as 1959, the VNHS was writing to the Minister of Lands and Forests to express opposition to proposed industrial development on Boundary Bay.

 

The conference theme’s focus on the future was evident in three presentations on programs for children. Two staff members from Metro Vancouver Regional Parks, Wendy DaDalt and Lydia Mynott, discussed designing children’s spaces in parks– not playgrounds with swings and sandboxes but areas specifically landscaped so that children can explore their surroundings and engage with nature. Jill Sturdy, manager of Nature Canada’s Naturehood program, explained how the program gets children and families engaged with natural areas in their own neighbourhoods. Leslie Bol and Christina Chowaniec, both with NatureKids of BC, spoke on the role of nature clubs in educating the next generation of BC naturalists.
At the Friday night banquet, David Brownstein, a historical geographer and the acknowledged expert on John Davidson, gave an illustrated talk on the first hundred years of Vancouver Natural History Society. The late Victorian values that informed its early days have certainly ebbed, but the society nonetheless remains faithful to the central aims of its founding members—education, enjoyment, and conservation.

At the Saturday banquet, Lori Weidenhammer, artist, author, and educator, gave the final presentation. She offered ideas about how we can improve habitat for the 32 species of bumblebee native to our province – certainly a hands-on way to promote health in nature.

The AGM, held on Saturday afternoon, focused primarily on BC Nature’s strategic review, led by VP Virginia Rasch. The need to communicate more effectively, both among the member clubs and with governments and other citizens, was a central concern. How do we work together? How do we take effective action on the many issues that concern our clubs? The executive will continue to discuss these questions and then come back to the membership with specific recommendations. One resolution came before the AGM: it called for the elimination of lead in ammunition and fishing gear and, after some debate, was passed.

But the conference was not all talk. On Friday and Saturday mornings, Nature Vancouver members led early morning bird walks to UBC Farm and to the Botanical Garden. Friday afternoon, there were visits to old-growth forest below SW Marine Drive, the UBC Farm and Botanical Gardens and labs in Forest Sciences and Marine Biology. On Saturday, there were field trips to nearby Pacific Spirit Park, Jericho Park Camosun Bog and Iona Island. And on Sunday, groups went further afield, visiting Maplewood Flats, Reifel Bird Refuge and the intertidal of Stanley Park. A highlight for many attendees was a visit behind the scenes at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum to the entomology and herbarium collections; participants in the herbarium tour got to see sheets prepared by John Davidson himself, more than a hundred years ago.

While the conference success can really only be measured in terms of attendees’ satisfaction and inspiration (e.g., did we all go home convinced that we should be doing more to halt habitat degradation?), it was certainly successful on the financial front, thanks to the many generous donors to the Silent Auction and to the Faculty of Forestry for their help supporting the venue, plus the extensive contributions from the many volunteers.

Every aspect of the conference was a credit to the hard work of the volunteers. We all owe a great debt to the organizing committee led by Bev Ramey, with key volunteers Helen Aqua, Lyn Grants, Elena Klein, Cynthia Crampton, Linda Mueller, and Linda Wong, plus about 45 other Nature Vancouver volunteers.

 

 





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