Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Biodiversity and Environmental Farm Planning in the Gulf Islands

The real substance of conservation lies not in the physical projects of government, but in the mental processes of its citizens.” Aldo Leopold. A Sand County Almanac.

The Islands Trust Fund Regional Conservation Plan for 2011-2015 is currently under review, with a deadline of October 31 for public input , something most farmers may not be aware of. The draft document mentions “working landscapes”, or farms, as part of the Trust plan to enhance biodiversity – through the mapping of farms having environmental farm plans, or even acquiring farms. The draft document recommends habitat conservation through voluntary land acquisition and conservation covenants where properties are large, and private land stewardship education in higher density neighbourhoods. But what about stewardship education for large properties, especially farms? And how about using an existing successful program, that wouldn't cost the Trust or the taxpayer a nickel?
In fact, the Trust may be further ahead by encouraging good stewardship through the encouragement of farmers to complete Environmental Farm Plans (EFP), and Biodiversity Plans. These plans are administered by the BC Agricultural Research and Development Corporation (ARDCorp), a subsidiary of the BC Agriculture Council. ARDCorp's purpose and mandate is to cost-effectively deliver programs and services to BC's primary agriculture industry. Environmental Farm Plans are no charge to the producer.
Two years ago, a new component of the Environmental Farm Plan – a Biodiversity Plan - was available to 70 producers in BC. The publication, Planning for Biodiversity: A Guide for BC Farmers and Ranchers was the first initiative to provide an on-farm assessment and planning tool for biodiversity in North America and the manual was revised this spring. The EFP provides farmers and ranchers with an understanding of agriculturally related environmental regulations and farm management practices that enhance environmental values. It is one step to responsible stewardship of the natural resources essential to a sustainable and economically viable agriculture.
Recognizing and enhancing the biodiversity of the farm is a second step. Whereas some people might believe that conserving biodiversity in working landscapes comes at a cost to the individual landowner, biologically diverse ecosystems provide a number of important free goods and services to farmers, reducing the need for pesticides and fertilizers, reducing production risks like flooding, and increasing the productive capacity of the land.
Fir Hill Farm was one of the first to undertake a biodiversity assessment and plan. In our farm’s case, most opportunities to manage biodiversity were achieved. Our uncultivated natural areas well exceed the desired minimum of 20%. Perennial cover and mixed hay crop provide habitat for birds, fence lines are treed and have shrubs for cover. We have an old growth raptor nesting tree, although the osprey have been chased off by the eagles the last few years. We have some heritage livestock, contributing to genetic diversity of domesticated species. Our black Spanish Turkeys live wild on the farm and are able to reproduce and raise their young naturally.
Our farm links habitat areas, as both of the forested ridges in our valley are connected, aiding as a wildlife corridor. Washington Grimmer cleared the land in the 1800's and kept the connecting forested strip in the valley as a windbreak, and it also provides valuable habitat. The watercourses are also well connected throughout the farm.
Our biggest challenge is invasive species – scotch broom, thistles, giant bullfrogs, raccoons (not natural for Pender) are just some examples of invasive species that create conflicts with farming and reduce our biodiversity. In addition to that, as we enhance our natural areas and protect wildlife, there can also be negative effects on agriculture that we need to manage. For example, deer (and geese, especially resident geese) can have negative impacts on growing field crops, grass and fruit.
To implement the improvements to stewardship desired, the provincial and federal governments provide funding to farmers for specific projects.
To encourage farmer and rancher participation in the environmental and biodiversity planning available, local conservation organizations and the Islands Trust may look for ways to encourage and work with farmers, since we all benefit in the long run.
Producers interested in completing an EFP or biodiversity plan can contact David Tattam, EFP Planning Adviser, Duncan. (Phone: 250-746-7666, Cell: 250-732-4665, E-mail : dtattam@shaw.ca) or download “Planning for Biodiversity – A Guide for BC Farmers and Ranchers” at http://www.ardcorp.ca/index.php?page_id=39/

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