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Biologist heads up latest Green Drinks talk

Restoring Central Saanich's Maber Flats to wetland a ‘win-win’ for everyone according to Habitat Acquisition Trust speaker.
Todd Carnahan

As people gathered in Zanzibar café on Tuesday evening, layering smoked salmon taquitos and olive tapenade on their plates as they waited for the latest Green Drinks environmental talk, speaker Todd Carnahan sat down with Gary Holman, Saanich North and the Islands MLA for a few minutes.

Carnahan, a biologist and land care co-ordinator for the Habitat Acquisition Trust, quickly rattled off a laundry list of conservation issues on the Peninsula: vanishing wetlands, degraded ecosystems, petrochemical pollution, lack of greenspace protection.

One disturbing fact stands out. Amidst development and recreation spots, only eight per cent of ‘natural’ ecosystems remain. Eight per cent to provide clean air, healthy water and healthy soils, said Carnahan.

Holman is “very keenly interested” in what Carnahan and HAT are doing.

“We don’t talk enough about conservation on the Peninsula,” said the MLA. “There needs to be more attention focused on it at all levels. This place is so special and precious. There are only a few remnants of it remaining, and we need to protect it.”

As Carnahan began speaking, his passion for conservation and preserving natural ecosystems came through loud and clear in the small café. There are a myriad of ways that landowners can help protect their environment, he said.

Working with HAT to protect private land under conservation covenants can ensure that it stays natural, even under pressures to develop. HAT will also send a biologist out to residential and private properties to identify invasive species, and help draft up plans to protect native species and ecosystems.

One of the easiest steps landowners can take is to ‘naturescape’ with native plants. Planting shrubs and flowers that are naturally drought-resistant and thrive on the west coast not only saves water during the dry months of the summer, it also supports native birds, snakes, insects and mammals that depend on their native food sources.

One of the best ways for people to protect nature is to let it be, continued Carnahan, pointing specifically to turtles as an example.

“You see a turtle, it might be a grandmother turtle who’s laid hundreds and hundreds of eggs, and she’s on her way back to her maternal nesting ground, and you think she’s lost. So you move her somewhere a few kilometres away, and now she is lost.”

“Turtles have been around in the same pattern for 70 million years, they’re not lost,” he said, as the audience laughed and broke into applause.

Restoring wetlands to their original boggy glory was also at the top of the biologist’s list, touching on Rithet’s Bog, Maber Flats and Panama Flats.

“These are all wetlands that were converted to agriculture use,” he said.

Draining the water left the high-peat soils exposed to oxygen, where they began to oxidize, compress and erode.

“Now we’re left with wetlands that don’t work as farmland and don’t work as hydrology,” he explained. “People are often concerned that we would be taking working farmland out, but they don’t work right now as farms.

“It’s a win-win situation,” he said, adding that reverting the properties back to wetlands would improve storm water management, enhance birding, recharge groundwater, and improve the soils.

Carnahan urged the audience to contact HAT with any questions about conservation, native plants or for assistance in planning development or changes on their lands to avoid upsetting the existing ecosystems.

“There are lots of things you can do. You might just need a biologist to give you some pointers,” he said.

“Keep it natural, folks.”

The Central Saanich chapter of Green Drinks meets the last Tuesday of the month. Part of an international organization, the group welcomes those who work in, or have an interest in, environmental fields for networking, an informational lecture and socializing.

“Mostly, it’s a chance for like-minded people to meet and connect, and the cumulative effect is that a range of environmentally-friendly possibilities are revealed,” said Central Saanich councillor Alicia Cormier, who founded the Peninsula chapter two years ago.

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