Photo: Missing public input coming to the Fraser River gravel mining debate

John Werring of the David Suzuki Foundation (left) and others haul in a net while beach seining at Hamilton Bar on the Fraser River. (Credit: Jenna Hauck, Chilliwack Progress)

By John Werring, Senior Science and Policy Advisor

The importance of the Fraser River to our province and region can't be overstated. Yet one of the most controversial activities — gravel mining — has largely happened without public input. There are signs that may be changing.

With gravel extraction causing the largest documented fish kill in the province's history as well as the death of millions of juvenile salmon eggs and alevins through water diversion from spawning areas, the Foundation has called for a long-term sediment removal plan for the Fraser for the past decade. And we asked to have all stakeholders — including governments, First Nations, scientists and non-profits — at the table together. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans gave their support for this process. But concerns we raised about this fish habitat destroying activity were largely ignored.

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Not anymore. As a member of the Fraser River Gravel Stewardship Committee (FRGSC), the Foundation was asked last August — for the first time — to review the province's plan to begin extracting gravel from the Fraser again in early 2013. And our input was sought in meetings with Emergency Management BC (EMBC) staff. We advised them to drop plans to mine gravel at sites with important fish habitats such as Tranmer Bar, and they listened.

The Program Manager for EMBC confirmed the new direction in a recent email:

"All parties agree that a long term plan is preferred. As such, the detailed work on the development of a long term plan for sediment management within the Fraser River is beginning with the focus being on what areas provide the greatest benefit to the flood profile and at the same time, limit the impact to the natural environment. This plan will not only involve the Technical and Management Committee but also key stakeholders who have an interest in the Fraser River."

It seems our repeated calls for a long term management plan involving a diversity of stakeholders have finally been heard. What's still missing is the certainty that this will happen, along with the necessary funding, resources and timelines. Nevertheless, this is an important milestone!

It is heartening too that some First Nations on the Fraser also see the value of developing a joint management plan and, although their interests and objectives may be different than ours, we see opportunity to engage and solicit their support to ensure this actually takes place.

Rest assured that the David Suzuki Foundation and our allies will continue to press for this important initiative. Stay tuned.

March 15, 2013

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