Bog activist looking for a Robin Hood to save ‘Sherwood Forest’
There’s a Sherwood Forest and there’s a Nottingham, but he’s not the sheriff.
Named after Warren Nottingham, who owns part of the land, Sherwood Forest is located west of Burns Bog between Crescent Slough and 72nd Avenue near the Vancouver landfill.
It is habitat to an impressive variety and quantity of wildlife, such as raptors, deer, coyotes, and even bears.
Although the land is all within the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), it has never been farmed except for cattle grazing.
But eight hectares of the forest immediately west of the landfill has been clearcut and five one-hectare ponds have been dredged to make way for Canada’s first and only cranberry research farm.
That has biologist Donald DeMill, who has been working to protect Burns Bog for decades, fuming. That’s because the South Fraser Perimeter Road (SFPR) was originally slated to run right through Sherwood Forest, but was rerouted after the province’s scientific advisory panel (SAP) objected.
“Why save one area in the ALR, why reroute a highway around it to preserve its natural virtue…just to turn around and farm previously pristine land,” said DeMill.
The province acquired a 41-ha parcel of Sherwood Forest in 2007 for $1.6 million and was slated for the SFPR until Environment Canada raised objections about destroying the ecologically sensitive area.
John Jeglum, a former professor of forest peatland science in Sweden and member of the SAP for the SFPR, said the forest is a “transition” zone of the bog.
“We would have preferred, of course, not to see that chunk of forest cut,” he said,.
SAP colleague and botanist Richard Hebda made a strong case to move the road in order to maintain the forest.
“What we had been most concerned about was the forested land right along Crescent Slough,” said Hebda, referring to the property still owned by Nottingham.
He remembers that some of the forested land was not deemed ecologically required for the bog. Nevertheless, Hebda said the entire forest holds considerable hydrological value for the bog, as well as habitat for wildlife.
“There’s also areas in what’s called the lagg, which are as important to the bog as the bog itself,” he said.
The SFPR was subsequently realigned away from the forest and the province deemed the previously acquired land “surplus.” They sold an eight hectare parcel to the BC Cranberry Marketing Commission for $400,000 in March 2011.
The federal government chipped in $250,000 under the Western Economic Diversification Fund, a stimulus program.
DeMill questions why the federal government’s environmental agency objected to the highway destroying the forest only to later help the cranberry growers cut it down.
Fifteen hectares of the northernmost portion of Sherwood Forest was mapped as essential to save in the Burns Bog Ecosystem Review of 2000.
It has since been designated part of the Ramsar site in 2012, and the Corporation of Delta will soon add it to the ecological conservancy.
“The portion destroyed is shown on the map as having insufficient data, but it’s contiguous with the rest of Sherwood Forest mapped as essential,” said DeMill.
Unfortunately for those who want to save what remains of Sherwood Forest, peatland is perfect for growing cranberries.
“There is some excellent peat there,” said John Savage, president of the Delta Farmers’ Institute. “It’s what cranberry farmers call some first class cranberry growing.”
Cranberry growers in B.C. have had problems with insect infestation and the research farm will help agricultural scientists.
And although Savage understands some people are upset the trees were cut down, the land is in the ALR.
“The land is designated for farming and as it so happens this land is perfect for it,” he said.
Some of the clearcut trees will be mulched down and used to reinforce the dikes around the bog to prevent drainage. Hebda said that to some extent cranberry farms can even help with the hydrology of the bog, even though the ecological values and wildlife are lost.
And because the farms use peat to grow cranberries, it’s not as harmful as other developments.
“I guess we’ll only know decades from now when they don’t do cranberry farming anymore, perhaps these lands will somehow revert to nature,” he said.