Fertig’s new poems

“Poet, publisher and long-time supporter of the writing community, Salt Spring Island-based Mona Fertig (left) has released her first collection of poems in 14 years.” FULL STORY

 

Islands in the sun

Early conservationists from BC’s Salish Sea islands recount how they created new ways to save ecosystems.

July 04th, 2024

Author, sailor, and environmental advocate, Sheila Harrington lives off-grid on Lasqueti Island.

Sheila Harrington sailed among the Gulf Islands for three years to interview more than fifty veteran conservationists about their local protests and the historical development of local conservancies.


by Caroline Woodward

Voices for the Islands: Thirty Years of Nature Conservation on the Salish Sea (Heritage House $34.95) by Sheila Harrington—longtime environmental advocate, writer, photographer, sailor—is one of those publishing labours of love, a gathering of passionate, dedicated voices. Within these pages kindred spirits speak about their history as community activists, establishing nature conservancies, and also their connections in a myriad of ways to the Islands Trust (established in 1974 to protect the nature and amenities of 13 major islands and more than 450 smaller islands in BC’s Salish Sea).

When several of the author’s most cherished elder mentors died, Sheila Harrington realized she had to listen to the many voices of other islanders who had contributed to protecting public and private lands, and who learned how to work effectively with many other individuals as well as corporate and governmental entities.

Harrington takes us along with her as she sails between thirteen of the larger islands among the 470 islands in the Salish Sea to interview about fifty stalwart movers and shakers in the conservation movement. As Briony Penn says, hailing the author in her eloquent Foreword, “She is one of those volunteers who will sit through years of meetings until all other options are exhausted. Then watch out.”

When the right author, a person with immense credibility, takes on a communal history project like this, the resulting book resonates with a great many other readers, no matter where they might live in BC or far beyond our Canadian border. With her service as the founding executive-director of the Land Trust Alliance of BC (1997-2011) and as a current director of the Lasqueti Island Nature Conservancy for the past 12 years, Sheila Harrington has, thanks to decades of collaboration and communication, island connections aplenty. She was also the spark plug and lead author for two books which are valuable contributions to bioregional history: Giving the Land a Voice: Mapping Our Home Places (Harrington et al, a Salt Spring Island-based community publishing project, 1995) and Atlas of the Islands in the Salish Sea (Harrington with Judi Stevenson: Touchwood Editions, 2005).

Back when this account of conservation efforts on the islands began, the provincial government of the day, unnamed in the book but for the sake of historical accuracy and credit where credit is due, was an NDP government with Premier Dave Barrett at the helm. This government enacted the Islands Trust legislation in 1974 hard on the heels of creating the Agricultural Land Reserve Act in 1973.

In the mid-70s, issues and phrases like meaningful reconciliation with First Nations, climate change mitigation and carbon sinks were household words in very few households indeed. It is hard to fathom how different British Columbia would look if this political vision had not been implemented then. Each Act was structured with a different decision-making framework to create more democratic involvement by the people who were most affected by major land use decisions. The demands of stepping up to participate were not meant for fly-by-night kvetchers. As a decision-making body, Islands Trust representatives are much more accessible for fellow islanders than far-flung Regional Districts or unelected ever-changing bureaucrats in provincial ministry corridors—and bear in mind there is no Ministry of Islands.

Aerial photo of Gabriola Island. Photo by Kristine Mayes.

Speaking of which, the islanders interviewed in this book are from Gabriola, Thetis, Salt Spring, North and South Pender, Saturna, Mayne, Galiano, Denman, Hornby, Quadra, Cortes, Savary, Gambier, Bowen, Valdes, Keats and Lasqueti. As trustee Bob Turner of Bowen Island says, “Island life just has a different pacing and value system than a lot of what I see on the mainland, and everywhere. I think there’s a wisdom embedded in island communities that is valuable to the wider world.”

The other good thing is that there were and are more experienced and accomplished people to choose as trustees on these islands with high calibre backgrounds in all levels of government administration, especially Parks, and professional research expertise in subjects like botany, marine creatures and children’s outdoor education to name but a few. These are wise people, many of them retirees, who have the time and the dedication, and many are grandparents too. They are more than capable of working well with others in different roles and respecting the nuances of process in order to complete difficult tasks which may take years to resolve. And working with like-minded conservationists has other benefits too according to Ann Eriksson, who works with the Thetis Island Nature Conservancy: “Taking action with others is an antidote to climate and environmental grief,” she says.

This book is so smartly designed with handy inset boxes containing succinct factual information. You will learn about the many different conservancy and land trust groups established to protect these seventeen islands. Not to mention how to make private land transfers and how covenants actually work and who to ask for help so you can benefit from a charitable tax break by making an Ecological Gift. There are invaluable maps, a glossary of conservancy movement acronyms, an index, a helpful reading list and many beautiful photographs.

Threatened yellow-montane violets in the Mt. Tuam Protected Area restoration project on Salt Spring Island. Photo by Laura Matthias.

In a nutshell, this book is an inspiring account of democracy and decentralization in action since 1974. The governance structure of the Islands Trust is unique in the entire world. There is an implicit understanding that every island has its own specific features valued highly by local people. There are many interesting accounts of swapping lands between community groups and logging companies and developers. And of ingenious fundraising efforts to buy a special site which contained fairy slipper orchids (Thetis Island) or to create trails to provide shore access in over a hundred places (Gabriola Island) or to purchase properties in order to protect freshwater lakes upon which islanders depend for drinking water (Salt Spring Island).  Then we read the precedent-setting account of how lawyer Jack Woodward (no relation to the historical department store family) working for the Salt Spring Island Water Preservation Society took the issue of protecting potable water source lakes from boat fuel all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada which is how electric boat motors became the clean solution for boaters on hundreds of Canadian lakes.

The fundraising stories alone will have you believing in Fairy Godpersons as well as a few Greedy Grinches among us. There are dozens of inspiring accounts of how one small group of islanders with a passion to protect a certain beautiful place from “strip and flip” development connected with allies to protect and preserve land, all kinds of it, from marshes to meadows to rocky cliffs, heavily forested, deforested, abandoned orchards, or covered with invasive species. These stories are a marvel of creative problem-solving and high-energy action driven, often, by 11th hour desperation.

We read about many legacies; the apothecary gardens, native plant depots, a whale symposium on Saturna Island which led to greater awareness of shipping channels and ethical whale-watching rules, wheelchair accessible trails and new moorage systems for boats which don’t wreck the eelgrass beds on the sea floor. First Nations are reclaiming sea gardens and fish traps and sharing that knowledge. Salmon-bearing streams trashed by poor logging practices have been brought back to life. This book celebrates all the ways individuals and groups, from Girl Guides to Streamkeepers, have contributed to saving other species from ourselves and affirming the best qualities of being human at the same time.

As Lorne Wilkinson of Galiano says: “The Penelakut people told me that they don’t see these as ‘islands.’ Rather they see them as shorelines, with the ocean as the highway. I see it all as a Gift.” 9781772034929

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Retired lightkeeper of Lennard Island Lighthouse (2008 – 2022) and author of nine books Caroline Woodward recently launched the kidlit title, Have You Ever Heard a Whale Exhale? (Pownal Street Press $24.95).

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