NATURE WISE: Bees, barrels and salmon bear bad news

Briefly touching on a number of issues that have been in the news (sometimes buried) and could easily have escaped your notice.

Rather than focus on just one thing this month I thought I might briefly touch on a number of issues that have been in the news (sometimes buried) and could easily have escaped your notice.

Our July column dealt with high rates of bee mortality across North America and elsewhere in the world.

On Sept. 26, Health Canada released an interim report acknowledging unusually high rates of bee mortality in 2012 and 2013 and concluding these deaths were attributable to the use of neonicotinoid pesticides on corn and soy seeds.

Even after introducing new management practices for the use of these pesticides in 2012 the high mortality continued.

As a result of further studies in 2013, Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency concluded, “current agricultural practices related to the use of neonicotinoid treated corn and soybean seed are not sustainable.”

PMRA issued a notice of intent outlining action to protect bees from exposure to neonicotinoid pesticides.  As I mentioned in July, the European Union has placed a ban on the use of these chemicals in many instances and that would seem to be the only real way to protect bees.

Furthermore, it has been shown that just one corn seed treated with certain neonicotinoids is sufficient to kill a songbird.  Canada needs to take strong action now to protect our bees and our birds (www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/neonicotinoid).

The potential oil spills associated with shipping bitumen to Asia if the Northern Gateway pipeline goes ahead continues to be in the news.

According to a new study commissioned by the B.C. Government, only about three to four per cent of even a small spill would be recovered in the first five days (source: Gordon Hoekstra, Vancouver Province).

The current federal standard stipulates there must be enough resources to deal with a 70,000 barrel spill whereas modern tankers carry 1 million barrels or more.  For comparison, the Exxon Valdez spilled about 260,000 barrels, approximately 20 per cent of the oil being carried.

Numerous other deficiencies were identified in the report.  The B.C. Government acknowledged the province currently lacks the ability to manage oil spills from existing and expanded tanker traffic.

B.C. wild salmon are in the news again and the news is generally not good.  The good news pertains to the Okanagan River.

Work by the Okanagan Nation Alliance in cooperation with various levels of governments (here and in the U.S.) and U.S. utilities has resulted in increasing numbers of sockeye coming up the Columbia River and actually reaching all the way to Skaha Lake.

The fish are returning in such good numbers that the ONA has a licence to harvest and sell the fish commercially and a recreational fishery was established.

The bad news is most B.C. salmon runs are in jeopardy of catastrophic failure as a result of a variety of circumstances, not the least of which is exposure to European viruses as a result of the open-pen salmon farms along the B.C. coast.

The sockeye run in the Skeena River system this year was so low, less than half of the expected number, that all of the commercial and recreational fisheries were closed.

Fish biologist Alexandra Morton has tested these fish for evidence of European viruses from fish farms.

The results are not yet known but these viruses have been found elsewhere in B.C. salmon.

Prime Minister Harper’s government has silenced DFO scientists from discussing their findings, hence the need for independent research.

All of these issues are too complex to readily cover in a single column.  You can do your own research into these important topics.

The South Okanagan Naturalists’ Club’s next meeting will be Nov. 28 when our speaker will be Barb Pryce of The Nature Conservancy of Canada.

Barb will make a presentation on the Sage and Sparrow conservation lands recently acquired in the south Okanagan.

Meetings are held in the basement hall of the Penticton United Church on Main Street.  The meeting begins at 7 p.m.  The public is welcome.