Study Shows How Rain Gardens, Natural Infiltration Of Stormwater Can Reduce Impacts To Salmon
Posted on Friday, January 23, 2015 (PST)
A simple column of common soil can reverse the toxic effects of urban runoff that otherwise quickly kills young coho salmon and their insect prey, according to new research by NOAA Fisheries, Washington State University and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The affordable and remarkably effective treatment offers new promise for controlling toxic pollutants that collect on paved surfaces and wash off as stormwater into rivers, streams and the ocean. Polluted stormwater has been identified as a risk factor for many threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead and has caused die-offs of coho salmon in the Pacific Northwest.
builds on increasingly common building practices that promote natural infiltration of stormwater into the ground. It indicates that a “bioretention” system that first filters runoff through a basic soil mixture removes toxics lethal to aquatic life. Such systems are increasingly found in Washington State’s Puget Sound area as people build “rain gardens” that trap runoff before it gets to a creek or stream.
The research published in the journal Chemosphere examined the toxic effects of runoff collected from a major Seattle highway during storms. The untreated runoff killed all juvenile salmon exposed to it within 12 hours.
But all fish survived in runoff filtered through the soil column of sand, compost and bark. The soil filtration also prevented reproductive damage to tiny insects salmon eat,” according to a press release issued by NOAA Fisheries.
“This is a simple approach that can make a big difference in the quality of water flowing into our rivers and streams,” said Jenifer McIntyre, postdoctoral researcher at Washington State University and lead author of the new research. “In this case, the salmon and their prey are telling us how clean is clean enough.”
Researchers collected runoff from a four-lane Seattle overpass during six storms and transported it to Washington State University’s Research and Extension Center in Puyallup, where the experimental soil treatment columns were set up. The 12 “bioretention” columns measured 42 inches high and contained 60 percent sand, 15 percent compost, 15 percent shredded bark and 10 percent water treatment residuals, with half also planted with a common sedge.
Untreated runoff regularly killed aquatic insects such as mayflies but filtering the runoff through soil columns, with or without plants, “conferred complete protection against the lethal toxicity of stormwater runoff,” the scientists wrote. The polluted stormwater also quickly killed coho salmon, but all fish survived exposure to the same runoff after treatment.
“The positive effects on survival are really striking,” said Nat Scholz, manager of the Ecotoxicology Program at NOAA Fisheries’ Northwest Fisheries Science Center and a coauthor of the research. “This is an encouraging lesson for people working to reduce stormwater impacts to salmon habitats.”
Chemical analyses showed the bioretention treatment reduced toxic metals by 30 to 99 percent, reduced polyaromatic hydrocarbons that are byproducts of fossil fuels to levels at or below detection and reduced organic matter by more than 40 percent.
The scientists suggested that further research examine different soil mixes and the reliability of bioretention treatment over time. Additional studies could also examine whether soil filtration protects salmon from more subtle forms of toxicity, including effects on early development, the endocrine system and susceptibility to disease.
The new study is part of a longer-term research effort to develop inexpensive and effective clean water technologies. The work was funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (Region 10), NOAA’s Coastal Storms Program and the Russell Family Foundation.
Glaring info gaps a strong reason to stop frackingMay 2, 2014 - 9:16pm
Late Wednesday evening, the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) released its long-awaited report Environmental Impacts of Shale Gas Extraction in Canada. In September 2011, former Environment Minister Peter Kent tasked the CCA to address the following questions:
What is the state of knowledge of potential environmental impacts from the exploration, extraction, and development of Canada’s shale gas resources, and what is the state of knowledge of associated mitigation options?
If there is a consistent message throughout the report, it is this: we do not know enough about fracking.
The 260-page report pointed out critical information gaps in our understanding of fracking in a number of areas:
- Leaks: “The assessment of environmental impacts is hampered by a lack of information about many key issues, particularly the problem of fluids escaping from incompletely sealed wells.” (p. xiii)
- Chemical migration underground: “little is known about the mobility and fate of hydraulic fracturing chemicals and wastewater in the subsurface” (p. xiii)
- Flowback: “not enough is known about the fate of the chemicals in the flowback” (p. xiii)
- Well deterioration and impacts of leaks: “Information concerning the impacts of leakage of natural gas from poor cement seals on fresh groundwater resources is insufficient. The nature and rate of cement deterioration are poorly understood and there is only minimal or misleading information available in the public domain. Research is also lacking on methods for detecting and measuring leakage of GHGs to the atmosphere.” (p. xvii)
- Cumulative impacts: “The Panel notes that the research needed to support improved science-based decisions concerning cumulative environmental impacts has not yet begun.
- Hydrogeology: “The linkages between groundwater and surface water resources across the country are not well understood, and historical surface water records for all of the areas under development are seldom good.” (p. 96)
- Wastewater injection: “More information on the potential for geological formations in these provinces to receive large volumes of injected fluids without over-pressurizing reservoirs is needed to determine whether this waste disposal option is possible.” (p. 133)
- Safety of fracking chemicals: “The mixtures of chemicals associated with shale gas activities are generally unknown and untested, making it difficult to predict and assess risk from direct/indirect exposures.” (p. 146)
Interestingly, despite the glaring information gaps that the CCA panel detailed in their report, Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq’s director of communications, Ted Laking said: “We believe that shale gas deposits can be developed safely, responsibly, and in compliance with the strict environmental policies and regulations in place.”
The panel, made up of 14 recognized scientists and experts, had two key concerns - the threat to clean groundwater and surface water and the risk of greenhouse gas emissions – and raised a host of other concerns.
Water contamination and availability
The report outlined concerns about well leaks as a “long-recognized yet unresolved problem” and warned, “The greatest threat to groundwater is gas leakage from wells for which even existing best practices cannot assure long-term prevention.”
Flowback is also a threat and the panel warns that it is “potentially hazardous waste because it typically contains hydrocarbons including variable amounts of benzene and other aromatics, fracturing chemicals, and potentially hazardous constituents leached from the shale (e.g., salts, metals, metalloids, and natural radioactive constituents).”
Spills also pose a risk to water resources: "Accidental surface releases of fracturing chemicals and wastewater, and changes in hydrology and water infiltration caused by new infrastructure, may affect shallow groundwater and surface water resources."
Another key area where we are lack information and that is not raised often enough is how chemicals used in the fracking process reacted “under high temperature and pressure” including “information on concentration, mobility, persistence in groundwater and surface water, and bio-accumulation properties, for each chemical on its own and as a mixture.
The report states that the amount of water needed for shale gas development is “generally small in the Canadian hydrological context.” However, it’s important to consider all the outer strains on our water sources including other industrial use, climate change and multi-point pollution. The CCA panel does warn that water used for “the hydraulic fracturing procedure requires large volumes of water over short periods of time (several weeks to months), which could create stresses due to quantity and related quality impacts at particular times of the year in some parts of the country. Problems may arise at the driest time of the year when demand is highest for many water uses, at the coldest time when surface waters are mostly frozen and active flow is low, or during critical periods when water levels are important for access to critical habitats.” (p. 88)
Greenhouse gas emissions
The report points out that there are conflicting studies on whether shale gas development will decrease greenhouse gases, “Whether shale gas development will actually reduce GHG emissions and slow climate change will depend on several variables, including which energy sources it displaces (viz., coal and oil vs. nuclear and renewables), and the volume of methane emissions from gas leakage at the wellhead and in the distribution system.”
However, a Cornell University study found that when you calculate the lifecycle greenhouse gases, fracking is worse than coal.
Fracking on Indigenous lands
The report points out that fracking occurs largely on Indigenous lands “who depend on the local environment for food and water and whose culture may be particularly affected.” It also warns, “If shale gas development expands, risks to quality of life and well-being in some communities may become significant due to the combination of diverse factors related to land use, water quality, air quality, and loss of rural serenity, among others. These factors are particularly relevant to the ability of Aboriginal peoples to maintain their traditional way of life; several First Nations have expressed concerns about the possible impacts of shale gas development on their quality of life and their rights.” (p. xv)
With the Conservatives gutting of environmental legislation, water takings for fracking projects in First Nation communities no longer trigger an environmental assessment under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.
This directly contradicts Agluqakk’s director of communications assertion that “compliance with the strict environmental policies and regulations in place.”
Shale gas vs. conventional oil and gas
The panel determined that shale gas development poses greater risks than conventional oil and gas development. The report pointed out that several factors make the long term impact of leakage for shale gas development greater than conventional oil and gas development including
- The diverse and toxic chemicals used in fracking
- That shale gas development occurs rural and suburban areas that rely on groundwater
- The repetitive nature of fracturing
Can fracking be done safely?
The report recommends a go-slow approach “to allow for additional data collection, to permit adaptation to the implications of new information, and to encourage integration of multidisciplinary expertise.” However, the panel warns of that we don’t have the information needed to determine whether fracking can be done safely, “…there may also be some negative impacts of development that cannot be eliminated, and the scientific basis for identifying areas that are particularly vulnerable has not been established.”
The Council of Canadians does not believe that fracking can be done safely. The CCA report noted, “In Quebec, a study found that a large proportion of wells (18 out of the 29 shale gas wells drilled to date) leak, although some leaked at almost imperceptible rates; however, all of these wells were less than three years old when tested (BAPE, 2011b).” (p. 109)
The National Wildlife Federation points out that there 13 different types of chemical additives that are needed in the hydraulic fracturing process including acids, clay stabilizers, gelling agents, corrosion inhibitors, biocides, friction reducers, and surfactants. The Endocrine Disruption Exchange has warned that these chemicals have a range of negative health and environmental impacts.
A surprising sceptic of whether fracking can be done safely turned out to be former Mobil Oil executive Louis Allstadt. The Times Unionrecently reported: "‘Making fracking safe is simply not possible, not with the current technology, or with the inadequate regulations being proposed,’ said Allstadt, retired executive vice president of Mobil. He spoke during a news conference called by Elected Officials to Protect New York, a group which represents more than 800 officials from all 62 counties statewide that have adopted anti-fracking resolutions.”
A holistic approach
Despite the economic benefits industry and government often tout, the report warns, “While shale gas development will provide varied economic benefits, it may also adversely affect water and air quality and community well-being as a result of the rapid growth of an extraction industry in rural and semi-rural areas.”
The panel also stressed the importance of taking a holistic approach. The negative impacts – water contamination, water availability, climate change, air quality, land use, seismic activity, human health and community well-being – do not happen in isolation. The report stated, “Examination of the environmental effects of shale gas development should not be isolated from socio-economic, environmental, institutional, andcultural contexts…Governmental agencies in the United States and Europe increasingly recognize social impacts, including the effects on communities, landscapes, and cultural heritage, as worthy of rigorous analysis (Interorganizational Committee on Guidelines and Principles for Social Impact Assessment, 1994; IAIA, 1999; Watson, 2003). In Canada, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012, includes the principle of sustainable development, which by definition involves attention to meeting the needs of the future (Minister of Justice, 2012).”
What’s missing from the study
The question the federal government asked of the CCA was focused on the state of knowledge of fracking. There are still many issues that are not covered in this review that are pertinent to deciding whether to move forward with horizontal, multi-stage fracking. Fracking in the Bakken in Saskatchewan and Manitoba is for shale oil which has been deemed a dangerous form of oil because of its explosive nature. A study of shale oil is equally warranted.
With claims that fracking creates new jobs, we need a rigorous assessment of how many direct, long-term jobs have been created from different fracking projects in Canada. We also need a comparison of how many jobs would be created from green jobs and industries. For example, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ report “Enbridge Pipedreams and Nightmares” notes that Enbridge boasts that a fossil fuel project like the $5 billion Northern Gateway Pipeline would create 63,000 person-years of employment during its construction phase, and 1,146 full-time jobs once completed. However, CCPA reveals these estimates are overblown and that it would only create approximately 1,850 construction jobs per year for three years, and a handful of permanent new jobs once completed. The report points out that between 3 and 34 times the number of direct jobs would be created if the $5 billion were invested in green jobs and industries.
While the CCA report looks at the greenhouse gas emissions for coal, natural gas, nuclear, wind, soloar and other forms of energy, an analysis of the water, health and other impacts is needed. Recognizing that these topics were outside the purview of the CCA’s study, this is still information the public needs to decide whether fracking is the solution to our energy needs.
Governments also need an assessment of the rates of well production decline in provinces that are fracking. Fracking is a classic 'short-term gain for long-term pain’ example. Fracked wells produce a lot in the first three years of their existence and then go into steep decline.David Hughes highlights that four out of five shale plays in the U.S., accounting for 80% of production, are already in production decline, or are "flat." The CCA report points out that a company “focuses on indentifying the most favourable areas for development” or what are known as ‘sweet spots’. Extracting gas from ‘sweet spots’ and steep well decline can impact job creation and gas prices.
Communities want a ban on fracking
It is clear we do not know enough about fracking to declare that it is safe. However, based on what we do know and what we have seen, communities don’t want fracking to continue. They do not want to put their water sources or health at risk. And they want to take action to curb climate change and build towards a future lit with renewable. Lethbridge is the most recent community to say no to oil drilling in their community. http://www.canadians.org/blog/win-goldenkey-abandons-plans-drill-lethbridge Many communities continue to fight fracking in their community. To connect with other groups in your community or to lend solidarity to communities fighting fracking, see A Fractivist’s Toolkit: How you can take action to protect water and stop fracking.
Yesterday morning, the Council of Canadians set up a mock fracking rig on Parliament Hill and staged a mock fracking wastewater spill to highlight the risks of fracking. We delivered 16,000 signed petitions to NDP MP Francois Choquette, Green Party MP Bruce Hyer and NDP MP Megan Leslie from people calling for a ban.
It’s clear the Harper government isn’t interested in acting on the findings of the report it commissioned. Provinces in the Atlantic have held off making decisions about fracking.
UNESCO made the timely announcement that they want a frack-free zone around Gros Morne National Park which could be stripped of its Brian Gallant, leader of the Liberal Party of New Brunswick, continued his commitment to a moratorium on fracking if elected on September 22.
Based on the findings of the CCA report, we urge all premiers to put a stop to fracking because we simply don’t have enough information to declare that it’s safe.
ban hydraulic fracturing
A Wave of Change on the Horizon: British Columbia’s New Water Sustainability Act is on the Way
Posted on December 19, 2013
Written by Anna Warwick Sears
Complete blog post on OBWB
Our water future is just beginning
Posted on November 11, 2013
BC is in the middle of another resource development boom. Water isn’t one of them, but as always, is central to everything.
More than 100 years ago, the Water Act was created to bring order to the mining industry. Prospectors needed flumes to wash the gravels and extract the ores, and they needed to know that the guy upstream wouldn’t divert the flow.
Times have changed, and the resources are different. The new gold is natural gas, along with hydro-power, expansion of irrigated agriculture and the thirst of growing cities. The Water Act is being updated as the Water Sustainability Act, to protect the needs of the new economy while also protecting natural water systems.
We’ve had waves of opportunities for public comment, starting in 2008 when the Premier’s office released Living Water Smart, their plan for BC’s water future. Now, years later, we are seeing how our recommendations have been weighed and measured, in the final legislative proposal released on October 18th.
This is really an historic time and when the Act passes the legislature this coming spring, we’ll be throwing a big party. On the other hand, turning the law into regulations and making the changes they’re calling for will take active, tenacious involvement of everyone who cares about water. It will be a tall task with ticklish trade-offs.
A few weeks ago I gave an early-morning interview to Chris Walker on CBC about the new Act, following the release of the government’s legislative proposal. Later at the office, Corinne Jackson gently commented that maybe I needed more coffee, because I’d left out the sexy parts… A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! Water in the balance! With two small children, Corinne is intensely passionate about the world to come.
Perhaps the radio amplified the caution in my mood. There is a lot to like in the new Act, something for almost everyone. But can we have it all? There will be winners and losers. In some places, we’ll lose free-flowing streams, in some places there will be lost mining opportunities. We’ll lose farms in over here, and gain them over there. There will be financial costs and social costs.
My remarks to Chris had more to do with the need to be calm and steady, anticipating huge shifts to come, rather than raw enthusiasm about this step in the process.
As much as I’m very eager to see the new law passed in 2014, these are big, historic changes, and after reading through the legislative proposal I am glad they are slated to roll out slowly. The folks at the Ministry of Environment have been working steadily for several years to draw up the changes, but when it passes, the hard work will have only just begun.
The devil is in the details, and the details are in the regulations and the roll-out.
One example of the scope of the effort are the new rules for groundwater – requiring licenses for high-volume users (utilities, industry, farmers with big acreages) that will be linked to surface water rights. Homeowners on well water won’t have to get a license, but they will have to register their wells so that they’ll be protected when someone applies for a large new water license. Getting everyone licensed and registered will take 3-5 years and a big push by both the province and local communities.
Other aspects of the new Act – like having regulations, custom plans and stakeholder councils for specific watersheds – have a lot of potential, but are still too vaguely defined in the proposal to really understand what form they will take, and how they’ll play out over time. There’s a bright side to this fogginess, because there will be more time and more opportunities for people to weigh in and help shape the results as the actual regulations are developed.
Probably the brightest light and most important aspect of the new Act is the capacity to fund all these changes. In the past, water management has been hampered by lack of money. The latest proposal is to use revenue from the annual water license fees to cover the costs to the province. Hopefully, money will also be granted to local governments and regional groups to do the work on the ground. Historically, water licence fees have gone into general revenue, so it’s a big deal to have water costs paid by water revenue.
Watersheds are like islands – separate from the surrounding world, but affected by the same tides. The new Water Sustainability Act is the highest tide to reach us in a very long time.
We only have the water that falls within this narrow valley, and what we do with it determines our collective health, wealth, and every aspect of the environment around us. And while I recognize that small actions add up to change, it’s rare to have a chance to influence the future in a big way. This new law is the future of water in BC.
The ‘Wild West’ of groundwater: Billion dollar company extracting B.C.’s drinking water for free
Nestlé Waters Canada takes 265 million litres a year of fresh water from a Fraser Valley well
By Dan Fumano, The Province August 13, 2013 8:02 PM
HOPE, BC -- August 12, 2013 -- Sheila Muxlow has concerns about Nestle withdrawing millions of litres of water without payment, outside Nestle's bottling plant near Hope on August 12, 2013.Photograph by: wayne leidenfrost , The Province
The price of a litre of bottled water in B.C. is often higher than a litre of gasoline.
However, the price paid by the world’s largest bottled water company for taking 265 million litres of fresh water every year from a well in the Fraser Valley — not a cent.
Because of B.C.’s lack of groundwater regulation, Nestlé Waters Canada — a division of the multi-billion dollar Switzerland-based Nestlé Group, the world’s largest food company — is not required to measure, report, or pay a penny for the millions of litres of water it draws from Hope and then sells across Western Canada.
According to the provincial Ministry of Environment, “B.C. is the only jurisdiction in Canada that doesn’t regulate groundwater use.”
“The Province does not license groundwater, charge a rental for groundwater withdrawals or track how much bottled water companies are taking from wells,” said a Ministry of Environment spokesperson in an email to The Province.
This isn’t new. Critics have been calling for change for years now, saying the lack of groundwater regulation is just one outdated example from the century-old Water Act.
The Ministry of Environment has said they plan — in the 2014 legislature sitting — to introduce groundwater regulation with the proposed Water Sustainability Act, which would update and replace the existing Water Act, established in 1909. But experts note that successive governments have been talking about modernizing water for decades, but the issue keeps falling off the agenda.
This time, many hope it will be different.
“It’s really the Wild West out here in terms of groundwater. And it’s been going on for over 20 years, that the Ministry of Environment, the provincial government has been saying that they’re going to make these changes, and it just hasn’t gone through yet,” said Linda Nowlan, conservation director from World Wildlife Fund Canada.
'They take it and sell it back to us'
In the District of Hope, Nestlé’s well draws from the same aquifer relied upon by about 6,000 nearby residents, and some of them are concerned.
“We have water that’s so clean and so pure, it’s amazing. And then they take it and sell it back to us in plastic bottles,” said Hope resident Sharlene Harrison-Hinds.
Sheila Muxlow lives in nearby Chilliwack, downstream the Fraser River from Hope. As campaign director for the WaterWealth Project, she often hears from Hope residents who worry about the government’s lack of oversight with Nestlé’s operations there.
“It’s unsettling,” Muxlow said. “What’s going to happen in the long term, if Nestlé keeps taking and taking and taking?”
While Nestlé is the largest bottled water seller in B.C., others, including Whistler Water and Mountain Spring Water, also draw groundwater from B.C.
When asked by The Province, those companies declined to release the volume of their withdrawals.
A large employer in Hope
Nestlé is one of the largest employers in the District of Hope, providing about 75 jobs, said District of Hope chief administrative officer John Fortoloczky. Though Nestlé is not required to measure and report their water withdrawals to the government, the company voluntarily reports to the District of Hope, said a Nestlé Waters Canada executive, reached in Guelph, Ont. last week.
“What we do in Hope exceeds what is proposed by the province of British Columbia,” said John Challinor, Nestlé Waters Canada’s director of corporate affairs. Nestle keeps records of water quality and the company’s mapping of the underground water resources in the area exceeds what government scientists have done, Challinor said.
“We do these annual reports ... We’re doing it voluntarily with (the local government). If we are asked to provide it as a condition of a new permit, that’s easy to do, because we’re already doing it,” Challinor said.
But the fact that Nestlé’s reports are internal and voluntary is the very issue of concern, said Ben Parfitt, a resource policy analyst with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
“There’s a big, big difference between voluntary reporting and mandatory,” said Parfitt. “If it’s voluntary, there’s nothing to stop a company or major water user from choosing not to report ... That is absolutely critical. You can’t run a system like this on a voluntary basis.”
Since groundwater remains unregulated in B.C., Nestle does not require a permit for the water they withdraw.
“No permit, no reporting, no tracking, no nothing,” said David Slade, co-owner of Drillwell Enterprises, a Vancouver Island well-drilling company. “So you could drill a well on your property, and drill it right next to your neighbour’s well, and you could pump that well at 100 gallons a minute, 24 hours a day, seven days a week and waste all the water, pour it on the ground if you wanted to … As far as depleting the resource, or abusing the resource, there is no regulation. So it is the Wild, Wild West.”
Water should be a 'public trust'
The Council of Canadians, a national citizen advocacy group, takes the position that water should be treated as a public trust, a valuable resource protected for the benefit of all Canadians.
But when the government allows a multi-billion dollar, international corporation to withdraw water for free to sell back to us, this doesn’t seem to serve the public good, said Emma Lui, national water campaigner for the Council of Canadians, reached in Ottawa. Compared with the rest of the country, Lui said, “When you look at all these different factors, B.C. actually is doing quite poorly: that they don’t include groundwater (in their water licensing system), they don’t have any sort of public registry of who’s taking groundwater, they don’t charge.”
Nestlé is far from the only large company withdrawing B.C.’s groundwater for free, and Challinor said Nestlé is “largely supportive of what the government is trying to do” with modernizing the Water Act. He said he plans to sit down with B.C.’s new environment minister Mary Polak in the fall, to discuss these issues. Nestle supports the government moving toward increased regulation, monitoring and reporting.
As far as the government charging for groundwater, Challinor said “We have no problem with paying for water, as long as the price is based on the actual cost of regulating the program.”
If you walk into Cooper’s Foods in downtown Hope — less than 5 km away from Nestlé’s bottling plant — and buy a 1.5 litre bottle of Nestlé Pure Life water, it will set you back $1.19.
That’s $1.19 more than Nestle paid to the government last year for withdrawing more than 265 million litres of fresh water from the well.
Nestlé’s other water bottling plant in Canada is in Wellington County, Ont., where the province requires them to buy a license and pay for the water they extract. Some critics, including Lui and Parfitt, feel that Ontario’s charge of $3.71 per million litres is still too paltry. But still, they say, it’s more fair than B.C. charging nothing.
New Thinking About Non-Profit Organization Overhead (or Administrative Funding and Spending). This article from 2009 leads a new direction in how effective an organization becomes when it scrimps on administrative costs.
Reprinted from SUMAC Newsletter July 23, 2013
By Ann Goggins Gregory & Don Howard | 24 | Fall 2009
Organizations that build robust infrastructure—which includes sturdy information technology systems, financial systems, skills training, fundraising processes, and other essential overhead—are more likely to succeed than those that do not. This is not news, and nonprofits are no exception to the rule.
Yet it is also not news that most nonprofits do not spend enough money on overhead. In our consulting work at the Bridgespan Group, we frequently find that our clients agree with the idea of improving infrastructure and augmenting their management capacity, yet they are loath to actually make these changes because they do not want to increase their overhead spending. But underfunding overhead can have disastrous effects, finds the Nonprofit Overhead Cost Study, a five year research project conducted by the Urban Institute’s National Center for Charitable Statistics and the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. The researchers examined more than 220,000 IRS Form 990s and conducted 1,500 in-depth surveys of organizations with revenues of more than $100,000. Among their many dismaying findings: nonfunctioning computers, staff members who lacked the training needed for their positions, and, in one instance, furniture so old and beaten down that the movers refused to move it. The effects of such limited overhead investment are felt far beyond the office: nonfunctioning computers cannot track program outcomes and show what is working and what is not; poorly trained staff cannot deliver quality services to beneficiaries.
Despite findings such as these, many nonprofits continue to skimp on overhead. And they plan to cut even more overhead spending to weather the current recession, finds a recent Bridgespan study. Surveying more than 100 executive directors of organizations across the country, we found that 56 percent of respondents planned to reduce overhead spending. Yet decreasing already austere overhead spending (also calledindirect expenses) may jeopardize organizations’ very existence—not to mention their ability to fulfill their missions. And although the Obama administration’s stimulus package may fuel rapid growth among some nonprofits, many will lack the infrastructure to manage the windfall and may well be crushed under the weight of all those well-intended funds.
Why do nonprofits and funders alike continue to shortchange overhead? To answer this question, we studied four national nonprofits that serve youth. Each organization has a mix of funding, including monies from government, foundation, and individual sources. We also interviewed the leaders and managers of a range of nonprofit organizations and funders, as well as synthesized existing research on overhead costs in the nonprofit sector.
Our research reveals that a vicious cycle fuels the persistent underfunding of overhead.1 The first step in the cycle is funders’ unrealistic expectations about how much it costs to run a nonprofit. At the second step, nonprofits feel pressure to conform to funders’ unrealistic expectations. At the third step, nonprofits respond to this pressure in two ways: They spend too little on overhead, and they underreport their expenditures on tax forms and in fundraising materials. This underspending and underreporting in turn perpetuates funders’ unrealistic expectations. Over time, funders expect grantees to do more and more with less and less—a cycle that slowly starves nonprofits.
Although several factors drive the cycle of nonprofit starvation, our research suggests that taking action at the first stage—funders’ unrealistic expectations—could be the best way to slow or even stop the cycle. Changing funders’ expectations, however, will require a coordinated, sector-wide effort. At a time when people need nonprofit services more than ever and when government is increasingly turning to nonprofits to solve social problems, this effort is necessary to keep nonprofits healthy and functioning.
Funders’ Unrealistic Expectations
The nonprofit starvation cycle is the result of deeply ingrained behaviors, with a chicken-and-egg-like quality that makes it hard to determine where the dysfunction really begins. Our sense, however, is that the most useful place to start analyzing this cycle is with funders’ unrealistic expectations. The power dynamics between funders and their grantees make it difficult, if not impossible, for nonprofits to stand up and address the cycle head-on; the downside to doing so could be catastrophic for the organization, especially if other organizations do not follow suit. Particularly in these tough economic times, an organization that decides—on its own—to buck the trend and report its true overhead costs could risk losing major funding. The organization’s reputation could also suffer. Resetting funder expectations would help pave the way for honest discussions with grantees.
Many funders know that nonprofit organizations report artificially low overhead figures, and that the donor literature often reflects grossly inaccurate program ratios (the proportion of program-related expenses to indirect expenses). Without accurate data, funders do not know what overhead rates should be. Although for-profit analogies are not perfect for nonprofits, they do provide some context for thinking about how realistic—or not—average overhead rates in the nonprofit sector are. Overhead rates across for-profit industries vary, with the average rate falling around 25 percent of total expenses. And among service industries— a closer analog to nonprofits—none report average overhead rates below 20 percent.
In the absence of clear, accurate data, funders must rely on the numbers their grantees report. But as we will later discuss, these data are riddled with errors. As a result, funders routinely require nonprofits to spend unhealthily small amounts on overhead. For instance, all four of the youth service organizations that we studied were managing government contracts from local, state, and federal sources, and none of the contracts allowed grantees to use more than 15 percent of the grant for indirect expenses (which include operations, finances, human resources, and fundraising).
Some foundations allot more money for indirect costs than do government agencies. Yet foundations are quite variable in their indirect cost allowances, with the average ranging from 10 percent to 15 percent of each grant. These rates hold true even for some of the largest, most influential U.S. foundations. And foundations can be just as rigid with their indirect cost policies as government funders.
Many times, the indirect allowances that grants do fund don’t even cover the costs of administering the grants themselves. For example, when one Bridgespan client added up the hours that staff members spent on reporting requirements for a particular government grant, the organization found that it was spending about 31 percent of the value of the grant on its administration. Yet the funder had specified that the nonprofit spend only 13 percent of the grant on indirect costs.
Most funders are aware that their indirect cost rates are indeed too low, finds a recent Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO) study. In this national survey of 820 grantmaking foundations, only 20 percent of the respondents said that their grants include enough overhead allocation to cover the time that grantees spend on reporting.2
Individual donors’ expectations are also skewed. A 2001 survey conducted by the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance found that more than half of American adults felt that nonprofit organizations should have overhead rates of 20 percent or less, and nearly four out of five felt that overhead spending should be held at less than 30 percent. In fact, those surveyed ranked overhead ratio and financial transparency to be more important attributes in determining their willingness to give to an organization than the success of the organization’s programs.
Not only do funders and donors have unrealistic expectations, but the nonprofit sector itself also promotes unhealthy overhead levels. “The 20 percent norm is perpetuated by funders, individuals, and nonprofits themselves,” says the CFO of one of the organizations we studied. “When we benchmarked our reported financials, we looked at others, [and] we realized that others misreport as well. One of our peer organizations allocates 70 percent of its finance director’s time to programs. That’s preposterous!”
In this context, nonprofits are reluctant to break ranks and be honest in their fundraising literature, even if they know that they are fueling unrealistic expectations. They find it difficult to justify spending on infrastructure when nonprofits commonly tout their low overhead costs. For example, Smile Train, an organization that treats children born with cleft lip and palate conditions, has claimed that “100 percent of your donation will go toward programs … zero percent goes to overhead.” Nevertheless, the fine print goes on to say that this is not because the organization has no overhead; rather, it is because Smile Train uses contributions from “founding supporters” to cover its nonprogram costs.
This constellation of causes feeds the second stage in the nonprofit starvation cycle: pressure on nonprofits to conform to unrealistic expectations. This pressure comes from a variety of sources, finds the Nonprofit Overhead Cost Study. The survey found that 36 percent of respondents felt pressure from government agencies, 30 percent felt pressure from donors, and 24 percent felt pressure from foundations.3
In response to pressure from funders, nonprofits settle into a “low pay, make do, and do without” culture, as the Nonprofit Overhead Cost Study calls it. Every aspect of an organization feels the pinch of this culture. In our consulting work with nonprofits, for example, we often see clients who are unable to pay competitive salaries for qualified specialists, and so instead make do with hires who lack the necessary experience or expertise. Similarly, many organizations that limit their investment in staff training find it difficult to develop a strong pipeline of senior leaders.
These deficits can be especially damaging to youth-serving organizations, notes Ben Paul, president and CEO of After-School All-Stars, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization that provides after-school and summer camp programs for at-risk youth nationwide. “It is clear to anyone who has led an organization that the most important capital in a company is the human capital,” says Paul. “In after-school we have a saying: Kids come for the program, but stay for the staff. If we don’t hire the right people, we might as well not run after-school programs.”
Meanwhile, without strong tracking systems, nonprofits have a hard time diagnosing which actions truly drive their desired outcomes. “The catch-22 is that, while organizations need capacity-building funding in order to invest in solid performance tracking, many funders want to see strong program outcome databefore they will provide such general operating support,” says Jamie McAuliffe, a portfolio manager at the New York-based Edna McConnell Clark Foundation.
Take the case of a well-respected network of youth development programs. To protect the identity of this organization, we will call it the Learning Goes On Network (LGON). Poised for a huge growth spurt, LGON realized that its data systems would be hopelessly inadequate to accommodate more clients. An analysis showed that program staff spent 25 percent of their time collecting data manually. One staff member spent 50 percent of her time typing results into an antiquated Microsoft Access database.
Staff members can become so accustomed to their strained circumstances that they have trouble justifying even much-needed investments in overhead, our interviews revealed. “We [had] known for a long time that a COO was vital to our growth but [hadn’t] been able to fund one,” relates the CEO of one of the four youth development organizations that we studied. But when his organization’s board finally created the COO position, the rest of the staff resisted. “They had lived so long in a starved organization that the idea of hiring a COO was shocking to them.”
The final driver of the cycle that starves nonprofit infrastructure is nonprofits’ routine misrepresentation of how much they actually spend on overhead. The numbers that nonprofits report on their financial statements “[defy] plausibility,” finds the Nonprofit Overhead Cost Study. Upon examination of more than 220,000 nonprofit organizations, researchers found that more than a third of the organizations reported no fundraising costs whatsoever, while one in eight reported no management and general expenses. Further scrutiny found that 75 percent to 85 percent of these organizations were incorrectly reporting the costs associated with grants.
Our study of the four youth-serving nonprofits likewise reported discrepancies between what nonprofits spent on overhead and what they reported spending. Although they reported overhead rates ranging from 13 percent to 22 percent, their actual overhead rates ranged from 17 percent to 35 percent.
Many factors support this underreporting of nonprofit costs. According to a survey conducted by The Chronicle of Philanthropy in 2000, a majority of nonprofits say that their accountants advised them to report zero in the fundraising section of Form 990.4 Limited surveillance of nonprofits’ Form 990 tax reports only exacerbates the problem: The IRS rarely levies the $50,000 penalty for an incomplete or inaccurate return, and generally applies it only when an organization deliberately fails to file the form altogether. According to the Chronicle study, “Improperly reporting these expenses is likely to have few, if any, consequences.”
The IRS’ ambiguous instructions likewise lead to error, report several sources. For example, nowhere does the IRS explicitly address how to account for nonprofit marketing and communications. As a result, many organizations allocate all marketing and communications expenses to programs when, in most cases, these expenses should be reported as administrative or fundraising overhead.
Government agencies likewise have varying and ambiguous definitions of indirect costs. The White House Office of Management and Budget, for example, defines indirect costs as “those that have been incurred for common or joint objectives and cannot be readily identified with a particular final cost objective.” It then goes on to say that “because of the diverse characteristics and accounting practices of nonprofit organizations, it is not possible to specify the types of cost that may be classified as indirect cost in all situations.”5
There is some good news. Currently, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) is conducting a study of various federal grantors’ definitions of indirect costs. As Stan Czerwinski, the director of strategic issues for GAO, explains, “The goal is to achieve consistency, so that when nonprofits go in for funding, they have clarity (as do funders) about what they’re actually going to get reimbursed for.” The study is in the early stages, but as Czerwinski notes, the need is clear: “We don’t find anybody telling us that we’re barking up the wrong tree.”
Proper Care and Feeding
Although the vicious cycle of nonprofit starvation has many entry points and drivers, we believe that the best place to end it is where it starts: Funders’ unrealistic expectations. Foundations and government funders must take the lead because they have an enormous power advantage over their grantees. When funders change their expectations, nonprofits will feel less need to underreport their overhead. They will also feel empowered to invest in infrastructure.
The first step that funders should take is to shift their focus from costs to outcomes. In the nonprofit world, organizations are so diverse that they do not share a common indicator of program effectiveness. In the absence of this indicator, many funders try to understand an organization’s efficiency by monitoring overhead and other easily obtained yet faulty indicators. Funders need to refocus their attention on impact by asking “What are we trying to achieve?” and “What would define success?” In so doing, they will signal to their grantees that impact matters more than anything else. Even focusing on approximate or crude indicators (for example, “Are we getting an A or a C on our impact goals?”) is better than looking at cost efficiencies, as focusing on the latter may lead to narrow decisions that undermine program results.
Funders must also clearly communicate their program goals to their grantees. Having established that funder and grantee share the same goals, funders should then insist on honest answers to the question “What will it take to deliver these outcomes consistently, or to deliver these outcomes at an even higher level of quality or quantity?”
One of our study participants, for instance, worked closely with its major funder to think through this question, and ultimately determined it needed a sizable investment in technology to support its projected growth. The funder agreed that only by making such an investment would the organization be able to track outcomes uniformly and to make program improvements quickly.
When feasible, funders should help meet grantees’ identified infrastructure needs by making general operating support grants. Grantmakers and nonprofits agree that more operating support is very likely to improve an organization’s ability to achieve results, finds the 2008 Grantmakers for Effective Organizations study. And a 2006 CompassPoint Nonprofit Services study of nearly 2,000 nonprofit executives in eight metropolitan areas reveals that receiving general operating support played a major role in reducing burnout and stress among executive directors.6 Yet although 80 percent of the foundations in this study made some general operating grants, they dedicated a median of only 20 percent of their grant dollars to this kind of support.
Regardless of the type of support they provide, funders should encourage open, candid discussions with their grantees about what the latter need to be effective. Many funders’ grantmaking processes are not set up to consider the full scope of what grantees do, and why. As a result, their grants are not as flexible as they need to be. Yet when funders fully understand their grantees’ operations, they are more likely to meet their grantees’ needs.
Although changing their expectations will have the greatest impact on the nonprofit starvation cycle, funders can also intervene in other useful ways. When making use-restricted grants, funders should commit to paying a greater share of administrative and fundraising costs. Indeed, in 2004, the board of the Independent Sector encouraged funders to pay “the fair proportion of administrative and fundraising costs necessary to manage and sustain whatever is required by the organization to run that particular project.”
Likewise, rather than prescribing an indirect expense rate for all grants, government funders should allow nonprofits to define their true overhead needs in grant applications and, so long as these needs are justifiable, pay for them. For example, some federal funding contracts allow a nonprofit to justify an indirect cost rate (within guidelines), which the organization can then use for all its federal grant applications. Extending such a policy to all federal, state, and local government contracts would go a long way toward helping nonprofits deliver better programs while being able to pay for their grants’ management.
Finally, to foster transparent and accurate reporting, funders should encourage the development of a standard definition of the term overhead. Currently, organizations have to report their overhead differently for nearly every grant that they receive. Standardization would allow funders to compare apples with apples, as well as allow grantees to understand better their own overhead investments—or lack thereof. Having a dialogue about real overhead rates could also help shift the focus to the real target: outcomes.
What Grantees Can Do
The burden of breaking the cycle of nonprofit starvation does not rest solely with funders. Nonprofit leaders also play a role. As a baseline task, they should commit to understanding their real overhead costs and their real infrastructure needs. At LGON, for instance, senior managers spent several months digging into their costs, analyzing their current systems—including the organization’s subpar tracking process—and identifying gaps in capacity. After this strategic planning process, the organization could articulate a clear plan for a new tracking system and a 150 percent increase in nonprogram staff over three years.
Nonprofits must then speak truth to power, sharing their real numbers with their boards and then engaging their boards’ support in communicating with funders. Case studies of organizations that have successfully invested in their own infrastructure have repeatedly noted the need for a shared agenda between the leadership team and the board. The executive director of LGON, for example, communicated early and often with her board members throughout the strategic planning process. She also facilitated several meetings to address infrastructure needs.
For their part, board members should ask the tough questions before funders do, namely: “What does this organization really need to succeed?” “Where are we underinvesting?” and “What are the risks we’re taking by underinvesting in these areas?” Board members should encourage nonprofit leaders to develop strategies that explicitly recognize infrastructure needs. In developing plans for infrastructure, board members can help, notes Chris Brahm, chairman of the board of directors at Larkin Street Youth Services, a San Francisco nonprofit that serves homeless and runaway youth: “The people running agencies are often consumed with programs and raising money. Board members, whether businesspeople or otherwise, can bring external perspective on overhead services.”
At LGON, for example, the executive director identified a handful of board members who were fervent supporters of the emerging strategic vision. These board members then communicated to their colleagues how much overhead this vision would require.
During these discussions, both board members and managers should focus on how investments in infrastructure will benefit the organization’s beneficiaries, rather than reduce costs. Even within the confines of a “cost conversation,” they should emphasize how infrastructure investments may actually reduce the costs of serving beneficiaries over time. One organization in our study, for instance, determined that an investment in technological infrastructure yielded $350,000 per year by freeing up staff time and consolidating “scrappy” systems.
Finally, organizations must attempt to educate their donors. “Donors don’t want to pay for an organization’s rent, or phone bill, or stamps,” notes Paul, “but those are essential components of everyday work. You can’t run a high-performing organization from your car. And there are many ways to explain these types of expenses to donors.”
Both funders and grantees are feeling the sting of the current recession. But this economic downturn is no excuse to cut overhead funding. “If a nonprofit’s leaders are feeling as if they cannot raise money to support overhead, I think they’re confusing the issue,” says Brahm. “The real issue is that they can’t raise enough money, period. Either they do not have, or they have not been able to communicate, a results story that is compelling to funders.”
Rather than being the reason to reduce overhead spending, the recession is an excellent opportunity to redress decades-long underinvestment in nonprofit infrastructure. “There is real potential for change if all of the major stakeholders—government, private funders, and the nonprofits themselves—take steps to acknowledge that capacity building is critical to the health of an organization,” says McAuliffe. And although the forces that fuel the nonprofit starvation cycle are strong, the opportunity to achieve more for beneficiaries in the long term should compel funders and grantees alike to stop the cycle.
Former Bridgespan Group manager William Bedsworth contributed to this article.
1. See also Kennard Wing, Tom Pollak, and Patrick Rooney, How Not to Empower the Nonprofit Sector: Under-Resourcing and Misreporting Spending on Organizational Infrastructure, Washington, D.C.: Alliance for Nonprofit Management, 2004. Wing, Pollak, and Rooney are three of the lead researchers on the Nonprofit Overhead Cost Study.
2. William H. Woodwell Jr. and Lori Bartczak, Is Grantmaking Getting Smarter? A National Study of Philanthropic Practice, Washington, D.C.: Grantmakers for Eff ective Organizations, 2008.
3. Kennard Wing and Mark Hager, Who Feels Pressure to Contain Overhead Costs?, Paper presented at the ARNOVA Annual Conference, 2004.
4. Holly Hall, Harvy Lipman, and Martha Voelz, “Charities’ Zero-Sum Filing Game,” The Chronicle of Philanthropy, May 18, 2000.
5. White House Office of Management and Budget, Circular A-122 (Revised): Cost Principles for Nonprofit Organizations.
6. Jeanne Bell, Richard Moyers, and Timothy Wolfred, Daring to Lead 2006: A National Study of Nonprofit Executive Leadership, San Francisco: CompassPoint Nonprofit Services, 2006.
Ann Goggins Gregory is the director of knowledge management at the Bridgespan Group and a former consultant in Bridgespan’s strategy area. In her consulting work, Ann’s clients included education and youth development organizations, as well as foundations.
Don Howard is a partner at the Bridgespan Group, where he leads the San Francisco office. His clients have included foundations and nonprofits working to alleviate poverty, end homelessness, revitalize neighborhoods, end inequities in education, and improve the environment.
By Tracy Jackson
Director, Green Roofs for Healthy Cities
All around North America, cities are shifting from ‘grey to green’ approaches to developing and renewing their infrastructure. Green infrastructure involves the use of living systems such as green roofs and walls, urban forests, wetlands, porous paving systems and raingardens as well as supportive technologies such as engineered soils and water storage and transportation systems. Extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy are creating multibillion dollar opportunities to invest in green infrastructure solutions.
Public and private decision makers are investing and reinvesting in grey infrastructure in a manner that delivers the greatest overall value for money and increasingly, are looking to living green infrastructure technologies for practical solutions to challenges such as water management, local job creation, urban heat island, climate change and improved quality of life.
Living green infrastructure approaches can complement traditional grey infrastructure, and in some cases offer totally new solutions, with multiple, stacking benefits for taxpayers and all citizens.
Given the widespread need to examine new ways of addressing the growing deficit in grey infrastructure, generate new employment opportunities, and deliver multiple public benefits, the time is right to focus on a conference that brings together leading thinkers and practitioners from across North America who are working on living green infrastructure – with a focus on design practice, economic valuation, the private business case, the public business case and the role of supportive policies and practices.
Published on Watershed Sentinel - Environmental News Magazine from British Columbia, and the world! (http://www.watershedsentinel.ca)
home > Feature > Vancouver Island's Great E & N Railway Land Grab
Vancouver Island's Great E & N Railway Land Grabin
Scandal is not new to the private forest lands on Vancouver Island.
by Will Horter
Fortunes have been made – and are being made – by resource companies that benefit from sweetheart deals that privatize vast tracts of land in BC. A select few, with the right government connections, reap the benefits. The public, especially First Nations, pay the price. The BC government’s recent decision to privatize 28,000 hectares of forestlands previously in Western Forest Products (WFP) tree farm licences (TFL) is only the latest scandal in a sordid history that traces back to BC’s entry into the Canadian Confederation.
Few British Columbians are aware that a land privatization deal was written into the Terms of Union when BC joined Canada in 1871. As forester Ray Travers points out, “Clause 11 of the Terms of Union conveyed in trust to the federal government, provincial lands along the entire length of the railway across BC, some that later became the Esquimalt and Nanaimo (E&N) land grant on southeastern Vancouver Island.”
The controversy surrounding the E&N land grant still haunts decision making today. In late October, the Hul’qumi’num Treaty Group, representing six Coast Salish First Nations, asked the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington to hear its complaint that 300,000 hectares of land converted to private property in the E&N land grant was “an act of egregious piracy.”
In the 1870s as part of its commitment to “connect the seaboard of BC with the railway system of Canada,” Canada agreed to contribute $100,000 annually towards the construction of a railway. BC later agreed to grant about two million acres plus $750,000 to the company that constructed a railroad on Vancouver Island.
Only a select few well-connected people reaped the bulk of the windfall. The man behind the E&N deal was coal baron Robert Dunsmuir. Dunsmuir was both the richest man in BC and, with a seat in the provincial legislature, influential in political circles.
Dunsmuir had little interest in railroads; what he wanted was the land, and with it control of the great reserves of coal and other minerals. He used his economic and political influence to secure the contract to build the railway.
The Esquimalt & Nanaimo Railway Company immediately began subdividing the grant into parcels and selling it off, making Dunsmuir and his colleagues millions. In 1905, the Canadian Pacific Railway Company (CPR) paid just over $1 million for the E&N and $1.25 million for the remaining 566,580 hectares of land not yet sold. In 1910, Dunsmuir sold his coal mining interests in the granted lands for $11 million.
Today, the Hul’qumi’num call this scandalous transaction “the great land grab” because it effectively privatized about one third of their territory. Robert Morales, chief negotiator for the Hul’qumi’num, said recently, “Dunsmuir and the government stole our land…and for the last hundred years their descendants particularly logging companies have been getting rich, while locking us out.”
The legacy of the E&N privatization is upsetting treaty negotiations. Even though Canadian courts have recognized Aboriginal title and rights on private lands, and directed the Crown to resolve the land disputes honourably, the government will not negotiate private land or compensation at the treaty table. Morales says the Hul’qumi’num are taking action because, “international laws say that if aboriginal lands are illegally confiscated, the lands need to be returned, or we need to be compensated.”
From Forests to Real Estate
“The conversion of excellent forestland to real estate development goes beyond Dunsmuir and the E&N land grant,” says Ken Millard, a Director of Galiano Conservancy. “What is now happening all over Vancouver Island began on Galiano in the 1970s. The public subsidizes logging companies for decades with preferential taxes, then these same companies try to develop the land and make a killing on real estate.”
Samuel Robins, a manager of a coal mine in Nanaimo, purchased large tracts of land in the Gulf Islands, including 8,294 acres on Galiano in 1899. The land passed through the hands of a number of coal and logging companies before MacMillan Bloedel took control in 1960. After high-grading the old growth, in 1972 MacMillan Bloedel proposed to subdivide and sell their lands. The fight was on.
Galiano residents organized and defeated the conversion, but the battle continued. In the 1990s island residents had to defend their community’s bylaws from lawsuits. “Maintaining our community against the developers requires eternal vigilance,” says Millard. “Every election is a referendum on the future of our island.”
The Galiano experience is now being replicated all over Vancouver Island. As the coastal timber industry declines after decades of overcutting, many logging companies are now becoming real-estate developers.
In 2003 conglomerate Brascan took over the failing Doman-WFP in bankruptcy proceedings. Since leveraging control of WFP, Brascan (now Brookfield Asset Management) has put together vast holdings of both public and Crown forest lands. It acquired all MacMillan Bloedel’s operations in 2004, folding the private lands into the 635,000 acres of fee simple timberlands it controls. WFP also controls the majority (7.5 million m3) of Annual Allowable Cut from coastal Crown lands.
TFL Land Removals
Forest Minister Rich Coleman’s decision to remove 70,000 acres of forestland from WFP’s TFLs in January of 2007 illustrates the continued erosion of a system with a scandalous history dating back over half a century. Since the BC Liberals were elected in 2001, forest ministers have selectively dismantled TFLs to create new windfalls for logging corporations friendly to their party. The latest scandal erupted with the announcement that WFP had put 6,300 acres of the former forestlands in the Sooke-Port Renfrew area up for sale. The listing of almost 5 kilometres of waterfront triggered outrage in the community.
In July, John Doyle, the recently appointed Auditor General, also condemned the deal. Using language seldom seen from a government appointee, Doyle concluded the BC government lacked “due regard for the public interest.” Doyle’s scathing report condemned the Ministry’s inadequate due diligence into WFP’s financial status, and highlighted suspicious trading patterns, unusual patterns of political donations and conflicts of interest. [See more details “Follow the Money,” word file]
TFLs have triggered scandal since their creation. Back in the 1950s, when the government originally set up the system, then Forest Minister Robert Sommers went to jail for taking bribes in allocating the new tenures. And in 2004, Forest Minister Mike de Jong privatized almost 215,000 acres of Weyerhaeuser‘s TFL lands, producing a potential windfall of $800 million for the US logging giant when it sold out to Brascan (who folded the lands into the supposedly debt-ridden WFP).
The fact that Weyerhaeuser had donated almost $500,000 to the Liberals over the previous decade raised eyebrows. Over 44% of the Hupacasath First Nation’s territory was affected, so they sued. In 2005, the BC Supreme Court ruled that government had breached its constitutional duty to consult with the Hupacasath over the removal decision and set a two-year period for the parties to negotiate. In November 2008, after the BC government failed to engage in meaningful consultation, the judge ordered a mediator to resolve the dispute.
Luckily sweetheart deals don’t mean real estate development is inevitable. Following Galiano’s example, communities on Vancouver Island are uniting to fight against subdivision and conversion of forestlands. The Capital Regional District rezoned the area around WFP’s forestlands to require a 120 hectare minimum lot size. But while then Community Development Minister Ida Chong delayed the approval of the new bylaw for six weeks, WFP applied to develop roughly 1400 ha. under the old rules. The bylaws and WFP’s actions are now before the courts. And the residents of neighbouring communities are gearing up for municipal elections.
If a hundred years of controversial land privatizations teaches us anything, it is that, while the benefits of these sweetheart deals may go to only a select group of well-connected people, it takes a legion of committed residents to ensure communities aren’t sacrificed to enrich real estate-obsessed logging companies.
Will Horter is the Executive Director of Dogwood Initiative.
Map adapted from The Great Land Grab in Hul’qumi’num Territory, www.hulquminum.bc.ca 
[Watershed Sentinel, Nov-Dec 2008] 
Source URL: http://www.watershedsentinel.ca/content/vancouver-islands-great-e-n-railway-land-grab
Natural Capital Policy Review: A review of policy options to protect, enhance and restore natural capital in B.C.'s urban areas
CLICK ON LINK BELOW FOR THE COMPLETE REPORT
Click here for the Suzuki Overview:
Province needs a 50-year vision to protect wilderness and
By James Walker, Times Colonist July 24, 2011
The province's auditor general has highlighted the need for improvement in the monitoring of environmental assessment projects and much more due diligence.
Even with such improvements, questions remain about the credibility of the assessment process.
The "elephant in the room" for many is still the impact projects create by their physical presence in pristine areas or high-value habitats for wildlife. The assessment process assumes that development is good as long as the project design and operation are technically sound.
British Columbians are realizing that even a "good" technical project can have a negative impact if it is in the wrong place. If an unsuitable development were suggested for a residential neighbourhood, many people would oppose it, their arguments usually dealing with impacts on lifestyle, neighbourhood ambience and community values, not technical issues.
Resource developments may be sited anywhere on Crown land, and such values are rarely considered even if the environmental and wilderness quality are extremely high. And while we may have technical ways to handle construction procedures and pollution abatement, we just assume that wildlife will adapt to change.
Whether it is a pipeline, salmon farm or independent power project, many British Columbians do not want all the remaining pristine areas accessed and the wildlife disturbed, no matter what the economic benefits or technical assurances. Government seems unable to comprehend that many want the few remaining pristine areas left in their undeveloped, "super natural" state.
How can a technically sound project be bad for wildlife?
Development always means increased access, and not just for the developer. With oil and gas extraction, a successful project will usually mean more expansion on the site or ancillary development on adjacent lands.
Even when a development has outlived its useful life, the area may be opened up for subdivision, resort development, etc. It becomes easily accessible for recreationalists and even such legitimate uses, if excessive, can pose problems. Control of problem animals around a work site can also result in excesses.
Individually, these are not disasters and separate impacts may be small and manageable. But cumulative impacts may add up to a level of disturbance such that an area is no longer viable habitat. At one time the Okanagan was prime habitat for grizzlies, wolves and other wilderness species - largely gone now, even in the remaining "outback" of these areas.
We need resource development, and we all realize how heavily the province depends on it and that the reasonable demands of humans must always come first. But if we continue with the "open season" on development, we have to stop the pretense that this province will always be "Super, natural B.C." and a paradise for wildlife.
We are facing an ecological crossroads. If you are satisfied with black bears, deer, raccoons, Canada geese and other adaptable species, don't worry. But if your image of British Columbia conjures up of millions of salmon along with healthy populations of grizzly bears, cougars, wolves, caribou, spotted owls and other wilderness species, be concerned.
The 2010 Olympics would not have been the success they were without the millions spent on up-front planning. And yet government has largely abandoned the type of land-use planning required to keep British Columbia and its wildlife super and natural.
The government seems to wait until things go wrong and then comes up with just enough money to get it through to the next audit, task force or election.
Money is rarely allocated up front to avoid the problem in the first place. We wait until 1,500 species are at risk and then we wring our hands because by then, only heroic and costly measures will suffice. It is poor ecology, poor economics and poor government stewardship.
"Super, natural B.C." needs a provincial grand vision for what wilderness and wildlife should look like in 50 years. Knowledgeable people are exploring this concept, but government seems disinterested.
Improvements will only come with adequate inventory and planning similar to the now-defunct Land and Resource Management Planning of the 1990s, and with decision process that considers wilderness values, public aspirations and cultural concerns, not just technicalities.
We need an ongoing dialogue with the public through social media about what the province should look like in 2061. And when we have that vision, we have to move intentionally and purposefully to implement it, rather than leave our future to the whims of developers and the limitations of the assessment process.
James Walker was formerly assistant deputy minister in the provincial Ministry of
Environment, and before that director of wildlife.