Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Gateway to ruin

A couple of days ago, I wondered about a luscious red shoot on the Gunderson Slough side hill. Hugh tells me it is probably Japanese knotweed.

As he says, "Yikes!" This is an attractive large perennial, bearing plumes of white flowers in season; it was imported to BC as a ornamental shrub. But it is not content to "bloom where it's planted"; it rapidly goes wild, sprouting as far as 7 metres from the original plant, and crowding out native vegetation, especially along riverbanks. It can send up new shoots even through pavement; it will clone itself from a piece of root an inch long; digging it out is more likely to spread it than to kill it.

Invasive, and noxious. One of its many names is "Hancock's curse." I don't know who Hancock is, but I know what he meant.

Sometimes I am filled with a feeling of despair, seeing our green land and its inhabitants disappear under our onslaught. We are an invasive species, like the knotweed.

In the Delta area, on my doorstep, the beaches are polluted, the wetlands where once waterfowl raised their young are now growing what my grandmother called "similarity houses," tall ones with barely space between for an adventuresome sparrow or two. Purple loosestrife clogs the waterways; malls the high ground. Even in the depths of Watershed Park, the roar of traffic drowns out bird calls.

And now we are threatened with the Gateway project; a system of highways going from Golden Ears in the east to Deltaport, 3 km out to sea, providing, so the politicians say,
"a balance of transit, road and bridge improvements, to keep traffic moving, our economy strong and our region liveable."
I don't believe them.

The transit they are thinking of is trucks and large container ships. Gas guzzlers. Major polluters. And a way of moving things around that we need to re-think, in this time of depleted oil reserves and a changing climate, given an already decreasing volume of shipping, and a current trend away from trucks back to railways.

Liveable? Just in Delta alone, the highway will wipe out Gunderson Slough, filling it in and paving it over. Then it travels along the shore of the river, clearcutting and terraforming the green hillside where now eagles stand guard. After the Alex Fraser bridge, it turns south to skirt Burns Bog, the largest domed peat bog on the west coast of North America, an important wildlife home, and a regulator of our lower mainland climate. The highway will cut the Bog off from its seaward opening.

Delta and Gateway map
Map (homemade) of the Delta section of Gateway. With birds. Click for full size.

Not content with that damage, the developers plan to cut across the rich farmland of lower Delta, diking, paving and eradicating bird breeding grounds as they go. They then move out into the water, over Roberts Bank, home to several pods of orcas, to double the size of the port there at present, even in the face of decreasing usage due to fuel costs.

A farmer's field, near Ladner, waiting for spring.

"Liveable"? I guess, if you don't mind pollution, if you can take your money and run, if you have never stood and marvelled at the creak of a sandhill crane's wings as he flew over your head, if you think green things, wet things, crawly things are "Ewwww!", if the purpose of land and sea, in your view, is to get across it rapidly, well, yes, then the project will make the Lower Mainland more liveable.

Not for us, though. Nor for the myriad small creatures we share the land with.

Update: Link to the next "Gateway" post, Deltaport, before Gateway.


  1. I doubt it would be possible to come up with a more bone-headed and destructive scheme.

    Brought to you by the Ministries of Wrong-thinking and Giddy Myopia.

  2. Last year I sent some samples of my local knotweed patch to grad student Jonna Grimsby, who is studying the plant. She was just looking for samples across the US, though, so she might not be interested in samples from BC.


  3. Hi there,

    I think you are spot on with your characterization of Gateway and its destructiveness.

    As for knotweed, there is a patch of it growing in the back area of Jericho beach. Every year, it spreads a little and gains a little ground on the very invasive blackberry bushes.

    It would be very fascinating to watch one invasive species beat out another one. That is, it would if it weren't so devastating all around.

  4. Hugh,
    "Giddy Myopia". That says it all.

    I'll e-mail Jonna, see if she wants some. Thanks for the tip.

    Blackberry vs. knotweed! The race is on! Place your bets!

  5. I quote this from your post as I agree so strongly with you weeta...."Sometimes I am filled with a feeling of despair, seeing our green land and its inhabitants disappear under our onslaught. We are an invasive species, like the knotweed." (quoted from this fine post of weeta's)

  6. Thanks, Island. Pass the message on! This has got to be stopped!


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