The 'heart' of the Fraser River is under threat, doc shows

Heart of the Fraser screening at BCIT Friday

The Fraser River is like a senior with only one or two teeth left, says Ken Ashley.

Two islands between Hope and Mission – Herrling and Carey – are like one healthy tooth holding a set of dentures in someone’s mouth, according to the director of BCIT’s Rivers institute.

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“These two islands basically hold together the whole part of the Fraser,” he said. “If we lose these two islands, it's like having your good tooth go and then your dentures fall out.” 

A new documentary film screening in Burnaby this Friday, The Heart of the Fraser, aims to educate viewers about a new threat to the two islands and inspire them to support efforts to save them. 

For decades, a logging company managed the two islands as “low-intensity” cottonwood tree farms, Ashley said.

But the land was recently sold to new owners who intend to turn them into farmland. Much of the land has already been cleared, but Ashley said plans to build new bridges to the islands and bring in heavy equipment could pose a great threat to the river and its fish population.

“That's basically the beginning of the end of these two islands in the heart of the Fraser,” he said. 

The section of the river, which advocates have dubbed the Heart of the Fraser, is one of the last areas where the banks have not been diked to protect nearby farmland. 

These “armoured” river banks “no longer allow the river to meander back and forth and perform ecological functions,” Ashley said, “and so, when you put a river in a straight jacket like that, that reduces the amount of available habitat for fish and wildlife.”

The gravel banks of Carey and Herrling islands provide crucial protected areas for juvenile fish such as salmon and sturgeon. 

“If this type of industrial development goes ahead, it will accelerate the long term decline of salmon in B.C.,” Ashley said of the planned farming projects.

A group of environmental organizations hopes to buy the lands from the owners at market rates to protect them in perpetuity, Ashley said.

“It's nothing against agriculture – We've all got to eat, and we would rather eat food grown in B.C. than in California,” he said. “But there are some places that shouldn't be farmed, and, if you're in a floodplain that floods every year, … It’s not the brightest idea.”

Ashley is the executive producer of the Heart of the Fraser film. He hopes it can combat what he calls “nature deficit disorder.”

“Most people, they know how many points the Canucks are in the standings and … what the price of gasoline is, but a lot of people don't realize that we have this critically important river called the Fraser River, which is the world's most important salmon river, right in our backyard.”

The Heart of the Fraser will screen in the Telus Theatre (SE06-233) on BCIT’s Burnaby campus on Friday. Doors open at 5:30 p.m., with the movie starting at 6 p.m. followed by a panel discussion. Admission is free.

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