CERCA’s Cowichan Estuary Nature Trail Living Up To Expectations

Estuary nature trail serving its purpose

Within the past couple of weeks CERCA’s Cowichan Estuary Nature Trail serving as an open air classroom enjoyed the visit of two groups of Cowichan Secondary students, two groups of UVIC students and one group of the Cowichan Elder College, totalling more than 100 persons eager to learn about the history of the estuary, its ecological complexity, and socio-cultural, ecological and economic importance. It proved to be a great challenge but also a great pleasure lecturing the three distinctively different target groups on the ecology, challenges and opportunities of the Cowichan-Koksilah Estuary during the two hour guided walk along CERCA’s illustrated nature trail in the heart of the estuary with each group. The  “land-based learning program” of Cowichan Secondary is a new approach by the School to provide  Grade 10-12 students with the opportunity of  “place-based, experiential learning” to develop connections to our community and natural world and further cultural understanding. This excellent hands-on program currently involves 44 students. When asked how many of them had actually visited the estuary before it turned out to be a shockingly few. This reflects the importance of the new initiative by the Cowichan Secondary School to re-conciliate students with nature and their environment. One of the next targets within this program will be the Somenos freshwater marsh, an excellent way to expose the students to two Key ecosystems within their backyard.


CERCA’s Estuary Nature Trail, the Somenos Marsh Open-Air classroom and the Nature Center in Cowichan Bay provide a unique educational opportunity to numerous target groups to touch, see, smell, hear, or taste nature. The rationale for CERCA’s Nature Trail Open-Air Classroom is to raise the level of environmental awareness, specifically awareness related to the Cowichan Estuary, its marshes, associated watershed and the Cowichan floodplain. There is a need for people to understand the ecological, socio-economic and cultural importance of estuaries in order to appreciate the need for restoration efforts. With understanding the complexity of estuarine and other ecosystems comes appreciation for responsible management. Giving people an opportunity to have hands-on experience with nature will assist them in developing respect for the environment. The estuary nature trail also show-cases the Cowichan Estuary’s past and current central importance to First Nations and the recreational and educational opportunities by addressing a wide range of target groups and all age classes. Whether self-guided making use of the comprehensive signage at the trailhead kiosk and along the trail or guided the estuary trail receives increasing attention going for beyond our boundaries.  Hosting and lecturing UVIC’s second and third year students during their visit of the estuary nature trail as part of  a course in Coastal Geography continues to be a rewarding experience. This course explores a wide variety of coastal topics from biophysical, ecological, and social-economic perspectives which all can be discussed and observed on site in the middle of the estuary. Topics discussed along the trail focus on a typical coastal landscape and community including fundamentals of coastal oceanography, climate, biodiversity, water quality, fisheries, indigenous people, tourism and implications for management. It is the third year in a row that CERCA has hosted the Coastal Geography Class offering a 2 hour guided trail walk with a lecture that has become highly popular. The positive feedback from UVIC students shows how important field visits are as part of the academic curriculum.


The third group comprised of members of the Elder College involving community members over the age of 50 is distinctly different from secondary and tertiary educational programs. Members of the Elder College registering for the guided educational trail-walk do this on their own accord for a variety of reasons but mostly due to an interest in deepening their knowledge and learning more about the estuary, its history and ecological importance. This course has been offered by the Elder College  for the second year. Judging by the increasing number of persons registering for the guided trail walk conducted in spring and fall it has stirred up a lot of interest in the community.


Great interest by the CVRD Elder College in guided estuary nature walks

Meanwhile CERCA continues to receive inquiries from trail users mostly regarding the lack of trail maintenance. It is true that blackberries and other vegetation are successfully trying to reclaim the trail after CERCA was asked by the Lessee of the area (Tidal Harmony Holdings/Western Stevedoring) in October 2016 to stop all work on the trail  including maintenance due to liability issues. You may recall that unfortunately only one third of the trail had been completed at the time although all twenty interpretative trail signs are ready to be placed along the trail. We are still hoping for permission by Western Stevedoring to finish the last development phase of the trail and to allow CERCA to resume the work on trail maintenance.

Dr. Goetz Schuerholz


CERCA’s Annual General Meeting 2017

CERCA’s 2017 Annual General Meeting was held again at the Maritime Center in Cowichan Bay on September 7th. Following a general introduction to CERCA’s achievements and activities since the last AGM of September 2016 by the Chair, three power point presentations were given:

  • Our members John Shaw and Janice Creed reported on CERCA’s 2017 swallow monitoring project (read more);
  • Tristan Douglas show-cased his research and thesis topic on our Blue Carbon Project (read more); and
  • Goetz Schuerholz highlighted the work related to one of our major and on-going Estuary Mapping and Habitat Assessment Project (read more).

All in all the AGM was well attended and spiced with lively discussions. Based on the outcome of the AGM we will continue with our activity program derived from our 2012 SWOT analysis which has guided our annual priority work programs ever since.

Dr. Goetz Schuerholz,  Chair CERCA

Cowichan Estuary Mapping Stage I

Data were collected for the Cowichan Estuary as part of a broader project to

better understand and explore ecological and coastal flood risks along the CVRD

coast. There are two key deliverables – GIS data and an interactive 3D visual

platform – and a third additional web-based mapping tool.


GIS data were collected using a UAV and terrestrial GPS unit, and processed

using Agisoft Photoscan Pro. We have referenced data to WGS84 – the

standard global mapping datum. This enables the data we produced to be easily

integrated into web-based mapping platforms. We have provided data in three

formats –point cloud (.LAS), Digital Elevation Model (.TIF) and orthmosaic (.TIF).

Point clouds provide a detailed, georeferenced, 3D platform for assessing the

estuary, while the Digital Elevation Model and orthomosiac allows points in 3D

space to be represented on a 2D mapping interface.


We have provided several interactive, web-based and annotated 3D models built

to scale. These models serve to provide interactive content for communicating the

importance of the estuary and as a preview for an interactive, detailed model of

the entire estuary where users will be able to control water levels to visualize

changing tidal and flood conditions (read more).

Read More

CERCA celebrates its 5th anniversary

It is hard to believe that in August 2017 the Cowichan Estuary Restoration and Conservation Association (CERCA) is celebrating its fifth Anniversary. It feels only like yesterday that a handful of estuary aficionados got together in August of 2012 deciding to re-vitalize the former “Cowichan Estuary Society” dormant already for a number of years. And equally surprising that CERCA’s  founding group of five by now has grown into a charitable society with more than 110 members showing an impressive record of achievements for such a short period of time.

Beginning in 2012 with a multi-stakeholder workshop open to everyone who wanted to attend at the freshly opened Nature Center, we jointly identified what could and should be done to restore the ecological health of the Cowichan Estuary based on an assessment of its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. At the same workshop we decided on the most fitting name for our group that should reflect the ultimate goal of our future efforts embedded in the vision developed at this event. Restoration and conservation would from here on guide CERCA’s activity program for the benefit of the estuary and the watersheds of the Cowichan and Koksilah Rivers on which the estuary depends. This holistic approach adopted by our group from day one continues to characterize CERCA’s remarkable track record.

Our first project following CERCA’s registration as a non-profit Society in 2012 was the development of a comprehensive “mobile estuary exhibition” jointly with the Royal BC Museum. The display highlights the ecological complexity and importance of estuaries, more specifically, the Cowichan Estuary’s history, cultural and economic importance to First Nations and early white settlers, but also illustrates the adverse impacts it has suffered from various sources, the reason for CERCA’s restoration efforts. The mobile exhibition continues to serve as an effective educational tool, having been on display locally at the Duncan Mall, the Cowichan Valley Regional Library, and the Duncan Forest Museum.

This was followed by our first well attended Symposium on “Expected Impacts of Climate Change on Estuaries and Coastal Communities” supported by the CVRD featuring eighteen high profile presenters from Government agencies, Academia, and estuary conservation groups held at our local VIU facilities.

The next project jointly implemented with UVIC focused on a “Perception Poll” involving Cowichan Bay Electoral Area D residents. The polling results perfectly reflect CERCA’s vision for the estuary.

Two major estuary restoration projects for which CERCA raised over $ 300K were completed in 2014. (a) Breaching the Westcan access road in partnership with Western Stevedoring in the heart of the estuary enabling salmon spawn from the Cowichan River to access the last eelgrass field left in the estuary. (b) In partnership with Ducks Unlimited and Western Forest Products restoring Mariners Island salt- marsh where more than 10,000 logs in different stages of decomposition washed onto the marsh over decades were removed.

Another CERCA project implemented with financial support from Sidney Anglers Association involved a herring habitat enhancement initiative in Cowichan Bay applying a method successfully employed by the “Squamish Streamkeepers” in other parts of the Salish Sea. Unfortunately so far herring have not used the enhanced spawning habitat.

2017 is the second year for CERCA’s  highly successful swallow recovery project in the estuary with a 60% occupancy rate of the 54 nesting boxes placed in the estuary.

Another major project carried out in cooperation with Western Stevedoring and financial support by Island Savings -CERCA’s major sponsor- focused on the construction of the Cowichan Estuary Nature Trail-Open-Air Classroom which follows the abandoned CN railroad bed leading to the Westcan Terminal in the center of the estuary. Numerous CERCA volunteers laboured for a full month in March 2016 eliminating massive amounts of invasive scotch broom prior to trail widening, constructing a parking lot, trail kiosk,  and platform and placing signage developed with support from the Royal BC Museum. In-kind contributions for this project were received from Sinclair Construction, Duncan Paving, Cowichan Rentals, and Dogwood Lumber and a major donation by the True Grain Bakery.

CERCA’s second Symposium with over 140 pre-registered attendees, 11 high profile national and international presenters on “Climate Change and the Economy” was held in 2017 at the Ramada in Duncan. The raving testimonials received reflected the quality of the event.


Also worth mentioning is a visit of a high level Chinese delegation from the Tianjin estuary, one of China’s largest estuaries earlier this year. Following a site visit and lively discussions CERCA signed a cooperation agreement with the delegation who showed special interest in CERCA’s blue-carbon sequestration research jointly implemented with UVIC’s Institute of Ocean Sciences. Also of great interest to the Delegation was the 3-D model of the estuary which we completed this year with the help of Dr. Vadeboncoeur. Another research project to be completed within 2017 is the estuary habitat mapping, a project supported by DFO.

Looking back at the past five years we can be proud of what we have achieved so far but also have come to realize how much more remains to be done to reach our ultimate goal: a fully rehabilitated estuary. It will not be an estuary the way it looked like prior to the arrival of white man in the Cowichan Valley. It undoubtedly will be quite different in the light of expected impacts of climate change resulting in rising sea levels. Monitoring effects of climate change and other man-caused impacts  will be part of our future work program.

But let’s not talk about gloom and doom on a day like this when we want to celebrate CERCA’s fifth birthday on August 6th at the most fitting Maple Grove Park in Cowichan Bay. Come and join us for an afternoon of fun and music.

Dr. Goetz Schuerholz


Blue Carbon Project Update

CERCA received a cheque over 5K from the CVRD allocated to the Isotope analysis of the blue carbon project. Tristan with assistance of his supervisor Dr. Juniper and PhD student Brad has collected and conserved the first set of substrate samples associated with the blue carbon project during the last week of May. Brad will be doing his field research for his PhD on the benthos of the mudflats. I will keep you posted on developments. Within this context I would like to extend a big ‘Thanks’ to Grant Douglas who not only constructed the complicated extraction equipment and work-station at the estuary for this project but also provided most valuable support throughout the field work. Also Thanks to Allan Scott who captured all steps involved on film to be incorporated into the video to be produced on the habitat and blue carbon project. Tristan has introduced his research and presented preliminary findings on June 4th at the IEBS 2017 international conference in Rimouski.

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Defending the Integrity of CERCA, its Members, and the Estuary

“Those of us who have worked tirelessly in attempting to restore the estuary, on our own time, and using our own funds and equipment, have not asked for nor expected any compensation at all for our efforts. It is disheartening to see our efforts and enthusiasm laid to waste by uninformed negative comments in the local media.”

This is in response to a series of articles and letters in the Citizen that contained erroneous and deceptive information concerning the Cowichan Estuary Restoration and Conservation Association (CERCA), and in some cases outright mistruths. All were critical of CERCA in derogatory ways and hence this response. I am a professional atmospheric/climate scientist of more than 50 years, and currently the co-Chair of CERCA. Since retirement from the federal government in 1998, I devoted much of my time towards providing public education on the impacts of climate change. Dealing with the problems of the estuary restoration are very much akin to that of climate change. In either case, those not close to the actual data usually do not perceive the year-to-year changes, so that short human memories then decide that nothing untoward is happening. Yet nothing could be further from the truth in either case.

Some quick facts on the dispute between Western Stevedoring (WS) and Pacific Industrial Marine (PIM), and CERCA:

  • Neither the Chair nor any member of the CERCA board receive any recompense for their volunteer roles with CERCA, other than satisfaction from their efforts to restore the environmental integrity of the estuary. The articles I am about to address denigrate that satisfaction.
  • We (CERCA) understand the position taken by WS/PIM and their desire to continue making a profit, but we disagree with their methods and the risks they pose to the estuary, especially following any ‘re-zoning’.
  • The lease under which WS/PIM have been operating was originally approved specifically for the shipping of forestry products from the terminal. This means that any other industrial activity (such as PIM does) may be a violation of the lease agreement.
  • The ‘sub-lease’ provided to PIM under Lease 103107 has been illegal from the day it was issued. Lease 103107 directs that any sub-lease needs to be registered with the Department of Lands on approval by the Cowichan Estuary Environmental Management Committee (CEEMC).
  • PIM has erected several structures without any building permit as required by CVRD by-laws, such as the extension of the welding shop that tripled in size, the two white tents, etc.
  • We have been informed by the CVRD that neither WS nor PIM pay any property taxes to CVRD; hence, no direct benefit to Cowichan Valley.
  • The cost of their land lease is $1.00/year – yes, a single loonie. Would that we all had such cheap land costs.
  • PIM claims to be supporting more than 50 workers at this site (their web site says only 30). In any event, almost all are contract employees, with zero security since they can be hired or fired at will depending on PIM contacts. PIM is not unionized, so that these jobs actually undermine secure and well-paying Union jobs.

I now wish to address, in chronological order, six specific articles and letters published in the Citizen over the last four weeks, directing false allegations against CERCA, especially its Chair Dr. Goetz Schuerholz, a professional ecologist. Each of these articles include one or more deliberate deceptions or outright mistruths that need to be countered.

1) CERCA Campaign to drive away jobs (Robbie James, Western Stevedoring, Mar. 14):

  • James’ opening statement claims that “CERCA recently launched a campaign to drive more than 50 jobs away from the former Westcan Terminal and out of the Cowichan Bay area”. That accusation is a complete fabrication, for nothing that we have done or said justifies it. A formal retraction would be in order, else show the proof.
  • James continues with the deception that “We are actually seeking removal of petroleum terminal and storage facilities as a permitted use”. The original lease agreements, never since modifed, specifically state that such products are not to be stored on the estuary.
  • He further states that “we worked with the community to ‘breach’ the terminal causeway (and construction of a new bridge) in the name of fisheries and environmental enhancement”. WS actually had nothing to do with initiating or carrying out the construction of the new bridge. CERCA alone raised more than $200,000 to carry out that project.
  • During the developing stages of the bridging, WS continually raised red flags at every step of the way with petty criticisms, causing six months or more in delays, rather than sitting down with us to summarize their concerns in one step.
  • Once they realized that our funding agencies, Pacific Salmon Foundation, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Environment Canada, and Sidney Anglers were vocal as well as financial supporters, together with enthusiastic support from Cowichan Tribes and the CVRD, WS then contributed $12,000 to assist in the final stages so that they could be listed on our signage and printed material as virtually equal partners in the project.
  • They then turned around and attempted to build a barrier on the west end of the bridge to bar foot traffic, until our valid complaints nipped that in the bud.
  • In other words, WS/PIM have been cooperative ‘only’ when it suits their public profile.

2) CERCA, Western Stevedoring at odds over estuary rezoning (editorial by Robert Barron, Mar. 14):

  • CERCA discovered early last fall that WS had applied for the ‘re-zoning’ of their leases. This sounded alarm bells, since one reason for industry to request re-zoning would obviously be to increase their industrial capacity with heavier industry, something that never should be allowed on a sensitive estuary ecosystem.
  • Our requests (on several occasions) for information on the reasons for the re-zoning fell on deaf ears, except for a barrage of vitriol against some of us individually for asking. Obviously this raised our suspicions further, and prompted CERCA to initiate the public petition against the re-zoning. For this, some have vilified CERCA in the media.
  • WS/PIM recently admitted (in this article), that the purpose of the re-zoning was to (quoting from this article), “finally formalize the operation and amend the zoning to reflect the current use of the site”; in other words, they are applying ‘to change the rules to justify what they have been doing illegally for years’. We, the CERCA board, find that attitude to be reprehensible.
  • It was also curious to CERCA why the Area D Director, Lori Iannidinardo, who claims to be very concerned about the integrity of the estuary, was and still is taking a leading role in promoting this re-zoning.
  • Dr Schuerholz attempted to stem the controversy by sympathizing that we understand the motives when the industry started their business there, when many ‘knew no better’ about environmental issues, but surely now is the time to correct that activity, not to justify it through re-zoning. WS/PIM are therefore not the “great stewards of Cowichan Bay” that they deceptively claim to be.

3) Cowichan Bay estuary trail still open to public, company assures (Interview with Alan Moore of WS by Robert Barron, Mar. 15):

  • In this interview, Moore confirmed that they had denied CERCA any further access for development of the nature trail because “the company’s legal team had advised that Western Stevedoring could be liable if a member of the public was injured in any accident.” The real reason, unsaid, was obviously our objections to the re-zoning.
  • At the same time, Moore stated that “the trail system is still open to the public”. Apparently the public is still welcome regardless of insurance liabilities – a double standard?
  • He also claimed that “the company is developing a long-term community plan” for the nature trail, with the implied notion to the public that they (WS) were developing the trail.
  • This is another deception because CERCA raised all of the funding for the trail development to date, while our volunteers accomplished most of the work on their own time and resources.
  • WS finally came on board by converting the former rail trestle into a foot-bridge across the trail entrance, but all other work was carried out by CERCA volunteers and by businesses paid from CERCA funds. In appeasement, we gracefully showed WS alongside CERCA as equal partners in the trail development on our signage.
  • Following our unwarranted eviction, the trail remains unfinished and may quickly deteriorate.

4) Get all the info on proposed rezoning (Lori Iannidinardo, Area D Director Cowichan Valley, Mar. 28):

  • Iannidinardo expounded on how the estuary was “close to my own heart”, acknowledged that the “health of the estuary is a top priority”, how her “work with the community on by-laws that align with these goals” was so important, and how she has “worked to eliminate agricultural, industrial and other sources of pollution in the bay so shellfish can be safe to eat again”, then some discussion on the value of industrial activity in the estuary.
  • My first question would be: is this “all the info on proposed rezoning” as the title of her article suggests?
  • Then I must take a deep breath here – the estuary is still suffering from in-comeptible use, there’s no doubt about that! Years ago, shell fishing was abolished because of the pollution. The pollution is there primarily because of industrial activity. One can argue against that all they like, but that’s a fact. Iannidinardo does not explain her two standards: how and why would anyone support both the estuary integrity and adverse industrial impacts together?
  • One might even accept industrial activity as currently carried out, but why would anyone support re-zoning for ‘more of same’?
  • She advocates in this article that “industrial activity in Cowichan Bay has been confined to the ‘marine industrial’ area designated in the bylaws”, but fails to point out that this activity is dead centre in the middle of the estuary, so you can claim to ‘confine it’ all you like, but pollution is not restricted by that claim.
  • Iannidinardo ends her article with the statement “I encourage everyone to look closely at what is proposed so you can provide the CVRD with well-informed feedback and help us make the best possible decisions for Cowichan Bay and our region”. On that point we basically agree with her, but we should ask ‘best decisions for whom’?
  • If one would review all of these issues, there should be no question about denying the re-zoning to Western Stevedoring in support of PIM. They are already operating illegally in several ways, including construction of a steel fabrication shop and aluminum fabrication shop, neither being permissible under their lease, and were constructed without a building permit as required from CVRD. Why allow them to justify all this? Why not simply insist that they follow the conditions of the lease and of CVRD regulations as they are?

5) CERCA is fear mongering (Debbie Smith, Apr. 5); and

6) CERCA making misleading statements about PIM operations (Debbie Smith, Apr.14):

  • I cover these last two letters together, since they are repetitious and are by the same author, Debbie Smith. However, all of the issues she raises are important, albeit incorrect.
  • She is clearly badly informed on the issues, perhaps because her source appears to be WS/PIM managers. She starts by making those two derogatory statements above in the titles of her letters. Neither statement is true.
  • Smith suggests: “I encourage you to get the facts first hand and not rely on others to interpret the facts for us”. Good advice, although she did not follow her own advice, having accepted what WS/PIM apparently told her, hook, line and sinker. Certainly she attempted no contact with the ‘other side’ of the dispute.
  • She continues (in both letters) with: “The OCP designates the leased areas at the Terminal as Marine Industrial and the zoning is Transportation related industrial. Any reasonable person would consider PIM’s dock and bridge building operations to fit these designations, especially since its operated from 1990 unquestioned until 2016”. May I point out that the ‘Transportation related industrial’ in their lease was originally for ‘forestry products’ and not for manufacturing on-site, for which they have no permit.
  • As for PIM’s dock (actually to be used for stevedoring by Western Stevedoring), that’s a joke: it was severely damaged by storms some years ago, and has never been repaired because they do not use it, but it continues to crumble and fall into the estuary causing further pollution. I understand it is too dangerous to even walk upon.
  • Smith then states: “In good faith Western Stevedoring applied to amend the zoning and retire bulk petroleum and log storage leased area in favour of formalizing PIM’s business and to include the storage of marine safety equipment and disaster response.” Here’s where she should check her facts rather than accepting what they say, because their lease specifically forbids storage of any petroleum products. It is good to know that they promise not to store bulk petroleum, but that is hardly ‘in good faith’ as you put it.
  • Regarding log storage, they are retiring nothing there, since they have had no logs to store for many years ever since MacMillan Bloedell ceased their operations in Cowichan Bay on this Lease. Also, the storage of marine safety equipment and disaster response is not according to the good graces of WS, since such equipment is a necessary part of many docks on our coastline.
  • Smith then claims that she “saw no water contamination, noise pollution, light pollution, or oil pollution on site”. Some clarification is in order: CERCA has never accused WS/PIM of noise or light pollution, although we had differences with WFP over that issue three years ago, which were then partially corrected. As for water contamination, surely we can agree that the estuary is polluted. No fishing is allowed because of it, and increased industrial activity would not help alleviate that problem.
  • She adds that “PIM pays property taxes to the province”. I suspect she means income tax that we all have to pay, but this was discussed above, and my point was that there is no direct tax benefit to Cowichan Valley from WS or PIM operations, something which gives them an unfair advantage over similar businesses in bidding on contracts.
  • She then states that “CERCA doesn’t seem to value the need for PIM’s operation to be located in a deep sea port located in a industrial area not a residential area.” We certainly do not value that need in a sensitive ecosystem.
  • Let me turn that last statement back to you. ‘Do you value the need for an unpolluted estuary for Cowichan Bay residents?’ You (and others above) seem to recognize only the needs of industry. And let me correct your “industrial not a residential area”: The whole area around Cowichan Bay and the estuary is residential, much of it on Cowichan Tribes land. Those residents of Cowichan Bay should be a little annoyed with you (in Mill Bay) declaring that they reside in an industrial area.
  • Smith repeats Iannidinardo’s claim that “terminal operations provide stable well paying jobs for over 50 families in the CVRD”. These are hardly, as you say, stable, well paying jobs, since they work under contract, that is, they are temporary or part-time (contract) employees, probably with few benefits, and not unionized.
  • As for PIM contributing to a “vibrant economy”, I believe you will find that the bay area depends more on tourism than industrial activity at Westcan Terminal, especially in view of no direct tax benefit to Cowichan Valley.
  • Smith’s second letter accuses CERCA of “misleading statements”, an accusation not backed up by the facts, but which does apply to both WS/PIM and their supporters indicated in these articles, not CERCA. Once again, an apology would be in order, but we won’t hold our breath waiting for it.

I have attempted above to explain how Western Stevedoring, Pacific Industrial Marine, and certain supporting individuals are the guilty ones misleading the public on this issue. Jobs and the economy are not what are at stake here. The estuary is unquestionably suffering from adverse industrial impacts, an area once known for its excellent shell fishery, not to mention salmon and herring fisheries, all of which have suffered – ask anyone from Cowichan Tribes who’ve been around here much longer than us. A restored fishery in the estuary and in-shore would be an immense value to the local economy, far more than what WS/PIM provide. The question on both climate change and our estuary really come down to ‘what do you want your children and grandchildren to enjoy in the future?’  Do you really believe that the current situation should remain ‘business as usual’ and possibly ‘increased industry’, turning a blind eye to illegal operations that have been going on for two decades or more? These are the real truths, not misleading statements. CERCA and others might be amenable to current industrial activity in the estuary if they operated within the guidelines and regulations.

On April 3, CERCA held an information meeting on the re-zoning issue for interested residents of Cowichan Bay. We received a stab in the back as some unknown individual had the International Longshoreman & Warehousers Union (ILWU), providing them a deceptive view of how CERCA was destroying jobs in the estuary. The union immediately instructed their members in the region to attend the meeting in order to disrupt it. Some 200 or more union members did this in ignorance of the fact that PIM employees themselves are not unionized, and are, along with PIM, in competition for contract jobs with other unionized companies. Regardless, their ploy was totally successful in disrupting the meeting, which had to be terminated prematurely. But we tried.

Hopefully we can eventually put this whole issue to rest, perhaps even have the province enforce their own existing regulations, which they have not done for years because of budget cuts to environment and forestry departments. Very much related to all this, I would personally encourage everyone to vote in the coming election, and hold our elected officials in the next provincial government to task over issues like this.

Finally, I am certain that I have not caused the loss of a single job in the estuary with this explanation of the truth.  I rest my case.

Geoff Strong, PhD

Co-chair CERCA

15 April, 2017

False Accusations Against CERCA

E-mail sent on 5 th of April 2017 to CVRD Board of Directors

Dear Area Directors,

The re-zoning application related to Crown Leases in the Cowichan Estuary has taking an ugly turn. Somebody is deliberately spreading false rumors in the Valley accusing CERCA of driving hundreds of jobs away from the estuary and the Cowichan Valley,  deliberately amalgamating the re-zoning issue with Western Forest Products sawmill operations in Cowichan Bay, two totally un-related items. This likely politically motivated fear-mongering about job loss is totally unfounded and utterly irresponsible. To make it clear: there is no relationship between the re-zoning issue CERCA opposes for good reasons and Western Forest Products Sawmill operations in Cowichan Bay.

CERCA does not oppose storage of forest products and forest product related stevedoring from the so called Westcan Terminal and dock facilities since both are allocated uses specified by the Leases currently subject to re-zoning. There is no threat to longshoreman jobs/contracts working for Western Stevedoring as long as stevedoring is confined to forest products as specified by the Lease agreements and their Provisos.

Until today we have not received any answer to our questions of how many jobs are provided by Pacific Industrial Marine on the Terminal Area, and how many of those jobs are  permanent, how many casual, and how many are union-jobs which pay union wages.

Meanwhile CERCA has collected over 400 signatures from local constituents, mostly from Area D residents, opting against the proposed re-zoning. This is not the result of a concerted effort to collect signatures.  With a bit of effort there could well be hundreds more judging by the general response from Valley constituents. The signature sheets will be hand-delivered by two CERCA Board Directors to John Lefebure as Chair of the CVRD Board of Directors. The signatures reflect how the constituents of Area D and the CVRD feel about this issue. Be reminded that estuary conservation also ranked highest amongst constituents of Area D contributing to the OCP for this area.

We also understand that numerous personal letters had been sent to the Director  of Electoral Area D opposing the re-zoning. We sincerely hope that these letters are shared with all other electoral area directors with a vote on this issue.


Dr. Goetz Schuerholz, Chair CERCA


Say “NO” to Tidal Harmony Holdings Re-zoning Application

Why CERCA opposes re-zoning Crown Leases in the Heart of the Cowichan Estuary in favour of Industry.

In 1990 Canadian National Railroad stopped its operations in Cowichan Bay and transferred the  731 acres estuary property including the six forestry-related leases subject to the current re-zoning application to the Ministry of Environment. Since then all forestry-related activities associated with the six Leases have ceased to exist. Some have been abandoned for decades, others alienated and used for industrial activities that are not in compliance with existing CVRD bylaws, the Estuary Management Plan nor the OCP from 2012 for this area. In late 2016 Western Forest Products/Tidal Harmony Holdings which had assumed the Leases from the defunct Forestry Companies in the 1990s applied for re-zoning to legalize activities that have been in non-compliance for years. The current manufacturing operations by Pacific Industrial Marine LTD are taking place under a Sub-Lease that never has been approved by the Government as required.  These operations could easily be trans-located onto an area within the CVRD that is properly zoned for this type of manufacturing industry, to be achieved without any job loss to the operator and with greater benefits to the community.

Stepping back in history: the Cowichan Estuary Environmental Management Plan was ratified by Order in Council in 1986. It was triggered over grave concerns  by the DFO and the Environment Ministry about alarming environmental impacts on the Cowichan Estuary by mostly forestry-related activities. The Plan was considered the best compromise between economic interests and Environmental Stewards at the time.

Today, 31 years after ratification of the Plan: No more shipment of lumber or forestry-related products out of Cowichan Bay, the Westcan dock falling apart, all Forest Companies related to the six Westcan Leases gone, their former leases dormant or alienated for years. The world now is different than 30 years ago! So are the changes in local demographics and resident perceptions on the future of the Cowichan Estuary as reflected by the award winning Official Community Plan (Area D 2102) envisioning an estuary managed for conservation and tourism as the economic driver of the valley. The Management Plan and other official documents clearly state that all industrial leases not used any longer for their allocated purpose should be returned to the Ministry of Environment for wildlife habitat management. Re-zoning to allow for industrial manufacturing and legalizing what until now has not been in compliance, would throw us back into the dark ages. For this reason CERCA strongly opposes the re-zoning application and requests the return of abandoned leases to the Ministry of Environment for conservation management as stipulated by the Estuary Management Plan.

Dr. Goetz Schuerholz


Raving reviews of CERCA’s Symposium on “Climate Change and the Economy”

CERCA’s 2017 Symposium is the second event with focus on Climate Change. The first, implemented in 2014, dealt with “Expected Impacts of Climate Change on Coastal Communities and Estuaries” whereas this year’s Symposium  addressed expected impacts of climate change on our economy and how to  adjust to such changes on a local level. With more than 230 pre-registered  participants the Symposium was well attended, a reflection of the great interest in the overall theme and the high quality contributions by our esteemed guest speakers.

The very positive feedback received from numerous attendees is taken as a testimony to a highly successful event. Indeed it was a remarkable day and for many of us more than a wake-up call. The  wealth of information provided by our speakers and the lively discussions involving the panel members provided not only food for thought but also a definite call for action!

To put this year’s Symposium into perspective:  in early 2017 the CVRD’s Environmental Services Branch elaborated a report on Climate Projections for the Cowichan Valley Regional District with participation and input by local specialists. This will be followed by a report with focus on expected impacts of climate change on the CVRD level and a third document outlining practical adaptation and mitigation strategies. In the preamble of the CVRD’s Climate Projections report it is stated that the purpose of this exercise is:

Ensuring our region is as prepared as possible is critical to maintaining community well-being, environmental health and a vibrant local economy over the long term. The 2014 to 2018 CVRD Corporate Strategic Plan has set a mandate to understand our region’s climate risks and complete adaptation plans to strengthen resilience, reduce risks, and take advantage of potentially emerging opportunities.

Against this background the central topic of the Symposium was a timely and perfect fit reflecting the long term goals of the CVRD and immediate actions to be taken to be prepared for expected impacts of climate change on the local environment and the economy.

The presentations ranging from a global to local overview of climate change impacts clearly demonstrated the need to significantly “modernize” the economy with a view to climate change, and the need to re-think the way economy has been defined in the past. This means that all branches of the economy including industry, crafts, agriculture, forestry, and services need to improve their work and production in such a way that climate change does not become more pronounced and that its adverse impacts can be absorbed. At the Symposium we learned that to achieve this, it is necessary to increase energy efficiency, switch to regenerative energy sources, reduce the consumption of resources, water and the generation of waste. From the presentations it became clear that unless timely action is taken, water shortages and other restrictions will soon render whole industries ineffective eliminating large numbers of jobs. Both the early conversion to a consciously better economy as well as the necessary adaptation to climate change have a great potential for stable and high-quality jobs. It is hoped that a modern economy, socially and environmentally oriented, can influence and endure climate change.

I personally did not realize how much expertise and talent there is concentrated in our region until I started the pre-registration process for this Symposium. If only we could bundle all this expertise and energy. It was amazing to learn how many young entrepreneurs with bright ideas are already operating in our Valley and how many more are eager to start a small business in support of a sustainable community. There was a lot of positive energy at the Symposium to build on and I am pleased to report that I have been approached already by some of the attendees asking where to go from here. To keep the momentum going CERCA therefore decided to organize a follow-up workshop later this year to brainstorm sustainable economic community development opportunities with focus on sustainable resource use and small and medium sized green enterprises. We will try to assemble the diverse talent of the Valley and neighbouring Islands which expressed already their keen interest in being part of it. We would like to implement this workshop jointly with the Environmental Services Branch of the CVRD and other Key stakeholders.

You may have asked  yourself why a group such as CERCA dealing primarily with Estuary matters has organized two Symposia related to Climate change. The simple answer is that the impacts of climate change as we learned already in the first Symposium will be felt first and foremost by coastal communities and estuaries. Rising sea levels will have dramatic effects on coast lines, estuaries and floodplains, and so will weather extremes with extended drought periods and untimely flooding. Our environment is a complex web where everything is inter-connected.

The banquet following the Symposium with presenters, moderators, panel members and CERCA members attending provided an excellent opportunity to introduce and welcome CERCA’s three new Board Directors: Julia Newman, Jock Hildebrand and Allan Scott, expected to be a great asset to CERCA.

We also used this occasion to honor one of our oldest CERCA members: George Croy, presenting him with an Award Certificate for his 40 years dedication to the protection of the Cowichan Estuary. A remarkable feat! Thank you very much George for being a role model to us!


In closing I would like to thank again all contributors to this year’s Symposium  and the numerous attendees for a highly successful event which gives us hope to jointly achieve the much needed and desired changes to make our local economy sustainable.

Dr. Goetz Schuerholz