Dr. Michael Pearson, author of the Salish sucker recovery strategy states that this is the first time ever in Canada that critical habitat has been identified on private land. Farmers fear that up to 30 meter riparian zones could be applied to private agricultural land.
At the present time, farmland is provincially riparian exempt.
Pearson said “I can assure you it will not be 30-metre buffers on farmland all over the valley.” Still, page 16 of the document states that more than 30 metres of riparian vegetation may be required for full mitigation of warming and siltation for long-term maintenance of channel morphology.
Pearson states that when ditches were dug for agriculture, there were many natural fish bearing watercourses that were filled in and that the problem is farmers over-fertilizing fields leading to plant vegetation in the ditches.
Local landowners disagree with Pearson’s statement.
Constructed ditches were dug through high ground to join low lying areas.
If farmers needed drainage, why would they fill in natural watercourses?
Any fisheries value possessed by an agricultural ditch exists because the ditch was constructed to improve the agricultural capability of the adjacent land. DFO, MOE and Dr. Mike Pearson should consider fish presence in a constructed agricultural ditch a bonus.
The environmental benefits of good agricultural drainage are documented in B.C. Department of Agriculture Bulletins.
If soil is well drained, the farmer is able to get onto the fields earlier in the spring. Trafficability is increased in the fall providing a better opportunity for field work. Good drainage allows cover crops to be grown over winter.
These crops protect the soil from erosion and provide wildlife benefits. In well drained soils plants have better nutrient uptake thus producing more crops. Well drained land is a living recycler of decomposing organic matter and nutrient. Land without proper drainage becomes sour – worms die and the critical habitat of the soil is endangered.
Presently, these agricultural environmental benefits cannot be achieved under DFO, MOE 2009-2010 drainage maintenance guidelines.
Restrictions that will be added with the 2011 Salish sucker draft recovery strategy will further impact the ability to properly clean the ditches.