A Conversation with Lynne Milnes
Mike Fenger (MF). I am here with Lynne Milnes and we want to have a conversation and learn a little bit about the early days of Ecological Reserves (ERs) and Friend of Ecological Reserves. But before we do that we would be interested to learn what pulls people into conversation. What pulled you in Lynne?
Lynne Milnes (LM) I grew up in Toronto a very urban setting. I come from a large family who all remain in that large urban core and I came out to the west coast and realized what a gem we have here for all of Canada. I have traveled all over the world but every time I come back to BC I am thrilled and I feel very privileged to be here. We live great lives in an incredible environment and I realized I wanted to help protect it.
MF When you were young, when you were in primary school were you interested or did that awaken in you when you came to the west coast?
LM. I always knew there was something more than Toronto. When I came to the west coast I knew I had found real wilderness and a place to call home.
MF Well we are glad that you didn’t go back east and that you stayed. Did you go to university here?
LM I started in political science at Carleton in Ottawa and I needed up with a Botany degree from University of Victoria.
MF The West coast helped find you.
LM Yes it certainly did.
MF How did you first hear about ERs and when did you first get involved with ERs.
LM I heard about ERs in my classes at university. I met Bristol Foster. I knew Trudy Carson and when I graduated from U Vic I immediately got a job at the BC museum before it was the Royal BC Museum. I began collecting plants for the native plant garden. I would see the ER staff when I was down town and when Trudy was about to leave her job I was asked if I would take that job. So I went from one job to the next.
MF So the ER Unit was already formed under Bristol Foster at this time
LM Yes it was.
MF Working for the unit what was your role?
LM I began the province-wide volunteer warden program. What I liked about the unit was that Bristol Foster and Jim Pojar saw the program as part of an international program of ecological protection- it was not just BC. BC was just one province in all of Canada that was trying to protect natural landscapes and ecosystems. I guess ERs had been going for maybe six or eight years at that point and they had maybe 90 or so ERs when I joined in 1980. My role was to start a warden program and shepherd the proposals through all the bureaucratic hurdles. There were so many reserves that we couldn’t have eyes and ears everywhere in the province and ER program needed help. So that is what I was hired to do among all the other jobs as there were only three of us. I went to naturalist’s clubs, I went to gardening groups and I just spoke everywhere about ERs. It was amazing- most people already were aware of ERs and that their community had an ER. They already wanted to help protect it. It was an easy sell on my part.
MF So you helped set up the ER warden program and you must have been good at it because many of the ER wardens stayed wardens a very long time.
LM They were like my family. I knew them absolutely like my family. I sent then Murchie’s Tea and Rodgers chocolates whatever it took to keep them on side and helping us in the regions. They were also our lobbyists too. ERs were part of the Lands Branch. We were regionalized at that point and it meant to get an ER passed we had to have approval of every single land management person in that area including mining, forestry, BC hydro, fisheries, archaeological sites etc. They all had to agree. The wardens helped to build consensus.
MF That is good to learn because there was quite a large number of ERS established in a relatively short time.
LM We knew that the opportunity for protection wasn’t going to last. Even though we had a Social Credit government and it was not always easy you had to whisper the word “ecology” or the word “conservation”. They were dirty words in government. We tried to keep under the radar as best we could. The wardens understood their role to assist the unit in the regions and they did a great job.
MF That is your political science degree working did you also go in the field and tally plants too?
LM. I was not a very good field person although I tried and did inventories with wardens whenever possible. I used to have to follow Hans Roemer occasionally with his little microphone speaking Latin names and I would be running after him to hear what he was saying in Latin. I would have to run after him through the forest, he was so fast and then I would have to transcribe the tapes when I got back to the office. It was fine but he would walk on logs to get across cervices and I was terrified of heights so I would have to go down and up the other side and try and find him and keep running.
MF Yes I have been in the field with Hans and his is hard to keep up with no question. So did you get to see some of the back country of BC and to many of those reserves spread all over?
LM I got to quite a few in my last year with ERs program. I hitch hiked as I did not own a car. We never had any money and we only had one vehicle. I hitch-hiked to the north end of Vancouver Island and took the ferry to Prince Rupert and met with the wardens in Prince Rupert and then hitched to northern BC and stopped all the way along and found these mosquito ridden bogs that were the ERs.
MF That is enterprising. Some things haven’t changed as there is even less money now in some ways and not an ER program. Were you there at the end of the ER program?
LM We knew when we left there would be nothing. We knew that there was little commitment on the government side but they also knew that I could phone up the wardens at any time to start letter writing campaigns. When it came to the point where I had to leave ERs we set up the Friends because we knew that we had to do something outside of government to keep it going.
MF And you were the inaugural president?
LM Working for the government I couldn’t be the inaugural president that was bit too much but I did write the terms and I did get it through the Societies Act. Vicky Husband was not the first but she was there at the very beginning as was Trudy and Peggy Frank. The other thing I was trying to do in government was trying to raise money. Tom Reimchen would need the odd bit of equipment and he didn’t have money so I would run around and get someone to give me the money so I could buy the equipment and send it to Tom.
MF Well that brings in the whole notion of why ecological reserves and the purpose. Why have an ecological reserve?
LM Representation of ecosystems because at that time less than 1% of BC was protected. We were trying to literally get acres on the ground. Biological benchmarks and protection of gene pools and those are the main reasons for establishing ERs.
MF Other fond memories?
LM The wardens were so wonderful. I would stay in their homes and we camped everywhere else. We never put in travel claims for any of the travel we did and when they came to Victoria they stayed with me. So that collaborative part was great. Just being in these areas was great although I did not manage to visit some of these areas until I left the ER program like South Moresby, the Spatsizi and kayaking in Checeleset Bay.
MF And some of the challenges? We are wondering if some of the same challenges are here today?
LM Well there were lots of challenges and the way the process was going it meant that land under contention was part of a public review process. Everything from Meares Island, Khutzamateen, Stein Valley, the Charlottes, Nimpkish Island, the Chilcotin, Spruce Lake area you name it. Every part of a contentious piece of land was part of an ERs proposal and there was a public review process. Jim and Hans were flying to all those meetings all the time and I was getting our wardens to go to those meetings to represent ERs. We were always trying to stay out of the press but the press sometimes found us and I was quite naïve in those days and one contentious issues was Nimpkish Island. The forest companies wanted to log Nimpkish Island and we wanted to protect it. They were considered the tallest trees on Vancouver Island at the time. How could you possibly log it? The forest company wanted 2 million in compensation. Someone phoned our office and asked could you please tell me how much they are paying in stumpage fees. So like a good civil servant I went and looked it up and it was 2 dollars. So there it was in the paper Lynne Milnes of ERs says the company is paying 2 dollars in stumpage but wants 2 million dollars in compensation. That did not go over well. I was often dragged into the Assistant Deputy Ministers office and told don’t speak to anybody. I felt as a public servant it was my job to serve the public and that was very naïve on my part.
MF. Was Nimpkish Island crown land?
LM It was Crown land and I don’t remember how it worked but in the end we did protect it. But another reason that we did protect it is that article. The logging company was shamed into setting it aside. They were picketed at their annual general meeting. It is just a teeny little ER with a bunch of trees and most of them have blown down and they were given other land to log. It was a trade deal. .
MF We can change to a discussion on management as we almost did. We can’t lock ERs in time we are sitting here surrounded by exotic species on the shores of Oak Bay. So thoughts on managing succession or natural disturbance fire insects or on management within ERs?
LM The point of ER is to leave them as they are to get baseline data and to study them as they are. They are there for observational purposes and to see how they change over time. In the Nimpkish most of those ER trees blew down in a big wind storm so our advice was to leave them. It killed the logging companies to leave this blown down. They wanted to log them and our recommendation was leave them. That is part of the natural process leave it. If something burns let it.
MF And the introduction of exotic species, broom and gorse are prevalent in the ecosystems that we are in here.
LM At the time that I was working in the unit we did not remove exotics because we did not have the manpower or resources. Bristol was probable the only one that would do it on the side. We just didn’t want people trampling in the ERs. The whole idea was to have minimal disturbance and so that is how we left it. I know there have been broom and gorse removals in the Trial Island ER. Then again you have to be very careful when you do it and how you do it.
MF. IF you are thinking about the future of the ER program and the ERs are now managed by Parks. What would your advice be to Parks staff?
LM ERs are not a Park leave them alone.
MF So tone down or tone out the management.
LM If they have money then I would hire students to do baseline inventories because for many of the reserves we do not know what is in them.
MF So before management get the science?
LM. You are playing God if you go in there and think you know better. It reminds me of people who have cosmetic surgery. Here is my face and if I just do this and add that etc. Before you know it you look like a monster. Enough already- leave it alone.
MF We have some 154 ER and some were subsumed into National Parks. Your response on the network was it ever the complete?
LM. No. The mandate was two or three examples for every biogeoclimatic zones and subzone- so it was never completed. We had lots of mountain tops and lots of bogs, but forested sites and valley bottoms were always problematic.
MF Well it is different now than when the government referral agencies shunted proposals around. What are the opportunities for government to complete the ER system if it is incomplete or add to an existing ER?
LM Well I would have to look at the inventory and see where the gaps are and find areas for protection to fill those gaps. When you think of some of the areas that have been lost like the incredible cedars in the Rocky Mountain Trench that could have been saved it seems a tragedy now. I think money needs to be put in accurate assessments and inventories. Look at the acres on the ground because that is the legacy.
MF So for staff some kind of ER inventory and possibly linking it to climate change?
LM Well climate change is a problem for the future. How are these ERs going to survive when you think of the effect of climate change on them? That is where students could be doing research and that is where the money should go.
MF You have a reputation that certainly preceded you about being a good fund raiser. I want to get from you and perhaps these are your political science skills but money for research. Research is not high on anyone’s agenda. How do you make jazzy some of the ER inventory and research needs that we are talking about? You had some very successful long term foundation money that helped people like Tom Riemchen and Jane Watson.
LM That was all through personal connection and making a personal plea. We had a private donor at one of our AGMs and they ended up funding Tom Reimchen and Jane Watson for ten years based on that one AGM. We were very good at following up with them and that is part of the funding cycle. We were very good stewards of that gift sending detailed field reports to the donor so they kept providing funds. You have to be passionate about what you are raising funds for and I certainly was and am about the Ecological Reserves Program. For fundraising I suggest going back to Toronto where there are some foundations that understand the importance of research especially in BC. There is nothing like it anywhere else in Canada so you have to appeal to them about BC’s uniqueness in Canada.
MF We have cobbled together a strategic plan. You will be pleased to hear support for warden is an objective, research, completion and filling of gaps in the network and extension and knowledge about ERs. The interview material will be used for that and our final goal is keeping a non-government organization together and a fun place to be. So any advice on where to put more emphasis and if we had to pick one over another any advice for us?
LM I think the wardens program is essential for the survival of the ERs. The warden program is really important because you need people being observing changes over time. I think a liaison with universities could help cobble together money. Andrew Pedder is at Simon Fraser University and he understands ERs. He was head of Parks at one time and I would go to him. I think there are liaisons that could be made with David Turpin at University of Victoria and the President of UBC. That is the first place I would go looking for funds.
MF And try and get some of the existing research be directed towards natural areas research?
LM Maybe students could alter their studies to have it in focus on ERs. As long as it is not invasive and as long as they are not going to extract anything. Observational studies and inventories are perfect.
MF You are at the university are you still keeping up with environmental things too?
LM I am a trustee on a private family trust that is very environmental and I keep up that way as a volunteer. I am a Director of the Oak Bay Community Association so I keep up politically too. In Oak Bay we are doing a community map and it includes the ERs at Trial Island and Oak Bay Islets.
MF I am getting to the end of what I wanted to ask and if there is any more you want to leave us with.
LM It is acres on the ground that is the legacy of the Ecological Reserves Program- they need to be protected in perpetuity.
MF Thanks Lynne it has been a real pleasure.
LM Thank you too Mike
This interview was video graphed on the Oak Bay seaside on November 26 2011 and recorded by Ray Painchaud.