A Conversation with Vicky Husband
Mike Fenger (MF): I’m here with Vicky Husband and this is Friends of Ecological Reserves; we are interviewing some of the people worked on Ecological Reserves early on in the program and Vicky is certainly part of that. Before we go into the history of Ecological Reserves I would just like to know a little about what got you into environment and conservation and you are certainly well known in that area. Maybe we can just start with what makes you tick as a conservationists?
Vicky Husband (VH). I grew up in Victoria, I was born in Victoria, I grew up on the ocean and so I had a total nature education as a child. When you talk about now the kind of nature deficit disorder I certainly didn’t have that, I grew up on the ocean I grew up on the beaches, you know building rafts and exploring all the tidal life. That was generally my start. I am 71 this year and I have been here a long time since the 1940s I’ve seen the changes. I think that is really what got me involved. First in Clayoquot Sound, an area I love so much and I could see the disastrous logging, the clear cut logging, and then getting involved with doing a movie in Haida Gwaai at Ninstints a Haida totem pole village and meeting Miles Richardson, he was a Skidegate Band Council member there, and getting involved with the Haida and also getting involved with the people who were fighting to save South Morsby, which is now called Gwaai Haanas, and Windy Bay. But I think if we step back one more step it was Bristol Foster who met me on the street one day and he said Vicky you have to get involved with Friends of Ecological Reserves. I looked at him and said okay, and he got me organized into field trips so we were doing field trips to Race Rocks, Trial Islands and some other areas up by Cowichan Lake and Mount Tzuhalem and those kinds of field trips and then I visited many other ecological reserves. Eventually, no so very long after, I became president of Friends of Ecological Reserves. It was at the time I had already been involved with Clayoquot Sound and getting involved with the battle to save Meares Island and also meeting the people on what is now called Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands) and south Moresby and so Windy Bay was a proposed Ecological Reserve. So that seemed to be a major focal point and the other one that I became involved in was the Khutzamateen, to make it Canada’s first a grizzly bear sanctuary. It was one that I really took a leadership role on and getting the Friends involved in that and fighting the forestry there. I was told no no it was a finished deal and I remember talking with Doctor Hans Roemer about it at length and also with Jim Walker who was head of Fish and Wildlife at the time. We schemed to save the Khutzamateen. So those were some of those early days. I think I raised the profile of the FERs as well as my own and eventually in 1988 I became a Board member of the Sierra Club of BC, it was Western Canada at that time, and where I stayed for 18 years. But I always had a fondness for the ecological reserves program and have been in many of them like as up in Spatsizi, and Gladys Lake (ER) and some of the remote ones. I haven’t made it to Krajina (ER) but I would love to. But you know I see them as extremely important parts of the protected areas system in British Columbia and they play a critical role even though the most recent government cuts haven’t really cared about our Parks Program or our Protected Areas Program. They are significant areas that are not really made for public use but made for scientific study for representative ecosystem for protection.
We really should have more of them and I guess one of the problems I see is that they are not adequately funded for their protection and you know there should be many more of them because the whole issue of connectivity between Parks and island biogeography we are losing what is happening around our Parks and Protected Area system so it puts these small often very small ERs increasingly at risk. They should have always been set up with buffer zones and more connectivity to other protected areas so that they really could be protected as these special representative ecosystems that they are in perpetuity. I guess that is the challenge for the future and I think that is the challenge for all the Parks and Protected Areas System is that they are only a small part of BC. And there are people who are working on whole idea that nature needs half if we really are going to protect our amazing biodiversity in British Columbia and what we have that makes BC supernatural and special and leave something behind for our children; then we have to raise the profile of our parks system and of our ecological reserves system which are some of the best in the world. We are the third largest parks system in a jurisdiction in the world so we have incredibly diverse ecosystems as you move from the coast through the mountains into the dry interior all of this, it is spectacular and up north. And I have been in many areas and our rivers and all of this and there is so much more that we should be protecting but a least we have a very good start on it with the Ecological Reserves Program. But I think the critical component of looking forward and I think there is more of a realization now in the public anyway that the parks are much more than just areas for recreation and protected areas but they are for the protection of ecosystems. And I think that we need more public education on that.
MF. You are often a go to person that the press will seek out and you have been absolutely a spokeswomen for the environment and we are thankful for that. I wanted to ask you if you were involved with the science advisory group that was around I think until the minister disbanded it that was advising back in the early days with Krajina that was advising government on ERs and basically acting as a sounding board before ecological reserves went forward.
VH I wasn’t involved then but for the Khutzmateen it was an international agency that had identified the Khutzmateen. I guess it was an area that had been identified and should be protected that should be added to our ecological reserve program when it came up, so we jumped off from there because even though I wasn’t involved I did meet Vladimir Krajina and that was a great pleasure and you know he was the father of all of this. But the Khutzmateen was one that an international agency had identified I guess it had been submitted but they said yes this is an areas to be protected and also Windy Bay but the Khutzamateen had been let to fall off the edge and when some of us picked it up, me especially and decided this is an area and I raised some money through the FER to hire Herb Hammond and Wayne McCorey who really ran with it to do research in the Khutzamateen. And I met with the north coast Forest Service over the Khutzamateen and went into the Khutzamateen admiring wildlife. We were doing plant sampling in the Khutzamateen, I am not a botanist or biologist I am an activist. There we were looking at bear trails and looking for bears and all of that and Wayne (Wayne McCorey) is saying that maybe next year we should go back into the Khutzamateen to celebrate that victory. Because it still is Canada’s first grizzly bear sanctuary and so important and I think it really touched off the whole Great Bear Rainforest and all of that. The profile of the Grizzly bear was raised to such a height over the fight for the Khutzamateen. And it wasn’t an area that they (the forest industry) really wanted to log but they (government Forest Service) were not willing to give it up so it was one of those battles that we (conservationists’) won.
MF That started as an ER reserves proposal but ended up as conservation area. Are you in any way disappointed that it didn’t achieve ER status and the same with Windy Bay? VH I think they are both very protected the way they are. Windy Bay maybe a little less so but there are Haida watchman there that are very controlling of how the area is being used. And in Khutzamateen it is very difficult to get to and it’s a really long way and they (Parks) do control the number of tourists and visitors there very clearly. I think in many ways it is protected and just the nature it is hard to move in there and there are bears, and the grass is very tall and undisturbed except by the bears. You can be in the grass and you couldn’t see if there is a bear in the next hole. So most of the tourism is done by boat into the estuary or a little bit up the river but that is about it. So I think the protection is there, and it actually would have been good to add it to the ecological reserves program but you know I am happy that it is protected and that is the major goal to get it protected.
MF. Looking ahead and you said at the beginning, that we should be adding more ecological reserves, we have wonderful diversity we haven’t covered it all. How do you think in today’s climate with First Nations being more central could ecological reserves be advanced? Have you got any ideas? I guess it is a question on how to work more closely with First Nations to meet their needs and also to establish some more ecological reserves or something similar in concept if not called that?
VH. Well I think you have to work with all parties. I would say that the greatest barrier to furthering the ER program and setting up more ecological reserves is definitely the powers that be in the government. They have shown no inclination to be very supportive of any of our protected areas system let alone ERs, or listened to what scientists have to say or whether any of these things are important. Yes working with FN would be absolutely essential. But I think that many of the FN leaders do want to see critical areas of the landscape protected so that certainly could be worked out but you need political will as well. I think the only way that we are going to get there is to get more awareness in the broader population not just the environmentally concerned people but everybody who cares about the future of BC and right off the bat I think that most people do not recognize that 94% of our land base in BC is crown land. That’s the public land that we should be having more stewardship over and we have no control over what’s happening on that land. And so that is where some of us are starting to look at. This is land that should be managed and protected for the benefit of the public and we don’t see that happening so in raising the profile of ER and also protected areas I think we could do a lot more in this province to get much better stewardship of the land that will better everything that we have done so far.
MF Would have any thoughts and I don’t know if you were involved with the management conundrum of ecological reserves. Some of them were set aside for rare and endangered species and some of them are very small and natural succession happens and there are questions of management of natural processes in ecological reserves as well as management of invasive species. Have you any thoughts maybe relating back to when you were there it was maybe not as central but perhaps there were some of the small ecological reserves you were concerned about and the management in them as of right now?
VH Well I think certainly in my time the management of invasive species was absolutely and of invasive creatures like goats and sheep and that sort of thing in Mount Maxwell and areas like that. Some of the areas were fenced to see whether we could recover some of the plant species. I think there has always been concern about management of invasive species but I think we have to be very careful how we, if we, go further than that because they were set aside merely not to be messed with. They are set aside as representative examples. They change all the time and world is changing and we have climate change. So they still will be representative samples but they may be slightly different samples. But invasive species I would be strongly supportive of removal of invasive species but if they are native species I would be very hesitant to interfere because we do need these representative samples we need to see what is going on. I think it is very important for science to be able to study if there are changes why are there changes and it could be connected to climate change or anything else that threatens the world as we know it.
MF Some other thoughts that we would like to hear from you is Friends of Ecological …..Just then waterfowl land behind Vicky and Mike off camera and steal the scene.
VH It looks like snow?
MF. Yes rather a nice setting.
VH Yes it certainly is.
MF And we are very close to Ten Mile Point Ecological Reserve just for context. But FERs and I think you were their first President; and we have formed a little strategic plan where we are supportive of ERs wardens, the extra eyes and ears for the government.
VH Oh we always were for that it was one of the roles we took on. We used to have volunteer wardens meeting in Victoria and be supportive, we felt we were there to help them as well.
MF So that is one of our goals, so we should be continuing and bolstering that as much as possible.
VH Absolutely because it’s the eyes and ears on the ground especially as we have had such a huge reduction in Ministry of Environment staff and people being able to have some oversight. I think the role of FER and the volunteer wardens is even more vital than it was before. And people now are talking about getting people to adopt Parks as well not just ERs because they are not being adequately cared for and I think there are a lot of local people that would like to like to be (volunteer wardens). I think that we have an example with ERs that could be used to help with our Parks issues as well and Protected Areas issues in BC. Because I think the wardens have always and I have been so impressed with wardens when they gave us tours of ERs and they really knew them so well and the could see where their were the problems and sort of highlighted the problems so all of those things are really important.
MF Certainly the current board of FER shares you admiration and love or our current wardens and they are really dedicated.
VH They are really dedicated.
MF One thing the other things that you mentioned briefly is our second goal which is to attract more research into ERs. And you successful helped raise money to support Tom Reimchen and others to do their research. Have you have any insight on how we can spark the imagination of the research community and come and help look at natural areas research?
VH. Well maybe working with people. I know that Tom Reimchen teaching at University of Victoria and he’s got students. That is one of the ways you start you get young students working on programs and getting them into some of the ERs to do more research. I would say you start with the students who are working in this field; you might be able to attract graduate students as well. I look at and it is different program, sort of similar in a way, Calvin Sandborn with the Environmental Law Clinic (ELC). You take problems to the ELC Calvin Sandborn and his students and they will take on some of these projects. And I would guess if FER would identify some of the reserves and have a list of ideas, scientific work that needs to be done somewhere that is more accessible or find out where students are from and give an idea of what you might think is really important work and discuss it with people like Tom Reimchen, Bristol Forest and others who were part of the ER program Hans Roemer and other and they would know and you could bring that to Tom Reimchen or other classes so that student who would like to continue and maybe do research in these areas.
MF. So reaching out to the academic community really and those who already have a natural interest in it.
VH. Yes I think that’s the best. Yes and to raise a bit of money so they can do it is also really helpful. I know that Tom takes students along with him often as well in the work that he is doing. He has done some real ground breaking work on the bears and how important salmon and their carcasses are to the ecosystem.
MF We have interviewed some others and Hans Roemer has given us thoughts on expanding the ER system and wonder what your thoughts are? We have approximately 148 ERs and some have been subsumed into National Parks. We definitely have gaps in the system of representative one area but also the rare and endangered ecosystems and the smaller pockets of richness in BC. So any thoughts on how we could to reach government and the powers that be on expanding to these areas?
VH. You’ll find that working with the wardens program and working with someone like Hans Roemer who does know where a lot of these areas are, and Bristol might too and others who were leaders in the ER program in BC and get these areas. Where are they located are they near Wells Gray are they near here and build public support for these areas to be protected. I think that that is always the way that you get government support. It has to be local, they adopt it and they take it. I have been working with someone over the Gilpin grasslands and which isn’t an ecological reserve but which was meant to be protected and a wildlife management area and other places. They just run cattle through it so those people are very engaged in trying to get that improved. Then somebody. some organization whether it be FER promotes it further politically because that is what you have to do. There are local Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs provincially) and Members of Parliament (MPs nationally) and as the work is done in places like the Flathead and South Okanagan. And you know it is the only way and linking with some of the Environmental organizations in certain areas who would probably be willing to help. But for the research I think that it is really important but you need money to fund the researchers it is critical too.
MF. Thank you very much and you have set up and we have helped you do that the Vicky Husband scholarship which is running at the University of Victoria. We were happy to be part of that and thank you for that and attracting the environmentally interested students.
VH. The ones who have a lot of volunteer work to their credit. I just was notified of the latest and who got the Vicky Husband Scholarship. She talked a lot in her letter to me about the volunteer work she had done and how important that was. One I met through Nancy Turner, Ashli Akins who had received the Vicky Husband scholarship set up by FERs. Her two program are in the Sacred Valley of Peru Mosqoy, helping indigenous students from small weaving villages to get higher education. and Q’ente, which supports traditional weavers using natural dyes. We have become very close friends and I the work that she is doing there which is remarkable. I was very touched when FER set up the Program for this and with Lynn Milnes help, she encouraged me to endow it a bit more so it was constant and there would always be some money. I am pleased to do that I would never have done it on my own of course. I usually do things anonymously behind the scenes except when I am fighting publically for an area.
MF. That was one of the questions to ask and it is obvious that you are very active environmentally and certainly I have heard you on the radio with reguards to transfer to the Tree Farm License lands and the west coast trail.
VH Oh the Juan de Fuca trail, well we did stop the development there but we are watching that one very closely because the developer is threatening to log. Yes I am very active locally and also I got some areas protected in the Highlands, which is my home and added to Mount Work regional Park. And so thinking of the more endangered ecosystems like the Douglas Fir ecosystem which we have here and looking at what is happening on the private land on the east side of Vancouver Island. And I am working with several different groups and Dave Leversee, whom I have worked with for years on mapping, and we have just come out with a new map for Vancouver Island showing it’s shattered landscape and how little old growth, really productive old growth with big, old trees, ancient forest as we call it, is left.
They are only in patches and the biggest area is Clayoquot Sound and that is really where we should be focusing a lot of attention here on Vancouver Island. But I just remembered one other ER that is very dear to my heart that is the Tashish. Because I actually fought for the whole Tashish – Kwoik valley and the ER is down in the estuary down at the mouth and we now have the whole valley and that was a major victory and very important and we got the Park around the ER and protected this incredible wildlife and fish habitat.
MF. Well Vicky it’s been a privilege to get some of this information from you very rapidly out here. I think the storm clouds are coming our way.
VH. We are going to have snow.
MF Thank you very much and any words other than that? You have been a fountain of information as always.
VH. Well I think my message is that we have something so precious here in BC. The ERs program is part of that, a critical component of that. Areas set up for representative ecosystems for scientific study and we need a lot more of them and we need a lot more protection of them and our protected areas system. And if we are really going to leave a legacy behind for future generations we have to do a whole lot more because we haven’t really protected the outstanding natural values and heritage of British Columbia and so there is a lot more work to do. I think it has to come from the public. The leadership is always from the public it is not from the government. So that is where we have to go and we have to raise awareness. The increasing movement of getting children out in nature and how important that is and I would say that it is important for adults and everyone to spend time in nature and to understand because it calms you soul and that you are part of something much bigger than yourself. And it is a critical one that we as older citizens it must have greater protection and understanding and if we are going to survive into the future especially with the threat of climate change. And that means protection of water, protection of our rivers, protection of our wetlands and protection of our endangered species and to not allow anymore to become endangered whether they are plants, birds, animals or fish all of that. This is who we are and how we must move forward. We have a responsibility and stewardship responsibility for at least the 94% of the crown land of BC and a responsibility to be accountable to the future generations and to leave the natural legacy intact for them.
MF Thank you very much.