In Support of the Pollinator Initiative on Bowen Island

I am writing to support the Pollinator Initiative in Crippen Park on Bowen Island. I am a member of the Board of Directors of the Bowen Island Foundation and our Board has expressed interest in funding this initiative.


I became concerned, however, when I began to see some opposition to this project, and claims from self-described local experts that the proposal was likely to produce negative environmental consequences and was to be situated in an inappropriate location. I must confess that I was somewhat skeptical of these claims, however, as many of those in opposition are Bowen Islanders who have traditionally been opposed to virtually all forms of change on our island.


But I do not have the expertise to be able to choose amongst competing claims and so I sought the advice of two of my faculty colleagues at Simon Fraser, both with significant expertise in this realm. I provided them with a copy of the proposal, and a link to our local Forum, where both proponents and opponents of the project have voiced their views.


Mark Winston is a Professor of Biology and one of North America’s leading experts on pollination. As SFU’s website notes, Winston’s work has appeared in numerous books, commentary columns for the Vancouver Sun, The New York Times, The Sciences, Orion magazine, and frequently on CBC radio and television and National Public Radio. His research, communication, and dialogue achievements have been recognized by many awards, including the Manning Award for Innovation, Sterling Prize in Support of Controversy, British Columbia Gold Medal in Science and Engineering, Academic of the Year, Eve Savory Award for Science Communication, Michael Smith Award for Science Promotion, a prestigious Killam Fellowship from the Canada Council, and election as a Fellow in the Royal Society of Canada. He currently is Academic Director of Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Dialogue, and a Professor of Biological Sciences.


Here is his verbatim response,


I’ve taken a look at the proposal and the comments. Note that I’ll be reading/signing my new book “Bee Time: Lessons From the Hive”( on Bowen Wednesday evening 4 February, at the Rustique Bistro. They are still working out the details, but I imagine it will be advertised soon, and may be of interest to those involved with the proposal (and its opponents).


As to the proposal: The issue of native or not, both for bees and habitat, recurs every time a pollinator project is proposed. As I read the proposal, the objective was not to return a tiny portion of Bowen to its original habitat, but rather to promote understanding of the importance of pollination, awareness of wild bees (some of which are native), serve as a resource and inspiration for those interested in local food production, and to some extent increase awareness of what is native and what has been modified. Given the tiny area involved, I don’t think the project will have much impact in restoring Bowen to some earlier form (and there will always be arguments about how far back does “native” become operative).


With that in mind, and with respect to the concerns of a few, I think this is an excellent proposal that would add an important element to the park and provide many useful messages and experiences to visitors. I would support proceeding as planned, and perhaps rather than rejecting the opposition points use the project as a way to highlight this issue of what is native and is not as a component.


In terms of details as to what to plant, Elizabeth Elle from SFU Biological Sciences is more of a wild bee expert than I (internationally recognized, actually), and has done quite a bit of local work on wild bees. She would be an excellent person to consult about what to plant and how to promote nesting sites for wild bees. She’s also quite conversant in the issue of wild vs. native.


Hope that helps. Let me know if you need any further feedback.”


(I might add that Professor Elizabeth Elle has already given her support for this initiative).


Professor Gail Anderson received a B.Sc. in Zoology from Manchester University and a M.Sc. and Ph.D. in Pest Management from Simon Fraser University. Her major research interests are in insect and other arthropod-borne diseases in man and animals, in particular the pest management aspects, and in forensic entomology, the use of insects in death investigation. She has gained international recognition for her pioneering work in the field of medico-legal entomology. She actively handles forensic death cases, particularly homicide cases, for the B.C. Coroner’s Service, the RCMP, and city police, using insects to determine elapsed time since death, information frequently vital to the successful resolution of murder cases. Dr. Anderson is the only full-time forensic entomologist in Canada. Her work has been featured on several television programs, including “Journeys – Grave Testimony” first shown on the Discovery Channel, “Forbidden Places – Silent Witness” also first shown on the Discovery Channel, and “The Nature of Things – Postmortem,” as well as several other programs. She was awarded the Simon Fraser University Alumni Association Outstanding Alumni Award for Academic Achievement in 1995.


Her verbatim response follows,


“Mark would be the one to know – he is the pollinator expert. To me it seems a no brainer – increasing native pollinators is always a great idea – we are all being encouraged to do this. If the proposal was to release a bunch of non-natives it would be very different but this seems to just be a general improvement of an area and designed to attract and educate people and kids. As is mentioned repeatedly, this is hardly an old growth area – it was a farm and is now an abandoned farm so they wish to improve it and improve the park generally which sounds as though it could be a lovely area but has a very low ranking.


I get the impression that there are a few people who feel very passionately about ‘no change’ which is sometimes good, but in this case, the area has already been ‘changed’ repeatedly and this seems an attempt to improve it and actually demonstrate the agricultural use the land was put to in the past as well as increase the general health of the areas by simply encouraging native pollinators and hence wildlflowers, berries etc, which will improve bird sites and animal foraging and generally make the place healthier.”


In sum, the best available evidence from those with relevant expertise suggests that this is a wonderful initiative and one that should be strongly supported by Metro Vancouver. I very much appreciate the responses of my colleagues at Simon Fraser University and the opportunity to comment on this issue.

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