A forested area in Cariboo Heights. (Cariboo Heights Forest Preservation Society / Contributed)

Cariboo Heights is headed for environmental protection, but some are pushing for even more

Council and community volunteers want a closer look at forest areas with less legal protection.

By Curtis Seufert | June 3, 2022 |5:00 am

City discussions on the future of Cariboo Heights have made their next step, as council voted on Monday to direct city staff to review the updated development goals of the neighbourhood’s community plan. But both councillors and environmentally minded community members are taking a close look at the proposed changes.

The Cariboo Heights community plan currently designates a number of forested, and as-of-yet undeveloped, areas under a residential designation. Under the current community plan, the residential designation of these areas means they could be allowed to be developed, if there was an interest in doing so.

But after the city’s environmental review of these areas, a staff report suggested re-designating a large, forested and as-of-yet undeveloped area in Cariboo Heights from low-density multi-family residential to park and public use.

The report cites the “high ecological value” of the area, named Study Area A, which sits south of the Brunette River, and surrounds other forested land that already has park and public use designation in the current community plan.

Cariboo Heights

Cariboo Heights
Study Area A is being recommended for park designation via an update to the Cariboo Heights community plan, while study areas B and C are recommended to retain residential designation. A section of land above Study Area A is also being considered for park dedication via bylaw. (Contributed / City of Burnaby)

The report highlights the presence of old-growth forests in Study Area A, as well as watercourses that feed into the Brunette River and protected species like the Washington snowshoe hare and northern red-legged frog.

However, two other areas in the report were suggested to retain their residential designation, being deemed suitable for residential use, potentially at an even higher density level of development than currently allowed: Study Area B, slotted between Sapperton Avenue and Craig Avenue, is currently designated as single- and two-family residential, while Study Area C, which surrounds Buena Vista Avenue, southwest of Cariboo Road, has a low-density multi-family residential designation.

In the council meeting, it was made clear that any changes to the community plan wouldn’t affect any existing developments or residential lots within these areas.

But while there’s less concern about the impact development could have on Study Area C, Coun Alison Gu says a closer look at Study Area B is warranted to determine what it could mean for local wildlife and the Brunette River.

“I don’t want to destroy any forests ever,” says Gu, “[but] the [Cariboo Heights Forest Preservation] Society, who are constantly in the forest, monitoring the forest, they have a really good thumb on where is most important.”

“They told us … ‘We really want you to focus on Study Area B,’” says Gu.

Gu is concerned that some areas in the environmental review, compiled from studies conducted in the ’90s and early 2000s, and from city staff visits from 2017-2019, could be outdated.

For instance, one of the city’s environmental report’s reasons for suggesting the conservation of Study Area A was the presence of the Washington snowshoe hare, a protected species at risk, as designated by the province.

Gu says that in more recent years, volunteers for the Cariboo Heights Forest Preservation Society (CHFPS) and nearby residents have spotted this variety of protected hare within the bounds of Study Area B, near Craig Avenue.

“The fact that they weren’t spotted until 2020 [means] nobody knew that they were there,” says Gu. “Since then, very recently, teenage hares have been seen, so there’s definitely development going on that is new, and is something important to take into consideration.”

 

Cariboo Heights
A Washington snowshoe hare, a protected species at risk in British Columbia, spotted in Study Area B in May 2020. (Cariboo Heights Forest Preservation Society / Contributed)

The CHFPS confirmed that the majority of recent Washington snowshoe hare sightings in Burnaby have been within or very near the bounds of Study Area B.

In addition to other potential issues raised by both the CHFPS and Gu, such as a potential decrease in soil retention and Brunette River water quality if the area was developed, there’s also a concern that developing sections of the urban forest could impact some migratory birds’ ability to make their way north and breed.

“Migrating warblers, flycatchers, … and other neotropical songbirds will stop over in the urban forests in Metro Vancouver, such as the Cariboo Heights forest,” says Utta Gagel, co-president of the CHFPS. “The problem is that too much of this type of deciduous forest has been lost in Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley.”

“If these songbirds can’t rest and find food in suitable forest habitats, it decreases their chance of successfully migrating.”

Ed Kozak is the director of the planning and development department that led the report. He notes that there will be a mandatory community consultation process before any changes to this community plan are made.

And even before that process takes place, he says that council and committee meetings are the “exact right forum” for these kinds of concerns to be brought up.

“I’ve had some feedback on the report already that ‘it seems like you’re going to preserve [study areas] A, B, and C for housing.’ And I just want to make clear that that’s not necessarily the case for sure,” says Kozak. “We’re just putting that decision off to a later time so that we can consult with the community. We’re going to look at this from a conservation perspective first and foremost.”

Kozak says that, even if the initial report suggests that study areas B and C could be suitable for development, he expects that the community could feel differently about those areas retaining their residential designation.

“I think what we’re going to hear is that the community values those lands as protected conservation areas, all three,” says Kozak. “That’s just my impression from conversations I’ve had with people who live there. I can’t prejudice the process, but certainly that’s something that will weigh heavily in the recommendations staff make to committee and council.”

Council ultimately did pass the motion directing staff to review the suggested community plan updates, but the consultation and discussion process around the Cariboo Heights plan update is still in its early stages. Kozak hopes that staff are able to report back to council with final recommendations, factoring in community consultation, around this time next year, COVID-pending.

In the meantime, a motion put forth by Gu was also passed, directing city staff to look into an updated environmental report for both Study Area B and Study Area C.

Curtis Seufert

Curtis is a summer editorial intern with Burnaby Beacon.

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