Georgia Straight, August 4, 2010 – Future of Stanley Park’s Beaver Lake is murky

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The Stanley Park Ecology Society’s Robyn Worcester (with volunteer David Curror) says Beaver Lake is a vital habitat for aquatic wildlife. (Photo: MARK WHITE)

 

Stanley Park’s Beaver Lake is disappearing, and it could be gone within the decade. 

That’s why Vancouver park board commissioner Loretta Woodcock wants to hold public discussions on the future of one of the city’s last remaining wetlands, as the lake is steadily being taken over by plants.

She intends to get the ball rolling on Saturday (August 7) when she and other park advocates will walk around Beaver Lake starting at 10:30 a.m. The choices appear simple enough: preserve this aquatic ecosystem or allow the forest to take over.

The Coalition of Progressive Electors park commissioner doesn’t have an answer at this point herself. “We want to ask the question because staff is coming back to us in the fall with a recommendation about Beaver Lake,” Woodcock told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “I want to hear what the public says.”

This past spring, the nonprofit Stanley Park Ecology Society released a detailed report on the health of the 400-hectare park that is considered the jewel of the city.

The 229-page State of the Park Report for the Ecological Integrity of Stanley Park has a five-page section devoted to Beaver Lake, describing it as the “largest watershed in the Park, draining an area of approximately 112 ha [hectares] of mainly conifer forest and a total stream channel length including tributaries of 1.9 km”.

But the lake is shrinking. From an area of 6.7 hectares in 1938, the wetland stood at 3.9 hectares in 1997.

The report cited a study done in 1984 that “estimated that the lake would fill in by the year 2020”.

Robyn Worcester has spent a considerable amount of time conducting wildlife surveys at the lake. The conservation programs manager for the Stanley Park Ecology Society is familiar with the many winged species that depend on it, from ducks, geese, herons, and eagles to small birds like sparrows.

According to Worcester, the lake also hosts several types of aquatic animals, including frogs, salamanders, turtles, and sticklebacks. She added that coho salmon are also present in the streams fed by the lake.

“Wetlands are important for a variety of reasons,” Worcester told the Straight in a phone interview. “One of the main reasons is that they’re an incredibly important habitat for wildlife.”

If the lake disappears, so will these animals, Worcester noted. “I think it’s really important that we find a way to keep Beaver Lake around,” she said. “I don’t have an answer how to do it yet.”

According to the report prepared by Worcester’s group, Beaver Lake was described in the 1860s as “the Pond”. It gained its current name when beavers came in 1907. Beavers had been gone from the lake for about 60 years until one arrived in 2008.

Over the years, several alterations have been made to the environment of Stanley Park. But according to Worcester, one major development that reduced the natural water supply of the lake was the completion in 1938 of the Stanley Park Causeway, which bisected the park. Water lilies were introduced to the lake that same year, and now cover most of its surface.

As a UBC student, André Zimmermann studied the hydrology of Beaver Lake. Now a geomorphologist who looks at how landscapes change, Zimmermann told the Straight by phone that one way to preserve the lake would be to raise its water level. This could be achieved by dredging in order to remove sediment from the bottom.

The Stanley Park Ecology Society report indicates that a similar recommendation was made during the 1980s but that this hasn’t been implemented.

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