Burns Bog and Its Importance to Environmentalists

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Located near the mouth of the Fraser River in lower British Columbia, it is the largest raised bog on the west coast of North America and is one of the largest in the world. It contributes to global biodiversity because of its storage of greenhouse gases, its importance as a nature reserve, and as a wilderness area. In the early days, the First Nations People set up temporary villages in the bog during the summer months coinciding with the salmon runs. They hunted and gathered food and used many of the unique plants in the bog for many of their day-to-day requirements.

These plants were used for medicinal purposes such as removing corns and warts; for the treatment of skin ailments and as a medicinal drink; for ailments such as sore throats and colds, and for making tea. Many of the berries found in the bog were either eaten fresh or were dried into cakes. They were an important staple of both their summer and their winter diets. Many of the forty species of peat moss were used for their absorbent qualities as feminine hygiene products, diapers and bedding.

Burns Bog is home to more than 150 species of birds, insects, butterflies and a rare dragonfly population. Black bear, blacktail deer, red fox, bobcat, coyote, beaver, muskrat, snowshoe hare and porcupine also inhabit the bog. It is a habitat for many threatened and endangered species such as various Heron, Falcon, Trumpeter Swans, Caspian Tern, Barn Owl and the Greater Sandhill Crane whose numbers are down to between 9 – 11 per year, at last count. In First Nations mythology, it is said that the Sandhill Crane “darkened the skies” with its large numbers during their annual arrival to the Lower Mainland each spring. The bog is also inhabited by 22 species of raptors, 10 species of amphibians, 6 species of reptiles, 48 species of small mammals and several species of larger mammals. To the present time, Burns Bog continues to be an important part of First Nations mythology and also in terms of cultural, traditional and current uses.

As well as the diverse and rare wildlife in the bog, there are many plants that are remnants left following the retreat of ice during the last ice age. Several shrub species found in the bog are normally found much further north. Also unique is a rare moss, the ‘sphagnum fuscium’.

During World War II Burns Bog was controlled by the United States Army with the plan of using the peat moss to refine magnesium to be used for artillery shells although it never was used for this purpose. Between the 1930’s and 1984, a thriving business was conducted in the harvest of peat moss. Unfortunately, this business threatened the many beautiful and rare plants within the bog.

Over the years Burns Bog has been threatened with many development proposals such as a deep-sea port, a housing development for 100,000 people, a thorough-bred race track and an amusement park. The outside edges have already been disturbed with a landfill site, drainage ditches and blueberry farms. The damaged portion, due to its slow growth could take 50 – 100 years to renew itself.

As well as farming and other development damaging the bog, non-native plants such as scotch broom and blackberry bushes are becoming intrusive on this area. Visitors walking on other than designated trails also impact the bog.

Burns Bog’s history has been diverse and the opinions concerning its future are many. Its a future that at many times has been uncertain. Many organizations, such as The Burns Bog Conservation Society, as well as private citizens, are bitterly opposed to development of the bog.

The Burns Bog Conservation Society was officially established in 1988. It has focused its efforts on protecting the bog, fighting further development and attempting to preserve the ecological integrity and viability of the bog.

The bog has international importance and is known world-wide by environmentalists. It traps greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methan and if released, would be a huge contributor to global warming. Many feel, therefore, it is important to keep the bog intact to assist in slowing the acceleration of global warming. Bogs are also important for filtering the air and water, releasing oxygen and for releasing nutrients into the river for the fish.

It is each of our responsibility to protect the bog and other areas like it to ensure that there is a continued habitat for the many endangered species and animals that have found refuge in the bog. Civilization should not be allowed to intrude on an area that offers so much to our community. In March of 2004, the Government of British Columbia purchased 5,000 acres of Burns Bog. But the need to protect this unique bog is far from over.

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