Bioblitz underway this week in Peace River Valley

Peace River

Thirty scientists from across Canada are descending upon the region this week to conduct a bioblitz of the Peace River Valley.

The blitz — coordinated between scientists with the Royal B.C. Museum, the Biological Survey of Canada, and the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative — began today and is taking place along portions of the river that would be flooded by the Site C dam.

David Langor, an Ottawa-based scientist with the Biological Survey of Canada, said the exercise is non-political, but one that hopes to collect data to shed light on a region of B.C. and Canada that still remains largely unstudied.

“This is an area that’s actually fairly poorly known biologically in British Columbia,” said Langor in an interview Monday morning.

“Areas that are poorly understood have the potential for great biological excitement.”

Provincial and federal scientists will be scouring both private and Crown lands along the river, collecting plant, insect, bird, fish and mammal samples, said Langor. A pair of scientists from Tumbler Ridge will also join the efforts this week to collect fossil samples, he said.

Langor said there are a number of plant and insect species along the river that are quite rare due to the geological history of the stretch of the river that’s proposed to be flooded.

Langor said the samples being collected will add to existing data on Canada’s biological diversity — what’s here, where it’s distributed, how common and localized it is — which will better inform conversations around land use planning and decision making.

“We hope to cover as much of it as possible. We’re barely scratching the surface,” said Langor.

“What we hope to encourage here… is to sort of kick start a process that will continue in the future.”

It’s the 11th blitz conducted by the Biological Survey of Canada over the last 15 years, said Langor, and has quickly become the best-attended blitz. Scientists from Winnipeg, Alberta, and Victoria are taking part.

“The response was just enormous,” said Langor.

“The location here attracted a lot of people from B.C. who are aware of the biological uniqueness of this area, the potential that it could be impacted in the future, and the need to get a handle on the biological diversity here as soon as possible.”

Tim Burkhart, Peace River Break Coordinator with the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, said scientists will be coming in and out of the region this week and next, with some scientists extending their field research to the Pink Mountain and Moberly Lake areas.

Burkhart said the intention of the blitz isn’t to bolster a case against construction of Site C.

“The scientists are not here with any agenda,” he said.

“The idea is that they are going to collect the data, and that data will be made available.”

Burkhart said the blitz is coinciding with a public release later this week, where the University of Victoria will be digitally publishing field notes from Ian McTaggart-Cowan, who conducted a similar blitz of bird and animal species in the Peace River Valley in 1938.