Mowing alongside the causeway road at Scout Island has been suspended while city council considers a request from the Williams Lake Field Naturalists to leave the tall grasses in the riparian area alone.
Last week after Mayor Walt Cobb was at Scout Island testing a new beach sweeper, he directed public works to mow the causeway because it was “overgrown and unsightly.”
The move took the Field Naturalists by surprise because the area has never been mowed, except when BC Hydro dug up the area to put electric and telephone lines underground.
After Field Naturalists president Fred McMechan contacted the City to protest the mowing, it was stopped.
Then at Tuesday’s regular council meeting, Scout Island Nature Centre environmental educator Sue Hemphill appeared on behalf of the Field Naturalists and requested the city avoid any future mowing of the causeway and confirm its support for conserving habitats on the causeway by allowing natural vegetation to continue its development.
The riparian habitat on both sides of the causeway road to the marsh and the lake are uniquely important to wildlife areas, Hemphill told council.
“They provide nesting and feed habitat for songbirds and ducks. Turtles and muskrats cross there frequently,” she said, noting deer and beavers frequent the area as well. “Does taking two metres of habitat off each side really have an effect? It does. The vegetation along the road edge provides critical buffer of taller vegetation separating the road from the remainder of the riparian habitat.”
Cobb told the Tribune last Friday he sent an e-mail to council members and received a majority consensus to ask city crews to mow the causeway while they were already out mowing boulevards around the city in preparation for welcoming guests to the city for Stampede and the summer tourist season.
Mowing the sides of the causeway also needed to be done in preparation for city crews who will be working there to repair potholes that have developed along the roadway, Cobb said, noting the causeway, boat launch, public beach and picnic areas are the city’s responsibility.
Cobb told Hemphill while council appreciates the work the nature centre has done over the years and understands the issue, there are some differences of opinion about Scout Island.
“Some feel we need a cleaner and more aesthetic entrance to the beach area. It’s also used by a number of people and that was a decision that was made,” Cobb said of the mowing.
Hemphill encouraged city council to keep the communication with the Field Naturalists open and to talk before any action is taken.
“We can find solutions for your concerns and our concerns by working together,” she said. “Maybe we can talk about other solutions rather than mowing — like improving the parking areas. I think if you came down right now and look at the mowing you will see it doesn’t look aesthetic.”
Coun. Sue Zacharias told Hemphill she would have rather had a discussion before the decision to mow was made.
“I don’t agree with the mowing,” she said, adding she was sorry it had happened.
Coun. Jason Ryll told Hemphill he appreciated the work done to ensure there is a wildlife preserve, but he asked if the causeway was under the jurisdiction of the Field Naturalists to maintain?
When Hemphill tried to answer him that the causeway was the City’s responsibility, he cut her off.
“I am wondering if the Field Naturalists have an appetite to meet with the City to come up with a long-term vision for the maintenance, development and vision of what Scout Island can be for the entire community.” Ryll asked.
Hemphill told Ryll the vision the Field Naturalists have been following for 38 years is one set by the Nature Trust of BC — the owner of the land at Scout Island.
“The city owns the causeway and the property the wells are on and the rest is owned by the Nature Trust,” she said.
Dozens of residents attended the meeting to support Hemphill, but after council passed the motion agreeing to no mowing until council considers the Field Naturalists’ request at its next committee of the whole meeting on July 12, four people standing at the back of the room told council the causeway area should be mowed.
“It’s the town’s road, you should mow it,” one of them called out, as council moved on to the next item on the agenda.