What’s in a name?

ESTUARY: | It’s time to remove confusion over Somass Estuary’s proper name.

The Somass Estuary is a popular place for birders and hikers alike. If only people could decide on a name.

The subject of this month’s column is one of my pet peeves.

When I first came to Port Alberni, 35 years ago, I quickly found the JV Clyne Bird Sanctuary at the mouth of the Somass River and west of town. As a birder, I quickly realized what a wonderful place it is. And I have been out there hundreds of times since then.

At first, there was a lovely sign with two beautifully drawn Trumpeter Swans on it, announcing that you have reached the entrance to the sanctuary. It was located at the gate to the city sewage lagoon and the then mill effluent lagoon. That was back when Macmillan Bloedel was the major employer and landowner in the Alberni Valley.

The area was established by the company on their own property to honour JV Clyne, the chairman of the company after its founder HR McMillan, to protect the then endangered Trumpeter Swans. The province cooperated by establishing a “no hunting” zone south of the pipeline that runs across the Somass estuary. Presumably it was also for the safety of those who needed to work there from time to time.

But the area was never established as a federally designated bird sanctuary under the Migratory Birds Convention Act. So the company could quietly abandon the sanctuary without any paperwork or administrative procedures and, in fact, proposed an expansion of the mill effluent lagoon into the former sanctuary in 1990. It did not succeed.

Over the years the sign was neglected and fell into disrepair until it was vandalized and then removed. For many years this property had no official designation until the Alberni Valley Enhancement Association started to get the ball rolling about managing the area as a natural area and protecting it officially from further industrial impacts. That was in the late 1990s.

Ducks Unlimited became involved, as well as the city, the regional district, the harbour authority, and MacMillan Bloedel (later Weyerhaeuser). After long and complex negotiations a deal was struck, the land purchased. Since then the property has been in a funny no-man’s land without an official name. It is variously called the Somass Estuary Management Plan, or just the Somass Estuary, or the Ducks Unlimited property.

A management plan for the property, and the whole area around it, was created in 2004 and endorsed by all the parties. It can be found on the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District website.

Because of the natural beauty of the area, fact that it is open to the public and it attracts a lot of wildlife and birds, it has become popular with residents seeking an open sunny area for a stroll. And for many years it has been promoted by the chamber of commerce, the regional district and the annual Alberni Valley Visitor Guide. And so it should be: it’s a fabulous place.

But the promotional effort handcuffs itself for several reasons. First, people keep calling the area the JV Clyne Bird Sanctuary. No signs exist that will guide a person to the property or to announce arrival at it. If you want to call it something, call it the Somass Estuary. At least there are two signs for that; one at Victoria Quay and one at the entrance to the property.

Second there are no signs that point the way to the property. And third, at the other two unofficial entrances there are signs saying no trespassing, and do not park in front of the gate.

For many years I have been speaking out about this. I published a column about it back in 2008 in another publication yet the JV Clyne Bird Sanctuary still popped up in this year’s Visitors’ Guide. And JV Clyne is still all over the Internet.

It is time to either go with the flow and re-establish the old name or consistently apply the albeit duller name, the Somass Estuary.

 

Editor’s note:  Sandy McRuer sits on the Somass Estuary Management Committee.

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