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Arlene Boon, whose grandfather bought the family property along the Peace River outside of Fort St. John, and her husband Ken look over their property on January 16, 2013. (Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)
Arlene Boon, whose grandfather bought the family property along the Peace River outside of Fort St. John, and her husband Ken look over their property on January 16, 2013. (Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)

Site C dam protesters preparing to descend on Victoria Add to ...

When Ken Boon and his wife, Arlene, sat down to write to the Joint Review Panel examining BC Hydro’s proposal to build the Site C dam, they looked out over farmland that has been in their family for 70 years.

“We’re living in my wife’s grandfather’s home,” said Mr. Boon, when asked how deep his roots go in the Peace River Valley.

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In an effort to show the JRP how rich the land is that they farm, the couple counted up the wildlife they could see out their window the day they wrote their letter – Jan. 31.

Here’s what they saw: 102 elk, 49 mule deer, 13 whitetail deer, four coyotes and three moose.

“Yesterday we saw tracks from a pack of wolves on Cache Creek below our house, and we heard them howling a couple nights ago,” the couple wrote. “The coyotes mentioned above were taking a run at some mule deer, but the deer were resisting and running them off.”

The wildlife count sounds like something from a game ranch. But Mr. Boon says the numbers aren’t exaggerated.

“It’s almost hard to believe. But it’s true. And I hope the panel believed us … Almost every year we see that, in the winter and in the spring,” he said of how the hillsides are dotted with wildlife. The deer, elk and moose come to feed on grass. The wolves and coyotes follow.

He says the flats along the river valley not only draw in big game during winter, but in summer the land also produces the richest crops in the region.

“You can grow everything,” he said. “All the root vegetables; strawberries, raspberries, melons. You can grow cantaloupe, sweet corn. You get a sweet corn crop every year [on the flats] but if you go up on the next level, you only get sweet corn maybe every other year [because the soil isn’t as good].”

If Site C goes ahead, about 3,000 hectares of the most fertile, low-lying farmland will vanish under the reservoir. The more marginal, higher-elevation land will survive.

Mr. Boon said he’s seen the maps BC Hydro produced that show where the reservoir will flood. And the high-water mark will be just outside his farm house.

“Our land goes right down across the highway to the river flats,” he said. “And the reservoir would come right up to our buildings. We’d basically lose everything.”

Mr. Boon feels the JRP heard strong testimony from him and others about how valuable the farmland is in the valley. But he’s worried that the provincial government tilted the process by ordering that Site C not be reviewed by B.C.’s Agricultural Land Commission.

The ALC was asked for comment by the JRP, but essentially that was just a request for an outline of what an agricultural land review would have entailed, had one been done.

Mr. Boon is busy building a log house this winter, but he’ll be taking time off that job Monday to attend a rally on the lawn outside the B.C. legislature.

Organized by the Farmland Protection Coalition, the gathering is meant to send a message to the government just as the House resumes sitting.

“The message is that politics and the ALR should not mix,” said Mr. Boon. “Let the Commission do its job and the politicians should stay out of it.”

Mr. Boon and others around B.C. became concerned about the fate of the ALC last year, after The Globe and Mail reported that Agriculture Minister Pat Pimm was preparing to ask cabinet to “modernize” the ALC by putting it directly under his control, and stripping it of much of its power.

Community Minister Bill Bennett, who is heading a core review for the government, later said the ALC would be protected. But Mr. Boon – and those who will gather with him on the legislature lawns – aren’t so sure.

“I guess we really don’t know what they are trying to do to the agricultural land reserve – that’s the concern,” said Mr. Boon, who’s worried about losing his land and what that will mean to all the wild animals.

Follow on Twitter: @markhumeglobe

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