Geography 12 Online

with Mr. Mleziva

Burns Bog

Figure 1: Location of Burns Bog. The Bog once covered 4000 hectares or 10 000 acres (original size) - ten times the size of Stanley Park. Even though it has been whittled down to approximately 2800 hectares or 7000 acres, it is still the largest raised peat bog on the Pacific coast of North America and is described "as a northern island in a southern clime" (Dr. Richard Hebda - Royal BC Museum) with many Arctic plant species.

Figure 2: Formation of Burns Bog over the past 7000 years.

Figure 3: Burns Bog Land Ownership (prior to 2004)

Note: Figures 4 through 8, 12, 13, 15, 17 through 21, and 24 are pictures that were taken in the "Vancouver Land" portion of the Bog just north of the the Landfill (see Figure 3) while Figures 9, 10, 11 14, and 22 were taken in the Delta Nature Reserve in the northwest portion of the Bog.

Figure 4: A drainage ditch separating the City of Vancouver Landfill and the Bog to the north. Studies have found toxins and heavy metals leaching out of the landfill into this portion of the drainage ditch.

Figure 5: On the fringes of the bog where the soil contains more nutrients and is less acidic, larger tree species such as cedar, spruce, and fir dominate.

Figure 6: Heading into the Bog, small lodgepole pines dominate in the acidic, nutrient poor conditions. These pines, approximately 1.5 to 3.5 m in height, are about 70 to 100 years old.

Figure 7: Close up of a lodgepole pine.

Figure 8: Sphagnum moss in a hummock formation. Sphagnum moss releases hydrogen protons which help to keep the Bog acidic. This moss can absorb up to 20 times its weight in water. Due to this absorbency, it was used in diapers by First Nations peoples. The moss is also useful as a natural antiseptic.

Figure 9: In abundance throughout the bog - labrador tea. Used by First Nations peoples as a medicine for sore throats and colds. Labrador tea is fuzzy and orange in colour on the underside of its leaves. Rubbing the leaves on one's skin can also act as a mosquito repellent. Do not confuse labrador tea with bog laurel and rosemary which look similar but are poisonous! Check for the orange fuzz on the underside for labrador tea.

At the top of the photo is bracken fern.

Figure 10: There are numerous edible berries in Burns Bog including salel.

Figure 11: An edible species of blueberry.

Figure 12: A rare find in a bog so far south - reindeer lichen (white).

Figure 13: Cotton grass (a sedge) amongst the moss and berry plants.

Figure 14: Stink cabbage in the Delta Nature Reserve in the Northwest portion of the Bog (see Figure 3).

Fugue 15: Sundew (in the middle of the photo - red) surrounded by reindeer lichen.

Figure 16: Sundew close up. Sticky droplets on the sundew are designed to capture insects.

Figure 17: A pond has been formed in a peat mining pit left behind in the 1940s. There are several of these ponds in the Bog (see Figure 3). Their formation has helped to diversify the Bog fauna as thousands of migratory birds use the area. The Bog is home to over 150 bird species including the Greater Sandhill Crane, Bald Eagles, and the Trumpeter Swan.

Figure 18: The sphagnum moss is slowly reclaiming the area at the edges of the ponds. Envision this as a microcosm of the original formation of the Bog approximately three to four thousand years ago (see Figure 2).

Figure 19: A stick covers a dipwell in the peat. The level of the water table is regularly monitored by members of the Burns Bog Conservation Society using these dipwells. The unique species of plants in the Bog are vulnerable to changes in the water table.

Figure 20: This area (approx. 40 hectares or 100 acres) of the Bog was cleared in 1998 for cranberry farming but public opposition helped to put a halt to the operation.

Figure 21: A commercial blueberry field in operation on the fringe of the Bog. Use of fertilizers and pesticides alters the nutrient content of the soil and consequently affects plant species in the Bog.

Figure 22: An abandoned, stolen caterpillar slowly sinks into the bog in the Delta Nature Reserve. Efforts failed to try and remove it due to the suctional power of the peat. Its presence is a warning to individuals to watch where you step especially in the central portion of the bog.

Figure 23: The acidic nature of bogs has a preserving / pickling effect. Fortunately, this body is not from Burns Bog but rather from a Danish bog. The man died by hanging over 2000 years ago and his body was laid in a bog grave. In Burns Bog's case, there may be some pickled cows, as the original owner, Mr. Burns, was a cow farmer.

Figure 24: Bear dung? Not far away there appeared to be bear tracks. Burns Bog is indeed home to a variety of wildlife including bears, coyotes, deer, and beavers.

Key Benefits of a Wetland such as Burns Bog

  • habitat for unique plant species and animals
  • lungs of the Lower Mainland - filters air pollution and releases oxygen
  • carbon and methane sink
  • soaks up potential flood waters
  • filters water and releases nutrients for fish
  • educational tool

The Future of the Bog

Figure 25: Increased public ownership of land in Burns Bog (2004)

Several development proposals have been put forward for the Bog including, in 1988, a "Bog City" with port facilities and housing for thousands of people. Later, there was a proposal to relocate the Pacific National Exhibition there. Considerable public opposition forced governments to back away from approving such destruction of the Bog. Moreover, that public pressure also persuaded the provincial government to appoint an Ecosystem Review of the Bog to determine its future use.

After the completion of the Ecosystem Review in 2000, the municipal, GVRD, provincial and federal governments pursued the purchase of 2000 hectares (5000 acres) of the Bog from private owners for conservation purposes. At the time, only approximately 60 hectares or 148 acres was protected in the Delta Nature reserve. However, the stumbling block to completing the deal was the purchase price. Governments initially offered $60 million dollars but the owners argued that the land had a development potential of at least $300 million. Hence, negotiations continued.

Finally, in 2004 a purchase price of $73 million for 2018 hectares or 5045 acres of the Bog was agreed upon between the land owners (Western Delta Lands Inc.) and the four levels of government including $5.3 million put forward by the municipality of Delta. Delta officials would like to see the Bog designated an ecological reserve with little public access.

There are some cautionary notes in terms of the future protection of the Bog. For example, 182 hectares or 455 acres still remains in private hands, owned by MSW Dallas, a Toronto-and Texas-based development company. Moreover, how much will the Greater Vancouver landfill be expanded in the future and what impact will that have on the Bog? Recently, the Landfill has expanded considerably in height to avoid further encroachment into the Bog but will this be sustainable with continued population growth and waste generation in the Lower Mainland. Also the construction of the South Fraser Perimeter Road could have a significant impact on the health of the Bog.

September 2021 Update:
Over 300 hectares of land is being added to the Burns Bog Conservation Area.

On Tuesday morning (Sept. 22), the City of Delta announced five land parcels totalling 321 hectares (793 acres) were being added to the conservation area after many years of effort and collaboration between several key players, led by the City of Delta and Metro Vancouver, with input and co-operation from both the Government of Canada and the Province of British Columbia.

“The addition of these lands to the Burns Bog Ecological Conservancy Area is another positive step towards Delta’s commitment to restore and preserve Burns Bog for future generations. The bog plays an integral role in our ecosystem and environment and is treasured by residents of not only our community, but the entire region,” Mayor George Harvie said in a press release.
Delta, Metro Vancouver add more than 300 hectares to Burns Bog Conservation Area – Aldergrove Star

Figure 26: Aerial map of the Burns Bog Ecological Conservancy Area showing the additional 321 hectares (shaded red) added to the protected area. (City of Delta photo)

Information Sources

Corporation of Delta. Delta Report. "Bog Purchased: Delta instrumental in saving Burns

Bog." Spring 2004: 1.

Gulyas, Maureen. "Burns Bog acquisition is a reality."

The Delta Optimist 27 March 2004: 3.

Simpson, Scott. "Burns Bog purchase not certain."

The Vancouver Sun 3 Apr. 2001: B4.

Smith, James. “Delta, Metro Vancouver add more than 300

            Hectares to Burns Bog Conservation Area.” Aldergrov

            Star 23 Sept. 2020.

Image Sources

Figure 1: Beautiful British Columbia magazine (Winter 1995) p. 44.

Fig. 2 & 3: Wilderness Committee Educational Report Vol. 18, No. 3 - Spring 1999.

Figure 16: Beautiful British Columbia magazine (Winter 1995) p. 38.

Figure 23: Discover magazine(August 1997) p. 62.

Figure 25: Corporation of Delta. Delta Report. "Bog Purchased: Delta instrumental in saving Burns Bog." Spring 2004: 1.

Figure 26: 
Smith, James. “Delta, Metro Vancouver add more than 300

            Hectares to Burns Bog Conservation Area.” Aldergrove

            Star 23 Sept. 2020.

All other Figures are photographs taken by P. Mleziva on July 21 and July 27, 2001.

Other Information Links

Burns Bog Conservation Society

David Blevins Nature Photography

Waite Air Photos Inc.

Field Trip Opportunities

Contact the Burns Bog Conservation Society for guided tour information.

Phone: 604-572-0373 or 1-888-850-6264

Fax: 604-572-0373

Video resources

Burns Bog: A Road Runs Through It available through the National Film Board of Canada ($39.95)

Phone: 1-800-267-7710 Fax: 1-514-283-7564

Wetlands / Rivers and Streams Bill Nye Series available through Magic Lanterns Communications Ltd. ($49)

Phone: 1-800-263-1818