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Rithet's Bog LogoMarried to the Bog
– Environmental award winner is devoted to a cherished Saanich wetland

Saanich News – Wednesday, July 9, 2003 – Vern Faulkner

A close friend of Sharon Hartwell’s once joked that she spent so much time with Rithet’s Bog she might as well be married to it.

Her friend isn’t the only person to recognize Hartwell’s devotion to one of Saanich’s most fragile and unique ecosystems. Hartwell received the 2003 Saanich Environmental Biodiversity Award for her ongoing efforts to conserve the biodiversity of the bog.

For years the tireless volunteer has spent almost every weekend during the fall and winter diligently pulling broom and blackberry from the bog, invasive plant species that threaten to overwhelm the wetland. She has carried out monthly butterfly counts at the bog and even managed to find two species that were not previously known to the wetland. Hartwell has recruited college and university students and convinced community and government groups to help in the crusade to return the bog to its vitality before development began to dominate the landscape around it.

“I felt honoured to get the award, especially since I was nominated by others involved in this field of work,” Hartwell told the News. She says that the award will always be a symbol of the meaningfulness of her work.

And work it truly has been. In fact, Hartwell’s devotion to the bog is unparalleled.

“I spent hours there every week,” says Hartwell, a trained biologist who joined the Rithet’s Bog Conservation Society in 1997 and became its president in 2000. “It’s like a second job.”

Hartwell is not the first to crusade on behalf of the bog. Calls to protect the bog began three decades ago, but it didn’t officially become a Saanich park until 1994.

Since then, numerous discoveries of rare plants and animals have underscored the value of the wetland. Last year, a weir was reconstructed to maintain consistent water levels in the bog.

It’s easy to understand why her friend considered Hartwell’s relationship to the bog akin to a marriage.

She is obviously enamored with the bog and delights in talking about the object of her affection.” It’s funny, because I lost my wedding ring in there when I was pulling some weeds. It fell off,” laughs Hartwell, who effortlessly and adeptly wades into any bog-related topic in an instant. She describes the domestic rabbit population that once threatened to overrun the bog before launching into an explanation about why there aren’t as many rabbits around the wet space these days as there used to be.

“People were dumping the rabbits off because they thought it was nice and green and that they’d do well,” she reflects.

The increased water levels combined with low food supply and the predatory habits of a pair of red-tailed hawks, great horned owls and Cooper’s hawks have culled the rabbit population to a point it isn’t a problem anymore.

Some university students who are currently studying sparrows at the bog for a long-term research project they are completing have discovered that domestic cats are proving to be a problem. “The interesting thing they’re finding there is that cats – feral cats and domestic cats that people leave to roam in the bog – are predators,” says Hartwell.

The nearby Foxborough Hills complex no longer sprays pesticides, she notes. “This is their back yard. They’re interested and supportive.

In fact, she feels most of the immediate neighbours have a good understanding of the ecosystem and the impacts of pesticides and fertilizers on the bog.

Not to say that Hartwell doesn’t harbour some lingering concerns.

“There’s a huge green stripe in Saanich. People are very concerned about the environment, but there’s also a great urge for development and the tax base it brings” she says.

There’s still some work to do, she admits, there always is. The centre of the bog contains some rare examples of sphagnum moss and rare plants – their ecosystem all but ravaged after decades of low water levels.

It’s work that Hartwell will set herself to with an unbridled passion.

“I’ve had more satisfaction on this than any of the jobs I’ve had.” She confides.

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