A compliance order issued to the town of Qualicum Beach ordering them to stop work along Hoylake Road West has now been lifted, according to officials from the Enforcement Branch of Environment Canada.
The order was issued on April 2, ordering the town to stop all work along part of the School Connector Route due to a heron colony being discovered where the work was taking place; disrupting them is against the law.
After numerous trees were first cut down for the trail, some residents expressed concern that the move could have potentially damaging effects on the heron population that nests there. Cutting back of trees began after the initial walkthrough was postponed due to snowfall. This was after council had unanimously passed a motion saying they would do a walkthrough in early 2020 before cutting back any vegetation.
The compliance order, presented to the NEWS, went over the timeline of construction and recommendations made by various biologists and other experts. On March 10, 2020, Conservation Officer Daniel Eichstadter observed that there was a flagged 60-metre zone around the nests, but that work was taking place around 20 metres from the buffer zone. It confirms that the rookery was discovered in January 2020 after clearing trees. It says on March 23, Eichstadter saw two workers “using machinery to grade the path up to the edge of the 60-metre buffer zone” and then met with Mayor Brian Wiese that day to say that “there is to be no construction within the 200-metre buffer zone.”
The order then went on to say, “THAT the construction of a trail, located near Hoylake Rd west and Canyon Crescent, Qualicum Beach, B.C., or persons under their direction or employ, during nesting season of the Great Blue Heron migratory bird, did cause disturbance of the nest of a migratory bird… and that these provisions continued to be contravened at the time the oral direction to stop work was issued by Conservation Officer Eichstadter on March 23, 2020.”
Colby Brose, regional director for the Pacific and Yukon region of Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Wildlife Enforcement Directorate, said their officer became involved and spoke with concerned members of the public as well as the town.
“We were involved because members of the public were concerned about the herons that were in the area, they noticed the rookery,” he said. “Took a look at the situation and basically issued a compliance order just to make sure that the herons were protected.”
Brose said their officer then communicated back and forth with the town and confirmed they complied since the order was put forward. In terms of why an order like this was put forward, he said it seemed like the safest bet to protect the wildlife and ensure the town understood what was permitted.
“It’s certainly easier for everyone if there’s something enforced that requires people to do something,” he said.
“In other situations, a compliance order might not be issued, but in this case, just looking at the totality of the circumstances and in talking with the town, that’s what the officer decided to do.”
Brose said since then the herons have fledged and the order was then amended and removed.
“We worked with the town, you know, they were certainly very co-operative with us and they co-operated with the compliance order that we issued,” he said. “I just want to put out that the town did a lot of things right here, they notified the province, they brought in a biologist. This was a rookery that was previously unknown, so this is good news. We found a new rookery for herons and we ended up protecting it, so I think there’s a lot to celebrate here.”
Bob Weir, director of engineering for the town, said the town asked for something to be sent in writing telling them that they needed to stop construction.
“I think the thing we’re upset about is there was a commonsense solution and it was not considered. Just let us finish the half of work we have to do in the couple hours that the birds are gone during the day,” he said. “And then the expenditures we had would have been covered by the grant.”
Mayor Brian Wiese said the important thing in his eyes is that no one was breaking the law and that they followed the order once it was put forward.
“We actually asked for that because we needed clarity on what the order was, we had verbal stuff from [the province,]” he said. “We were getting all kinds of mixed information. It’s all a learning curve and we learn and we ask the right people for the right information.”
Brose reminds the public that herons are sensitive to sound and that he encourages reports of things like nests by calling 1-888-569-5656 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.