While happy that the City of Campbell River has consideration for wildlife in its OCP, a fish and wildlife biologist says there is more that could be done.
Warren Warttig, a biologist and president of the Mountainaire Avian Rescue Society (MARS) in Merville. He wrote a letter of concern to the city about a tree that was home to a pair of eagles along the waterfront. The tree is near 201 Island Highway where according to his letter a “new active eagle nest … was not protected because it had not been registered through and OCP process.”
“Someone was pruning a tree… and the eagles were being very vocal and showing a lot of signs of stress, but they continued to prune the tree,” Warttig explained.
Bylaws function by interpreting higher laws like the BC Wildlife Act and federal Migratory Bird Conventions Act at a local level.
“The city is bound to follow that, so what they do is set up their bylaws to try and follow that,” he said.
“A lot of … conservation officers don’t quite understand that relationship,” he added. “When they were notified by this group that was concerned about the eagle nest, they said it was the city’s responsibility. That’s only partially correct. Conservation officers actually work at a higher level of law than what the city does. They should be knocking on the city’s door and saying ‘you guys have an ineffective bylaw system here.'”
“I don’t want to come down too hard on Campbell River, because this is the first time I’ve seen it slip through the cracks,” Warttig added.
The Mirror recently spoke to the City of Campbell River’s environmental specialist Terri Martin, who explained the laws when concerning bald eagle nesting trees. Trees used for nesting are protected with a development permit area, which requires a 60-metre buffer zone. Those trees are added to a list when identified, but that process involves inspection as well as an OCP amendment. The city is moving forward with changing the process to where the trees can be added without amending the OCP, but that change has not been finalized yet.
“We can have some flexibility, there has to be a really strong biological rationale in order to change that,” said Martin about the buffer. “It has to be good for the eagles.”
Both agreed there was more that could be done to protect the eagles, which tend to live in the same areas as humans.
“Seventy per cent of all the west coast eagles are in the Salish Sea area during January-February,” Warttig said. “When you look at what percentage of the population of B.C. are within a kilometre of the ocean, it’s also 70 per cent.”
Warttig says that the city could take a feather from the forestry sector’s cap when it comes to eagle trees, which would close the gaps between local and provincial/federal laws.
“Every single stream is assumed to be fish bearing, and the burden of proof is on the forest industry,” he explained. “If the burden was proof was: before you go start cutting down a tree or pruning a tree within the municipality, (it) is on you to say there is not a nest, that way it takes it out of the hand of the city having to do broad-scale surveys and puts it into the person doing the potential impact.”
“In a way, the province has gone ahead a bit with the riparian area regulation,” he added. “What they’ve done is a lot of aerial analysis. They’ll make a development permit area, and that area needs to be looked at at the site level before any development can occur. A system could relatively easily be developed for the protection of a number of bird species.”