The City of Campbell River will look at ways it can help protect the great blue heron, its habitat and its nesting areas.
After requesting a list of options to consider last year, the city’s environmental specialist Terri Martin brought a report before council at its most recent Committee of the Whole (COW) meeting, pointing to numerous conservation measures the city could explore.
“Recent concerns over the fate of nesting herons and the general decline of heron habitat were triggered with the onset of a five residential lot subdivision on Twillingate Rd, immediately adjacent to nesting great blue herons,” Martin writes. “The project prompted correspondence to city council and staff urging increased protection for herons and trees from a number of land owners in the Twillingate Rd area, the BC Great Blue Heron Society, the Campbell River Environmental Committee and Greenways Land Trust.”
Those concerns are what spurred council to ask for the report presented at the COW outlining the options it could look at.
Currently, Martin says, the Twillingate nesting site is the only confirmed active location of nests in Campbell River, but there are historical records and unconfirmed reports of others, so he says that a city-wide look at what can be done to protect possible nesting habitat for the birds would be better than a site-specific approach.
The great blue heron is provincially Blue-Listed, meaning it’s been recognized as “vulnerable,” and is listed as a “species of special concern” federally by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. There are only between 4,000 and 5,000 nesting adults in the coastal subspecies, of which Vancouver Island and Gulf Island is home to about 500 nesting pairs, according to Martin’s report.
“There is one active colony that we know about in Campbell River,” Martin told council, “and it has grown from one to three nests. They’re not that easy to protect through our regular options like development permits … because sometimes herons move around a little bit. Development permits aren’t great for [addressing] something that’s not fixed.”
So while development permits are one option the city can use in helping protect the birds, there are some other recommendations it will now consider – and some steps it has already taken while addressing other concerns. One of the recommendations presented by the groups urging the city to take action was the hiring of a full-time arborist and the development of a Tree Protection Bylaw. The arborist position is already filled and city staff is currently preparing a draft Tree Protection Bylaw.
After receiving Martin’s report at the COW meeting, however, they also asked for a more detailed report on the other options presented, including the establishment of a 60-metre great blue heron nest tree development permit area – much like what is currently in place for bald eagles – as well as conducting annual monitoring of known and suspected nesting locations.
That last recommendation is particularly important, Martin says, as they often receive “reports” from the public about the herons and their locations, “but without that ongoing inventory and research it’s hard to know where exactly they are and have those locations confirmed.”
A report will now be prepared that will outline what the implementation of those conservation measures could look like and be brought back before council.