Province not sharing eagle tree info

Municipalities advised to file Freedom of Information requests

A letter from the B.C. government revealing that the province may hold back information related to eagle tree permit applications has council concerned.

Mike Stalberg, deputy regional manager for the recreational and fisheries and wildlife programs, told council that when it comes to applications to alter or remove eagle nest trees, not all of the information given to the province can be shared with the city.

“While there may be limited technical information discussed among the proponent, the city and the province, there is also information that we cannot share without expressed written consent of the proponent,” Stalberg wrote. “For this reason, biologists have been instructed to advise third parties, such as municipalities, to file Freedom of Information requests when they are seeking additional information.”

Coun. Charlie Cornfield said at the June 22 council meeting that Stalberg’s revelation was troubling.

“That causes me a little concern,” Cornfield said. “I think that’s probably what led to the problem in the last case. If we don’t know about something and if the proponent is applying for a development permit as they’re required to do, and if they don’t follow the terms of it, the province assumes they’re in violation. It could be resolved quite simply if we agree to let them know if something’s coming up in regards to eagle nest tree and if we do the same to them.”

The ‘last case’ which Cornfield was referring to was a permit issued by the province in 2014 relating to two eagle nest trees located at 5705 Island Highway. The permit exempted the Middle Point company from Section 34 of the Wildlife Act, which restricts the destruction of eagle nest trees. The city also issued its own minor development permit under the Local Government Act for the same property and, because the trees were felled, the city believed the applicant had breached the conditions of the minor development permit.

Stalberg said “it was certainly not the intent of the province in issuing (its own) permit to affect the proponent’s adherence to the conditions of the minor development permit, although the (provincial) permit exempted the proponent from Section 34 of the Wildlife Act.”

An assessment had found that one of the trees was rotting and may fall within the next five years. The company claimed there were also no eagles using the nests when either of the two trees were cut down and Stalberg said there was no requirement under the Wildlife Act for the company to provide mitigation. Cornfield said scenarios such as the Middle Point case could be avoided if the province and the city worked more collaboratively on eagle nest permit applications.

“I don’t see any information that would be provided to the province that they (proponents) wouldn’t have to provide to us when they come to us for a permit anyways,” Cornfield said.

But Stalberg said there are occasions when privacy-related information cannot be released and in the 2014 case, the province did not have expressed written consent from the proponent to provide information to the city and the city was told to file a Freedom of Information request. Council decided to write a letter back to the province requesting that a reciprocal agreement be formed between the city and the province to notify each other if an application comes forward relating to an eagle tree.