Suit threatens effort to save heron habitat
Effort to protect rookeries affects housing project
Vancouver Island’s largest heron colony is under threat from development, but the Cowichan Valley Regional District’s effort to protect nesting sites is being met by threats of a lawsuit.
The great blue heron flap is sparking emotional meetings where one local resident has taken to appearing on stilts in a home-made heron costume.
“Residents have really got up in arms, they love their herons,” said Trudy Chatwin, provincial endangered species biologist.
A bylaw, which went to public hearing earlier this month, would create a new development permit area around the nesting site. That would mean developers, in a radius of up to 500 metres from the heron rookery, would need a biologist’s report before being given the go-ahead to build, said CVRD planner Katy Tompkins. A rough estimate of the area in question is 20 acres.
There would also be restrictions on building during nesting and breeding season, she said.
“We can give examples of where development has taken place and it has just wiped out rookeries. They need a place where it’s safe from eagles and people,” she said. The bylaw will probably go to the board next week for third reading.
Most homeowners who live in the immediate vicinity have signed a petition in favour of the bylaw, but it is not going down well with Cowichan Bay Estates Ltd., which is planning to build 200 homes in the area.
Lawyer Don Taylor, acting for Cowichan Bay Estates, in a letter to the board, said if the CVRD adopts the bylaw without giving compensation to the company, there will be legal action to set aside the bylaw.
“But, the hope is that this matter will be resolved,” he said.
Herons are listed as birds of special concern by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada and need safe places to raise their young to avoid making it on to the endangered list, Chatwin said.
The Cowichan herons have already abandoned their nests once. Four years ago the rookery had 93 nests, but an adjacent landowner clear cut trees to the boundary of the colony.
The birds stuck it out until this year, but after nesting, for an unknown reason, they abandoned their nests and eggs. Luckily, it was early enough in the year for them to start again and many have built again nearby. “But I doubt if there are 93 nests,” Chatwin said.
On Vancouver Island there are about 500 active nests, meaning about 1,000 birds.
Lori Iannidinardo, a former parks commissioner, has watched the herons for years and seen the effect of development. “We are frantically trying to do the best we can, but I fear they will disappear. It’s just really sad that this is the [heron] nursery for Vancouver Island,” she said.
The new nesting site is “like a refugee village,” said Nan Goodship, whose husband, Peter Spohn, has styled himself as Grandfather Heron. “Peter has a bit of a dramatic flair, but he’s never done anything like this before,” Goodship said.
The Grandfather Heron costume includes drywaller stilts, which make Spohn almost two and a half metres tall. Making it more authentic, when Spohn first donned the costume, leftover drywall was on the stilts, meaning he left little white droppings everywhere he went.