Advocates in Abbotsford are worried a pair of peregrine falcons nesting at a quarry on Quadling Road aren't being given the chance they need to produce offspring because of ongoing blasting, drilling and other disturbances.
Peregrine falcons remain on provincial lists of animals at risk of being endangered or threatened. In 2017, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada said the birds were no longer at risk of extinction throughout most of Canada. However there a limited number of nesting sites for the birds in B.C.
In January, the province gave the company operating the quarry the go-ahead to remove a peregrine falcon nesting site from the previously dormant quarry on the condition that Mountainside Quarries Group Inc. put in place a mitigation plan to offset the loss of the ledge.
The company needed to obtain a special permit from the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development as the B.C. Wildlife Act protects peregrine falcon nests from being disturbed or destroyed.
The birds usually nest on rock ledges high on steep cliffs, mostly in undisturbed areas. Being near the top of the food chain, their well-being is an indicator of the overall health of B.C.'s biodiversity.
Some of the mitigation work has been completed according to a company spokesperson, but local residents like Chris Kitt are worried the province has not done enough to make sure work at the site will allow the birds to successfully breed.
"I don't think they took into account how chaotic this work site can be," said Kitt.
Mountainside has reopened the quarry to mine aggregate and needs to remove the nesting ledge for what it said are safety reasons. It said it will spend more than $80,000 to help the birds remain viable at the site.
John Moonen, who speaks for the company, says the pair of birds there currently have made a nest on a different ledge near where the company set up a new nesting box.
"I think the fact that they are there speaks for itself, they haven't left even though there has been activity at the mine," he said. "They've been there for two weeks."
Moonen says under the company's mining permit from the province, it is obligated to monitor for shock waves and there haven't been any significant readings.
"We monitor the noise, the dust, the shock waves and I think that they've been blown out of proportion," he said. "And it certainly [is] not affecting the falcons that are there."
Under the mitigation plan, nests at the quarry are to be monitored weekly from March 1 until breeding season is over around the third week of July.
Any nests are to be given a 50-metre "non-disturbance buffer" zone until the end of the breeding season if birds are in them.
"We're abiding by it," said Moonen.
50 metres good, 100 metres better
Meantime, a forests ministry spokesperson said that no disturbance is permitted within the 50-metre area such as scaling, blasting, drilling, excavation or driving vehicles.
Blasting is permitted outside of the 50-metre area, but provincial officials have requested Mountainside to not blast within 100 metres where possible. Although this is not a permit requirement, the province says the biologist hired by the company has recommended it.
The province has also notified the company that it must ensure that blasting outside of the buffer area does not cause debris or rocks to cause a disturbance within the buffer.
Since the province agrees that some work should not come within 100 metres of the birds, Kitt says he's frustrated that the provision wasn't made part of the permit from the beginning.
"There's definitely going to be disturbances within the 50 metres and we just hope it doesn't affect the outcome of the female and her eggs," said Kitt.
Kitt tried to appeal the decision to allow Mountainside to remove a nesting ledge at the quarry to B.C.'s Environmental Appeal Board, but the board ruled that he did not have standing to make the appeal.
Data compiled by the federal government shows that since 1995 there have been on average around eight occupied nesting sites in the Lower Mainland for the subspecies of peregrine falcon found at the quarry site.