An Abbotsford company has been given the go-ahead from the province to remove a peregrine falcon nesting site from a quarry it plans to reopen.
The decision is a blow to a group of 17 local homeowners and conservationists who have been campaigning to preserve a rocky ledge at the site, which has been a productive nesting area for the dynamic bird of prey that has been on and off the federal government's endangered list as vulnerable to decline.
Peregrine falcons in B.C. still remain on government lists that include animals or ecosystems of concern or that are threatened.
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 how B.C.'s biodiversity is doing.
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.
Howard Bailey, a scientist advocating for the resident group and an avid birder, has regularly visited the site for the past six years to observe the peregrines who nest and raise their young there.
"It's literally ... a source of young for the region," he said
'Be absolutely careful'
Bailey, along with local resident Chriss Kitt, who for the past 14 years has lived less than 200 metres from the quarry site on Quaddling Road, say that the provincial-approved mitigation strategies won't guarantee that the falcons will continue to nest and reproduce at the site.
"You want to be absolutely careful with the remaining viable nesting sites, especially if you're looking at how to recover this population over the long term," Bailey said.
For the past three years, Mountainside Quarries Group Inc., has been working toward reopening a quarry on Quadling Road that was shuttered in 2012 after its previous owner went bankrupt.
Mountainside says it has obtained a mining permit from the province to reopen the quarry to mine for aggregate.
For safety reasons, the company says it needs to remove the ledge where peregrine falcons have been nesting. To do so, the company needed to obtain a special permit from the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD) as the B.C. Wildlife Act protects peregrine falcon nests from being disturbed or destroyed.
On Friday, the Ministry issued the permit to Mountainside.
It said the decision was made based on available falcon population estimates, trends in productivity and consultation with local groups and the company.
The province says the company has agreed to create new nest ledges on-site, new nest boxes and monitor them for the next five years.
Mountainside will also arrange for satellite transmitters to be placed on the pair of falcons which have previously bred at the site to facilitate a study of them for the next four years.
Mountainside to spend $75,000 on mitigation
"Given the mining operation, FLNRORD believes that the mitigation to be completed is reasonable to address the relative risks to these falcons and the local species population," a ministry spokesperson said in an email.
Mountainside said it will spend $75,000 on the mitigation.
"It's a comprehensive mitigation plan," said John Moonen, a spokesperson for the company.
"We've agreed to spend the money and do this plan. It makes up for the loss of that nesting ledge."
Moonen says the company is still working on operational plans with the City of Abbotsford before beginning work.
He did not say when work at the site would begin.
Kitt said the residents group will try to appeal the decision to issue the company the permit to destroy the nesting ledge.