A Story of Hope, Heroism and Heron

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Our at-risk friends who grace our waterfronts

August 20 Update: A recent FOI has led to the following story: How it took a Federal Compliance Order to Force Mayor Brian Wiese and the Town of Qualicum Beach to Respect the Law and our Wildlife

How a group of Qualicum Beach citizens came together to speak for those who can’t speak for themselves

To the dismay of many local residents, a large swath of timber — over 15 meters wide — was harvested along Hoylake road in January 2020 by the Town of Qualicum Beach, after the council defied their own motion to conduct a walk-through. The devastation stretched through the sensitive and protected Grandon Creek Aquatic Habitat Greenway that served as roosting habitat for a well-known local colony of Great Blue Heron. It was these blue-listed, at-risk herons who became the center of a months-long struggle.

Despite the immediate and fierce public outcry in January, the town’s logging and grading continued without abatement or care for provincial and federal wildlife laws aimed at protecting fragile colonies during mating season. But within our community, there was a growing organization of professionals, former government officials and wildlife experts who began analyzing policy, sharing information and constructing an advocacy group in the face of insurmountable odds.

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Over 15 meters of blue heron habitat removed for a bike trail no one needed

With the mayor, council, the planners and the CAO informed of the potential violations of wildlife laws, there was little else to do but appeal to the province. By mid-February, the Town of Qualicum Beach was reluctantly reported multiple times to BC conservation officers via the Poachers & Polluters hotline. With continued persistence, citizens were able to reach out to provincial biologists at the FLNR who planned to survey the site in early March and give an expert opinion of the situation.

Of course, our citizens understood that an active worksite would produce an empty colony, and there would be no heron to protect by the time the biologists arrived on the site. In response, they staked out the site and filmed the machinery firing up, driving away the heron. When the biologist arrived on site, the footage was shared of what occurred earlier that morning. Within hours, the province swiftly shut the town down within a 60 meter buffer, and further, instituted a 200 meter zone beyond where no disturbing activity could commence.

What seemed like a victory quickly faded away. The town was under the gun to complete the project by March 31st or else lose grant funding, and a collapsing colony of this majestic bird would not deter them. Outside of the firm 60 meter exclusion zone, excavators screamed ahead, emptying the nests each morning and threatening our local colony with collapse.

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way in which its animals are treated. I hold that the more helpless a creature, the more entitled it is to protection by man from the cruelty of man.” Mahatma Gandhi

This group of Qualicum Beach citizens understood the only way to protect this colony was to prove the activity directly impacted the birds. Instead of retreating, they set up around-the-clock watch documenting the activity of the heron throughout the work days. Members took shifts and spent hours talking to the public, collecting footage and recording nesting activity. All of this data eventually found its way into the hands of provincial and federal experts, who could clearly tell that continued activity would surely result in a violation of the laws.

Due to the constant collaboration between the citizens and the government, by the end of March, that 60 meter buffer of no activity was transformed into a 200 meter buffer, despite the town’s resistance. As of today, the site sits in peace, and the colony flourishes by up to a dozen paired heron perched in their nests.

What these events illustrate is that a small group of people, acting without hubris and in good-faith, can make a large difference and preserve our at-risk wildlife and sensitive ecosystems. With persistence and collaboration, we can join hands and ensure that the commitments we’ve made to our future generations and our environment are upheld.

We hope that the work these citizens did on Hoylake could serve as inspiration and momentum, which should let the whole town know that we do not need to be cynical in the face of misjustice and maltreatment of our natural lands or wildlife. We can be the change we want to see, and we can create the world we want. It just might take a little persistence and sweat.

Qualicum Nature Preservation Society

Protecting the pieces of us that grow free in the wilds

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