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Nest laid plans

Some Site C opponents are pecking at a plan to mitigate lost eagle habitat, but one biologist says artificial nesting has shown success in the past
Eagle nests have become one of the newest battlegrounds over the Site C dam.

Eagle nests have become one of the newest battlegrounds over the Site C dam.

Despite government approval of the dam’s construction, two Treaty 8 First Nations, West Moberly and Prophet River, are fighting the decision in court.

One of those lawsuits is challenging the two dozen permits issued to BC Hydro to proceed with construction, one of which is a permit to remove eagle nests along the Peace River valley.

Over the weekend, activists rallied at the Peace River valley over removal of the nests.

The move has also become a fundraising point for RAVEN, a non-profit raising funds for the First Nations’ legal cases.

On the group’s Facebook page, they note these eagles are “imperiled” and ask members to donate to help their cause.

“Eagles are vitally important to First Nations culture,” said Susan Smitten, who serves as executive director for RAVEN, in an interview.

“Eagles are being imperiled by the progress of the Site C dam... We want to make sure everybody is aware of what the underlying issues are."                                          

Smitten claimed that 28 nests are to be destroyed, but that number could not be verified.

However, the permit does require eagles displaced by the project be relocated.

The permit requires Hydro to install a minimum of 38 artificial nesting platforms, and these locations must also consider the existing spatial distribution of the earlier nests.

Active bald eagle nests must not be destroyed, the permit states, and inactive nests can’t be destroyed between April 1 or July 31. Bald eagle nests can be removed between March 1 and 31, and August 1 to September 30, but a qualified professional must confirm the nest is inactive.

Hydro must also collect eagle feathers and give them to the Fort St. John Front Counter BC office, or the Conservation Officer Service within 30 days.

Dam spokesman David Conway indicated Hydro will follow the rules spelled out in the permit.

“BC Hydro will monitor and take great care to avoid or mitigate effects on eagle nests during Site C construction,” Conway said.

David Hancock, an eagle biologist and founder of the Hancock Wildlife Foundation, a wildlife group that specializes in bald eagles, said he did not oppose the artificial nesting measure, noting that it has worked in areas like Metro Vancouver.  

“They will utilize artificial structures if you give them to them, but they've got to be in the right place where the food source is,” Hancock said. 

“Finding a site that will support a nest in the region that will supply the food, that’s a challenge.”

Hancock noted these eight to 12-pound birds will have to make multiple trips carrying a pound of fish back and forth, which makes that location important to them.

Smitten still took issue with this idea.

“It would strike me that putting up an artificial nest is similarly potentially doomed to failure because the animals don’t just move because humans decide this is where you should live,” she said.

“To suggest that we could just give them their moving notice and tell them, ‘Hey, live over here’ is a little presumptuous.”