New Brunswick

J.D. Irving Ltd. donation to help fund bird atlas

The $50,000 donation to Bird Studies Canada made as a part of J.D. Irving Ltd.'s court settlement Monday after the lumber giant pleaded guilty to violating the Migratory Birds Convention Act will be used to count birds in the Maritimes.

The $50,000 donation to Bird Services Canada made as a part of J.D. Irving Ltd.'s court settlement Monday after the lumber giant pleaded guilty to violating the Migratory Birds Convention Act will be used to count birds in the Maritimes.

Provincial Court Judge Patricia Cumming accepted the joint submission made by J.D. Irving and Crown prosecutors that the company would pay a $10,000 fine and voluntarily donate $50,000 to the non-profit organization.

The New Brunswick forestry giant pleaded guilty to destroying great blue heron nests near Cambridge Narrows in 2006.

Becky Whittam, the Atlantic Canada project manager for Bird Services Canada, said the cash will go directly toward the group's atlas project, which is a survey of birds, nests and breeding activity that's underway all across the Maritimes

The information is being compared with data collected 20 years ago to detect changes in bird populations.

Whittam said the annual budget for the Maritime Breeding Bird atlas is $225,000, so the company's donation will go a long way:

"That is a fairly significant chunk of money because we're a non-profit organization we have to apply for funding in all different sorts of places," Whittam said. "Most of our contributions come in the form of small chunks of money — $,5,000, $10,000 — so $50,000 is no small amount of money for us."

The atlas project is now in its third year of data-collection, and it is expected to be ready in 2012. Already, the fieldwork suggests that some populations are in decline, including swallows and the Canada Warbler.

Mary Keith, a company spokeswoman, said the judge acknowledged the heron colony was not harmed deliberately and that the company has been working to restore the area.

"There is a specific acknowledgment that in fact the colony has grown. And that's a result of aerial surveys and also independent work that's been done by [environmental consulting company] Jacques Whitford," Keith said. "We were pleased to see the acknowledgement of our Unique Areas Program, which is actively involved in conservation and has over 8,000 hectares of bird habitat that's under protection."

Cumming agreed with the joint submission on sentencing that requires Irving to place the heron colony in its Unique Areas Program and to ban logging within a 400-metre buffer zone for five years.

The legal battle began in 2006 when the company made a forestry road that ran through a great blue heron colony near Cambridge Narrows, about 80 kilometres north of Saint John.

Paul Adams, a federal Crown prosecutor, called that a "significant disturbance," considering one-third of the nests in a colony of 24 herons were affected.

Christopher Wayland, a lawyer for J.D. Irving, disagreed, noting that since the colony relocated about 500 metres away, it grew to more than 60 nests over the next two breeding seasons.

The company said it has also protected the colony since it was disturbed and has beefed up its written policy on reporting nests. It said employees were not negligent because the heron nests were hard to spot before the underbrush was cleared.

The company's donation to Bird Studies Canada is being welcomed by many in the environmental community. Craig Smith, a spokesperson for Environment Canada, said the donation will help the non-profit organization, which "promotes the conservation, appreciation, understanding of bird species."

Gart Bishop, a director with Nature New Brunswick, said he was also pleased with Monday's outcome, specifically the fine and donation components.

"[J.D. Irving] admitted guilt and they are being fined. It is a substantial amount going to bird studies that will certainly help Bird Studies Canada so I think that is probably pretty good," Bishop said.