New Brunswick

Logging road disrupts colony of protected herons

The Canadian Wildlife Service is investigating the destruction of great blue heron nests on Irving-owned land near Cambridge Narrows.

The Canadian Wildlife Service is investigating the destruction of great blue heron nests on Irving-owned land near Cambridge Narrows, N.B.

The forestrycompany J.D. Irving built alogging road on the land last summer. It runs through the middle of the nesting colony. Company spokeswoman Mary Keith says the company has no comment on the situation while the investigation is underway.

Jim Brown is a member of the Kennebecasis Naturalists Society, and isamong several conservationists who areoutraged by the destruction. He estimated that between 12 and 20 nests were destroyed by the logging road, which cuts a wide and muddy track through the centre of the colony.

Intact nests are visible in tree tops on either side of the road, and damaged nests are also mixed up among the tangle of cut logs and brush on the roadside. Another nest dangles from a tree, knocked out of place by a falling tree cut by a harvester.

Brown received an anonymous tip about the wrecked nests, and passed the information along to investigators with the New Brunswick Department of Natural Resources. They were already aware of the destruction andhad alerted the Canadian Wildlife Service.

"I was absolutely astonished that this thing could happen," he said. "If you were to ask a senior DNR official, or aforestry company representative, they would tell you that this is virtually impossible to have happen, with all the checks and balances that are in place."

Brown says companies are usually very careful about where they build roads. "The onus is on the forestry company to inventory that area before they go in it," Brown said. "They should know ahead of time what the water courses are, where the deer wintering areas are, if there's any heron colonies or any other sensitive issues. That obviously wasn't done in this case."

The great blue heron is protected under the Migratory Bird Conventions Act. It'sagainstthe law to hunt them or destroy their nests.

Ian Langlais of the Canadian Wildlife Service is leading the investigation. He doesn't know yet ifcharges will be laid, but says the act carries severe penalties including a fine of up to $1 million or three years in prison.

"There's prohibitions against the destruction of the nests, or the killing of the birds and there are also obligations on the part of corporations to ensure compliance with the actand the regulations," Langlais said.

Word of the logging roadspread quickly among localconservationists, including Robena Weatherley, a member of the Canaan-Washademoak Watershed Association and a retired forest biologist.

Weatherley can't understand how the road surveyor could have missed the noisy, smelly colony when the road was mapped out during the summer, but can't believe the nests were deliberately destroyed, either.

"When I saw it, there is a sense of violation and a sense of outrage to think that such a thing would happen, because it's so needless. It's hard to see how it could be missed. Certainly the biologist wouldn't have missed it," she said.

"I honestly can't understand how it could have happened. Whether somebody chose to ignore it, I would find that hard to believe, because the repercussions are quite serious."

Bird expert Jim Wilson says the only hope to restore the colony is for activity to cease in the area when the herons return from their trip south in May. He says with intact nests on either side of the road, there is a chance the herons will repopulate the colony.

"If there is a lot of traffic and a lot of disruption, it will undoubtedlyhave a negative impact. If there wasn't any traffic and no people, it's possible that they may just pick up and carry on. But it's an open question, certainly, a lot of activity in there wouldn't be a good thing."