HELSTON: If a tree falls in Vernon, does it matter if herons used it? - InfoNews

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HELSTON: If a tree falls in Vernon, does it matter if herons used it?

Charlotte Helston is the Vernon reporter for InfoNews.
August 21, 2015 - 11:45 AM

I’ve been asking a lot of questions about herons lately, and whether or not they were in a grove of trees that got chopped down in advance of a housing development. I don’t know if the birds were ever there, but the City of Vernon, which issued the removal permit, seems pretty confident they weren’t.

When I first asked the city if community concerns regarding the impact on the at-risk, Great Blue Heron were justified, I was told no; the trees were not used by herons. Simple as that. No explanation and no research was immediately volunteered to back up the claim.

I wanted to know what gave the city the confidence to say that. So I asked a seemingly simple question: How do you know? Well, I was told, an arborist goes out and surveys the trees. The arborist is hired by the developer, but the city’s specialists review the report before issuing a tree removal permit.

Sounds pretty reasonable, right? And it probably would be, if that was indeed what had happened. I asked for a copy of the report so I could look at it for myself. But when I got it, it wasn’t exactly what I’d expected. First of all, it was eight years old, having been completed in November 2007. Second, it wasn’t much of an environmental assessment at all. It made no mention of herons — or any wildlife for that matter — and focussed on reasons for why the trees should be chopped down (mainly, the public safety risk of falling tree limbs.) So, it was true the city had no record of herons ever nesting in or using the trees, but it also had no real record of ever looking.

Pressed on the matter of why a specific site visit to look for herons was never done, the city explained that it also relied on an environmental database last updated in 2013. A search on that database brought up no indication the property was environmentally sensitive or designated as wildlife habitat. But even Vernon Mayor Akbal Mund agreed with me that a personal site visit would probably be better than an old report and data on a computer screen. Actually, the mayor was under the impression that someone had gone out and assessed whether herons were there before the trees were cut down.

When I shared what I learned with him, that no one did that, he said, “I’m sure if there were any nests coming down people would be taking pictures of it and raising more complaints.”

“I think you would have heard about it if there were nests there,” Mund added.

But he seemed to have missed two key points. Firstly, local birders say nests aren't the only indication they used those trees; they are part of the heron's neighbourhood and just like you don't confine yourself to your home, neither do the herons. And secondly, the trees are now down and gone. That's probably not the best time to check if the trees were used.

Clearly the City of Vernon needs to tighten this up before the next stand of trees comes down and it's too late.

But Mayor Mund has also laid out the challenge. Plenty of people say they've seen the herons in those trees, but so far no one has come forward with photos. If you have any, we want to see them.

To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at chelston@infonews.ca or call 250-309-5230. To contact the editor, email mjones@infonews.ca or call 250-718-2724.

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