iN PHOTOS: Vernon heronry protector worried for at-risk birds after development approval - InfoNews

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iN PHOTOS: Vernon heronry protector worried for at-risk birds after development approval

Great blue herons.
July 10, 2019 - 6:30 AM

VERNON - Surrounded by dozens of ancient rusty cars, standing in the cool shade of the dense vegetation, with poplar and cottonwood trees reaching far into the sky, Rita Bos points to the blue herons perched on their nests high in the tree branches. With only a vague rumbling of traffic in the distance, it's hard to fathom that her beloved heronry is surrounded by housing and shops.

Bos has argued against some of the surrounding development over the years and in 1992 registered a restrictive covenant on a section of her property where the great blue herons nest. Last night, July 8, she lost another battle as Vernon council unanimously approved the rezoning of a site adjacent to her property to allow for a development of up to 41 units.

"I wish it weren't going to happen," Bos said. "I strongly urged that they not do this because of the sensitive area that's right there."

While more than 2,000 people signed an online petition opposing the rezoning and council received almost 150 submissions arguing against the development, Bos isn't surprised the rezoning passed July 8.

When the 78-year-old bought the nearly nine-acre site with her late husband Jan Bos in 1986, the 24 Street property that stretches into an area just north of 50 Ave was still very much a rural area, she says.

Great blue herons nests sit high in the treetops.
Great blue herons nests sit high in the treetops.

Bos' late husband starting Care Towing in the early eighties at a site roughly located at what is now London Drugs. They moved the shop and towing yard to the present site in 1986 and Bos says the "herons followed him."

Now among the wrecks of dozens of old vehicles, the odd motorbike frame and even a small airplane, around 60 pairs of great blue herons come to nest each year. Having on average two to four chicks a year, a couple of hundred great blue herons call this site home each year.

Registered federally as a species at risk and provincially as blue listed, the birds head to Okanagan, Kalamalka and Swan Lakes to feed each day. Bos said the herons, that grow to around four feet tall and can have wingspans of six feet, arrive in February or early March each year and fly south at the end of the summer or early fall.

Bos hopes the development will respect the birds' habitat and hopes the developer Scotland Constructors follows the provincial guidelines correctly.

A heron in flight.
A heron in flight.

"If they must build then I hope they're really thoughtful and it would be nice when they get their plans set up... I'd like to have some input... it would be a nice thoughtful thing for them to do," Bos said.

Provincial legislation does set out guidelines for development near blue heron habitats including a 60-metre buffer and noise restrictions during construction between January and September.

Bos said she hopes whatever is built caters to seniors and not families as the herons don't like to be in close proximity with humans and noise can scare them away. Children by the very nature are noisy, she said.

Bos speaks passionately about the birds and the heronry that's been a huge part of her life for almost 35 years. In 2017 she founded The Vernon Heronry Protection Society in memory of her late husband who died early that year.

Two from the dozens of rusty old cars on the site.
Two from the dozens of rusty old cars on the site.

"I love the things they can teach us when you sit here for hours you see amazing things," she said. "They do have feelings."

Sitting on several acres of what is now prime real estate, just a stone's throw from Walmart and Best Buy, Bos said she's been offered seven-digit figures for the land several times over the years. She said her late husband once told a developer after repeated offers, "what part of no do you not understand... we are here to protect wildlife."

She talks passionately about the birds' behaviour and the family dynamics the nesting herons display. As the birds majestically swoop from treetop to treetop it's not hard to see why Bos is so infatuated with them.

"We don't really matter, it's the birds that matter," she says.

iNFOnews.ca was unable to reach Scotland Constructors for comment.

Rita Bos leans against one of the many old cars from her late husbands towing yard. The great blue herons' nest high-up on the other side of Bos' property.
Rita Bos leans against one of the many old cars from her late husbands towing yard. The great blue herons' nest high-up on the other side of Bos' property.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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