BC Hydro breaks promises in logging eagle’s nest for Site C Dam; May have lacked permits

As the fog lifted on the Peace River Monday morning, it revealed this clearcut island (Donald Hoffmann)
As the fog lifted on the Peace River Monday morning, it revealed this clearcut island (Donald Hoffmann)

BC Hydro’s clearcut logging this past weekend at the location of the proposed Site C Dam appears to have broken a promise about care for active eagles’ nests and may have lacked federal permits, critics charge.

See no eagle, hear no eagle

The work came within days of the Union of BC Municipalities’ (UBCM) call for a halt to Site C Dam construction until proper independent reviews have been conducted. While Hydro has provincial permits to cut down eagles’ nests on islands in the Peace River, spokesperson Dave Conway has stated it would “take great care to avoid or mitigate effects on active bald eagle nests during Site C construction.”

Yet, based on evidence captured and provided by local photographer Donald Hoffmann, an apparently active eagle’s nest was cut down over the weekend.

A statement issued by Hydro on “protecting” eagles said the following:

[quote]What does inactive mean? Inactive means the nest is no longer being occupied by a bird or an egg.[/quote]

Yet an eagle was still clearly seen occupying the nest as of Friday, September 25 (pictured below with machinery operating behind the nest). By Monday, the nest, along with every tree on the island, was gone.

A bald eagle sits in its nest on a Peace River island on Sept. 25 (left); Logging occurring near the same eagle's nest on Sept. 26 (Donald Hoffmann)
A bald eagle sits in its nest on a Peace River island on Sept. 25 (left); Logging occurring near the same eagle’s nest on Sept. 26 (Donald Hoffmann)
The same island - site of the proposed Site C Dam - on Sept. 28 (top arrow shows location of former eagle's nest; bottom arrow shows where logging equipment crossed river channel) - Donald Hoffmann
The same island – location of the proposed Site C Dam – on Sept. 28 (top arrow shows location of former eagle’s nest; bottom arrow shows where logging equipment crossed river channel) – Donald Hoffmann

Not only was Hydro to leave active nests in place, but it promised “300-metre no activity buffers will be implemented around active bald eagle nests”. The above photo clearly shows a feller buncher machine working in far closer proximity to a nest with an eagle sitting in it.

Conway confirmed in comments emailed to the Alaska Highway News that the nest was removed, but maintained that “a qualified environmental professional was on-site to determine the nest was inactive, and no eagles were present or harmed in the process.” How the “qualified environmental professional” missed the eagle captured in photographs by Hoffmann is a unclear.

Hydro may have lacked permits

The path built on the north side of the Peace River to move equipment across a channel, onto an adjacent island - work that may have lacked federal permits (Ken Boon)
The path built on the north side of the Peace River to move equipment across a channel, onto an adjacent island – work that may have lacked federal permits (Ken Boon)

Ken Boon of the Peace Valley Landowners’ Association was partaking in a wooden boat race on the river this past Saturday when he learned of Hydro’s construction work on the island – where he ventured to see it for himself. He is concerned that BC Hydro moved equipment across a side channel in the river without proper permits.

“Two pieces of logging equipment were moved to the island by crossing the river during the best low water conditions possible, in co-ordination with the Peace Canyon Generating Station,” Conway told the Alaska Highway News. “This was done in accordance with our provincial permits, and an environmental monitor was on site.” Boon counters, “That may be so, but to our knowledge, there are no federal permits issued that would allow for the crossing of a main river channel with that equipment.”

This notion is backed up by lands staff for the Treaty 8 Tribal Association, who told me yesterday that Hydro acknowledged during recent injunction proceedings Hydro that it did not have the necessary federal permits to impact a fish-bearing river. 

Hydro’s poor track record

“This incident highlights again the fact that BC Hydro, as a public crown corporation, cannot be trusted to be doing self-monitoring and self-reporting,” adds Verena Hofmann, a Peace Valley resident working with Treaty 8 on Site C-related issues.

She points to Hydro’s poor track record with environmental studies. The crown corporation committed a series of missteps throughout its filed studies and investigative work leading up to the Join Review Panel hearings – including “archeology infractions that resulted in an RCMP investigation, improper sampling methods, test holes that were too shallow and had to be redone, and improper baiting for wildlife studies.”

In each of these instances, Treaty 8 members had to intervene and insist of problems being addressed, maintains Hofmann. “We’ve seen that it’s BC’s practice to allow industry to police itself, but Hydro does not have the same deal with the federal government. Where are the federal agencies whose responsibility it is to monitor fish habitat and fish-bearing watercourses?”

Early signs of Site C’s disruption

From further west on the Peace River comes this account from homeowner Caroline Beam:

[quote]A bald eagle was hit on the highway near our riverside home outside Hudson’s Hope a few days ago. My husband came upon the scene as the driver was trying to figure out how to capture and contain the obviously injured bird. He was attempting to use a coat, which my husband explained to him would not be adequate for safely containing such a large, strong and well-armed bird. My husband then called the local RCMP, who asked him to retrieve a large animal crate from our home and meet him at the scene to try to capture the bird properly, after which it would be transported to a facility in the lower mainland. If it survived its wounds and the journey, trained professionals would try to heal it and hopefully release the bird back into the wild. Chances of success: unknown.

It turns out that, upon returning to the scene, my husband discovered that the eagle was nowhere to be found. Hopefully, the bird was not as injured as it initially appeared and simply flew off once it regained its bearings. I’d rather not dwell on darker possibilities.

The whole incident got me thinking about the raptors in this valley, and the effect we humans have on them. Every day, we encroach on their habitat, endanger them with our contraptions, disrupt their food sources, and threaten their futures. And all the while, we celebrate them for their beauty, grace, and fierce spirits. Our southern neighbors have even adopted the bald eagle as their national bird! It all seems so incongruous.[/quote]

Clark’s hurry-up offence

This early work on Site C Dam comes as the project faces increasing scrutiny from a litany of reputable individuals and groups, as summarized recently at The Common Sense Canadian. The list includes a former head of BC Hydro, the retired chair of the official Joint Review Panel into Site C, and now BC’s mayors and councils with the recent UBCM resolutions.

Given the anticipated decade-long construction process for the project and the legal opposition it still faces, critics are questioning the hurry-up approach to controversial logging of sensitive areas, eagles’ nest, etc.

Referring to the mounting calls for an independent review of the project by the BC Utilities Commission and Agricultural Land Commission (both deliberately excluded from Site C’s review), Boon notes, “The BC government’s response has been to ramp up the destructive clearing of old growth forest, road building and other costly work associated with the project.”

[quote]Premier Clark should instead show real leadership and halt all work right now.  Until that happens, we will continue with our legal challenge, and pressure will continue to mount on the premier to stop construction as more ‘scorched earth’ images emerge.[/quote]

With news that Site C will be debated int he BC Legislature today, Treaty 8 First Nations and their supporters are staging a rally today at the Legislature.


About Damien Gillis

Damien Gillis is a Vancouver-based documentary filmmaker with a focus on environmental and social justice issues - especially relating to water, energy, and saving Canada's wild salmon - working with many environmental organizations in BC and around the world. He is the co-founder, along with Rafe Mair, of The Common Sense Canadian, and a board member of both the BC Environmental Network and the Haig-Brown Institute.

12 thoughts on “BC Hydro breaks promises in logging eagle’s nest for Site C Dam; May have lacked permits

  1. I had occasion to warn a logging company about its shoreline road location which I was traversing: the centre-line went right through one of the biggest eagle nest platforms I’ve ever seen—and, I figured, so had a lot of other people sighted it from the water, for a long time, too, since the giant cedar tree in which it was perched grew almost at the rocky beach, and was visible for miles.

    Now, this company was well-known to be the biggest gypo-logging outfit on the Coast, and it was as rapacious as the worst of them—only more consistently. Having done due diligence in advising my contractee about the legalities involved, I returned to the area to finish up. Looking at this eagle tree from a distance was educative: the salal around it was almost totally whitewashed with eagle shit—must’ve been a lot of it for a long time cuz the salal was also very robust, with deep green foliage, doubtless from the extra nutrients received from the platform above over the years.

    A year or so later I ran into the engineer at the Forest Service Office, and did he look sheepish. The big boss had brought him along to explain where that big eagle tree had gone. He explained to me that my suggestion of moving the road location to avoid the eagle tree would have bitten into some expensive-to-blast rock. As I found out later, this company received a substantial fine—I think it was five figures.

    So, some time later I happened to be driving on this road, now built, telling my new axeman about that eagle tree—I mean, you could still see the white bird-shit on the salal on either side of the road, gave you an idea how big this platform was, maybe fifteen feet across. But as we proceeded toward the next timber cruise, we rounded a corner and saw a carved cedar canoe sticking out of a pile of slash on the roadside. These guys just never learn—and apparently the company considered fines for these infractions as merely a cost of doing business. Premier Harcourt substantially increased fines for all manner of logging malpractice.

    Back then I found that government officials would come out to have a look at these infractions—they made money for the public coffers by fining abusive companies. The problem right now is the lack of personnel to invigilate the woods—the BC Liberals have absolutely gutted Harcourt’s Forest Practices Code, and slashed staffing levels. Meanwhile, I know loggers: opportunity trumps the rules on a regular basis—it did back then when invigilation was respectably frequent, they darn sure do it now when it isn’t.

    The question is: what substitutes for official invigilation when it just isn’t there? Ms Morton’s work on the water is probably indicative of how difficult it is to get infractions dealt with. But it seems to me the dearth of official invigilation argues well, with evidence of at least a few specific infractions, for injunction against further development until due diligence is done for the entire area. If the Peace River dam proposal, for example, can be held up for half a year, the whole mary-anne then falls into the next election issue zone, after which every cock and bull LNG fantasy the BC Liberals will have to concoct becomes fodder for further injunction, this time until an independent audit of funding and feasibility can be done.

    Don’t count on officialdom to get this job done.

  2. If you think that BC Hydro or more realistically the BC Neo-Liberal government will stop this gravy train from rolling you are about as sharp as …. well our illustrious premier.
    Hey bevy of construction backers are salivating in line at the trough and nothing short of full scale civil disobedience will halt this nail in BC Hydro coffin. They are destroying the crown jewel of our public legacy and yet there are still senile old fools that will vote for them in the next election. And we can`t even ride them out of town on a rail because they stole our rail road.

    1. We cant run them out of town on a rail because they SOLD BC Rail.
      To a company that contributed to the Liberal election campaign.

      No conflict there.
      The politicians, and the companies that support them through their lobbyist finances are the scum of the earth.
      I hope their children grow up to realize what they have done to the planet and hound them incessantly..

      1. I spent this afternoon live streaming the BC Leg sessions. Todaly’s make believe topic? Site C Dam.

        Not one BC Liberal member acknowledged the crime of removing the democratic component (BCUC) from the investigations. Bennett in all his arrogant splendor was totally unapologetic. He and Christy belong in a dictatorial government.

        1. They belong in jail! (They are either fraudulent or inept – Norm Farrell says they know full well what they’re doing.)

      2. They shouldn’t be allowed to have any children! Their offspring’s DNA might be compromised!
        Noncon: What makes you think BC Rail was SOLD? I believe it was GIVEN away. What happened to the $250 million indemnity we provided in case the Feds disallowed their tax concession? Did anyone actually account for the $750 we were allegedly paid?

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