Vancouver Sun, January 10, 2009 – Eagles’ nest feared in peril

The future of a rare bald eagle nest on the Vancouver industrial waterfront is in jeopardy after Lafarge Canada demolished a buffer of trees for construction of a concrete plant on port-owned land at the foot of Victoria Drive on Burrard Inlet.

“The future does not look bright,” offered Wayne Campbell, retired curator of birds for the Royal B.C. Museum. “Personally, I think it is going to be short-lived.”

Lafarge, which claims to “lead the industry in environmental restoration and preservation,” protected only the nest tree itself as required by the provincial Wildlife Act, but not those around it.

Robyn Worcester, conservation program manager for the Stanley Park Ecology Society, said there are 18 eagle nests across Vancouver, but Lafarge is the only one within the city’s industrial port.

A pair of bald eagles successfully produced two young in the nest last year.

Campbell said from his Victoria home that the cutting has exposed the immature cottonwood tree to greater wind damage and robbed the eagles of the habitat provided by the other trees.

“There should have been some sort of buffer area left around that,” Campbell said after The Vancouver Sun provided him with before-and-after photos of the construction site. “Wind is going to be a factor there.”

Lafarge vice-president Bruce Willmer argued the trees had to go because the company needed the land for its $20-million development and also wanted to minimize the chance of leaves getting into raw materials for its ready-mix product.

He would have preferred no trees left on the site, but said he was prepared to do what he can to ensure the survival of the nest tree, including shoring up an area where the roots are being undercut by the water of Burrard Inlet.

If the tree eventually falls over, Willmer said he will explore installing an artificial nest tower for eagles just offshore. And he was contemplating putting up a webcam to allow the public to view the eagles in the nest. Bald eagles start nesting in February and lay eggs in March.

Port Metro Vancouver, which is landlord of the property, approved the Lafarge project on Dec. 8. Construction is under way and scheduled for completion in June.

Juergen Baumann, the port’s manager of environmental programs, said he had “no expertise in eagle biology and behaviour,” but doubted whether retaining the other trees would have ensured an adequate buffer to protect the nest tree.

The port chose not to order Lafarge to leave more trees because of concerns that might make the project unviable, and even considered moving the nest at one point.

Michelle Franklin is a doctoral student in zoology at the University of B.C. who lives on Wall Street, within viewing distance of the Lafarge site, and shares Campbell’s fears. “The tree will be blown down in a windstorm easily because there is no buffer,” she said, adding that the eagles are so starved of trees in the area they are forced to perch on ships.

When The Vancouver Sun visited the site, the eagle pair was perched atop the metal light standard on a nearby fuel barge. When an immature eagle landed in the nest tree, one of the mature eagles flew over, chased it away, then returned to the light standard.

The Lafarge development includes an enclosed central mix plant, a two-storey office building, covered aggregate storage bins, a covered conveyer system over water, a barge-berthing and unloading facility, and a recycling system for unused concrete.

lpynn@vancouversun.com