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Working Toward a Safe Haven for Waterbirds in BC

By Karen Devitt, BC Program Coordinator, Bird Studies Canada


Western Sandpipers Photo: Catherine Jardine

At the end of January, Bird Studies Canada hosted a workshop about recreational disturbance to birds in British Columbia’s Fraser River Estuary Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA). The goals of the workshop were to develop solutions to reduce the impacts of recreational disturbance on waterbirds in the region, and to promote collaboration between organizations and agencies that are directly or indirectly tackling this issue.

The Fraser River Estuary IBA provides crucial habitat for migratory birds to rest, refuel, and overwinter. For example, globally significant numbers of Western Sandpipers stop at the IBA during their long spring and fall migrations. Minimizing disturbance to the birds using this area is important for their conservation, because when they are flushed by recreational shoreline users like walkers, dogs, photographers, kayakers, and even birders, normal feeding and resting behaviour is interrupted. This can have negative consequences, sometimes preventing birds from building up sufficient fat and energy stores to continue migrating or to successfully reproduce.

The workshop was well attended, with 25 individuals representing First Nations; municipal, provincial, and federal governments; naturalist groups; and other non-profits.

Dr. Sean Boyd of Environment and Climate Change Canada presented research suggesting that disturbances caused by recreationists and eagles may have contributed to lower fat accumulation in Black Brant at Parksville/Qualicum Beach, and the disappearance of male Harlequin Ducks from a historic moulting area in Boundary Bay.

We also learned about management tools that the City of Vancouver is developing, with public input, through its People, Parks, and Dogs Strategy and its upcoming On Water Strategy. These strategies aim to address a variety of challenges posed by increasing human and dog populations, including impacts on wildlife.

Thank you to all who participated in the workshop and contributed to identifying solutions and improving collaboration between various initiatives. Some of the solutions put forward include implementing more consistent signage and bylaw enforcement, and improving collaboration with other agencies and stakeholders. As a next step, we will bring targeted groups together again to continue the conversation and implement solutions.

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