The president of Nelson’s Granite Pointe Golf Club says there are no heron nests in the trees on the club’s property.
“It surprises me that we should even talk about a nest, because it doesn’t exist,” says Am Naqvi.
But a biologist who specializes in herons says there are at least two nests, which the Nelson Star photographed along with two herons at the golf course on May 3.
Marlene Machmer is concerned noise from a large excavator working on golf course property has already caused the herons to abandon the nest once this spring. She said they are currently attempting to nest again.
If they abandon the nest, that might be a good thing, according to Naqvi, who accepts there are herons present, even if there are no nests.
“The best thing to do, in my opinion, is to make a whole bunch of noise,” he said. “They (the herons) should say, ‘Let’s not even build a nest here, because these people are always going to be bothering us.’”
The nests have been the subject of much discussion between Machmer, the provincial forests ministry, and the golf club since April 2021, because the club has been logging part of its property in the vicinity of the nests. The purpose of the logging is to clear land for two new holes to replace existing ones that will become the site of a planned housing development on Granite Pointe land.
In B.C., the interior subspecies of the great blue heron is protected as a blue-listed species and considered to be of special concern because of declining populations and sensitivity to human activities.
Since 2002, Machmer has monitored all heron nests in the Columbia Basin for the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program and the Columbia Basin Trust.
She says herons don’t build a new nest every year. They use the same nest for decades, refurbishing it each year. The nests at Granite Pointe, she says, have been there for many years in two closely adjacent trees.
In late March, she saw six herons come to their annual nesting site in a group of tall white pines on land owned by golf course.
“I watched them from a spotting scope from a distance. They were bringing sticks and refurbishing the nest, and then they were sitting on them in an incubation posture. But I did not come anywhere close because I didn’t want to disturb them. I interpreted this as a active nesting attempt.”
The nests are located high in two closely adjacent white pines on the west side of the Granite Pointe property on the edge of the logging slash. Until last year there were three nests, she says, but one of the nest trees blew down following the logging in the fall.
Logging in 2021
Last year Machmer, along with registered professional forester Larry Price and managers from the forests ministry, in a number of emails and meetings, attempted to persuade the golf course that they should not log within a 200-meter buffer zone of the nest trees.
They based their argument on Section 34 of the Wildlife Act, which disallows disturbance of the nests of specific birds including herons. The golf club logged to the base of the nest trees, with no further comment or action from the province.
In October, a ministry biologist told Machmer in an email that the logging was not a violation of Section 34 of the Wildlife Act because it occurred on private land. Had it been on public land, the ministry said, the province might have taken action.
Section 34 of the Wildlife Act makes no distinction between public and private land. The Nelson Star has asked the ministry to explain why it made this distinction in this case, and why it has not acted to prevent machinery working close to the nests last year and this year.
The ministry has not responded.
Herons return in 2022
Following her observance of the herons preparing to nest on March 15, Machmer says a large excavator began working in the area near the nest trees in April. During the next few days, the herons disappeared.
On May 3 the Nelson Star photographed two herons perched near the nests but not sitting in them. Machmer thinks this could mean they had not yet decided to stay.
The next day the excavator began working again, and two herons were still there.
“The fact that the herons are back now was really interesting,” Machmer said on May 4, “because there was no excavator activity here yesterday and they immediately showed interest to come back to the nest sites. And I think that shows the level of fidelity that they show to these sites. They’ve been here for many years, and they want to come back because they have successfully bred here in the past.”
Naqvi said the excavator is working nowhere near the nest trees. Machmer says that on several occasions in April she and Price have seen the machine within 70 metres of the nests.
Machmer says over the past month she has contacted the ministry many times, alerting them about the heavy machinery operating near the nest trees.
“The level of blatant disregard (on the part of the golf course) that I have seen over the past month and a half, with repeated use of machinery near the nest trees with the herons trying to settle, is just absolutely astonishing,” she says.
Financial challenges and an offer of help
There appears to be no pressing need for the construction work on the property in the short term.
Naqvi said the golf club will not be able to complete building the two holes this year for lack of money. He said construction costs would be about $850,000. The plan was to get half of that from the sale of the logs, and finance the other half. But revenue from the logging has only been $150,000, he said, and financing will be difficult.
The machinery currently working on the site is doing a preliminary smoothing of the ground, he said. That work is being funded from the golf club operations budget, and will stop soon.
Price, a consulting forester and land-use planner who lives in the vicinity of the golf course, told the Nelson Star that in the spring of 2021 he offered the golf course some planning assistance free of charge. He had ideas about how to design the logging to protect the heron habitat and at the same time further the golf course’s plans.
This would have meant foregoing cutting in the immediate area of the nest trees, he said, and allowed the golf course to be an active steward of the forest and the nests.
He thought the golf club board was open to such a project, but then the logging started.
“There was no willingness to engage,” he said.
Asked about this, Naqvi said he decided instead to hire professional golf course architects.
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