Monday, February 4, 2013

We love our herons

No bird gets more attention on Bowen Island then our herons.  One of the reasons that they get so much attention is that they regularly nest in the trees in Crippen Park near the library.  There is nothing more terrifying on a spring day then to see fights between hungry bald eagles and heron parents protecting their eggs.  The air fills with the sound of deep heron Groooooking and eagle shreiks.

But they are beautiful and iconic and i love them.  When I am out paddle boarding on Deep Bay I often share the afternoon with them, the two of us quietly standing on the water.

But there is another fights the herons are involved in.  They are involved in a fight for their survival.  The herons that live on Bowen are Coastal Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias fannini) a coastal subspecies that is protected under BC law.  Here are a set of documents related to their listing.

Here on Bowen Island, we got confused about these herons last year when Sue Ellen Fast reported breeding season had begun.  Janice Halligan did some research on the herons and uncovered all kinds of information.  She and Sue Ellen were having a good conversation about the implications of a ferry marshalling scheme that would build a road right through the heron rookery, in contravention of all kinds of regulations and guidelines.  Janice pinballed back and forth from link to link reading regulations and guidelines and planning advice and reporting on her findings and so on and concluded with a question that she asked Sue Ellen that never got answered.  The thread petered off with Janice continuing to find more questions but Sue Ellen was no longer around to answer.

The reason Sue Ellen didn't answer is because in the middle of the thread she left the Forum.  With no evidence at all, Andrew P. concluded that "There appears...to be no provincial or federal prohibiting (sic) BIM building a road as proposed in Plan Z."  He then lobbed out one of his common allegations of people spreading misinformation about the herons: 


"All development anywhere near the heron nests would/should take place off season and have as large as possible set backs. Signs could be placed along the loop road asking people to keep it down. Wonder if there are any signs along the park trails of that sort right now?  
This is the kind of thinking that appears to have been thwarted by misinformation on our responsibilities in relation to the herons."
Sue Ellen, who is a smart person and a nationally renowned naturalist, just walked away from that.  What can you do with someone who draws his own erroneous conclusions from a discussion and then accuses others of misinformation?  Especially as he Googled "Great Blue Heron" and found out that the birds weren't protected at all!

He googled the wrong species.  The Great Blue Heron in general is not protected in Canada, but the Coastla Blue Heron is.  And so he was really quite wrong on this.

But somehow it crept into the public consciousness that we had had a good old discussion on herons and the conclusion, laid bare by all the facts, was that the vast regulatory scheme that Canada and BC have to protect herons was a fiction.  Andrew posted today:

It’s one thing to express your opinion. It’s another thing to misrepresent the facts and the law, when you know or should know that what you are stating is incorrect. Of course I refer to the rules; regulations regarding development in the midst of “potential” or “historic” heron nesting locations.  
My opinion is that the signs were installed to lend credence to the patently false position that was promulgated as truth for so long, and was soundly debunked by Janice some while back. Go ahead and ask the GVRD guys who wanted the signs installed. I did.
And I guess all I am saying is that a) Janice did not debunk anything, she simply read widely and never made a conclusion and b) Andrew did make a conclusion by doing research that included Googling the wrong bird and c) turns out there are signs there after all and d) the "position" is not false.

I'm not posting on the forum anymore, but for my friends that read it, it's worth pointing out, if it matters to you, that Andrew is wrong about the herons, and those who have imagined that Janice concluded that the federal and provincial governments have no regulatory scheme that would prevent a road being put through the nesting area of a Blue Listed species are also wrong, both about Janice's conclusions and the regulatory framework.  She didn't debunk anything and she never claimed the certainty that Andrew ascribes to her.

Why does this matter?  Because people like Andrew have been using the heron discussion as an illustration of "fact based" decision making on Bowen Island.   The truth is that the heron debates contained all kinds of facts and in conclusion, it is clear that the Coastal Great Blue Heron is protected and there are guidelines and regulations (and even a local procedure) to comply with before you mess with them.  Janic herself never debunked anything, and nothing was shown to be false.  Andrew made some conclusions and labelled those that didn't agree with him as spreading "misinformation."

Council can make any decision it wants about ferry marshalling, but if they get fined for violating a species protection regulation, I wonder who will be invited to pay?  That s what experts are for: to help people make complicated decisions that are outside of their realm of experience.  Andrew is no expert on herons, and neither is Janice.  But at least she took the time to ask a resident expert, and respected her opinion.

(Edited to remove the surname of an individual who requested it.)