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Heron breeding site still active at Nelson golf course 2 years after site clearing

Biologist has guidelines for future construction

A Nelson biologist says she is relieved that great blue herons continue to occupy a breeding site at the Granite Pointe Golf Club, despite site clearing activity that occurred in 2021.

Marlene Machmer said she was alerted to the logging disturbance at the site, and the logging was shut down until after the young hatched.

That year, Machmer and forest ministry biologist Irene Manley advised Granite Pointe that they should not log or do other industrial work in the vicinity of the nest trees during the nesting season, citing the BC Wildlife Act and provincial government guidelines. Herons are known to be easily scared off of their nests, abandoning them if disturbed by human noise and activity,

Machmer is attuned to blue herons and their habitat because from 2002 to 2019 she has monitored all heron nests in the Columbia Basin, often for the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program and the Columbia Basin Trust. The number of active nests in the basin population declined by close to 50 per cent over those years of monitoring. In B.C. the interior subspecies of the blue heron is a blue-listed species, vulnerable because of declining populations and sensitivity to human activities.

She said herons often return to the same breeding sites over the years if not disturbed. The established nests at the golf course exist in two closely adjacent white pines on the western edge of the property. The nests are, according to Machmer’s estimate, more than 40 metres above the forest floor — so high that they are difficult to see clearly from the ground.

The two nest trees, which were surrounded by forest before the logging, are now backed by forest on the west and the golf club's clearcut on the east. 

The purpose of the logging was to create a new fairway to replace existing ones that will become the site of a planned housing development. But beyond logging and some clearing of the slash, no fairway development has since been done.

Granite Pointe Golf Club president Am Naqvi did not respond to a request for comment or an update on its plans for the logged area.

Machmer said the normal operation of an established fairway in that location would be unlikely to disturb the herons, as long as it is properly designed with the nest trees far away from the hole. It is further construction work during the breeding season or other amenities located too close to the heron breeding site that are the potential problems.

During the two partial seasons of logging and clearing, Machmer said she observed fewer than the usual number of heron fledglings foraging in their usual spots near Taghum and Grohman. 

"Short of total nest site abandonment, it is the reproductive success of those nests that matters most, and the number of fledglings observed at their habitual foraging spots in August was definitely lower."

Now that the herons appear to be content in their nesting location, Machmer has some advice for Granite Pointe.

"There should be no construction or heavy equipment use taking place between March 1 and Aug.15 within a 200-metre radius of that site," she said. And for any work done outside those dates, she said there should be a 200-metre buffer left around the nest trees. 

"That buffer has already been severely eroded by the previous clearing," Machmer said, adding that this makes a buffer zone even more essential in the future.

"There is a need for some restoration planting on the east side of the breeding site to provide vegetative screening and mitigate potential disturbance caused by people below."

Bill Metcalfe

About the Author: Bill Metcalfe

I have lived in Nelson since 1994 and worked as a reporter at the Nelson Star since 2015.
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