Mayor Wiese and Town engineer Weir ordered to stop violating federal law

In early 2019, the Town of Qualicum Beach was awarded a grant of $500,000 from the BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure for what the Town Planning Director deemed “needed improvements” to the so-called School Connector Route, a controversial project previously reported on by Second Opinion QB.  

The resulting clear-cut slash through the woodland adjacent to Grandon Creek canyon and trail “improvements” exposed a colony of nesting herons protected by federal law. These herons grace the Qualicum Beach waterfront, drawing the admiration of tourists and residents alike.

Documents obtained from the Town, not freely but through an FOI request submitted by a concerned resident, have confirmed that Mayor Brian Wiese and Bob Weir, Director of Engineering & Operations, knowingly and wilfully ignored and defied outcries from residents, direction from experts, as well as repeated orders from provincial environmental protection officers.

Environment Canada eventually was compelled to issue a Compliance Order to force the Town, Wiese and Weir to stop violating federal law, or else face fines and/or imprisonment.

The devastation begins in January 2020

As described by Qualicum Nature Preservation Society (QNPS) in an article entitled A Story of Hope, Heroism and Heron: “To the dismay of many local residents, a large swath of timber — over 15 meters wide — was harvested along Hoylake Road in January 2020 by the Town of Qualicum Beach, after the Council defied their own motion to conduct a walk-through. The devastation stretched through the sensitive and protected Grandon Creek Aquatic Habitat Greenway that served as roosting habitat for a well-known local colony of Great Blue Heron. It was these blue-listed, at-risk herons who became the center of a months-long struggle. … ”

Photo: Deborah Freeman

This was not a flock of herons that had just flown into town unnoticed. This heron rookery has apparently been used each spring and summer for years, admired and respected by local residents of all ages. During courtship, breeding, and nesting season (January 15 – September 15) these birds are expressly protected under federal law which prohibits “any activity, work or undertaking that will disturb the nest of a migratory bird” during this period.

Despite what QNPS describes as “immediate and fierce public outcry in January”, the Town’s logging and grading, under the responsibility of Bob Weir, Director of Engineering and Operations, continued. Having been ignored by the Town’s Administration, the local residents appealed to the province, with repeated calls to the provincial Conservation Officer Service’s Report all Poachers and Polluters hotline.

FOI documents reveal the extent of deliberate law-breaking by Wiese and Weir

By December 2019 a $566,348.96 contract for the School Route Linkages – Trailways 2019 project was awarded by the Town to Roc Star Enterprises Ltd. At the December 16, 2019 Council meeting where the contract was approved, Council also passed a motion directing staff to “organize a time for any members of the public who wish to attend to walk the proposed [emphasis added] school route linkages trail in early 2020.”

On this information walk, the Town presumably would describe the nature and timing of the changes they intended to make to the existing trails. However, Council and Administration did NOT conduct the promised walk — they logged the area without providing the opportunity for residents to have the promised input. Had they done so, all of the adverse consequences described below could have been avoided, up to and including the Town being served a Compliance Order to stop violating federal law, after being repeatedly told to cease and desist — not to mention the needless resulting distress caused to the colony of nesting herons.

In January 2020, the construction crew “discovered” the heron rookery — as if it was unknown until they had destroyed dozens of nearby trees. Aptly put by local school teacher Reid Wilson, “If a nine-year-old child can spot it on the way to school and let their teacher know about it, then clearly it doesn’t take an expert to identify a heron rookery. When it was brought up in class [the previous school year], several hands shot up to say that they knew about the place where the herons nested.”

Derek Nickel, a biologist from TerraWest Environmental Inc., was brought in to “assess the herons the week after they were discovered.” In his report dated January 31, 2020 Nickel clearly stated that a 60 metre NO ACTIVITY buffer needed to be in place around the heron rookery, plus an additional 200 metre NO DISTURBANCE buffer prohibiting “heavy equipment use, clearing, grubbing, breaking ground or similar ground disturbance.” Nickel recommended that the work only be done in the four month window from September 15 to January 15.

On February 24, 2020, consistent with the TerraWest recommendations, Brad Remillard of D.R. Clough Consulting, hired to oversee trail construction, emailed Bob Weir advising that “if there is a disturbance of the herons, then work within the 200 metre area around the rookery should be shut down [emphasis added]”. The evidence shows that Bob Weir chose to ignore Remillard’s advice.

Four days later, on February 28, 2020, TerraWest’s Nickel “attended the rookery and observed seven occupied heron nests. When machinery started 100 metres away it caused a ‘minor disturbance’. When machinery went within 100 metres [of the nests], a ‘major disturbance’ occurred.” Nickel emailed this information to Remillard on the same day.

Their patience with Bob Weir finally expired. Officer Eichstader bypassed Weir’s boss, CAO Daniel Sailland, went straight to the Mayor and…

The following week, on March 3, 2020 Jenna Cragg, an Ecosystems Biologist from FLNRORD – BC’s Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resources Operations and Rural Development, who was already on the case, and alarmed by the observations and photos of tree destruction that local residents had provided, attended the rookery. She then emailed Remillard and Weir stating that her ”previous recommendations still applied” (for construction to be delayed until after the breeding season, and for a 60 metre no activity zone, plus the 200 metre quiet zone). This was at least the second time she had told Town staff to avoid harassing the herons. One of her directives had been emailed to Luke Sales, Town Planning Director a week earlier on February 24, 2020. Ms. Cragg was also “still concerned about whether the herons will be disturbed because of the loss of the trees along the railway, which makes them more susceptible to disturbance and predation.”

On the same day, March 3, 2020, Weir emailed Cragg and promised her that “they will only do work by hand and the use of mechanical equipment had ceased.” That promise was soon broken.

Three days later, on March 6, 2020, a frustrated Cragg emailed Weir and Sales stating “I have been bombarded by reports of heron disturbance and colony abandonment. I am concerned that machines are working within the recommended buffer of 260 metres. … Please respond ASAP.”

Photo: Deborah Freeman

Two weeks later, on March 23, 2020, provincial Conservation Officer Daniel Eichstader attended the rookery and, again, “observed two workers using machinery to grade the path up to the edge of the 60 metre buffer zone.” [i.e. inside the 200 metre quiet zone, contrary to the directives previously provided to Weir multiple times by multiple authorities].

Their patience with Bob Weir finally expired. Officer Eichstader bypassed Weir’s boss, CAO Daniel Sailland, went straight to the Mayor, and issued a verbal compliance order that there be no construction within the 200 metre buffer zone until the September 15 end of the nesting season. Period.

On April 2, 2020 the written Compliance Order was issued to the Town by a Federal Wildlife Officer with the Enforcement Branch of Environment and Climate Change Canada, served on Mayor Brian Wiese and Bob Weir, Engineering & Operations Director, to cease conduct in violation of the Migratory Birds Convention Act regulations.

During this episode other authorities were engaged, including provincial Conservation Officer Stuart Bates, as well as Kevin Fort, head of the Marine and Terrestrial unit of the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) and their biologist Ross Vennesland. It is incredible that it took a small army to enforce the Town’s compliance with the law, and to respect the wildlife that Qualicum Beach residents cherish.

It is even more disturbing that Wiese, Weir and their colleagues refused to listen to the concerned and observant Qualicum Beach residents back in January and February, who already knew the rules, and knew the right thing to do – leave the herons in peace to raise their young.