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Delta highway construction threatens owl habitat

Bulldozers dot the landscape of Warren Nottingham’s once peaceful farm as construction of the  moves forward in Delta, B.C. Located…

By Niamh Scallan , in City , on April 9, 2010 Tags: , , , ,

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Bulldozers dot the landscape of Warren Nottingham’s once peaceful farm as construction of the  moves forward in Delta, B.C.

Located alongside fragile land, the Nottingham farm remains one of the most ecologically valuable areas in the Lower Mainland.

With the new provincial highway cutting through Nottingham’s property and other areas in Delta, environmental specialists worry that face increased risk.

“If we continue to urbanize the landscape and new highways are coming in, it’s going to be tough for barn owls to survive,” said Sofi Hindmarch, a Masters of Science student barn owls at Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Wildlife Ecology.

A fragile species

A 2006 identified barn owls as the species most prone to traffic collision in B.C.’s Lower Mainland and Central Fraser Valley.

Number of owls collected from different regions of B.C. as a result of vehicular collisions. Source: Preston, M.I., G.A. Powers. 2006. High Incidence of Vehicle-Induced Owl Mortality in the Lower Mainland, B.C. Wildlife Afield (3):1, Supplement.

The study collected dead or severely injured owls found on roads between 1987 and 2005 to identify the most vulnerable species. The barn owl – a low-flying and nocturnal bird – was the most frequently collected bird. Sixty percent of owls found in the Delta area were barn owls.

Hindmarch said road development and urbanization pose a significant threat to bird species in the Lower Mainland. The $1 billion South Fraser Perimeter Road project – scheduled for completion in 2012 – may pose a greater risk to the province’s barn owl population, she said.

“These birds are good at adapting to change,” she said. “When it comes to a point where barn owls are not able to subside in a landscape, I think it’s a signal that the land has become too degraded and it’s hard for any wildlife to live on.”

New route for commercial traffic

The provincial government began construction of the South Fraser Perimeter Road in 2009. The 40-kilometre highway is designed to reduce traffic congestion in Delta and Surrey and improve commercial transit across the region.

It is part of the $3-billion Gateway Program that is intended to improve transit in Metro Vancouver.

Gateway Program director Geoff Freer said the Ministry of Transportation assessed the for the new highway with specialists and experts to minimize its impact.

“We’ve adjusted the alignment of the road many times to try and strike a balance between various interests – bog values, farming values, wildlife, fisheries,” Freer said. “At the end of the day, it made the most sense to plan an economic corridor that would link the railways, ports and highways going east and to the U.S.”

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The Nottingham farm is one of the most ecologically valuable areas of the route, according to a 2007 of the South Fraser Perimeter Road project. In the report, Environment Canada identified the potential risks faced by barn owls and other vulnerable species in the area.

Plan for protective hedgerows

In response to concerns about risk, Freer said that would be built by the province alongside certain areas of the highway to force barn owls to fly up and over highway traffic.

But according to an the effectiveness of hedgerows to reduce birds’ collision with traffic remains unknown.

For Warren Nottingham, the province’s commitment to build hedgerows is both necessary and important to protect the barn owls on his property from the new highway’s traffic.

“The diversity of wildlife that are using the acreage here is so great that I always thought it should be expropriated and added to the Burns Bog park,” he said.

“But promises have been made to build a barrier so now we have to wait and see what happens.”