Big Lake Power Line Bird Kill Alarming . . .

St. Albert’s Place on the Web
Hosted by Don Sinclair
Monday, March 10, 2008

Last week, I watched the first returning wild geese of this spring flying into the sunset over Big Lake.

It reminded me that it is time for the migratory birds to return to their nesting and staging areas around Big Lake/Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park. They have to cross a continent to get here; many do not survive the obstacles man puts in their way.

If they make it this far north, they have to navigate the power lines that intersect the wetlands of Big Lake:

powerlines

Collisions with these lines result in numerous fatalities, such as these shown below:

05_collage_big

At Big Lake in St. Albert, the yearly migratory bird killing season is upon us once again.

Millions of birds die every year all over the world from collisions with power lines and other man-made structures (see “A Summary and Comparison of Bird Mortality from Anthropogenic Causes with an Emphasis on Collisions,” by Erickson et. al., USDA Forest Service Gen.Technical Rep. PSW-GTR-191.2005).

Many of these deaths could be considered unlawful under federal laws such as the Species at Risk Act and Migratory Bird Convention Act. Many of these deaths could be prevented.

In 2005, when the designation of Big Lake as Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park was officially celebrated, the Minister of Environment personally visited the BLESS observation platform at the shore of Big Lake. He must have been impressed by what he saw. When an appeal was made by local residents to have the lines relocated, away from the main flight path of the migratory birds which breed or stage in the Big Lake wetlands, the Minister agreed. So did AltaLink, the owners of the line. The City of St. Albert was, with Altalink and the Provincial Government, to pay one third of the cost of moving the lines which was expected to be carried out in 2008

The AltaLink power lines are located directly in the flight path of the birds which frequent the lagoons or adjacent wetlands to the south of the lagoons, as well as the lake and river. The power lines intersect their habitat. It has been documented that the fatalities caused by power lines near wetlands or lakes consist mostly of water birds, waterfowl and shorebirds, exactly what the photo collage shows.

And then there is the issue of aesthetics. The BLESS platform offers the only access to Big Lake. Many birdwatchers from far and wide visit the viewpoint. St. Albert is trying to attract eco-tourism. Sadly, the first view our visitors have, as they approach the lake and the Lois Hole Provincial Park, is obstructed by the power line.

If they are lucky, they won’t have to witness what many local residents often do: a bird hitting the line and plummeting into the water or wetlands. Last year, I watched helplessly as a large owl died. And who can forget the Great Blue Heron who dangled by his neck on the lines right over the platform for a long time!

There is one more reason to realign the lines: because of the risk for botulism outbreak, it is strongly desired to keep dead birds out of wetlands.

Why it happens:
– Botulism develops in warm, alkaline, non-oxygenated environments (such as inside a carcass, sausage or can of food)
– Waterfowl most often contract botulism from eating infected maggots. Waterfowl LOVE to eat maggots!!

How it happens:
– Dormant botulism spores are present in wetland areas. In their dormant form they are harmless. To become active, the spores are ingested by maggots – when a bird is killed in a wetland, the maggots that help to break down the carcass ingest dormant botulism spores
– Other waterfowl come to feed on the maggots that are now infected with botulism.

Early in 2007, two out of the three players re-affirmed their commitment to the line relocation: the Province handed the City a cheque for their portion and AltaLink publicly re-stated their commitment to paying their portion.

So why is nothing happening? Our previous council was fully in support of this project; certain current councilors also spoke up in public, during the election campaign, for the relocation. The longer they wait, the more it will cost in the end.

The hold-up seems to be the ROAD. This Council does not seem to have the power line relocation on their list of priorities, other than to “make a decision” on the issue. Perhaps St. Albert just doesn’t have the money after all the spending on Ray Gibbon Drive, or maybe we don’t have any money left after the Servus “mini-crisis”, the Riel Recreation project and a fancy 150th anniversary birthday party. I guess birds are just for the birds

P1070149

Early March sunset over Big Lake

Elke Blodgett St. Albert

SINC SAYS:

Elke, it seems to me this has been ongoing for a very long time now. Surely the City of St. Albert could do something if they had the will.

READER RESPONSE:

Don,

Re the above.

With the city on the hook for roughly $100 million for “The Road To Nowhere,” about $2.2 million for the next 10 years for the $ervu$ Place fiasco and establishing a $500,000 budget for a 150th birthday bash, where are they going to get the money to move the power lines? Answer: They’re not, as it’s not a priority of this council.

Cheers,

Jim Starko St. Albert

SINC SAYS:

If I recall, money is not the issue as a grant will pay for most of the move. The question is why the city has yet to act.

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Elke Blodgett