Better bush clearing to protect bird nests

An estimated 800,000 eggs, nestlings and adult birds are destroyed each year in Canada by roadside mowing and brushing. While road maintenance is important for safe transportation, it is possible to schedule maintenance outside of nesting season, which is why the ELC recently asked the provincial government on behalf of Bulkley Valley Naturalists to change its road maintenance policy.

When Rosamund Pojar of Smithers, BC, saw contractors cutting brush alongside her road during bird breeding season, she immediately called the BC Conservation Officer Service to have it stopped. As a member of the Bulkley Valley Naturalists, she knew that road brushing or clearing that takes place during peak nesting season harms vulnerable bird populations. Receiving no answer at the Conservation Office, she called the police.

“I called the RCMP and told them that I was going to go out and stand in front of the machine to stop further brushing,” says Rosamund. “I ran out and found the machine operator was actually parking his machine for the day as it was the end of his work day. The Conservation Officers, who had received my message, came out and together we informed the machine operator that the road brushing was in contravention of the federal Migratory Bird Act.”

While the operator wasn’t aware of the contravention, he had been instructed to walk the area before brushing.

“I later was told that the Ministry of Transportation had hired a biologist to do the walk through to check for signs of nests. The brushing was stopped and no further brushing was done along my road.”

While the existing policy recommends contractors schedule maintenance outside of nesting seasons or take measures to ensure birds are not present and nesting before brushing, it does not go far enough. According to the ELC report, the policy must prohibit roadside brushing during nesting season to remain onside the federal Migratory Birds Convention Act. If that is unavoidable, contractors should have to seek expert advice and action to ensure birds are not present.

Other jurisdictions in Canada and the US protect bird populations with strong policies to prohibit or strictly regulate road brushing during nesting season, which makes sense at a time when one-third of North American bird species requires urgent conservation.

Read the report