ATCO Electric Tears Down Hawk Nests
The Calgary Herald reports that ATCO Electric shocked a biologist and MLA when the transmission company tore down over a dozen platforms used for nesting by Threatened ferruginous hawks. ATCO had torn down the nests and platforms in February 2012, before nesting season began, to make way for construction of one of their overhead high voltage power lines in southeastern Alberta. This is a violation of at least one provincial statute, the Alberta Wildlife Act.
In 1975, a zoology graduate student built artificial nesting platforms on top of old wooden poles he had obtained from Alberta Government Telephones. The nesting platforms were built just south of Hanna, Alberta in an effort to help revive numbers of ferruginous hawks which have recently been declining.
Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development’s website reads, “As a Threatened species, the ferruginous hawk is protected by the provincial Wildlife Act and it is illegal to kill or harass individuals or disturb their nests at any time of the year. This species is the subject of recovery planning and implementation in Alberta.”
Nesting habitat of migratory bird species is protected, and any construction activities are not supposed to take place during the nesting season. Not only are ATCO’s actions in violation of this protection, but since the species in question is a Threatened species under the Wildlife Act, it is a particularly serious matter.
Local MLA for Drumheller-Stettler and Wildrose Critic for Tourism, Parks and Recreation, Rick Strankman, raised the issue during Question Period in the Legislative Assembly October 30, asking, “when will the minister take appropriate action to ensure that these threatened and endangered species will not suffer from this again?” Surprisingly, the Minister of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, Diana McQueen, responded, “The platforms were removed…before the nesting season began to prevent the disruption of the birds during construction, and are scheduled to be re-erected this fall.” Apparently, her department had approved removal of the nests. It appears that not only ATCO Electric is in violation of the Wildlife Act, but so also is the Alberta department of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development.
Considering that construction of the ATCO power line interfered with the ferruginous hawk nests, the power line must have been built relatively close to the nesting poles, likely in violation of provincial industrial set-back guidelines. Millions of birds are killed every year crashing into overhead high voltage power lines and towers, especially large birds of prey such as hawks. See this Fact Sheet for more information on this subject.
It is important to note that the Alberta P.C. Government has passed and amended numerous laws that streamline the construction of high voltage power lines in Alberta at the expense of the environment. For example, amendments were passed by the government in April 2008 that exempts all electricity transmission lines from the requirement for an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) under provincial legislation. This and other changes means that, since 2008, power transmission companies no longer need to submit detailed environmental studies to determine the impacts of their proposed new power lines on the environment, including birds. This leaves it up to the Alberta Utilities Commission’s (AUC) discretion to determine how much or how little environmental information needs to be submitted by companies planning to build new high voltage power lines.