By Nikki Jamieson
Sunny South News
A company has been hired to perform an investigation into the bird deaths at the Birds of Prey Centre last summer.
During their regular April 8 meeting, Coaldale town council received a verbal update on the West Nile Virus outbreak at the Birds of Prey Centre.
In late August 2018, staff at the Birds of Prey Centre discovered birds were getting sick. Over the course of the next month, 15 of their most high profile birds died, including favourites such as Roosevelt the Bald Eagle.
Due to the symptoms the birds exhibited and the cluster of bird deaths, staff at the centre determined the cause was WNV, although this would need to be confirmed by lab testing.
As there were stagnant pools of water in place of a wetland drained during the Malloy Basin construction, they believed this was where the mosquitoes carrying the virus originated from.
The town was informed of the outbreak, asked that the centre clarify their language — in that that they suspected it was West Nile Virus until test results confirmed that it was West Nile in their communications to the public on the matter — and filled the ponds with running water.
The test results came back positive for WNV in November 2018, and the centre announced the discovery in late December. In response, the town called for an investigation into the bird deaths.
Town CAO Kalen Hastings informed council that the town has retained Solstice Environmental Management to conduct an “expert, objective and thorough review” of the events contributing to the bird deaths at the centre last summer. They would also be doing an assessment on how to best manage WNV in Coaldale and the surrounding areas.
“The objectives of Solstice Environmental Management is to establish findings of fact, and to provide recommendations on best practices on how the risk of West Nile Virus in Coaldale can be mitigated by all parties in the future,” said Hastings.
“The investigator will be contacting the relevant parties directly. Should there be any questions with respect to this update, they can be channeled to myself.”
According to Solstice website, they offer customized services to “help our clients understand, manage and reduce their environmental impact” while helping them to develop and operate in a sustainable manner. Based out of Edmonton, they have more then 25 years of experience conducting liability assessments, environmental audits, wildlife and environmental resource management plans, Phase I and II environmental site assessments and other services with Indigenous community, municipalities and organizations in the private and public sectors.
Hastings said the full report would be submitted to council for review by the end of June 2019.
Coun. Bill Chapman asked that as the update referred to Coaldale and area, if Hastings was suggesting they look outside the town limits.
Hastings said yes, as mosquitoes fly and there are a number of water sources outside of town limits that are in proximity to the town.
“Given that mosquitoes fly and there is a number of water bodies, wetlands, farmsteads, dugouts, crops in and around the area, it is important to look at Coaldale and the surrounding area as all one piece, different pieces to the same puzzle,” said Hastings.
Chapman asked if this was an exercise they’ll want to accomplish with Lethbridge County. Hastings replied it was “possible”, but they would let Solstice map out the steps and go from there.
“We hired them; we want this to be as independent as possible,” said Hastings.
“We’ll take our cues from the experts on this, but it’s certainly possible that it may be something that they proceed with as part of step two in the process.”
Council unanimously received the verbal report for information. Coun. Henry ‘Butch’ Pauls was absent from the meeting.
In an earlier edition of this article, there was a series of sentences that tried to sum up what happened with the bird deaths at the Birds of Prey Centre in late summer 2019. Concerns have been raised about one sentence in these articles, which referenced the Town of Coaldale’s response, particularly the section which read “… they requested the centre to keep quiet until test results came back…”.
This appears to have been misleading, and the full sentence should have read: ‘The town was informed of the outbreak, asked that the centre clarify their language — in that that they suspected it was West Nile Virus until test results confirmed that it was West Nile in their communications to the public on the matter — and filled the ponds with running water.’
The Sunny South News apologizes for any concern or confusion this may have caused for our readers.