A recently released survey on Canada's bird populations only adds to a strong case against port expansion at Roberts Bank, says local environmentalist Mary Taitt.
The longtime advocate against the industrialization of South Delta said she was appalled at the findings in the report, The State of Canada's Birds, which found the numbers for many bird species, including shorebirds, are down significantly.
"It's very, very grim," said Taitt.
The first comprehensive report on the health of Canada's birds, the survey for the Canadian arm of the North American Bird Conservation Initiative notes that nationally, in the past four decades, 12 per cent of bird species have declined. B.C. coastal surveys show a 35 per cent drop.
Although waterfowl such as ducks and geese are up almost 50 per cent on average across Canada, thanks in part to wetland conservation efforts, shorebirds and grassland birds are among those disappearing, with their numbers down by almost half.
Climate change, pesticides, pollution and habitat loss were cited as possible factors.
Noting the Fraser delta and Roberts Bank, which is being eyed for a massive port expansion, are critical stopovers in the Pacific migratory bird flyway, Taitt said destroying the local habitat will severely compound any other challenges bird populations face.
"If the port drops one container, and apparently they're carrying all kinds of deadly chemicals, they could just wipe out Roberts Bank's value. I don't know how many people have looked at the biofilm to see if it is being poisoned, but I can't image it being healthy just from all that coal dust from the (coal) terminal itself, but also from all the trucks and trains, and the ships that I have on good authority switch to dirty fuel," she said.
Saying she's even more concerned now that the federal government is slashing the environmental review process, Taitt noted it's not clear how the science could have changed since the 1979 report of the Environmental Assessment Panel, which was critical of a proposed port expansion at Roberts Bank.
"It was a full, federal environmental assessment review, a full independent panel. We bring it up every single time because they said no to expansion at Roberts Bank, it's too important and too critical in terms of its impacts," she said.
"Since then, they've then helped themselves to Deltaport, then they went on to DP3 and now they're talking about obliterating it with Terminal 2, which is supposed to be to the north, and that's three more (container) berths. They have no figures to even justify they need it," Taitt added.
The Delta Farmland and Wildlife Trust's David Bradbeer noted any loss in habitat for migratory birds coming from the Arctic can negatively impact populations.
Noting the study lumped together the pacific coastal as well as interior regions of this province, Bradbeer said the report specifically mentioned the loss of grassland habitats.
"One thing we need to remember is Delta used to be almost primarily seasonally flooded grasslands and would have supported a neat array of grassland bird species. Since the diking and draining of the land for agriculture, it took away some of the capacity of that landscape to support wildlife," he said.
"Now, ironically, here we are a hundred years after the first clearing and draining of lands and conversion of grasslands to agricultural lands, now we've got farmers who are investing time and effort into our grassland set-aside program and providing up to 550 acres of grassland habitat," he said.