August 8, 2012
Some consulting jobs are for the birds
Environmental assessment reports often contain lists of mammals, birds, insects and other species seen on a proposed project site during a particular stretch of time.
Experts, such as those employed by environmental consulting firm Keystone Wildlife Research in Surrey, British Columbia have developed a reputation for devising and executing site wildlife studies on behalf of both public and private sector clients.
“Framing those studies and turning them into something meaningful is an art in itself,” said Shawn Hilton, business operations manager with Keystone, and an expert in wildlife inventories, population analyses, habitat assessments and environmental impact monitoring of birds, mammals and species at risk.
“When you see the list of species and their numbers in an environmental assessment, you’re not seeing a list of every species there. It’s a list of sensitive species developed in consultation with the client, government agencies, the public, First Nations and anyone potentially affected by the proposed project.”
Initially, a broad range of wildlife study may be suggested during the public consultation portion of the assessment.
Species widely known to be common are usually removed from that list.
“You might get a request to provide an assessment on the number of bunnies, grasshoppers or dandelions in a particular area, but these aren’t really species of concern or at risk, and will likely be removed from the parameters of the study,” said Hilton.
“You want to use your investigative resources in the best interests of the public and government agencies by focusing on what’s important and realistic.”
Some wildlife assessments cover large potential project sites.
Rather than investigate every square centimetre of the site, wildlife experts count on a combination of specialized knowledge and intuition to search for locations more likely to be inhabited by species at risk.
In specific instances, a search for a rare species might call for the assistance of local experts.
“In one case, we knew we should be looking for very rare frogs and found them with the assistance of a local biologist who had been studying them for quite some time,” Hilton said.
“You need to get the right people to do the work.”
Although the testimony of a professional carries significant weight, a wildlife consultant is likely to carefully document instances of rare species found on the site.
“For the rare frogs, you’d want to carefully describe the site and the habitat and photograph any members of the species and any egg masses,” he said.
“If a bird flies through an area only once, you might need evidence in case that species is never seen again anywhere else on the site.”
Hilton has encountered a number of rare species over the years, but there are some he’s still hoping to find.
He’s never seen a dromedary jumping slug, a species identified as threatened by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada in 2003 and found in Canada only on Vancouver Island.
“I’ve seen one on a video,” he said.
“It doesn’t really jump, but when agitated it wriggles a lot faster than its slower cousins.”
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