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Protecting shorebirds on Fitzsimmons Fan a challenge

Community, dog owners invited to brainstorm ideas at upcoming workshop

Heather Beresford doesn't want to give concrete examples on what a bird sanctuary on the Fitzsimmons Fan might look like.

The manager of environmental stewardship manager instead wants the community to brainstorm ways to protect birds nesting on the sandy stretch of delta on Green Lake. And she plans to hold a public workshop this fall to collect those ideas.

"It could be fencing," said Beresford. "It could be just signs. It could be closing the area at the most critical nesting times. These are all possibilities, but I don't want to put anything out there right now."

On Tuesday night, Beresford received permission from council to start working on ways to protect shorebirds and water fowl nesting on the Fitzsimmons Fan.

The project is part of Whistler's 2010 Biodiversity Challenge to conserve as many sensitive areas in the resort municipality as possible before the end of the year.

For years, bird watchers and biologists have identified the Fitzsimmons Fan as a critical habitat for migratory birds in the Sea to Sky corridor. Waterfowl and shorebirds use large sandy deltas for nesting, resting and feeding. The only two such locations in Whistler are the Fitzsimmons Fan and the east end of Cheakamus Lake.

But the Fitzsimmons Fan also lies next to an unsanctioned dog off-leash park, making it difficult for birds to rear their chicks.

"The problem for the birds is that as a result of dog use, in the past nine years almost all nesting attempts at the back edge of the delta in the low bush to grass interface have been thwarted by the presence of unleashed dogs," said Beresford in her report to council. "Dogs also present a further nuisance to birds and chicks along the shoreline."

Beresford said she is aware that Whistler is a dog town and dog owners enjoy bringing their pets to the Fitzsimmons Fan.

She wants to work with the public to find a way to protect the birds while still making room for dog walkers, wake boarders and other people who frequent the area.

"As we looked at that location, we also recognized that it is heavily used by the public with people walking down there, taking their dogs down there, and boaters and birders," said Beresford. "I hope people get involved and find a way to protect the nesting birds along there and promote protecting the environment in Whistler."

While council endorsed Beresford's proposal on Tuesday night, some council members had concerns about how the protection might make it difficult for people to use the land too.

"My concern is that I want to make sure we don't end up all of a sudden having a hard hand coming down because someone thinks there is a policy that we are not going to have anyone going down there and there are no dogs," said Councillor Chris Quinlan, who was the loudest voice of caution at the council table.

Councillor Grant Lamont commended Beresford for her work but said he wants to make sure council is kept apprised of the public engagement process as it moves forward.

"Keep up the good work, but keep us in the loop," he said.

Meanwhile, Mayor Ken Melamed spoke in favour of finding another slice of land in Whistler to open up to dog owners in place of the Fitzsimmons Fan.

"We recognize the dog owners need a place to take their dogs, but we have a big valley and I know we can accommodate both and have this great win-win," said the mayor.