$600,000 to protect key bird habitat near Pitt Lake

Ducks Unlimited frees up some bucks to improve wetlands north of Pitt Meadows

Workers install water control structures.

Workers install water control structures.

One of the most important wetlands in the Lower Mainland will be getting some TLC thanks to Ducks Unlimited Canada.

The national wetlands conservation group is spending $600,000 to replace eight water control structures on Pitt Marsh wetlands, located at the south end of Pitt Lake.

The structures allow Ducks Unlimited Canada, which maintains the provincially-owned land, to control the water height in the marsh, and to control the amount of vegetation, and thus the amount of food available for migrating birds.

“This is our largest wetland project in the Lower Mainland and an important habitat for many birds and mammals, especially wintering waterfowl,” said Brad Arner, manager of provincial operations for Ducks Unlimited in British Columbia. “Without the water control structures, the marsh habitat would not exist.”

Dan Buffet, a research biologist with Ducks Unlimited,  says the marsh is an important pit stop for migrating birds.

The Pitt Marsh lies on the Pacific Flyway, one of the main routes for  migratory birds in North America between their summer breeding grounds in the north and winter feeding grounds in the south.

“Hundreds of thousands of waterfowl use this area as a stop over on their way down south,” said Buffet. “What we try to do is provide food for the birds while they are here.”

Among the many species routinely spotted on the marsh are mallard, Canada geese, green-winged teal, gadwall, American wigeon, trumpeter swans, ring-necked ducks, wood ducks, buffleheads and hooded mergansers.

Pitt Marsh is also a breeding ground for wood ducks, mallards and Canada geese.

Given the size and importance of the marsh to migrating birds, Buffet said its protection is a top priority for the group, especially considering the many threats to nearby feeding areas.

While the development of farmland into residential and commercial subdivisions puts a strain on migrating birds, so too does the conversion of traditional farm lands to blueberry and cranberry fields.

“When a waterfowl stops off in, say, a potato field, they’ll eat some insects, maybe pick at some spoiled potatoes on the ground and carry on,” said Buffet. “But they don’t get that in berry fields, they don’t provide the same kind of food regular farmland does.”

The 1,342-hectare Pitt Marsh has been owned by the government of B.C. since 1974 and has been part of the Pitt-Addington Wildlife Management Area since 1987. Ducks Unlimited has been involved in this area since the late 1970s, constructing nesting islands, dikes and water control structures.

The original water controls were built by Ducks Unlimited in the 1980s.

“They’re steel, so they are starting to rust,” said Buffet.

The work is expected to take two to three weeks to complete, and may conflict with duck hunting in some areas of the marsh when the season opens later this month.

“There should be minimal impact [to hunters],” Buffet said.

“The money that people pay for hunting and fishing licenses goes to pay for projects like this,” Buffet noted.

Maple Ridge News