Hay-Zama Waterfowl Staging and Bald Eagle Nesting 2003


Ken D. Wright


The Hay-Zama Lakes Wildlife Monitoring project is a cooperative venture implemented by the Hay-Zama Committee. The committee includes a variety of stakeholders including representatives from oil and gas sector, government agencies, First nations and conservation groups. These stakeholders provide advice on operations within the Hay-Zama lakes complex. As a committee member, the Alberta Conservation Association (ACA) contributes advice on conservation issues and delivers the waterfowl monitoring program.

Numerous oil and gas wells are located within the boundaries of the Hay-Zama lakes region. A number of oil and gas wells are situated on man-made islands in the permanent and ephemeral water bodies. Monitoring of waterfowl populations during critical migration periods is a stakeholder strategy designed to identify possible negative environmental impacts on select avian species. These monitoring efforts allow for continued oil and gas production unless a large congregation of waterfowl is present at a well site, at which point well production must be suspended. Alberta Sustainable Resource Development (ASRD) defined a threshold of 600 ducks and/or geese within a 30 meter radius of the well site as the criteria for suspension of well production. The alternative, as defined by Alberta Energy and Utilities Board, is a general suspension of production on the complex for the migration periods (approximately 15 April to 31 May and 15 September to 15 October). In addition to monitoring waterfowl populations, the Hay-Zama program includes monitoring of bald eagle nesting sites to quantify: i) changes in population size through time and ii) breeding success of this species.

During this study period (28 April to 21 May and 25 August to 13 October) migrating waterfowl populations were generally well dispersed throughout the wetland complex. Based on 12 surveys during the study period, densities of waterfowl did not exceed threshold limits during the 2003 migration periods. Consequently no wells were shutin due to waterfowl presence.

Results from surveys of bald eagles identified seven active nesting pairs. Breeding success was not determined, as the adults continued to brood young during the survey period. To avoid undue harassment, eggs or young in the nests were not counted.

Based on the above, I suggest that the continued monitoring of well sites during waterfowl migration periods is beneficial as a precautionary approach to quantifying: i) densities of waterfowl and ii) density and breeding success of bald eagles. Finally, I suggest that a delay in the timing of the bald eagle nest surveys would be beneficial to obtain accurate counts of young.

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