An eagle was electrocuted after colliding with BC Hydro lines near the ocean-end of Bay Street in Ucluelet on June 12.
Hydro spokesperson Karla Louwers told the Westerly News the incident caused a one-hour power outage for roughly 20 homes.
She said the lines in the area are equipped with bird diverters and, up until this incident, Hydro had not received any reports of eagles striking them.
“The diverters are on the line for a reason. They’re there to prevent bird strikes and, so far, they’ve been doing their job,” she said.
“They decrease the possibility of bird strikes by improving the visibility of our lines for birds…They use material that glows to alert birds to obstructions and the colours of them are designed specifically for avian vision. We’ve got those along that span of lines and they’ve been very effective.”
She said Hydro crews are assessing how to prevent incidents like this from happening in the future.
“It’s an area that’s close to ocean and close to a seafood processing plant [Ucluelet Harbour Seafoods] that tends to attract animals,” she said. “We’ve taken steps already; now we’re in the process of likely taking a few more.”
The area’s spans of lines contain three conductors and birds can hit one and be fine but, if they come into contact with two lines at the same time, they can be electrocuted, according to Louwers.
She said Hydro’s options would come down to either creating wider spaces between each line or insulating the middle line to decrease the potential for electrocution.
“It’s when they come into contact with two or more of those that it’s not such a positive outcome,” she said. “Insulating the centre line or increasing the distance between the lines minimizes the risk of injury.”
Local Hydro technicians will work with natural resource specialists to choose a solution and the plan they put in place would come into effect in short order, according to Louwers.
“It’s not a large project. It would just be ensuring that the recommendation meets the engineering standards required for our lines and then having the crew availability to get out and actually install the prescription,” she said. “Generally speaking, stuff like that happens relatively quickly…It’s fairly easily implemented and then we would continue to monitor it to see what happens in the future, tracking those environmental incidents.”
She added Hydro is not considering putting the lines underground and reiterated that this is the first reported eagle strike in the area.
“That’s a very expensive solution and it would be considered in more extreme cases,” she said.
“Everybody always says that they’d love to have BC Hydro’s lines underground, but we’re an overhead utility and our rates are based on us being an overhead utility…Undergrounding could be four to ten times more expensive than the cost of an overhead utility and that’s paid for by all our ratepayers. All of those costs to do business factor into our rates so we build overhead lines and underground them in areas where there’s that need.”
She said Hydro moved about 10 spans of lines near Ucluelet underground in 2006 because of frequent eagle strikes but noted that work cost roughly $250,000.
“All those project costs are essentially paid for by all of the ratepayers throughout British Columbia,” she said.
She expressed gratitude for the eyewitnesses who reported June 12’s eagle strike to Hydro.
“The bird wasn’t there when we arrived on site so if we hadn’t received the calls with the eyewitness information, we may not have known that it was an eagle that hit the line, which is important for us to track,” she said.
She said anyone who sees an animal or object crash into a line should report their sighting to Hydro at 1-888-769-3766.
“It helps us respond accordingly,” she said. “The more information we can get from those eye witnesses the better…We want to say thanks to the people who called in and reported it and encourage people to continue doing that when they have this kind of information. It’s helpful to us to find the right prescription for the area because every case is really different.”
During last week’s regular council meeting, Ucluelet local Pieter Timmermans suggested eagles are being drawn to the area by offal—fish waste—left out near Ucluelet Harbour Seafoods (UHS).
“There’s been a lot of activity the last couple of weeks around the fish plant. There’s probably been a dozen eagles soaring through the trees,” Timmermans said.
“We’ve had a look down there and it looks like they are leaving their offal trucks open.”
He asked if the district had any authority through bylaws to make the plant cover its fish waste.
Mayor Dianne St. Jacques responded the company is aware of the issue.
“Ucluelet Harbour Seafoods for many, many, years left their offal bins wide open. I think it’s only the past few years that they’ve gotten more responsible and covered it up,” she said. “I understand the general manager has certainly heard about the community’s concerns and is doing something to rectify that.”
She assured the district would follow up on the issue. The Westerly was unable to contact UHS by press time.
Ucluelet local ‘Oyster’ Jim Martin believes the eagle was one of a pair he has been watching for the past eight years. Martin told the Westerly he has watched the pair raise about 10 babies and there are two babies currently in the nest.
“Now we’re down to a single parent with two babies,” he said. “I feel bad for the eagle. It is a sad situation.”
As soon as he heard an eagle had been killed, Martin went to his telescope to look at the nest and confirmed one of the adult eagles was gone.
“There’s no doubt,” he said. “The family scene has completely changed. Now it’s a single parent sitting there for a good bit of the time and then it goes and brings back food and sits there…a lot of times [the adults] have to guard the nest so one will stay at the nest and one will leave but [the babies] are vulnerable now with a single adult.”
He said the two babies were born in early May and neither is ready to fly yet.
“All they do is eat, scream and poop over the side; that’s about all they do right now,” he said adding he has enjoyed watching the eagle family’s past offspring take their first flights.
“When their feathers get all out, they’ll start using them and they’ll realize lift and then they’ll start flapping their wings and just helicoptering straight up, maybe a foot or foot-and-a-half. and then down and then they hop around. They’ll fly from one limb to the other side of the nest,” he said.
”Watching the babies grow up, take their first flights and practice flying and stuff is comical…They have so much lift that all they do is basically soar and flap a little bit. It’s easy for them to get back, but they’ve never lifted on flimsy branches before and these guys get on these branches and they’re upside down and hanging there with their wings all out and messed up because it’s a brand new experience and then, they make it back to the nest and walk around a bit; back on the solid ground.”