VANCOUVER -- The provincial government has suspended a permit allowing an Abbotsford, B.C., quarry to set off explosives near a peregrine falcon nest, alleging that the company failed to maintain an adequate buffer zone between the blast area and the ledge on which the falcons live.

It's the second time Mountainside Quarries has had the Wildlife Act permit for its site overlooking the Sumas River suspended, and nearby residents and wildlife advocates say they're frustrated by the company's behaviour.

Chris Kitt lives near the quarry. He thinks the company hasn't lived up to its word when it comes to environmental protection issues.

"At this point, it seems they've talked a good game, but they're not really following through with their talk," Kitt said.

The quarry and its neighbours have been at odds over the falcon nest for a while.

Last month, more than 1,000 people signed a petition urging the company to stop blasting in the area until the nesting falcons' chicks had left the nest.

As part of the conditions of its permit, Mountainside Quarries is required to maintain a 50-metre buffer zone between its blasting activities and the falcon nest, but video of the site recorded last week shows an explosion that appears to send debris falling closer to the birds. 

In the video, dust from the blast can be seen partially obscuring the view of the falcon and her two chicks from across the river.

Kitt called the video "disheartening" and said the mother bird appears stressed by the blast.

"You've got to remember this female has already been nesting for over 40 days, so these guys, it's not like they're unaware of where the birds are," he said.


Peregrine falcons are on the provincial "red list" of species that are at risk of being lost in B.C. The list includes animals that are threatened, endangered or have populations at risk in the province. 

Gill Radcliffe, director of Pacific Northwest Raptors on Vancouver Island, told CTV News Vancouver different mating pairs of peregrine falcons would likely have different levels of tolerance for disturbances near their nests.

"I would expect them to stick it out within reason unless it becomes really excessive," she said of the blasting at the Abbotsford site.

"They are not going to abandon their chicks in a hurry," she added. "They would be very reluctant to do that, and rightly so, but that still doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be cautious and try and put enough of a buffer around that nest until the young have fledged - fully fledged - and are flying."

One of the risks of the situation - which Radcliffe said would have been accounted for in the permit process that led to the buffer requirement - is that an ill-timed blast could cause fledgling chicks to leave the nest prematurely.


Last time the province suspended Mountainside's permit, the suspension lasted for eight days, from May 20 to 28.

At issue, according to the provincial Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, was the way the buffer zone was measured.

"It wasn’t delineated and they were measuring the 50 metres incorrectly (as a sphere shape around the nest)," a ministry spokesperson said in an email. "The permit was reinstated after the buffer was effectively established using a horizontal radius (cylinder shape)."

The most recent suspension began on June 22 and is the result of a breach of the 50-metre buffer, the ministry said, noting that the disturbances the buffer is intended to protect the birds from can be "direct" or "indirect."

The company has 30 days to appeal the latest suspension to the province's Environmental Appeal Board, according to the ministry.


Kitt said it's always easier for regulators to work collaboratively with companies than to be combative with them. He framed the latest suspension as an opportunity for the ministry to change course in its approach to an organization that doesn't seem interested in collaborating.

"I don't know what the province is going to do," he said. "This is their chance, now, for them to stand up and just kind of go, 'Hey, you know, you're not working with us, you're working against us.'"

Asked what he thinks the province should do now, Kitt was uncertain.

"I don't know what the right outcome is, but, you know, if I worked with bad partners, I would probably decide not to work with them anymore," he said.

A spokesperson for Mountainside Quarries told CTV News on Wednesday that the company would be providing a statement to media outlets about the latest incident in the next day or two.

As of Thursday afternoon, no statement had been received. This story will be updated if and when the company releases more information.