This man stopped BC Hydro’s chainsaw to protect owls and fish

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Michael Schmidt suspects a great horned owl is to blame for the sudden disappearance of his pet cat.

He first blamed coyotes in the area around his home at the base of Burnaby Mountain, but when he later saw the bird surveilling the area, he figured he’d found the culprit.

Michael Schmidt stands outside BC Hydro’s Barnard Substation, where crews recently began clearing brush and trees. (Burnaby Now)

“I guess that’s life,” he says of his cat’s untimely demise.

But when a chainsaw and an industrial brush-clearing machine came for the owl’s habitat, Schmidt didn’t hesitate to defend the “fantastic” animals.

About three weeks ago, Schmidt said he ran out behind his Beaverbrook Crescent strata complex when he heard the machines levelling brush and trees around the perimeter of BC Hydro’s Barnard substation.

He saw two men methodically clearing a slope outside the facility’s fence.

“They want to completely level it,” he said.

When he explained to the two workers that the slope was a riparian area that fed water into a sensitive salmon-bearing creek, they stopped, he said, but not before clearing a couple dozen metres of brush and trees.

Since that day three weeks ago, Schmidt said the saws have not returned, but he still worries for the sensitive environment near his home of 26 years.

He acknowledged BC Hydro has made some efforts to mitigate the effect construction of a new indoor switchgear station at Barnard will have on the local environment. He does not quibble with a report from SNC Lavalin that found clearing the slope of flora will not result in increased sediment – a threat to young fish – in Stoney Creek.

But that’s because any water flowing down is planned to be diverted into storm drains, which, he said, would mean less water for fish and pose a threat of its own.

“I think it’s important to protect the creek,” Schmidt said.

He said B.C. Hydro should put the local environment ahead of whatever reasons it has for clearing the area.

The fish and birds must come first, he said while showing a picture he took this summer of a barred owl roosting in one of the trees set to be felled.

“They’re rat hunters, so we don’t want to lose that,” he said.

BC Hydro, however, claims there will be “no harmful impacts to fish habitat from the maintenance of the perimeter drainage ditch.”

“We are committed to protecting the environment – and our environmental management systems are based on leading industry practice,” spokesperson Kevin Aquino wrote in an email. “BC Hydro is following best practices to protect downstream fish habitat.”

He said the work is being done to “restore and assess the culverts” and “restore the ditch capacity to ensure proper drainage of the substation site.”