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BC Hydro waits for bears to wake up before continuing project

Image of a black bear

First Nation agrees to delay Internet upgrade to protect local wildlife

You don't mess with a bear, even when it's in a deep sleep. And even if it means halting a project for several months until the bear wakes up.

Our crews working on a power line relocation project and a related Telus Internet upgrade along Highway 5A between Merritt and Kamloops discovered last November that a mother black bear and her cub were hibernating in a den near the construction site.

And that was the end of work at the site, which was suspended four months to accommodate the bears' hibernation.

"Bears are extremely vulnerable to disturbance when they are hibernating, even disturbance a great distance away," says Susan Pinkus, an environmental coordinator and wildlife expert with BC Hydro. "To give them their best chance of surviving the winter we needed to avoid disturbance around the den until after they finished hibernating."

Our project team marked off a one-kilometre radius "no work" buffer zone along the project route to ensure the bears were not disturbed. That meant there would be no work within that zone until the end of the hibernation period in mid-April.

An Upper Nicola Band bear monitor reported in mid-April that the bears had left their den. BC Hydro's Vernon Construction Services crew then completed the portion of the project that was within the wildlife zone as quickly as they could.

And then it was time to work around a pair of nesting peregrine falcons.

Next step: Work carefully around falcon nest

As spring arrived, other wildlife grabbed the spotlight. A pair of peregrine falcons moved in to a nest near the site for a nesting season that usually lasts from April/May through until mid-September.

A full time monitor provided by the Upper Nicola Band began observing the falcons for signs of distress during construction in the wildlife buffer zone. Extra protection measures for the falcons, including using the quietest equipment available and limiting blasting in the area, were put into place.

Internet service upgrade delayed to protect wildlife

Our major project in the area was the realignment of a transmission line, which stood high up on bluffs, to run alongside Highway 5A. The move will increase safety for our crews and, with easier access to the line for repairs, and provide better reliability for customers.

The focus of work early on, however, was in helping Telus — through a combination of Telus and BC Hydro poles — fulfill a commitment to bring fibre optic Internet service to the Upper Nicola Band. That work was supposed to be completed last December, but was delayed because of the hibernating bears.

Our project team had extended talks with the Upper Nicola Band, as the bears and falcons hold important cultural significance to the Band. The Band was more than willing to delay the project, even though it would delay improvements to Telus fibre optic Internet service for them.

"Bears play an important part in our oral history," said Brian Holmes, a councillor with the Upper Nicola Band. "We are happy with the actions taken to minimize disturbance to the bears during their hibernation, and also to the peregrine falcon nesting area.

"The communication that took place between Upper Nicola Band and the BC Hydro project team demonstrated a great deal of respect for our cultural values."