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Federal study on Greater Victoria migratory bird sanctuaries expected in new year

Advocate happy to see off-leash dogs forced off beaches along migratory bird sanctuary
A map of the Victoria Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary that was implemented in October 1923. (Greater Victoria Naturehood)

Jacques Sirois is a man for the birds. A longtime advocate, he works daily on preservation of the three Greater Victoria sanctuaries dedicated to protecting migratory birds and their environment.

Sirois is happy to see recent action as municipalities take notice alongside the federal government. Revelations of residents releasing their hounds in federally protected areas prompted change in Oak Bay and Saanich.

“I’m thrilled to see Oak Bay is taking this seriously,” he said, praising the ‘leash before you beach’ promotional materials issued by the district as dogs returned to Willows Beach this fall. Dogs are banned from one section of the beach from May 1 through Sept. 30.

The beach is also part of the large Victoria Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary that impacts shoreline in Saanich, Oak Bay, Victoria, View Royal and Esquimalt. Under federal regulations, dogs are not allowed off-leash below the high water mark in the sanctuary.

The same applies to Cadboro Bay-Gyro Park in Saanich a long-standing point of contention between residents with and without dogs.

While Victoria harbour has garnered the most attention lately, Sirois and others in the Greater Victoria Naturehood are actively concerned over uses in three south Island sanctuaries – including Shoal Harbour on the Peninsula and Esquimalt Lagoon in Colwood. The Greater Victoria Naturehood is a collaboration of several not-for-profit, public and private organizations.

READ ALSO: Saanich unleashes major study of dogs in parks

The Esquimalt Lagoon Migratory Bird Sanctuary was established on Dec. 12, 1931 just west of Esquimalt Harbour. The shallow tidal waters support thousands of waterfowl from October through May, making it a top birding spot in the region. Shoal Harbour Bird Sanctuary was established on April 10, 1931 and includes 144 hectares of sheltered bays and intertidal mudflats in North Saanich and Sidney.

All were created to control hunting in the face of declining bird populations, a problem that remains 100 years later, Sirois noted. While food and habitat loss are top concerns, he maintains pets are also a part of the problem.

He points to the recently released results of Victoria’s Vital Signs – a Victoria Foundation survey of Greater Victoria – where, year after year, the natural environment is deemed among the best things about the region. This year it topped the category with 50 per cent of respondents naming the natural environment the best thing about Greater Victoria.

Sirois feels it shows residents support the work he does. “We are after maintaining and enhancing our natural areas which are precious and priceless.”

READ ALSO: Victoria’s 2021 Vital Signs report released with B-grade quality of life

The goal, as the Victoria sanctuary approaches its 100th year, is to see ongoing and increased environmental work. He points to recent work at Kohweechela/Mary Tod Island where longstanding invasive plants were yanked to clear the way for native growth; the remediation of Laurel Point and the cleanup of Rock Bay in the Upper Harbour. The turnaround of water quality in the Gorge is an ongoing success story, and ongoing project.

“There are a lot of positives. Revitalization is really taking shape,” he said.

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The Canadian Wildlife Service and a local environmental consulting company conducted a survey of residents in fall 2020 looking at impacts from off-leash dogs on birds in the three migratory bird sanctuaries. A federal study into the area is expected to be complete in the next year.

Learn more about the Greater Victoria Naturehood at

Jacques Sirois, a longtime advocate for migratory birds in Greater Victoria, takes his e-bike out to routinely ride through the Victoria Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary that stretches across Saanich, Oak Bay, Victoria, View Royal and Esquimalt. (Christine van Reeuwyk/News Staff)

Christine van Reeuwyk

About the Author: Christine van Reeuwyk

I'm dedicated to serving the community of Oak Bay as a senior journalist with the Greater Victoria news team.
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