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Town of Coaldale hears findings from investigation looking into 15 bird deaths last summer

Click to play video: 'Source of West Nile virus inconclusive after 15 birds died at Alberta Birds of Prey Centre: report' Source of West Nile virus inconclusive after 15 birds died at Alberta Birds of Prey Centre: report
WATCH ABOVE: The Town of Coaldale heard the findings of a third-party investigation on Monday. The probe looked into the deaths of 15 birds at the Alberta Birds of Prey Centre in August of 2018. Danica Ferris reports – Jul 30, 2019

Coaldale Town Council met for a special meeting on Monday to hear the results of a third-party investigation into the deaths of 15 birds at the Alberta Birds of Prey Centre last August.

The centre pointed to an apparent West Nile virus outbreak after the deaths, which occurred between Aug. 15-23 of 2018.

In December, the Alberta Birds of Prey Foundation claimed that the outbreak was due to shallow, stagnant pools of water adjacent to the town’s storm pond.

READ MORE: West Nile virus outbreak results in 15 dead birds at Alberta conservation centre

The incident has caused tension between the town and one of its biggest tourist attractions, causing Coaldale Town Council to approve of a third-party investigation into the bird deaths.

The study, conducted by Edmonton-based consulting firm Solstice Environmental Management, was unable to conclusively identify the source.

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“Because birds can be exposed to the virus from infected mosquitoes and secretions from infected birds, there are several possible routes of exposure in this case, none of which could be confirmed after the fact,” the report stated.

Dee Patriquin, a senior environmental scientist with Solstice, said that there was no evidence to suggest that shallow pools were the cause of the outbreak.

“In this specific case, we can’t pin-point an actual vector or a source of transmission,” Patriquin said. “There are a variety of different possibilities, and unfortunately, this area of the province is a high-risk zone.”

Patriquin said that the wet spring and hot, dry summer of 2018 were perfectly suited for the West Nile virus to thrive.

“Risk of West Nile is an ongoing future concern I think, and it highlights the need for preventative actions,” Patriquin said.

While the report didn’t assign blame, it did point out flaws that could have contributed to the conflict.

“In this case, co-ordination was required to mitigate water habitat risks, but was hampered by information gaps and informal understandings of roles and responsibilities between the town and the centre,” the report said.

Solstice Environmental Management also included Alberta Health Services in its investigation.

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“Another underlying factor contributed to the conflict between the town and the centre: assumptions about the jurisdictional responsibilities of Alberta Health Services relative to [the] protection of public health, versus those of a municipality,” the report said. “The centre, and seemingly some members of the public (based on press reports), assumed that the town should help to identify and communicate risk and risk-management recommendations related to West Nile virus. In fact, Alberta Health Services is responsible for identifying and communicating human health risk across the province.”

Coaldale Town Council unanimously passed a motion to quickly organize meetings with the Alberta Birds of Prey Centre, which didn’t have a representative present Monday.

Mayor Kim Craig said that the biggest recommendation that the town will look to apply is in regards to communication.

“[We have to] make sure that we do step up our communication protocol on West Nile virus, but also [it’s] important to communicate between the town and the Birds of Prey, as well,” Craig said.

The Town of Coaldale has made the entire report available to the public. 

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