A wetland in Fredericton was drained by workers with the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure who were doing highway maintenance next to the nature preserve.
The Nature Trust of New Brunswick said the workers destroyed a beaver dam in the Ferris Street Forest and Wetland Nature Preserve that was blocking a culvert on the Ring Road on the city's north side.
As a result, more than half a metre of water was drained from the site, causing critical damage to the area and raising concerns about the impact to the species at risk and migratory birds that use the site for nesting.
Shaylyn Wallace, stewardship co-ordinator with the Nature Trust, said the group wasn't notified about the work being done by the province.
"We were very surprised to find out that this wetland had been drained," she said, adding that the timing couldn't be worse because it's nesting season.
Wallace said there are Canada geese nesting on the preserve now, and said without the water in the wetland it's likely the geese won't have a successful nest.
"The ducklings won't be able to get out of the nest, and they will … likely get stuck in the mud," she said.
The dried-up wetland will cause problems for fish and tadpoles, too, according to Wallace, because they will likely get stranded on the land instead of being in the water.
Wallace said she hopes the situation can be fixed fast, but isn't certain it's possible.
"If we wait too long then all of these nests and all of these species will be in trouble this summer," she said, hoping they can figure out how to get water back into the site within the next week.
News of the drained wetland spread fast on social media Friday, and brought a number of people to look at the site from the side of the highway.
Michael Mckay grew up in the area, and said he was disappointed to hear the news.
"I thought it was disgusting," he said. "I was left empty with a lot of questions as to why, what they would possibly be doing that they had to drain the wetlands like this."
In an emailed statement to CBC News late Saturday, DTI confirmed the damage was done by staff and called the drainage an accident.
The statement sent from Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Jill Green said that crews will be on the site on Sunday to begin working on temporary solutions to retain water and increase water levels in the wetland.
The department also said a more permanent solution is being considered for the site.
According to the Nature Trust, the workers had a Watercourse and Wetland Alteration permit issued by the Department of Environment and Climate Change.
Wallace said it's a broad permit that allows work to be done in the Fredericton district, but said it wasn't specific to the Ferris Street site, which is problematic.
"Why that becomes a problem is because we have areas like this that are conserved and protected," she said.
According to Wallace the DTI staff are supposed to be trained to recognize an ecologically significant area, and would have to check with the Department of Natural Resources before proceeding with work. As far as she knows, that wasn't done.
The Nature Trust is still waiting for more answers from the province about what happened, and would like to know why the culvert, which has been blocked for a decade according to Wallace, was suddenly an issue.
Wallace said some communication with her group could have helped the situation, and they could have worked with the province to figure out a safe way to drain the water to protect the wildlife.
"There's a problem in the way we are protecting these wetlands," she said. "We need to have some serious conversations about making sure this doesn't happen again anywhere else."