Report on the ERT Hearing on the White Pines Wind Project – Dec. 1, 2015
By Paula Peel, APPEC
On Day 15 three experts testified at the Environmental Review Tribunal (ERT) that the White Pines wind project will cause serious and irreversible harm to birds and bats. All had concerns with the project location on a migratory path on Lake Ontario’s shoreline.
Dr. Michael Hutchins, Director of the American Bird Conservancy’s Bird Smart Wind Energy Campaign, was qualified as a biologist with specialization in animal behaviour and with expertise in the impact of wind energy projects on birds and bats. Hutchins told the ERT that one function of the Bird Smart Campaign is to educate decision-makers so turbines are properly sited. White Pines is in a high-risk location. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recommends three-mile setbacks from the Great Lakes.
Hutchins cited a recent U.S. study showing significant displacement of breeding grassland birds in mid-western states after turbine construction. White Pines will displace protected Bobolink, Eastern Meadowlark, and Eastern Whip-poor-will, and the impact could easily result in local extirpation.
Bill Evans has researched the impact of wind projects on birds and bats for 20 years. Evans was qualified as an expert in avian acoustic monitoring and nocturnal bird migration. He said that a number of species in Ontario, including the Purple Martin, have been in long-term decline, but Stantec did no surveys of Purple Martins during late summer when large numbers gather to roost. Evans noted that Purple Martin collision fatalities are increasing at Ontario wind facilities and made up 6.09% of all bird fatalities in 2014, higher than in 2012.
Dr. Shawn Smallwood was qualified as an ecologist with expertise in avian wildlife behaviour and conservation. In addition to 70 peer-reviewed publications Smallwood has done research at the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area (WRA), a California wind project notorious for its high raptor mortality.
Smallwood told the ERT that impact monitoring at Wolfe Island indicates the highest avian fatality rates in North America other than at Altamont Pass WRA. Based on methods commonly used across the rest of North America, Smallwood estimates that Wolfe Island kills 21.9 birds per turbine per year. This is nearly twice the number reported by Stantec using searches only within a 50-foot radius, less than half of standard practice. Smallwood considers Wolfe Island one of the most dangerous wind projects on the American continent.
Smallwood predicts similar or higher fatality rates at the White Pines project because the peninsula is targeted by migrating birds as a stopover site and because the project is surrounded by wetlands and woodlands intensively used by birds. Moreover, many threatened and endangered species occur at the site. Stantec surveys for White Pines foster a high level of uncertainty because 19 hours of field work is so minimal that it’s impossible to know much about the large project area, and no surveys were done for migratory bats.
Smallwood recommends that serious and irreversible harm be assessed from a biological perspective, not from population analyses. Fatalities cause harm not only to the individuals killed but also to mates, dependent young, and social connections. Serious and irreversible harm should not be based only on body counts.
The ERT resumes Thursday, December 3, 10 a.m., at the Prince Edward Community Centre, 375 Main St., Picton.