November 16, 2012
Ontario, Opinions

Mortality threshold

Posted by Rick Conroy | The Times | November 16, 2012 |

How ministry bureaucracy tasked with protecting Ontario’s natural heritage is clearing the way for industrial wind development

What is an Important Bird Area? Does it have any specific meaning or legal weight? Not much, it seems, when it comes to industrial wind factories or solar energy generating facilities, according to the province’s Ministry of Natural Resources.

In response to questions posed in a letter by Milford-area resident Kathy McPherson, an official from the MNR wrote that “IBAs (important bird areas) are nongovernmental designations, and do not constitute a wildlife habitat under the Ministry of the Environment’s Renewable Energy Approval (REA) regulation.”

Eric Boysen, a director of the Renewable Energy Program within the MNR, was only saying what has been evident since the McGuinty government passed the heavy-handed Green Energy Act—that accepted norms of practice, the views of respected conservancy organizations, the public’s expectations about preserving Crown Land and the very primacy of the province’s natural resources are of little consequence to this provincial government, and won’t be allowed to slow down its ambitions for renewable energy.

Boysen goes on to say that IBAs could inform the designation of a SWH (significant wildlife habitat) but only SWHs are protected under the NHA (Natural Heritage Assessment) process.

Boysen’s response provides a window into how ministry bureaucrats, traditionally accused of setting up roadblocks, are actually clearing the path for the developers seeking to build these factories on land that would otherwise be considered off-limits.

The ministry official ventured to ease McPherson’s fears about the plight of the hundreds of thousands of migrating birds that pass through, or rest up on this bit of land. In the context of massive wind turbines arrayed on the south shore of Prince Edward County he noted that “Ontario is the first North American jurisdiction to implement a mortality threshold” to address “significant bird and bat mortality at wind power projects.”

Few wildlife enthusiasts are likely to take comfort knowing there is a limit to the number of birds and bats the province is willing to put at risk or doom to facilitate this form of energy. Myrna Wood helped to found the Prince Edward County Field Naturalists and the Prince Edward Point Bird Observatory.

She remains incredulous the province would even consider permitting 40-storey turbines spinning in a radius of 100 metres—about the length of a football field—in the path of this vital migratory flyway.

“We have no idea of what they were thinking,” said Wood. “When Gilead Power first asked to put up a test tower—they should have been told ‘no’— immediately.”

She allows that initially provincial officials might have been persuaded that the turbines might not do too much harm to birds and bats. But the evidence both in Ontario and elsewhere has shown just how devastating these machines are to these animals.

Researcher Lyle Friesen reported that the wind factory on Wolfe Island, in the same migratory pathway as Prince Edward Point, kills more birds per turbine than any other wind project in the province.

Conservation groups including Nature Canada and Ontario Nature have been vocal opponents to the Gilead Power wind factory planned on Crown Land at Ostrander Point.

“I think they have all been set back by the experience,” said Wood. “They recently posted changes to the Natural Heritage Assessment guide to facilitate renewable projects.”

She confirms that IBAs are not an officially recognized designation in this province—that they are determined by Birdlife International, a partnership of 117 national conservation organizations around the world. Yet they deserve more consideration than the province has so far afforded.

“I believe the they purposely designate Important Bird Areas where there is already some governmental protection,” said Wood. “For example at one end of our IBA is a national wildlife area and the other end at Ostrander Point is on provincially controlled Crown land. And Point Petre is a provincial wildlife areas. So these conservation groups designate lands that already have some protection.”

Near the end of his letter Boysen notes, “Ontario is a leader in North America in supporting science-based partnerships and requiring robust data that can be used to identify bird and bat mortality risks and patterns associated with wind power projects.”

How this data will aid migrating birds as they work their way across 45 kilometres of open water into the massive fans arrayed on the south shore of Prince Edward County, this ministry bureaucrat doesn’t explain.

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