Outrage is mounting following word that a bald eagle nest was destroyed near Fisherville this weekend to accommodate a green energy project.
The tree housing the nest was cut down to make way for an access road for the Summerhaven wind turbine project. The Ministry of Natural Resources gave permission for the removal Dec. 31.
Bald eagles in Ontario were deemed a species-at-risk until recently. The bird has since been upgraded to “a species of special concern” due to the growing number of nesting pairs along the north shore of Lake Erie. The nest destroyed was one of 58 known in southern Ontario.
“I was there and I witnessed it,” Ernie King of Cayuga, vice president of Haldimand Wind Concerns, said Monday. “The MNR is supposed to be protecting nature and enforcing the regulations that are in place. Are we trying to put the eagle back on the endangered list? We can’t be playing God with nature.”
Wind opponents and others are upset with the process leading to the tree’s removal. The permit was issued Dec. 31 on condition that the nest was removed by Sunday. The MNR decision wasn’t posted on the Internet until Friday night. That left no time for an appeal.
NextEra Energy Canada is the sponsor of the Summerhaven project. Ontario’s Environmental Review Tribunal green-lighted the project last fall following a month-long hearing in Hagersville. At issue was the project’s potential impact on the environment in west Haldimand.
Officials told King and others at the scene that removing the cottonwood tree at this time of year was the least disruptive option. There were concerns that the three wind turbines slated for the area posed a threat to the breeding pair and their young. The nest was located within 25 metres of the tip of one of the turbine’s rotor blades.
“Bald eagles have been known to have alternative nests within their territory,” Jolanta Kowalski, a spokesperson for the MNR, said Monday in an email. “Authorizing the removal of this nest will encourage these bald eagles to relocate farther away from these turbines while allowing the project to proceed as planned.”
This is not NextEra’s first experience with eagle-nest removal. Spokesperson Josie Hernandez says the company has removed eagle nests in Maine and Florida as well. Wildlife biologists have told NextEra that breeding pairs will rebuild without disruption to their breeding cycle if the nest is removed soon enough before spring.
“We understand some may be concerned about the removal of the nest and we share that concern,” Hernandez said. “However, after discussions with experts, we believe the action taken was absolutely in the best interests of the eagles and would significantly reduce the risk of harm coming to them.”
Jody Allair is a biologist with Bird Studies Canada in Port Rowan. He is the chief monitor of the bald eagle nesting program in southern Ontario. The MNR sought his opinion before issuing the removal permit.
Allair became aware of the nest last November. It is a new nest belonging to a young mating pair. Allair told the MNR that the nest should be left alone and the turbines relocated elsewhere. Allair only learned of the nest’s removal on Monday.
Allair said no one can predict with certainty whether this mating pair will skip a year due to habitat disruption. That, he says, remains to be seen. Allair’s email and voice mail is overflowing with outrage over the incident.
“I was very surprised and disappointed by the MNR’s unprecedented decision to remove this nest,” he said. “The bald eagle is no longer listed as endangered. But we have always afforded their nests some measure of protection. There are a lot of people really unhappy with this. People have a lot of questions, and so do I.”
Spectators watching from the road were told the displaced eagles were no longer in the neighbourhood. However, the homeless pair were spotted nearby on the weekend. A total of 16 bald eagles were noted last week during the annual January bird count in the Fisherville area.
An on-line petition about the incident has been posted at the Ontario Wind Resistance website. As of Monday morning, it had received 240 responses. The petition, which is directed at the MNR and natural resource critics in the New Democratic Party and the Progressive Conservative Party, says “I, as a resident of Ontario, am outraged at the destruction and ultimate displacement of the eagles and their habitat.
“The mismanagement of the MNR at the request of foreign-based companies in order to erect wind turbines is irresponsible and unacceptable. Additionally, it is an outrage that the MNR posted their decision on Friday, Jan. 4, after 5 p.m., for the distinct purpose of not allowing local residents to express their concerns over this action. Ontarians are watching.”
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