Bureaucrats ignored advice from biologist to leave eagle’s nest and move wind turbine in Haldimand County
He’s the leading expert on bald eagles in southern Ontario, someone Ontario bureaucrats call on for guidance – most recently, when a relatively rare eagle nest was found near the site of a planned wind turbine.
But when biologist Jody Allair told bureaucrats to protect the nest and move the turbine, they did the opposite, defending their stance on what Allmair says are shaky grounds.
“I was surprised and disappointed,” said Allair, who heads the Southern Ontario Bald Eagle Monitoring Program for Bird Studies Canada.
The nest in Fisherville, in Haldimand County, was suspected as far back as the summer but it was early November, after leaves fell, that residents began phoning and the Natural Resources Ministry asked Allair to confirm it was an active nest – and it was.
The nest, just 20 metres from the planned turbine, was likely hundreds of pounds – a bald eagle’s nest can be as big as 3 tonnes.
“Any time there’s a new nest, that’s a cause for celebration,” Allair said. “I recommended strongly that the nest needed be left alone, the turbine needed to be moved and a buffer had to be created.”
But while Allair thought the nest would be saved and the planned turbine moved from plans that placed it 20 m away, the ministry decided otherwise, issuing behind closed doors a permit Dec. 31 to allow NextEra Canada to remove it to build a 56-turbine wind farm that will produce enough electricity to power 32,000 homes.
Four days later – and just one day before the nest was removed – the ministry reported the permits and the reasons for issuing it on Ontario’s environmental registry.
The ministry wrote it was important to expand clean and renewable sources of energy – subsidized by taxpayers – and that the eagles could relocate in time to nest and law eggs – something Allair says is far from certain.
“It’s possible the nesting season is lost,” he said.
NextEra has built artificial nests, but such nests usually fail and one can’t know if mating eagles will build a nest of their own in time, Allair said.
“Usually, the ministry makes better decisions. This is a special case here,” he said. “I wish I had more sway.”
The nest’s removal upset Scott Petrie, even though his expertise lays elsewhere – he’s a water foul biologist, teaches at Western University and is executive director for Long Point Waterfowl.
Famers have been warned not to cut down eagle nests or risk big fines, so this nest’s removal undermines that message. “It sets a bad precedent,” Petrie said.
While eagles tend to avoid turbines that might kill other birds, wind farms destroy habitat when turbines are put in ecologically sensitive areas.
“It’s tantamount to habitat loss,” Petrie said. “We don’t build office towers there for the same reason.”
Opponents of wind farms have been quick to point to the removal of the nest as an example of how far the Ontario government will push for more wind energy, and the investment that comes with it, over all other interests.
WIND VS. WILDLIFE
Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner is a big fan of renewable energy – but even he says the province should pay more heed to the impact of turbines on wildlife.
Gord Miller is pushing for three changes – laid out in his latest annual report – he hopes will gain traction once political uncertainty at Queen’s Park is lifted:
— More funding and experts to measure the cumulative effect of wind farms on wildlife, especially migratory birds and bats.
— Ban new wind farms in Ontario’s 70 “important bird areas.”
— Protect migratory bats, not just those that stay put.
Miller acknowledges his proposal raises concerns among wind energy advocates because important bird areas tend to be near lakes, which is also ideal for wind farms.
“That’s why we are seeing conflicts there,” he said.
His concerns are shared by waterfowl biologist Scott Petrie, who notes Ontario has already lost as much as 90% of is coastal wetlands.
“They’re pushing birds out of habitats,” he said of wind farms.
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