The fall hunting season might not be the same for some Ontario hunters after a major wind farm company asked landowners to ban it on their properties.
Engie, formerly GDF Suez Canada Services, has sent a letter to property owners where its wind turbines stand, asking they ensure no hunting take place on their land that could be a risk to people or property.
Engie has five wind farms in Ontario, including four in Southwestern Ontario, that cover tens of thousands of acres.
“We do have expectations that some hunters may be displaced by what this wind farm company is asking for,” said Matt DeMille, manager of fish and wildlife for the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH).
The federation has called Engie’s position “a serious affront to hunters and hunting.”
Engie has also raised the ire of Delta Waterfowl, an international duck hunting and conservation group.
A spokesperson for Engie wrote in an email that its move was prompted by two separate incidents between Dec. 29, 2015, and January 13, 2016, that involved firearms and caused great concern for the safety of its employees and contractors servicing their wind facilities.
“These incidents are of grave concern as they are extremely dangerous for our staff, whose work environment requires them to be on site regularly,” wrote Bonnie Hiltz, government relations and regulatory affairs advisor for Engie Canada.
In one incident, a turbine was damaged by gun fire.
In the other, an employee heard gun shots nearby.
Southwestern Ontario is Ground Zero for wind farms in the province, with more of the highrise-size turbines than anywhere else and the largest operations in the industry. The region’s vast rural reaches are also a signficant area for hunting.
“We have been working closely with landowners on this matter and the large majority of them have expressed support for our need to protect our workers and contractors,” Hiltz wrote.
Engie is obligated under Ontario’s workplace safety law to protect its employees, she added.
“This legislation requires us to take strong and immediate action to ensure that no further risky activities endanger our staff.”
But both the OFAH and Delta Waterfowl maintain it’s wrong to target hunters for the wind farm incidents.
“From our perspective that was vandalism, that was illegal and that is something that should be investigated and something should be done about that. You can’t necessarily link that to a lawful activity,” said DeMille.
If the wind farm company sets a precedent, it’s only going to get worse and worse for hunters to gain access for their activities, he said.
DeMille said hunting is often misunderstood, especially when it comes to safety.
“People feel that when there are firearms involved, that all of a sudden it is not a safe and compatible activity when there are other things happening at the same time that don’t use firearms,” he said.
The OFAH emphasizes that hunters are required to take comprehensive safety courses and pass exams to be certified.
Studies have found that hunters are responsible for .001 per cent of accidents, paling in comparison to other activities such as cycling, horseback riding, boating and swimming, DeMille said.
Rick Nicholls, MPP for Chatham-Kent-Essex, where most of the Engie wind farms are located, said the company’s actions seem harsh given that the incident was clearly vandalism.
Banning hunting from areas around wind turbines would essentially ban hunting in almost all of Chatham-Kent, the Progressive Conservative MPP said.
“Farmers and landowners should be able to make their own decisions and vandals should pay the price for vandalism, – not responsible hunters,” he said.
Engie spokesperson Hiltz said its request isn’t for a permanent ban on hunting on the affected lands.
“We are very much willing to explore feasible options for continued hunting where it does not pose a threat to the safety of workers . . . It is our sincere hope that we are able to identify a protocol that is satisfactory to landowners and hunters, while not compromising in any way the safety of our staff and contractors.”