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Crisis in Picturesque Prince Edward County
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Crisis in Picturesque Prince Edward County

This is an article I wrote about a National Wildlife Area in crisis in Prince Edward County, Ontario. Part of it was published in the County Weekly News in Picton on July 2, 2008. I'm posting the entire article here. Each spring and autumn, Prince Edward Point National Wildlife Area comes alive with songbirds and raptors. Located on a major migration route on the eastern tip of Prince Edward County, this 560-hectare parcel of wilderness was established in 1978 to protect migratory bird habitat. The Prince Edward Point Bird Observatory operates a migration monitoring station within the NWA. It is one of 25 across the country that track three to five billion birds as they leave the boreal forest every fall on their way south to their non-breeding territories, and return to Canada the following spring. These migration monitoring stations are the only real way to monitor these species’ populations. Usually over 2,000 hawks, eagles and falcons are documented per fall at the Bird Observatory, including Bald Eagles, Golden Eagles and Peregrine Falcons, underlining the significance of this location to migrating raptors. Prince Edward Point NWA is one of 51 of Canada's best wildlife habitats scattered across the country. Established and protected under the Federal Canada Wildlife Act, each NWA is nationally significant for migratory birds, wildlife, or ecosystems at risk, or represents rare or unusual wildlife habitat. Every one of them protects water resources, filters the air, and provides ecological services that benefit all forms of life, including ourselves. Gilead Power, a privately owned renewable energy company, is proposing a wind farm of up to thirteen 90-metre high turbines in Ostrander Point Crown Land block, directly west of the National Wildlife Area and in the heart of the Prince Edward County South Shore Important Bird Area. This project could destroy a significant amount of habitat within the Crown Land block based on the proponent’s project description. Most significantly from the perspective of birds, it could disrupt migration patterns and create a permanent major physical threat to the tens of thousands of birds that migrate along the shoreline toward or away from the NWA. Remember that this NWA was created because of its significance for migratory birds. Ironically this area is owned by the Province and managed by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. Ultimately it will be their decision if turbines are installed there and their responsibility to justify such a decision. However, if this project is allowed to go ahead it will mean that no place is sacred – no place too sensitive for these structures. Ostrander Point is public land, environmental land in the heart of a globally significant important bird area. Industrial wind farms are not the only threat to the Prince Edward Point National Wildlife Area. It has been 23 years since a management plan was written for this area. Implementation of the plan has stalled and revision is required. Many sections within the NWA are over-grown with exotic species, particularly Dog Strangling Vine, an aggressive alien vine that chokes out all competition. The NWA has virtually no resources to address these perennial and worsening issues. Environment Canada is responsible for these protected areas. Yet the Department lacks even basic funding to properly manage, let alone expand them or establish new ones. Also lacking is the political will of both the federal government and particularly the provincial government to say no to wind turbines where they clearly should not be allowed. With a federal election looming in the not-so-distant future, now is the time to ask politicians and the candidates the hard questions about this important part of Canada’s natural heritage. Is the provincial government willing to protect the integrity of migratory bird habitat and say no to the wind farm at Ostrander Point? Are our leaders in Ottawa ready to ante-up the required resources to get our national wildlife areas off life-support? The people of Prince Edward County should demand answers!

Canada needs bird ambassadors
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Canada needs bird ambassadors

Early this morning, just before the first Robin spoke outside my window, I woke with an intriguing thought:

We have embassies abroad to help/serve/protect Canadians and Canadian interests. Each embassy has expertise in promoting Canadian business, helping open new markets, and so on. But there is no ambassador for our migratory birds despite the fact that about 90% of all birds born in Canada migrate to other countries for five to seven months each year.

Our birds are like “foreign nationals” in USA, Mexico, Nicaragua, Columbia, and Brasil, by the tens, even hundreds of millions. Of landbirds alone (not including waterbirds, waterfowl, shorebirds, gulls and terns, etc) over one billion birds migrate to the USA, over 600 million to Mexico, and over 200 million to Brasil.
Should we not be advocating for them during their temporary residencies abroad? Well, think about what they do for our economy here, because without a dollar value no one listens. In a 1984 paper called “how much is an Evening Grosbeak worth” (John Y. Takekawa and Edward O. Garton, Journal of Forestry, July 1984), the authors determined that bird predation on spruce budworms alone provided the equivalent of $1820 per square kilometre (1979 dollars) (money that would have been spent on spraying). If we consider our boreal forest alone, (not including the rest of the country’s ecosystems and landscapes) assuming that 50 percent of the area benefits in this way from bird predation, the total value that birds contribute just through predation would be over 5 billion 1979 dollars. Our forest would suffer irreparably and as would the forestry industry without the industrious birds to suppress leaf-eating insects. I have not mentioned their cultural contribution through birding, feeding birds, hunting, etc., or other ecological services such as dispersal of seeds, pruning of trees or fertilization. The point is that even if we conserve all of Canada, and even manage it for birds, we would still lose many species and populations because their welfare depends on what happens outside of Canada as much as inside. Who is their defender in their countries of destination? There is no National Migratory Bird Convention Act or provincial Wildlife Act to protect them there. I think that Canada is unique in the western hemisphere in having such a large proportion of its bird species as migratory. Is it time for our foreign embassies to be a voice for birds in their host countries? Given the dizzying declines of so many species of our songbirds, I would argue that this time has arrived.

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