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Ostrander Point Decision: Chance to enhance Ontario’s Green Energy Policies
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Ostrander Point Decision: Chance to enhance Ontario’s Green Energy Policies

Prince Edward County Field Naturalists, Nature Canada, and Ontario Nature have repeatedly urged the Ontario Government to protect Ostrander Point, and reject a proposed industrial wind energy project there.  As a final decision on this project from the Ontario Ministry of the Environment is pending, it's a good time to restate the key arguments for preserving this special place, and why the Green Energy Act would suffer a serious blow to its credibility if the project is approved.  

The Green Energy Act has been successful in attracting industry and converting some of Ontario's electricity generation from coal to renewable sources. It's helped to create jobs. This is very good news.     However, by opening all Crown Landto development, an important government responsibility has slipped between the cracks: the protection of wildlife habitat.    The most blatant and acute example of this is the proposed wind energy plant for Ostrander Point in Prince Edward County.   Ostrander Point is a Candidate Area of Natural and Scientific Interest in the centre of the Prince Edward County (PEC) South Shore Important Bird Area (IBA).  This IBA and the adjacent National Wildlife Area were designated globally significant under the congregatory (water fowl) species category and nationally significant under the threatened species category.  Millions of birds migrate through the PEC South Shore in spring and fall -- in even more dense concentrations than famed Point Pelee.  In other words, this area is a super highway for birds, bats and monarch butterflies - the worst place to consider building 150 metre high wind turbines.
To approve this project, the Ontario government would need to ignore its responsibilities for species at risk and international agreements such as the Migratory Bird Convention Act.  However, denying the project would send a positive message confirming the government's commitment to protecting the environment, which is is one of the primary reasons for the Green Energy Policy. It would show the Act is being implemented with regard to wildlife and in a responsible way.
Nineteen Species at Risk are found at Ostrander Point.  Fourteen Priority Species (birds that are declining rapidly) listed by Ontario Partners in Flight breed there.  The continued ability of federally and provincially listed species at risk - Blanding`s Turtle (Threatened) and Whip-Poor-Will (Threatened) - to breed at Ostrander Point are seriously threatened by the construction of access roads and turbines. 
Ostrander Point meets 11 criteria of Environment Canada`s definition of a site of “Very High Sensitivity” where turbines should not be sited. As EC Environmental Assessment Officer, Denise Fell has said:  “This is one of the most important landfall sites in Ontario.  Unique about this particular site is that birds are ascending and descending during migrations, whereas normally they migrate over the landscape in a broad front above the typical height of wind turbines.  Since birds on migration in this area can therefore be found at tower height, and are typically very tired and stressed when descending, they may be more at risk of collision with wind turbines." 
Within the same flyway, just a little east of Ostrander Point, is the Trans Alta Wolfe Island wind plant is already in operation, and its casualty rate of 13.4 birds per turbine per year is about seven times the industry average in Canada, according to CANWEA.  What's more, the Wolfe Island turbines are very selective in the birds that they kill.  Casualties are mainly swallows, including the rapidly declining Tree Swallow (70 percent decline in last 40 years) and Purple Martin (95 percent decline in last 40 years), as well as birds of preys such as Red-tailed Hawks.  It is possible that the wind farm has killed off all of the local population of this species.   Bobolink, a recently listed Species at Risk that has declined 80 percent in the last 40 years, has also been disproportionately killed.    
That project’s thresholds for mortality rates are at the highest levelrecorded at any large wind facility in North America.  Gilead proposes “adaptive management” thresholds for Ostrander Point at the same level. In other words, the highest casualty rate is the bar under which no mitigation is required.  
Not only will the Gilead Project destroy two-thirds of the site’s significant wildlife habitat, it will be in place for 25-50 years, threatening the lives of birds and bats migrating through spring and fall, and permanently displace species that breed at Ostrander Point.  Gilead states that it is a favourable site for their development because it “is in a relatively isolated part” of the County.  This isolation from human use has created its value as wildlife habitat. The decline of most species is primarily due to human encroachment on habitat but also exacerbated by the effects of climate change.  All the more reason to preserve this site, which has evolved over millennia as a crucial staging area for neotropical migrants.  The nearby Prince Edward Point Bird Observatory records more birds than any other migration monitoring station in Canada.   
The government’s Wind Atlas shows that the available wind is no higher at Ostrander Point than at hundreds of other locations.  Approval of the Ostrander Point project will pave the way for the addition of another 29 turbines by WPD-Canada White Pines.  All the projects proposed to date could total 60 turbines in the South Shore IBA, many on Provincial lands, and many on the narrow bird funnel known as the Long Point peninsula on which Ostrander point and Prince Edward Point are located. 
Gilead claims that the project has been “designed to be sensitive to the wildlife of the area”.
But they have applied for permits to kill, harm and destroy the habitat of two endangered species:  Blanding’s Turtle and Whip-poor-will.  Gilead’s “most aggressive mitigation measures in North America to protect local and migrating species” consist of: 
  • Blanding’s Turtle – buying part of its significant wetland while destroying part;
  • Whip-poor-will – hiring a graduate student to study its declining use of the habitat;
  • Counting mortality numbers of migrating birds and bats for 3 years.
Developing wind energy in Canada, coupled with conservation measures to reduce all forms of fossil fuel consumption, is a good thing. But wind energy must not be produced at the expense of wildlife.
Wind turbines and wind farms should not be located in places – like Ostrander Point – where birds congregate, migrate and breed.All wind farm proposals should be subject to an environmental assessment prior to development in order to evaluate their impact on all wildlife, including birds and bats. And regulators such as the provincial and territorial governments should adopt policies and guidelines that exclude wind energy projects from Important Bird Areas and other areas that are known to be of importance to birds and bats.Let's get wind power right in Ontario! 

Protecting Migratory Birds in the North: A Trip to Moose Factory
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Protecting Migratory Birds in the North: A Trip to Moose Factory

The James Bay Cree of Moose Factory, Ontario are keenly aware of the ebb and flow of migrating bird populations. Birds, especially geese, are an integral part of their cultural heritage.
Last week, I visited the small community of Moose Factory to speak with people about the birds that share their homelands. I talked with Grade 4 and 4/5 classes in the the Ministik Public School and Grades 7 and 8 classes in the D. Echum Composite School about birds, and also spoke to a number of people in the community about Important Bird Areas, including some common initiatives with the Moose Cree Lands and Resources Department.
While at home the snow was melting, I was lucky to experience a tiny symphony (more like a string trio) of winter birds in Moose Factory. Watch this video to see and hear the birds I spotted. The loud squeak a the beginning is my attempt to attract birds. Hang in there for the grand finale – a bird’s eye view of Moose Factory and the surrounding James Bay wetlands!
Moose Factory is on an island in the Moose River, about ten kilometres from where the river meets the salty waters of James Bay. With several Important Bird Areas nearby, the Cree of Moose Factory have an important role to play in the conservation, protection and management of migratory birds like geese, which they depend on for food, and endangered Red Knot and declining Hudsonian Godwit, which use coastal areas as major migratory stop-overs. The health and integrity of Important Bird Areas are critical for maintaining stable and thriving populations of migratory birds. Engaging Cree communities is an important step toward protecting these birds.
We look forward to continuing our work with Cree communities around James Bay to conserve the special places for birds within their homelands.
Our bird conservation efforts in the James Bay and Hudson Bay region are supported by The Ivey Foundation.

Ostrander Point: Turbines Proposed in Wetlands – See for Yourself
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Ostrander Point: Turbines Proposed in Wetlands – See for Yourself

The deadline to comment on Gilead's proposal to build 9 industrial wind turbines on the Ostrander Point Crown Land Block in Prince Edward County, Ontario is coming fast. There are ten days (February 17) before closing date for submissions to the Ontario Government's Environmental Review Board, and it is time to talk facts.Here is just one small example of information provided by the proponent to the government. In the environmental screening report by Stantec, published in August 2010, Section 2.2.1 "Wetlands", the consultants claim the following: "No wetland features were identified within the project location." Sounds like a fact right? This is the information upon which the government will be judging this project.
Now check out the following video clips, shot at Ostrander Point by me on June 1, 2011 and make up your own mind:
No wetlands they say? hmm. . . . Please make your voice heard.
Re: Gilead Power
Wind Energy Proposal at Ostrander Point Crown Land Block,
More blog posts will follow as will our detailed comments in opposition to this proposal.
Ted

Irony, or does the left hand not know what the right is doing?
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Irony, or does the left hand not know what the right is doing?

The Endangered Henslow's Sparrow (Ammodramus henslowii) is one of the rarest birds in Ontario. During the Atlas of Breeding Birds of Ontario 2001 to 2005, there were only 8 possible records of the species in the entire province. For years, a breeding population of this tiny sparrow has persisted in upper New York State, not far from Prince Edward County, near the east end of Lake Ontario. The New York population could well be the “source” population for re-colonization of nearby areas like Prince Edward County.Henslow’s Sparrow just happens to be one of a few Endangered Species identified by Stantec as a priority for their preconstruction surveying for Gilead Power Corporation. Gilead is applying to build a wind energy plant with nine 140 metre tall turbines in the Ostrander Point Crown Land block in Prince Edward County, Ontario. In the Environmental Review Report of 2009, Stantec reported the following: An assessment of the Study Area for potential Henslow’s Sparrow breeding habitat was completed. No optimal habitat was identified (Section 3.5.3 of Appendix C1). Three relatively small patches of marginal habitat for the Henslow’s Sparrow were the subject of playback surveys. No Henslow’s Sparrows were detected. The species has experienced significant decline in Ontario, and it should be considered absent from the Study Area. On the surface, this seems like a reasonable conclusion right? I’m not so sure.
Potential Henlow's Sparrow habitat at Ostrander Point could become site for 140-metre tall wind turbines. Photo: Ted Cheskey
In 2010, Gilead applied for a permit to the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources – the Ministry responsible for management of the Crown Land Block – to “kill, harm and harass Blanding’s Turtle and Whip-poor-will as well as damage and destroy habitat of Whip-poor-will” as part of their operational plan for the wind plant. As objectionable as this seems, I question why Henslow Sparrow was not on this list also. Here is why. In the conservation plan that William Wilson and I wrote for the Prince Edward County South Shore Important Bird Area, with the support of a strong local committee, including the local Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources District Ecologist, I learned that a restoration plan for the Henslow's sparrow was written for Ostrander Point Crown Land Block that included brushing and prescribed burning in the late 1990s. It was never made clear if the plan was implemented or not at the time. It was not until very recently, when reading through the Recovery Strategy for Henslow's Sparrow from Environment Canada that I learned that Henslow's Sparrows were present on Ostrander Point in 1999 and 2000 as a direct result of the implementation of this recovery action! In the Recovery Strategy, this example was used to illustrate how restoration activities could lead to positive results. The MNR supported this restoration work on their land! Something stinks about a process when we have a government agency, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, invest in successfully restoring the habitat of an endangered species, then turn around a few years later and offer up its habitat for a small and unnecessary industrial wind plant. Why is this process moving forward? Why has it gone this far? Why was it even conceived of in the first place? The turbines are not built yet. Once they are, no longer will this be Henslow's Sparrow habitat, or Whip-poor-will habitat, or Blanding's Turtle habitat, but it will be a serious risk to all birds, including the river of hawks, owls and songbirds that stream through Ostrander Point every fall. Over this Christmas period, my wish is that the Province or the developer recognizes that this is the wrong place to build a wind farm, and withdraws it before it goes any further. Wind energy should be about good ideas in good places, and this isn't it.

Thank You Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club!
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Thank You Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club!

On Tuesday evening, I was invited as speaker for the Ottawa Field-Naturalists' Club (OFNC) monthly meeting in the theatre of the Canadian Museum of Nature. My topic was Important Bird Areas, but I was not going to miss the opportunity to bring the local club up to date with recent changes in Nature Canada. It had been many years since a Nature Canada staffer had talked to the OFNC; in fact no one could remember the last time. Nature Canada Executive Director, and member of the OFNC, Ian Davidson, was in attendence, and by the end of the presentation, he was an active participant in the lively round of questions.
Forty-four people were in the theatre, many of whom confided that they did not know that there was an IBA in their backyard (Lac Deschenes). I am grateful for the opportunity to talk to our local club, and discuss the IBA program with its members and to consider opportunities for collaboration. Nature Canada's roots are with the naturalists of Canada. Staying connected to our 'foundation' is important to Nature Canada as an organization and to me personally as a naturalist.I was delighted that two friends of mine, Jeff Skevington and Linda Burr, both members of the OFNC, introduced me and thanked me. I look forward to working with OFNC members on common projects around Lac Deschenes and other areas of joint interest. I also look forward to my own participation in the OFNC as a member and a participant in some of their events, such as the Christmas Bird Count.

My Reflections on the Release of the "Birds at Risk" Report
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My Reflections on the Release of the "Birds at Risk" Report

  For over a year, I have worked with colleagues with National Resources Defence Council and Boreal Songbird Initiative on writing the Birds at Risk: The Importance of Canada’s Boreal Wetlands and Waterways. It is good to see it out in the public forum. Though I’ve lived most of the my life in southern Canada, I have spent considerable time in the boreal region, first as a Park Naturalist on Lake Superior, and afterwards as an atlasser for the Atlas of Breeding Birds of Ontario – both in the early 1980s, and between 2001 and 2005, with the Quebec Breeding Bird Atlas in 1987, and a range of other trips both related to work and pleasure. I’ve learned that canoeing is the only viable means of getting around in the summer, that in the Hudson Bay lowlands, even with gloves, long sleeves and a bug net over my head, 64 black flies can bite me under my watch band in one day, that there can still be ice along some of the rivers in late June, and most importantly that the vast forests and river systems are not uninhabited, but rather part of the homelands of First Nations peoples. The bugs, the rapids and the sudden changes in temperature do not scare me . . . but the red tinted water escaping from the mine tailings empoundment, the sickly smell of herbicides from aerial spraying and the distant din of machines do.
I am one of those auditory birders – though I enjoy seeing birds, I love hearing them and find great satisfaction in knowing their voices. The sound scape of the boreal wetlands is unequal for drama and beauty. The Common Loon’s song is at the top of the most emotive and haunting sounds on earth. Add to this the melodic flute-like refrains of Hermit Thrushes, a cheery chorus of White-throated Sparrow, the staccato explosiveness of a Connecticut Warbler’s song, and the emphatic “Whip-three-beers” of the threatened Olive-sided Flycatcher, and you have, in my view, the perfect symphony.
Sadly, members of the orchestra are dropping out as pressures to exploit the rich resources of the boreal accelerate destruction and change, and climate change tightens its grip on these northern biomes.
As manager of bird conservation programs for Nature Canada, I know that part of our mission is to be a voice for nature, including the species that are being silenced. We hope that the messages from this report will be discussed, debated and inform decisions related to this precious biome. This is our chance as a country to make a difference for our children, and their children with our largest ecological contribution to the earth’s health, our boreal forest.

Brushing work at Ostrander upsets locals
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Brushing work at Ostrander upsets locals

Significant brushing and habitat disturbance began without public notice in a section of approximately 25,000 square metres of the Ostrander Point Crown Land Block last week. Ostrander Point is a highly controversial naturally vegetated block of land owned by the Province of Ontario, in the heart of the Globally Significant Prince Edward Point South Shore Important Bird Area. It is part of a candidate Provincial Area of Natural and Scientific Interest due to its rare alvar habitat. It has a unique breeding bird community and is on the flight path of hundreds of thousands of migrating birds each spring and fall. Ostrander is the home of at least two federally listed Species at Risk, and was described by an official from the Federal Government as one of the most important spots for migratory birds in Southern Ontario. In 2006, Gilead Power Corporation of Peterborough began its application process to build 12, ninety metre high wind turbine towers with 45 metre long blades attached on this public land, along with a grid of roads and infrastructure to connect them, and a transformer station to link into the provincial grid on this highly significant bird habitat. More recently they submitted their final proposal, which includes 9 turbines, some within 200 metres from Lake Ontario, and supporting studies to the Province of Ontario for an Energy Approval Permit. If granted, this permit would allow them to construct this industrial project on this highly sensitive and signficant habitat.
Last week local guardians, opposed to Gilead's industrial project, noticed workers actively brushing (destroying woody vegetation on strips of land) within the Ostrander Point Crown Land Block. Through questioning, it came out that this work is being conducted by contractors searching for and decommissioning unexploded ordinance from the Department of National Defence, which conducted training on parts of Ostrander Point about 50 years ago. Many believe that this work is really being done to pave the way for Gilead's project.
"All of this seems like too much of a coincidence," says local IBA champion Myrna Wood. "This is in the timeframe of Gilead Power’s application for a turbine project on this Crown land. It has been 50 years since this site was abandoned by the military and the South Shore has never been cordoned off from public use during that time. It seems clear that the reason for the investigation of possible unexploded ordinance is at the request of the MNR due to planned development projects."
Nature Canada, along with provincial partner Ontario Nature and the Prince Edward County Field Naturalists, has requested both the developer (Gilead), and the Province to find another location for this project which has high potential to be very damaging to migrating birds, the local breeding bird community, species at risk, and migrating bats if allowed to proceed.

Making Flyway Conservation a Reality
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Making Flyway Conservation a Reality

To be effective, bird conservation for migratory species should address issues throughout a species' flyway that impact the species survival. In Canada, this should be an imperative to conserving our birds, as about 90% migrate south each year, only to return the following spring. One initiative to put this flyway concept to the conservation test links the Great Salt Lake in Utah, the most important inland stopover for many species of shorebird, waterbird and waterfowl in continental North America, and an area of global significance for many breeding bird species, with Chaplin Lake in Saskatchewan, and the Marismas nacionales along the Pacific coast of Mexico. These areas share many of the same species, including American Avocet, Wilson's Phalarope, American White Pelican and Franklin's Gull among other species. The Canadian anchor in this north-south chain, is centred on Chaplin Lake Important Bird Area, but includes a series of alkaline lakes in southern Saskatchewan, including Old Wives, Reed, and Quill Lakes. All sites are recognized as Important Bird Areas and Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN) sites. Last week, I attended meetings in Salt Lake City Utah, on behalf of Nature Canada and the Canadian partners in the Linking Communities Initiative at Chaplin Lake and Nature Saskatchewan. National Audubon and ProNatura, the BirdLife International Partners from the USA and Mexico respectively, as well as staff from BirdLife and from Rio Tinto - Kennecot, the mining company that supports some elements of this project, were also there.
Our focus was looking ahead to where this partnership might go. One of the most inspiring moments happened during a conversation with Wayne Martinson, Important Bird Area Coordinator for National Audubon for the State of Utah. He mentioned how the whole idea of linking communities came to be and who is the visionary behind it. I was so inspired by his story that I asked him to repeat it on video. Here it is:

Major victory in Northwestern Ontario for nature and First Nations rights
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Major victory in Northwestern Ontario for nature and First Nations rights

Yesterday, the Ontario Superior Court made a very significant ruling that appears to be a major victory for nature and for First Nations communities in Northern Ontario. The essential point of the decision is Justice Mary-Anne Sanderson's declaration that the Ontario Government cannot take away the rights of the Grassy Narrows First Nation, as described in Treaty Three, by authorizing development including logging and mining. Grassy Narrows First Nation was among the first to suffer significantly from the effects of mercury poisoning when the English and Wabigoon River systems were polluted by a notorious Dryden pulp mill in the 1970s.In a press release by the Anishinaabe First Nation about the court decision yesterday, there was a call on the federal and provincial governments to "honour the spirit and intent of this decision by moving to eliminate clearcut logging in Grassy Narrows Traditional Territory and to develop a meaningful new approach to the management to this territory in partnership with Grassy Narrows."
For Nature Canada, this decision is very encouraging, and we hope that it begins a new era and approach in the north that puts the rights of First Nations, and the protection of their culture and the environment ahead of industrial development.
 

Wolfe Island Wind Farm Still one of most Dangerous for Birds, Bats
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Wolfe Island Wind Farm Still one of most Dangerous for Birds, Bats

Image of a tree swallow
Tree Swallow via Marshall Segal on Flickr
TransAlta has just released its fourth Report on bird and bat monitoring from its Wolfe Island wind plant located on the west side of Wolfe Island, near Kingston Ontario. The report affirms that TransAlta's Wolfe Island Wind Energy plant is one of the most destructive for birds and bats in North America. Easily visible from the Kingston waterfront, the 86 turbines continue to kill large numbers of birds and bats. Most of the casualties described in the report are the same species reported in the three previous TransAlta studies of bird and bat deaths at their Wolfe Island plant, with Tree Swallow and Purple Martin at the top of the list, and including Bobolink and Barn Swallow, both listed as Threatened by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). All of the Ontario swallow species listed in the report are suffering long-term population declines, which makes the unforeseen impacts of the wind energy plant on wildlife all the more troubling. Only two raptors casualties were reported, which may be more a reflection of reduced search efforts in this period, although winter raptor surveys on the island revealed higher numbers of several species compared with the previous year, in particular, Rough-legged Hawk and Short-eared Owl. However, raptors do not appear to be using the habitat on which the wind plant in the north-west corner of the island is situated, and where the turbine density is highest. Three migratory species of bats, including Hoary, Eastern Red, and Silver-haired, comprised the balance of the bat casualties. Unlike birds, which are struck by the fast spinning tips of the turbine blades, bats are killed due to "barotrauma," a condition caused by the sudden change of pressure around the blades that result in damage to their lungs. The report presents the findings of monitoring programs that began in June 2009, which will produce reports approximately every 6 months over the first three years of the wind plant's operations. The current report represents the third six-month period of monitoring. (The first Report was for a two-month period). Several aspects of the plant's impact on birds and bats are monitored, including casualty rates of birds and bats, displacement of waterfowl and distribution and behaviour of raptors. The results of the report reinforce the significance for birds and bats of the open scrubland habitat on the offshore islands at the eastern end of Lake Ontario, and onshore alvar habitats such as those found on Ostrander Point in Prince Edward County or Amherst Island. Wind energy plants, transmission towers, and other types of developments that put birds and bats at high risk should be excluded from these significant areas. All of Wolfe Island and a portion of its surrounding waters were recognized as a globally significant Important Bird Area (IBA) by BirdLife International's Canadian partners, Nature Canada and Bird Studies Canada. Taken together, the reports show that TransAlta's Wolfe Island Wind Energy plant has one of the highest annual rates of casualties, reporting 16.5 birds per turbine and 43.7 bats per turbine, based on the 6 month study period from July 1 to December 31, 2010. Over a year, this would amount to approximately 1,500 birds and about 3,800 bats. Only one wind plant of the 45 reported on in a landmark 2010 study cited in the TransAlta Report by the US National Wind Coordinating Committee killed more birds per turbine. That plant, the Buffalo Mountain Wind Farm in Tennessee, which is consisted of only three .66 MW turbines at the time of the study, and so makes for a poor comparison. Most wind energy projects have much lower casualty rates for birds and bats. It is also becoming clear that the July to September period (when the Swallows congregate and the bats migrate) is the most devastating for birds and bats. In my view, it is time that TransAlta implement serious mitigation, and turn off the turbines during this high risk period. This would save the lives of hundreds, if not thousands of birds and bats.

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