Nature Canada

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.

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