MNR expert on wildlife unaware of birds on County South Shore: testimony at appeal
This report from the Alliance to Protect Prince Edward County (APPEC), the appellant in the appeal of the White Pines wind power project approval, is just stunning: the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry staffer in charge of issuing permits was completely unaware that the power plant site was an important location for migratory birds and home to at-risk species. In other words, she just took the wind developer at their word, and did not investigate further. No oversight on this process at all, is the only conclusion one can come to.
Report on Environmental Review Tribunal Hearing on White Pines Wind Project
On Day Fourteen the Environmental Review Tribunal (ERT) of the White Pines wind project heard the testimony of Kathleen Pitt and Dr. Brock Fenton.
Ms. Pitt, summoned by APPEC and qualified by the Tribunal as “a biologist,” has a B.A. in Environmental and Resource Studies and is a manager with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forests (MNRF). She was responsible chiefly for assessing the Species-at-Risk report for White Pines, recommending Endangered Species Act (ESA) permits for the bobolink, eastern meadowlark, and whip-poor-will, and deciding not to recommend a permit for the Blanding’s turtle. She explained that ESA, or “overall benefit,” permits are issued when it is possible to compensate for harm through other activities like research or habitat restoration. Permits are not issued when avoidance and mitigation measures are considered sufficient.
Under examination by APPEC counsel Eric Gillespie, Pitt showed she was slightly familiar with the nearby locations of the Prince Edward Point National Wildlife Area, Point Petre Provincial Wildlife Area, and South Shore Important Bird Area (SSIBA), and was not at all familiar with the Prince Edward Point ANSI (Area of Natural and Scientific Interest) or the Miller Family Nature Reserve. She also admitted that she did not know the SSIBA has the highest concentration of migratory birds in eastern Ontario, has the highest concentration of migratory raptors and saw-whet owls, has high bat migration, and is a significant stopover site for migrating birds. Nor did she know that diversity of habitat is best for migrating birds, undisturbed sites are preferred, and migrating sites are unique in exposing ascending and descending birds to wind turbines. Consequently, perhaps, she did not agree that “the South Shore is a funnel for migration.”
For Blanding’s turtles, Pitt never consulted MNRF herpetology expert Joe Crowley. She said she did not know if the entire South shore was their territory but conceded that Ostrander Point turtles could move offsite. Though she had not read the entire ERT decision on Ostrander Point, she disagreed that it was necessary to exclude turbines. She felt that standard setbacks of 120m from wetlands as well as other avoidance and mitigation measures would provide protection.
Brock Fenton, Ph.D., a professor emeritus at Western University, was qualified as an “expert in bat biology.” He said it was well established that operating wind turbines kill bats. The mortality can be significant because bats have a low reproductive rate (one per female per year) and 60 percent of young perish in the first year. The little brown bat is especially vulnerable due to an estimated 90-percent population drop since 2009 from White Nose Syndrome. However, considering uncertainty about the size of bat populations, Dr. Fenton said that all species are a “grave cause for concern.”
In cross-examination Dr. Fenton disagreed with the condition in the White Pines Renewable Energy Approval that mitigation is necessary only if bat deaths total 10 per turbine per year. He said that even one dead bat should trigger a shutdown because it is possible to use acoustic monitoring for bats and to turn off turbines when they are present.
The ERT resumes Tuesday, December 1, 10 a.m., at the Essroc Centre, Wellington.
-Henri Garand, APPEC