Endangered species expert alters opinion on wildlife deaths at appeal


The MNR’s at-risk species expert is OK if turtles die; says “driver training” might help

What the heck happened to Joe Crowley? Seasoned herpetologist, at-risk species expert for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, and mild-mannered scientist who just weeks ago testified at the Ostrander Point that it was his recommendation a permit not be granted for a wind power project there because the risk to wildlife was too great.
Joe Crowley as of November 10: everything is A-OK. His testimony was so at odds with what he said at the Ostrander Point appeal that appellant lawyer Eric Gillespie sought to have him declared an “adverse” (hostile) witness.
Here is this extremely polite report by Henri Garand and Paula Peel of the Alliance to Protect Prince Edward County (APPEC).

Report on the Environmental Review Tribunal Hearing on the White Pines Wind Project

 The Environmental Review Tribunal (ERT) of the White Pines wind project focused, on Day Four, on Joe Crowley, a species-at-risk expert in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forests (MNRF).  Due to numerous procedural disputes, however, the hearing lasted from 10 a.m. till 8:30 p.m.

Crowley was summoned to testify on the basis of his evidence at the Ostrander Point ERT, and he was similarly qualified as an expert witness, specifically as a “herpetologist with expertise in Blanding’s turtles.”  At MNRF he is employed in the Species Conservation Branch, where his work includes assessment and review annually of some 70 projects affecting reptiles and turtles.  He confirmed he is the only MNRF employee with special expertise in the Blanding’s turtle, though other biologists may have general knowledge.

However, Crowley was never consulted about White Pines despite its adjacency to Ostrander Point.  Nor did he know just who was consulted in MNRF.
APPEC counsel Eric Gillespie asked Crowley whether the White Pines project could have similar impacts on the turtle population.  Crowley made clear he knew nothing about White Pines, but after reviewing a project map he admitted that Turbines 12 – 24 and 26 – 29 might be in suitable Blanding’s turtle habitat.
At several points Crowley recanted testimony made a month earlier at the Ostrander Point ERT and repudiated his own previously-held opinions:
  • Crowley said he overestimated turtle numbers at Ostrander Point and is no longer confident there is a “healthy and viable” population.
  • Crowley supposed it is “conceivable” that Blanding’s turtles could be moving along the shoreline.   Gillespie reminded Crowley of his Ostrander ERT testimony that Blanding’s turtles were known to range both along the south shore and inland 2 to 6 kilometres.
  • Despite his own references in MNRF documentation to a
    ​n interconnected

    wetland complex

    ​ on the south shore​

    , Crowley now considers that it’s only possible turtles move off the Ostrander property because their home range is typically 2 kilometres.

  • Crowley identified two critical habitats for Blanding’s turtles at Ostrander Point.  When reminded of the ERT’s finding that the entire site is critical habitat Crowley responded that it would depend on the definition of critical.
Due to nest predation and other threats, Crowley explained that a female turtle may have only one surviving offspring over 20-30 years of reproduction.  Given this low survival, he had considered at one time that Blanding’s turtle populations could only withstand mortality rates of up to 2%.  However, he now believes that as much as ​5% mortality is sustainable.
Due to the number of reversals from his testimony at the Ostrander Point ERT, Crowley was required to leave on two occasions while lawyers and the ERT panel discussed how to proceed.   Gillespie asked the Tribunal to declare Crowley an adverse witness because his testimony was couched with imprecise words such as “could,” “possibly,” and “may.”  This request would allow Gillespie to ask leading questions and speed up the process.   But the Tribunal denied the request even though counsels for the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) and wind developer WPD had been pressing Gillespie to reduce the time of his examination.During cross-examination by Sylvia Davis, counsel for the MOECC, Crowley discussed the need for mark-capture surveys in order to assess population size.  After further questioning by Gillespie he agreed that such studies were not done for either the Ostrander Point or White Pines projects.
Crowley also informed the Tribunal of a study demonstrating that driver training could have good results in decreasing road mortality.  When asked about this study by Gillespie, Crowley clarified that it concerned the Eastern Foxsnake and not Blanding’s turtles.

There were some positive points that came out of the testimony.   Blanding’s turtles will move from Ostrander Point into the White Pines project area.  Crowley’s 2011 statement from the Ostrander project, where he refers to interconnected wetland complexes throughout southern Prince Edward County is now on record.  The number of turtles and the quality of their habitat cannot be in dispute given the conditions set out within the Renewable Energy Approval.

The ERT resumes on Thursday, Nov. 12, 10 a.m. at the Essroc Centre, Wellington.
Map of Prince Edward County and South Shore where two wind power projects are approved. Not pictured: the magic line which Blandings turtles will not cross, according to the MOECC, MNR, and the power developer WPD
Map of Prince Edward County and South Shore where two wind power projects are approved. Not pictured: the magic line which Blandings turtles will not cross, according to the MOECC, MNR, and the power developer WPD
What's your reaction?


  • Esther
    Posted November 12, 2015 9:36 am 0Likes

    Same thing happened with the Adelaide ERT for NextEra. I summonsed BSC Jody Allair because he was noted to be the Bald Eagle expert for SW Ontario and I thought he could educate the ERT panel on their habitat and the threats they face (another active bald eagle nest was to be 400m from where they were building a massive substation). He called me up, told me to drop the summons because he was no longer a Bald Eagle Expert anymore, as of a few months before. I did. I couldn’t deal with that kind of animosity on top of everything else.

    • Barbara
      Posted November 12, 2015 1:08 pm 0Likes

      Maybe I missed the eagle issue at the time or was this not mentioned?
      Could be that some are playing around with perjury charges in these situations?

    • Barbara
      Posted November 12, 2015 1:57 pm 0Likes

      Jody not an Ontario or Federal government employee according to internet information. Were there any provincial or federal grants associated with his work?

      • Esther
        Posted November 12, 2015 3:45 pm 0Likes

        Allair is with Bird Studies Canada. Although it could be called third party, they receive funding from the wind industry to do the bird and bat kill database. “The Wind Energy Bird & Bat Monitoring Database is a joint initiative of the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CANWEA), Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS, Environment Canada), Bird Studies Canada (BSC) and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR).” http://www.bsc-eoc.org/birdmon/wind/main.jsp
        I didn’t say anything about this at the time as it was such a shock that he was saying he had quit being an expert after the eagle nest was taken down and a large part of me was saddened and frustrated by how easily humans can be changed… and I had to get on with the doomed hearing. Was he threatened? I don’t know. I just know he was extremely upset (afraid?) that he had been summonsed, when all I was asking him to do was speak about eagle habitat as there were no other eagle experts in Ontario except him – and I thought he would be a fair ‘third party’ for the tribunal to hear from. He genuinely said ‘good luck’ at the end of the conversation…

        • Johana
          Posted November 16, 2015 3:51 pm 0Likes

          How good to hear from you again, Esther. All the best to you and your family.
          Jody and Scott Petrie, I know quite well; at one time, I was a regular visitor at BSC.
          Because these science “experts” are realists, they want to advance in their line of work, so they stay out of job threatening controversies. Neither one would bother to listen to Norfolk Victims of IWTs.
          Scott is now in Wisconsin and I’m assuming Jody would love to be out of here as well.

  • ScepticalGord
    Posted November 12, 2015 12:02 pm 0Likes

    Worth repeating:
    Vic “Rubber Stamp” Schroter, Director of the OMOE, was apparently so worried about his pension that he approved each and every IWT project that landed on his desk. Vic the Dick will no doubt happily retire to the Liberal playground of Muskoka or some other IWT-free zone.
    Now we have Joe “Recant” Crowley, Ostrander Point witness and biologist with an apparent conscience, who has suddenly become an amnesia victim after some OMNR Bigwig whispered sweet nothings in his ear. Joey, you’re such a little man, especially when you’re on your knees.
    What was that again about Kathleen Wynne accusing the Harper Government of muzzling their staff?
    Esther is right, this nonsense has been going on for some time.
    At the very least, the names of these government puppets have been exposed to the public, though this amounts to a very small “victory” in the grand scheme of things.

  • Tom
    Posted November 12, 2015 12:08 pm 0Likes

    One has to suspect / believe that someone has “had a word” with Mr Crowley re the security of his job with the ministry.

  • Betty
    Posted November 12, 2015 3:19 pm 0Likes

    Putting the genie back in the bottle doesn’t even work in fairy tales. Mr Crowley has already made his bed at Ostrander where evidence was deep sixed for the benefit of the wind company and the Green Energy Act. Failing to address the Blandings turtle concerns in a virtually identical landscape is a gross mishandling of the Environmental review process and wpd’s approval along with its partner the MOE should be dismissed.

    • Barbara
      Posted November 12, 2015 6:12 pm 0Likes

      More needs to be done now besides dismissing the project.

  • ScepticalGord
    Posted November 13, 2015 2:29 am 0Likes

    You couldn’t make this stuff up:
    The Ostrander ERT Panel, Heather Gibbs and Robert Wright, say no to wind turbines to save the Blandings Turtle..
    Divisional Court Chief Justice Ian “No Lips” Nordheimer says: see here, Gibbs and Wright made six errors of law, says yes to wind turbines.
    Appeal Court Chief Justice Frank Marrocco says: see here, Justice Nordheimer made an error, says no to wind turbines but sends the case back to the ERT ’cause he doesn’t want to be the one responsible for bringing Gilead, and by precedent other wind companies, to their knees.
    Now back at the ERT, the credibility of Gibbs and Wright is on the line.
    Will they agree that proposed mitigations to roads will not work to save the Blandings Turtles as stated by “expert” Joe Crowley (as Dr. Jekyll), or will they eavesdrop on the White Pines ERT to take their cues from the now disgraced “non-expert” Joe Crowley (as Mr. Hyde), who now states that the turtles may or possibly may not or could be or whatever saved, or not by such high concept mitigations as “driver training”?
    From the MNR’s point of view, Crowley has performed his job admirably.
    He has taken a bullet for Queen Kathleen by transforming himself into a babbling fool and discrediting himself to the point that Gibbs and Wright can now easily and without reservation, dismiss his original testimony as spurious, and rule accordingly in their final decision.
    Like I said, you couldn’t make this stuff up.
    I want the movie rights!

    • ScepticalGord
      Posted November 13, 2015 10:55 am 0Likes

      Damn that amnesia again ….
      The Appeal Court decision to send the case back to the ERT was written by Justice Russell Juriansz, not Frank Marrocco, who was Chief Justice in the Drennan et al Constitutional Challenge.

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