Stantec has just released report #5, which covers the first half of 2011 on Wolfe Island.  This was generally an uneventful report, with many of the patterns established in the first 4 reports continuing.  At least I don’t have as many criticisms of Stantec as I did in my critique of their report #4.  For instance, the power production on the days they did the survey wasn’t always minimal.  Still, these reports continue to document just how much Wolfe Island has been impacted.  Obviously bird populations vary widely from year to year for a number of reasons, and Stantec takes advantage of variation to present every possible reason why the populations are down, except of course to blame their turbines.  Here’s the summary.

  • Birds: 31 carcasses found, adjusted to 131, down from the report of a year ago.
  • Raptors: 7 carcasses found, adjusted to 16, up a bit.
  • Bats: 7 carcasses found, adjusted to 41, down from last year.
  • Winter raptor density: improved from last year, at 0.54/km.
  • Notifications: 6, half for raptors, half for Bobolinks.

If you’ve been following these reports, you might note that the mortality rates are generally down from the same period last year.  From 1H2010 we had:

  • Birds: 57 adjusted to 540.
  • Raptors 10 adjusted to 11.
  • Bats: 34 adjusted to 449.

Not only were the number of carcasses found down, the adjusting multipliers were also down, seemingly because the snow pack was deeper and they couldn’t search often or as thoroughly as they did in the previous year.  As I’ve mentioned earlier, when the adjustments are larger than the actual findings you have to wonder just how accurate these numbers are.  Stantec’s manner of calculating them seems reasonable to me, and with no better numbers available these are as good as they are going to get, so I’ll assume they are valid.

It isn’t clear why the numbers are down so much from 1H2010.  My first thought was that the densities were lower, due to mortality and avoidance.  Also, the winter was harder and the spring was wetter than the year before.  Unfortunately Stantec isn’t required to report the overall density of birds on the Island.   Perhaps the best surrogate is Table 3.21 on pdf page 104, which gives a comparison of breeding densities for grassland species taken in May.  Adding all the rows up  gives 54.66 pairs/10 hectares in 2010 vs. 52.26 in 2011, essentially the same level.  The number of raptors was also up from 2010.  Maybe the birds are adjusting, with the surviving individuals and species winning out.  I also wondered if it was a calmer period but in fact it was windier, with a capacity factor of 25.9% in 1H2010 and 29.9% in 1H2011.

I’m not the only one to have noticed this drop.  From Environment Canada:  EC is puzzled by the substantial decrease in mortality levels to both birds and bats during this reporting period (Jan to June) compared to the same reporting period one year ago.  The results indicate that one-fifth the number of bat carcases and half the number of bird carcasses were found in 2011 compared to the same period in 2010.  The reasons for the large decrease from the mortality levels of the three previous reporting periods are unknown but merit further monitoring.

This is not to say that the numbers of raptors or the numbers of grassland breeders are back to where they were before the project was constructed.  For the grassland breeders, the pre-construction densities were 86.73 and 76.66, while post-construction they were the 54.66 and 52.26 noted above.  The densities of breeding Bobolinks, which are threatened in Ontario, fell to about half of what they were pre-construction.

The Ontario MNR was more concerned about the Bobolinks.  …MNR continues to have concerns with the ongoing mortality of Bobolink on site. MNR representatives will be continuing discussions with you regarding the implications of species at risk mortalities which have occurred and appropriate authorization required under the Endangered Species Act.  We further recommend that monitoring and notifications continue as per the plan.  Additionally, we also recommend initiating discussions with appropriate agencies or species experts regarding species at risk on site, to avoid further impacts to those species.  “Have concerns”?  The MOE just last week said that having concerns wasn’t sufficient to slow down the build out of wind turbines in the province.  ”Initiating discussions”?  Oh, please.

The density of wintering raptors was higher this year than last, but lower than pre-construction levels.  To give you a sense of how Stantec operates, here’s a quote from page E.4 of the executive summary.  Differences in raptor density observed within the study area between 2006/2007, 2009/2010 and 2010/2011 seasons are reflective of observations throughout the Kingston area and across southern Ontario. Differences observed between the pre- and post-construction monitoring are attributed to natural variability and not avoidance of the wind plant.

Note the passive “are attributed”?  Not mentioned is by whom.  This is wordsmithing at its finest.  Perhaps the best indication of how Wolfe’s densities may or may not be consistent with the general area’s densities is to look at the actual numbers, comparing the Kingston Christmas raptor count with the Wolfe Island raptor count.  The units of measure are different, but when placed on the same graph normalized to the pre-construction points, it looks like this:

Both lines start at the same place (pre-construction), but notice where the red WI’s line goes compared with the black Kingston line.  Stantec says that the red line “generally corresponds” to the black line.  I’ll let you conclude for yourself if you think that is true or not.

The raptor mortality rate has been consistently above the 0.09/MW mitigation threshold.  Last year it was announced that the mitigation would consist of having Stantec do some research.  The results of that research were provided in this report.  To summarize it, here is a quote from the executive summary:

Raptor behavioural studies examining potential risk factors of raptor collisions during different weather conditions and in various habitat elements were conducted over four survey periods in 2010 and 2011. It was assumed that the amount of flying time spent at WTG blade swept height (i.e. 35 to 125m above the ground) was correlated with risk of mortality. As such, the proportion of time spent at blade sweep height was used as an index of potential risk. The result of the study found that raptors tended to spend more time in the blade swept area and therefore, may be at higher risk during the following conditions:

  •  Increased risk during high wind conditions;
  • Decreased risk during low temperatures (i.e. below 10ºC);
  • Decreased risk during light to heavy rain.

The raptor studies completed to date have provided insight into potential risk factors to raptor mortality. These raptor behavioural studies fulfill the requirements of the adaptive management provision, as outlined in the Follow-up Plan.

And that’s it.  I’m just sure the raptors feel safer already.   Merrian-Webster defines mitigation as to cause to become less harsh or hostile.  Shutting down a turbine or two or ten would be mitigation – perhaps the only legitimate mitigation.  Using the results of this study to site and shutdown turbines would be a justification for doing it.  Until then (and I’m not holding my breath) doing more studies is just running out the clock on the 3-year study period.  Let’s face it – the government and industry are simply not interested in protecting the birds nor their habitat.  Not when there’s money to be made.

Links

Transalta/Stantec Report #5

EC’s letter

MNR’s letter

Report #5 Backup copy