Wolfe Island Bird Report #6

Stantec published their report #6 [backup link] on the state of the birds on Wolfe Island, Ontario, back in July.  I’d normally be reporting on it sooner, but they changed the linkage to it and I was unaware of its publication until recently.  It covers the second half of 2011.  In any event, this report isn’t particularly note-worthy, with a continuation of previous trends.

The summary on mortality:

  • 34 birds were found, adjusted to 311.
  • 3 raptors were found, adjusted to 8.
  • 52 bats were found, adjusted to 493.

As always, when the adjustments are larger than the base numbers, one has to wonder about the accuracy.  These numbers, along with those in report #5, are down a great deal from earlier reports.  If we compare 2010’s totals with 2011, we get:

  • Birds, 1243 vs. 442
  • Raptors, 19 vs. 24
  • Bats, 2327 vs. 534

There are at least 4 potential reasons for the large decreases:

  1. The birds and bats have learned to avoid the turbines,
  2. Natural selection has eliminated the ones who didn’t learn (or were predisposed to fly at lethal altitudes),
  3. There’s fewer birds and bats left to kill,
  4. Something has changed in the way they are counted.

The wind industry would love to adopt #1, in spite of there being no evidence and plausibility issues (i.e.  the birds and bats all learning at the same time?).  #2 is at least plausible, and if there is in fact a “learning curve” it would be my personal guess.  #3 would be the most obvious reason, and there are indications that at least the bird population on the Island has declined, while the bat population isn’t being monitored.  Environment Canada  asked about #4, and Stantec assured them that the same personnel using the same techniques did the counting.  So for now the decline in mortality remains a mystery.

Along with welcome reduction in mortality there was also some good news on the bat mortality front.  TransAlta, to their credit, initiated a voluntary test of increasing the cut-in speeds for some of their turbines at certain times.   The turbines with the increased cut-in speeds did experience a substantially lower bat mortality than the unmitigated turbines.   Stantec did  caution that the overall numbers were so low that any statistical inferences are not possible.  Still, this may be good news on the bat front.

Unfortunately, not all the news was good.  There were 4 notifications during the 6 months, one for raptors and three for Bobolinks.

Bobolinks are threatened in Ontario, and their numbers on Wolfe have declined to about half of what they were pre-project.  The Bobolink losses don’t seem to concern Environment Canada [backup link], but the Ontario MNR [backup link] does seem concerned.  Their comments surely must send a chill through TransAlta: “MNR recommends that you review the “Endangered Species Act (ESA) Submission Standards for Activity Review and 17(2)(c) Overall Benefit Permits” and complete the associated and required form prior to the submission of any additional post construction monitoring reports.”  I don’t know about Ontario, but in the U.S. the ESA is like a big hammer that can come down at any moment and crush you, should the government choose to use it.

The raptors, especially wintering raptors, are a special interest of mine and I’ve been following the progress (or lack thereof) since the project went operational.  The number of raptors killed in 2011 continued at a high level.   Along with the 16 killed in 1H2011 the annual rate is now 0.12 raptors/MW/year, which is well above the 0.09 mitigation threshold.  This didn’t bother Environmental Canada any, but MNR was not amused.  Especially since the project was above the threshold the previous year and had to take a mitigating action.  As it turns out, the mitigating action taken was a fairly useless report that I summed up in my posting on their Report #5.  Regardless of any mitigation, the slaughter continues.  Again, MNR’s comments could lead to something unpleasant for TransAlta (we can only hope): “…we encourage you to investigate further mitigation measures which will reduce raptor mortalities  at your facility, and to initiate discussions with our office in order to initiate those plans prior to the fall migration period.”  Shutting down turbines would be an excellent mitigation.  As far as I know, nothing was done prior to the fall 2012 migration, and since the post-construction monitoring period ends with report #7 and 1H2013 we’ll likely never know what was done (or not).  It looks to me like TransAlta has successfully run out the clock.

MNR also had something to say about the bats: “While MNR will continue to be supportive of the research that has been implemented to evaluate practical measures to reduce bat mortality…, we are generally concerned with the lack of third party review and involvement.  At this time, we recommend that a further year of monitoring be implemented,…”  Another year means more money, which cannot make TransAlta very happy.

At least one thing that Stantec has been saying for several year was almost truthful for this report: that the population of raptors on Wolfe reflects the population in the general Kingston area.  Here’s the history:Using 2006 as the base year, the raptor population is charted for the 3 years after the project went into operation.  And for the third year in a row the population on Wolfe was comparatively lower than in the surrounding Kingston area.  But at least the difference wasn’t quite so large in 2011, compared to 2009 and 2010 when any similarity in population levels was apparent only to them.

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