Wolfe Island Bird Report #2

Wolfe Island, located at the mouth of the St. Lawrence river, is in the middle of one of the most important bird areas in the world.  As part of the Wolfe Island Wind Project a plan was drawn up (the PCFP – Post Construction Followup Plan) to monitor the birds for a 3-year period.  The first full half-year report (it’s over 3mb), covering the second half of 2009, has just been published by the consultant, Stantec.  It is report #2 in their series, the first one being for only a month just after start-up.

While this report, authored by people whose paycheck comes from the developer, tries to minimize the effect of the project on the birds, a close reading of the report indicates the problems are significant, as I detail below the fold.

I am most concerned about raptors, which includes vultures.  These are large birds which reproduce slowly and their numbers are already under pressure.  This is especially true on Wolfe, which is one of the very few places in Ontario that supports (or at least used to) wintering raptors.  And while I am concerned about direct mortality I am just as concerned with loss of habitat.

The PCFP recognizes the importance of the raptors and has a special category for them, including criteria for both direct mortality (section 3.2, page 20+) and disturbance of habitat (section 3.3, page 26).  There’s no question that the PCFP refers to annual rates, nor is there any question that it lumps vultures in with raptors for reporting purposes.

Direct Mortality

The PCFP has two criteria for raptor deaths where the various authorities must be notified if either:  (1) A “single mortality event” where if 2+ raptors are found during a single survey, or (2) a “high annual mortality rate” where if the annual rate is 0.09 or higher is calculated.  Given the 200MW capacity of Wolfe, that calculates out to 18 raptors total per year.

During the six-month period of this report there were 12 raptors/vultures actually found, rounded up to 13 to account for scavenging etc.  It doesn’t take a math major to see that the annual rate is 26, or 45% above the criteria.   Thus it remains a mystery how Stantec can, with a straight face, write the following, from their executive summary:

“The raptor mortality rate, excluding vultures, of 0.04 raptors per MW is at the mid-point of the range observed at other facilities in North America (0 – 0.09 raptors per MW; Arnett et al., 2007) and is consistent with rates observed elsewhere in Ontario (Stantec, unpublished data). It is well below the threshold for notification identified in the Follow-up Plan of 0.09 raptors per MW, which is the highest rate of raptor mortality recorded in North American, outside California, at the Stateline, Oregon facility (Arnett et al., 2007).”

The rate I calculate, 0.13, makes Wolfe Island the most prolific killer of raptors outside of California.  Nice work, guys.

Loss of Habitat

The PCFP specifies that notification is needed if there is a significant decline in the number of raptors observed.  Unfortunately, the “significant decline” is defined as:

“A potentially significant decline of wintering raptors will be defined by an absence of raptors in 50% or more of the areas observed to support raptors during pre-construction surveys.”

So if one raptor can be found in an “area” (and you can guess who defines the areas), I guess that makes everything ok.  It is criteria like this that shows how easily gamed the reporting system is, and just how little Ontario cares about their wildlife.

A more honest measure would be to take the area-wide raptor/vulture density before and after the project and if it declines you know there’s a problem.  From Environment Canada, the density of raptors on Wolfe was previously 1.92/km (as reported by Stantec, no less).  What is is now?  From section 3.2.4, page 3.9, the HIGHEST density found during the post-construction surveys was 0.4/km.

How does Stantec handle this one?  I’ll let you read it, top of page 3.10.  It’s too long and convoluted to copy here – mostly about cycles and other nonsense.  I can tell you first hand that the population of raptors – especially short-eared owls – was very high on neighboring Amherst Island this winter.  The Kingston Field Naturalists, along with a number of other bird-interested groups, have gotten concerned enough (or maybe don’t trust anyone hired by the developer?) to start doing their own surveys.

How did we get to this?

If you want the details on the history of all the environmental assessments for Wolfe Island and my comments on them you can go to my companion site.  It can serve as a case study how money corrupts governments.

Update, June 12, 2010

It took a couple of weeks, but in the last few days the Kingston Whig-Standard and the Globe and Mail have had articles on this report, both of which headlined the high bird kill rate.

Whig-Standard “Bat, bird kills alarm group” (Backup link)

Globe and Mail “Windfarm turbines deadly for birds, bats” (Backup link)

Mark Matson, president of Lake Ontario Waterkeepers, wrote the following letter to the G&M in response to the above article.

Birds, bats, blades

Before the Wolfe Island Wind project was approved in 2008, environmental groups, experts, and local residents warned decision-makers that the wind turbines would harm birds and bats.  Instead of considering our evidence, each level of government pointed at the other and said someone else would protect the environment. Instead, the province rejected calls for a proper environmental assessment and Environment Canada back-pedalled on its original concerns about impacts on birds and bats. The result is an industrial wind project operating in one of the world’s most precious coastal bird areas without meaningful terms and conditions to protect wildlife. And they call this “green energy.”

2 thoughts on “Wolfe Island Bird Report #2”

  1. This is appalling: I read an article last year that said, it’s not just the number of bird kills that counts, it’s also the exponential effect down through the years, i.e., dead birds mean they don’t get to multiply, let alone replace their numbers.
    We also learned that the corporate wind developer in our area was proposing to do their bat study on ONE NIGHT only…how can they learn anything from that? Wildlife is just a minor obstacle to development.
    Thanks for your post.

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