The ‘Natural’ South Shore of PEC and Wind Turbines

Thursday, June 9th, 2011

John Legate of the County Sustainability Group discusses the natural environment of the south shore of Prince Edward County (PEC) in an article originally published in The County Weekly News.

[It has been implied] that the wind turbine installation would be a great affront to the ‘natural’ environment that exists in [Prince Edward County].  Since the coming of the Europeans the south shore has been used by man for various enterprises including forestry, shipbuilding, farming, fishing, military operations, off-roading, cottaging, and abandonment.  Nature has adapted to each activity. The small picture: relates to the area specifically occupied by the proposed site for the wind turbines.  This area contains 2 threatened species, the Blanding’s Turtle and the Whip-poor-will.  Neither was here 10,000 years ago when the area was covered by glaciers.  The Blanding’s Turtle was probably here when Europeans arrived but the Whip-poor-will probably arrived after significant man-made openings in the forest occurred.  The Blanding’s Turtle is threatened because of nest predation by skunks, fox and coyote, as well as being the victim of road kills.  It prefers gravel as a nest site which makes gravel roads a boon and a danger.  The Whip-poor-will is threatened by succession (land returning to its natural state as before man) as well as being the victim of road kill.  It likes to sit on gravel roads at night.  The road way is often the opening in the forest it needs to hunt the insects it eats.  Turbines require a restricted access road for their construction and maintenance.  They also require the area around them be kept clear of trees to prevent turbulence.  It is quite reasonable to conclude both species will adapt and even benefit from the restricted access gravel road and the bird from the cessation of succession. What of the wetlands and existing forest?  The turbine proposal calls for the maintenance of the wetland, as it should.  Even though Blanding’s Turtle will range up to 5-6 km per year from pond to pond, the wetland ecosystem should be maintained.  We know how to build roads without compromising wetlands and that can be ensured during construction.  The turbines themselves will not be in a wetland area.  Virtually 100% of the area where the turbines are to be located is land once cleared by man and that has since been left for nature to take its course.  It is called succession because over time species after species become established and are succeeded by other species.  The earlier flora and fauna become insignificant or disappear.  What is there today is just a brief snapshot in time as to what has been and what will be there.  It is not a pristine wilderness. A bigger picture involves Ostrander Point being part of the Important Bird Area.  There are international criteria established for the creation of important bird areas.  Prince Edward Point meets criteria A4i and A4iii.  These criteria relate to waterfowl, specifically the large numbers of Scaup, Long-tailed Ducks, Mergansers and Scoters that winter in the waters around the south shore.  It does not meet any internationally recognized standards for land birds.  Regardless, the Prince Edward Point Observatory counts 750,000 birds migrating through in a year.  Bird kills from 9 turbines, even using the inflated rate of 10 birds per turbine, would make no difference in the number of birds passing through the area.  In fact even 200 turbines in the south of the county would make no difference.  There is also the question no anti-turbine person chooses to answer – what difference will the turbines make to bird populations?  The reason is the answer is zero.  Not one bit.  To understand why there will be no impact is rather simple and relates to reproductive success.  To be successful at reproducing, birds need favourable nest sites and food.  If fewer birds reach their nesting grounds they will be able to occupy the very best nest sites.  With less competition for food the birds that nest will produce larger broods.  They may also produce more than one brood per year.  Birds maximize the resources available to maximize their populations.  In good years most species can more than double their populations.  In poor years the opposite can happen. The US Wildlife Service has actually attempted to put numbers to this ability of birds to reproduce.  They estimate 22 billion birds migrate south each year.  Of those 22 billion birds only about 10 billion birds return to their nesting grounds in the spring.  More than half the birds die along the way. That number equates to over 1000 bird kills per square mile in the migration areas of Central and North America.  It gives one pause to think when 600 bird kills are attributed to all the turbines on Wolfe Island. The biggest picture involves the impact of climate change.  There are 16 different aspects of climate that have been tied to CO2 levels in the atmosphere of which temperature rise is but one.  The impact of climate change includes the extirpation of the Boreal Forest from Ontario.  Many of the birds that migrate through Prince Edward County do so to reproduce in the Boreal Forest.  Where will those birds go to nest?  Then there is the northern Tundra.  What will happen to the Tundra when there is no permafrost?  The Tundra is the nesting site of all those ducks that legitimize the Important Bird Area designation for Prince Edward Point.  Shorelines in the Arctic are being rapidly eroded by the longer ice-free days, and shores no longer protected from waves.  What of the birds that nest there? Persons truly concerned about birds and other species recognize that we are in a crisis situation that could impact the very existence of many of the species that now call Canada and Prince Edward County home.  We have run out of time and need to act urgently.  Prince Edward County can and should be part of the solution.  To date we have done nothing but prevaricate and delay. Try as the anti-turbine faction might to make their stance an issue about birds and turtles, it is not.  The nature and wildlife will adapt as they always have.  Their stance should be about is the state of the global environment we leave to our grandchildren. Written by John Legate of the County Sustainability Group