Day 13 of Ostrander Point — Don Davis on Monarch butterflies
[This ERT session, on April 8, completed testimony by PECFN’s expert witnesses. Next will be testimony of experts on behalf of Gilead Power and the Ministry of the Environment.]
Report on April 8th ERT Hearing
by Henri Garand, Chair, APPEC
On April 8, the Environmental Review Tribunal heard testimony from Bill Evans on birds and Don Davis on Monarch butterflies.
Bill Evans Testimony (contd.)
Mr. Evans summarized his testimony from Friday as follows:
- The Ostrander Point project would impact aerial insectivores like the Tree Swallow, Purple Martin and Common Nighthawk.
- The project would not affect migratory birds at the population level, but it would affect local populations of breeding birds.
- The project was unique because of its location within an Important Bird Area (IBA) on a peninsula. The highest mortality was to be expected, especially for raptors.
Ministry of Environment (MOE) lawyer Sylvia Davis had no questions.
Gilead lawyer Douglas Hamilton called attention to the size of the Ostrander Point project versus Wolfe Island’s and questioned the scale of the impacts. Then he asked about mitigations. Mr. Evans said that since the disruptions to birds were spread over many months, mitigations could not be temporary measures and they would affect the economics of the project. Hamilton also pressed Mr. Evans to explain what he meant by a “didactic example” of the Purple Martin, saying the usage was unfamiliar. Mr. Evans said it meant “educational”.
PECFN Lawyer Eric Gillespie followed up on mitigation through the use of radar. Mr. Evans said he was not aware that radar warnings had been used effectively anywhere.
Qualifying Don Davis
Don Davis has been involved as a research associate and citizen scientist in studying the Monarch butterfly for over 40 years. He is authorized by the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) to collect and band Monarchs, and as a member of Monarch Watch he communicates regularly with research scientists, is a co-author of the Monarch Conservation Plan, and has served as a technical reviewer of scientific publications on Monarchs. Recently, he was an expert consultant for a new documentary, Flight of the Butterflies.
MOE lawyer Sarah Kromkamp confirmed that Mr. Davis did not have relevant academic credentials or research publications.
Gilead lawyer Bryn Gray established that Mr. Davis had no background in population ecology. Then he tried to limit Mr. Davis’s expertise to collecting and tagging butterflies.
The ERT panel, however, accepted Mr. Davis as an expert witness on “Monarch migration, breeding, and habitat,” though it would weigh his evidence.
Testimony of Don Davis
Mr. Davis provided background on Monarch biology and behavior. Monarch butterflies require nectaring habitat for food, milkweed for breeding, and staging/stopping areas during migration. They produce three to four generations each summer; only the last generation migrates as far as Mexico. There are no specific migration routes in Ontario: Monarchs generally follow roadways and ditches to the shores of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, and then proceed along the shore, or gather at some sites, until the weather is favorable for crossing. Three sites in Ontario are International Monarch Butterfly Reserves: Long Point and Point Pelee (both on Lake Erie), and Prince Edward Point National Wildlife Area, east of Ostrander Point. Monarchs have been reported as abundant throughout the South Shore IBA, including the Miller Family Nature Reserve and Point Petre, both west of Ostrander Point.
Stantec’s natural heritage reports, according to Mr. Davis, contain errors in fact and attribution. He said there is no data to support the statement that Presqu’ile Park is more important to Monarch migration than the County. Nor do Ontario Monarchs migrate above turbine heights as observed over the Texas plains. Claims to the contrary, attributed by Stantec to Dr. Orly Taylor, were denied by Dr. Taylor in a private email (presented as evidence) to Mr. Davis. Stantec’s report is also unreliable in terms of Monarch surveys because of poor methodology and timing.
Mr. Davis concluded that Gilead’s project would cause “irreversible harm to the site and to Monarch butterflies” because of its removal of breeding habitat.
Ministry of Environment Cross-examination
Lawyer Sarah Kromkamp questioned Mr. Davis on the impact on Monarchs from the loss of six hectares, the amount of land proposed for roads and turbine bases. She wondered how this would affect a Monarch population estimated in hundreds of millions to perhaps a billion. Mr. Davis said that the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) was re-evaluating the status of the Monarch due to the recent low numbers recorded at its Mexican overwintering site. He noted that the MNR had identified Ostrander Point as important to Monarchs.
Gilead Power Cross-examination
Lawyer Bryn Gray pointed out that Mr. Davis had only driven the roads near Ostrander Point and walked a few metres into part of the site. He confirmed that Mr. Davis had not assessed the six hectares of land as Monarch habitat. He also pointed to the Monarch’s adaptability in recovering from previous severe declines in population. Mr. Davis said that the overall population trend for Monarchs is downward, with pesticides and habitat destruction known to be major causes. Ostrander Point, however, is recognized for its suitable habitat, though it would take one or two seasons of field work to determine the local population level of Monarchs and assess the “serious and irreversible harm” from habitat loss.
ERT Panel’s Questions
Co-chair Heather Gibbs sought clarification on the threats to Monarch survival. Mr. Davis said these included pesticides, herbicides, and intensive agricultural practices, as well as climatic changes like drought. Suitable habitat, particularly with milkweed, is critical.