Day 21 of Ostrander Point — Dr. Paul Kerlinger on birds
Report on May 1st ERT Hearing
by Henri Garand, Chair, APPEC
The Environmental Review Tribunal heard the cross-examination of Dr. Doug Larsen on alvars and the initial testimony of Dr. Paul Kerlinger on birds.
Cross-Examination of Dr. Larsen
PECFN lawyer Eric Gillespie established that Dr. Larsen’s opinions are based on the Alvar Management Plan (AMP), Dr. Catling’s comments, and a 5-hour visit to Ostrander Point. Dr. Larsen conceded that he had not seen everything, but he saw successional growth trees and woody plants, and had found signs of significant disturbance, perhaps a series of events (though not fire), 40-90 years ago.
Dr. Larsen argued that the AMP would improve conditions on site, though it was not possible to return to a pre-construction state. He acknowledged that the roads and turbine bases would destroy 5.2 ha of alvar, while the proposed recovery of alvar from cultural meadow would provide only 4.2 ha if the recovery process worked. In general, he supported the AMP except the restoration targets and the 4-year monitoring period. “Good restoration projects,” he said, “monitor for 10-25 years.”
Dr. Larsen was reluctant to describe Ostrander Point as an alvar, saying it was all a matter of scale whether to recognize homogeneous or heterogeneous plant communities.
ERT Panel Questions
Co-chair Robert Wright asked about the presence of red cedar and prickly ash. Dr. Larsen said these invasive species show the “power of Nature to come back from a disturbance.”
Qualifying Dr. Paul Kerlinger
Dr. Kerlinger holds a Ph.D. in Ornithology and has worked as a consultant for the wind energy and communications industries since 1994. He has assessed avian impacts at 75 wind projects in 25 states and two Canadian provinces.
Neither the Ministry of Environment’s nor PECFN’s lawyer had questions. The ERT panel qualified Dr. Kerlinger as “an expert on impacts of wind farms on birds.”
Examination of Dr. Kerlinger
Dr. Kerlinger said that wind turbines cause two types of avian impacts: displacement and collision. The former occurs due to habitat removal and the presence of a tall structure. Not all bird species respond the same way. Savannah sparrows, for example, nest near wind turbines as densely as in fields without turbines, while fewer bobolinks nest within 75-100 m. of turbines.
Based on reports for 50 wind projects, collisions average 4-7 birds per turbine per year. A couple of projects, like Wolfe Island, are near 15. Most collisions involve a dozen common species, specifically in eastern North America of night migrating songbirds. Mortality, however, is not significant because the populations of such birds as the red-eyed vireo and the golden-crowned kinglet are in the many millions. Despite differences in the collection and calculation of bird fatalities at wind projects, Dr. Kerlinger defended the credibility of the data because the reports are peer-reviewed.
On a walk along the adjacent roads and through the middle of Ostrander Point, Dr. Kerlinger said he had found habitat suitable for brush nesting birds. The site has poor grassland, no woodland, and not much wetland for shorebirds or waterfowl; and it is not optimal habitat for migrating songbirds. Gilead’s newly-acquired nearby property has more deciduous trees, and Prince Edward Point has a larger area and more diversity of deciduous trees and is a better stopover site for migratory birds. Consequently, Dr.Kerlinger argued that the bird records of Prince Edward Point Bird Observatory did not apply to Ostrander Point.
With respect to Important Bird Areas (IBA), he said that projects adjacent to IBAs did not record higher fatalities, and this was also generally true for 10-12 projects located on Appalachian mountain ridges, a migratory flyway.
Dr. Kerlinger’s risk assessment for Ostrander Point took into account these factors:
· A mortality threshold of 14 birds has seldom been exceeded,
· A small project reduces mortality because of easier avoidance,
· A 200-m turbine setback from the lake allows birds to pass along the shore as well as land and takeoff from the water, and
· Limitations on the construction schedule reduce displacement.
He therefore concluded that serious and irreversible harm would not occur.
Dr. Kerlinger explained population variability analysis, which considers reproductive rates, longevity, range dispersal, and estimated population of a species in order to determine how many individuals can perish before the population as a whole declines. He then said such analysis was unnecessary for Ostrander Point because of the low overall number of predicted fatalities.
Finally, Gilead’s lawyer Bryn Gray led Dr. Kerlinger through a long list of breeding and migratory birds, including species at risk. In each case Dr. Kerlinger said there would be no serious and irreversible effect for a number of reasons: the species population is large, the species is not vulnerable to turbines, the species would not linger at the site because of poor habitat, or the species is unlikely to be present because it is so rare.
Throughout the testimony Dr. Kerlinger had referenced numerous American wind projects to support his conclusions.
Addressing the ERT panel, Eric Gillespie noted that Dr. Kerlinger had commented on 25-40 bird species and on projects from Appalachia to California. Much of this was new information undisclosed in the witness statements. He asked the panel to either strike the last part of the testimony or adjourn the ERT because it was not possible to research the facts and cross-examine the witness before his scheduled departure by noon the next day.
Mr. Wright directed counsel for all parties to discuss a solution to the problem so the ERT could proceed.