Day 23 of Ostrander Point — Dr D. Strickland on birds
Report on May 3rd ERT Hearing
by Henri Garand, Chair, APPEC
The Environmental Review Tribunal heard the testimony of Dr. Dale Strickland, another of Gilead Power’s expert witnesses on birds.
Qualifying of Dr. Strickland
Dr. Strickland holds a Ph.D. in Zoology. He was a head scientist with the state of Wyoming’s Fish and Game Department before becoming Senior Ecologist and CEO of Western Ecosystems, an environmental consulting firm with 85 full-time staff and 150 field technicians on contract. Since the mid-1990s he has worked on over 100 wind power projects, including a proposed 2000-MW project.
PECFN lawyer Eric Gillespie established that Dr. Strickland has not consulted on any Canadian projects.
Sam Rogers, a new (and third) Gilead Power lawyer, sought to qualify Dr. Strickland as an “expert on the impacts of wind farms on birds.” There were no objections, and Dr. Strickland was so qualified.
Examination of Dr. Strickland
When studying wind projects Dr. Strickland said he looks for a biologically significant impact on bird populations with respect to habitat loss, behavioral responses like displacement, and fatalities. His conclusions are that the Ostrander Point site is not large enough to support demographically viable breeding populations and that the project size would not affect populations through collision fatality. Considering cumulative effects, he said there would be no impact on bird populations from even the other wind projects planned in the region.
Dr. Strickland said the mandatory thresholds of 14 birds per turbine per year, with a total of 2 raptors for the project, were “extensive mitigations,” and the mitigations restricting the construction schedule and providing compensatory habitat were “excellent”. The project would not affect Henslow’s Sparrow, which was not likely to occur, or the Whip-poor-will because of mitigations for this species.
Comparing Ostrander Point with Wolfe Island, Dr. Strickland said that Stantec studies had detected lower numbers of birds, and the low passage rates for night migrating birds would result in a low impact on populations. Radar data does not indicate an “exceptional use” by birds, and passage rates are not as high as at some other wind projects. The Important Bird Area status is based on waterfowl, which are not susceptible to wind turbines.
Cross-examination of Dr. Strickland
Eric Gillespie questioned Dr. Strickland on the subject of bird populations and population variability analysis. Dr. Strickland said that as few as 50 breeding pairs are required for the gene pool of a species, and that 4,169 individuals generally constitute the demographic minimum. Population variability analysis examines species survival to the 100th generation (about 2-300 years for songbirds and perhaps 1000 years for Golden Eagles) and is used only for species with survival concerns or for game management. The approach for “non-consumptive use of wildlife” (like bird watching) is to mange habitat. If a recovery strategy is necessary for threatened and endangered species, the target is a demographic number that will sustain a population.
After a series of pressing questions Dr. Strickland conceded that “serious harm” would result if a population dropped below the required demographic number, but this would still not be “irreversible harm” because of possible mitigations. He said that population variability analysis considered all geographic areas in which a species carried on its life cycle, and it could not be limited to Ontario unless the species bred and overwintered exclusively in Ontario. Nor can variability analysis be calculated for birds on the endangered and threatened species list because the population figures are simply estimates.
Mr. Gillespie asked whether the turbine-caused death of a single Carolina Wren, a species with an estimated Ontario population of 4000, would be significant. Dr. Strickland said the population really depends on factors outside Canada. Mr. Gillespie asked whether the turbine-caused death of any single individual would be significant if it reduced the population below the level of demographic variability. Dr. Strickland declined to answer a hypothetical question.
Asked what it would take to reach irreversible harm, Dr. Strickland said it would be the point at which no human remediation is possible.
Mr. Gillespie asked whether the “serious” test is limited to population. Dr. Strickland said that if a nine-turbine project killed hundreds of birds, it would be a serious “situation,” but “it would not be serious harm because the populations are viable.”
Turning to mortality monitoring, Mr. Gillespie asked about differences in methodology and results. Dr. Strickland said that, regardless of methods, monitoring gives only an estimate of fatalities— it can’t determine the actual numbers. But the data is useful for comparative purposes. The same is true for bird surveys. Risk calculations, based on the data available, indicate a low probability for a Purple Martin or a Kirtland’s Warbler hitting a turbine blade at Ostrander Point.
ERT Panel Questions
Co-chair Robert Wright asked how large an area was required for a viable breeding population if Ostrander Point’s 324 ha are too small. Dr. Strickland said it would depend on the habitat and a species’ breeding characteristics, but it could be 100,000 km2.