This morning Ontario Environmental Commissioner Gord Miller held a press conference at which he recommended new wind power rules to protect birds and bats.
In his office's latest annual report, Miller says no new windfarms should be established in the 70 Important Bird Areas in Ontario -- places that Nature Canada and its partner Bird Studies Canada identified, using internationally agreed criteria, as being important for the conservation of bird populations and migratory corridors.
This is very good news. Wind energy is a clean, abundant, renewable source of energy that can contribute to combating the harmful environmental changes brought about by the climate crisis. But Nature Canada has long argued that the development of wind energy should be, and can be, achieved while balancing the need to protect migratory bird and bat populations. We support the development of wind energy in Canada, coupled with conservation measures to reduce all forms of fossil fuel consumption – but wind energy must not be produced at the expense of wildlife.
Wind turbines and wind farms should not be located in Important Bird Areas, like the one located at Ostrander Point, where large numbers of birds congregate, migrate and breed. All wind farm proposals should be subject to an environmental assessment process prior to development in order to evaluate their impact on all wildlife, including birds and bats. Regulators such as the provincial and territorial governments should adopt policies and guidelines that exclude wind energy projects from Important Bird Areas. Other areas that are known to be important to birds and bats, but do not meet the IBA criteria, must be subject to rigorous environmental assessment to ensure that the risks of operating wind farms are adequately mitigated. Any wind farms that already exist within migratory corridors or bottlenecks should be subject to the best practices for mitigating their impacts on birds, especially during migration season.
The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources is currently seeking public comment to help shape the framework for management of the Province’s Crown Lands for renewable energy development including wind, solar and hydro. We believe that these new policies need to provide clear direction so that new developments on Crown Land will not to be sited in Important Bird areas and significant wildlife habitat. We hope that the Environment Commissioner’s statement will prompt the Ontario government to show leadership and demonstrate that on our public lands the needs of biodiversity are properly addressed.
Nature Canada is a partner, with Bird Studies Canada, in delivering BirdLife International’s Important Bird Areas Program in Canada. Canada's roughly 600 IBAs are part of a global system of more than 10,000 sites worldwide. These IBAs provide habitat for threatened birds, large groups of birds, and birds found almost nowhere else on Earth. Birds face many pressures – pollution, habitat loss, climate change, and human disturbance – and conserving IBAs is an essential way of relieving pressures.
The Commissioner’s recommendations offer a way to get wind power right in Ontario. We urge the Ministry to take up these recommendations.