Monday, October 26, 2015

Send in your comments on the proposed wind energy project at Chaplin

The endangered Piping Plover cannot submit comments to the Government but you can. (,
via Wikimedia Commons)

The Province of Saskatchewan is still trying to decide whether to put 79 wind turbines by Chaplin Lake, right next to a globally significant shorebird reserve and across a stretch of native grassland with many Species at Risk. The area it will affect is almost 20,000 hectares of habitat. (See previous Grass Notes posts from July.)

Our Minister of Environment, the Hon. Herb Cox, will be soon deciding whether to approve the multi-million dollar project. If he hears that many Saskatchewan people who support wind energy also want to ensure that we site the projects in places that will not endanger so many birds, I think there is a good chance that Chaplin will be spared.

Please take a few minutes to submit your comments on or before November 17th by email to Or by mail to:

Brianne England
Senior EA Administrator
Environmental Assessment Branch
Room 486 - 3211 Albert Street
Regina, SK S4S 5W6
Phone: (306)787-6190
Fax: (306)787-0930

this is the add published in newspapers to solicit public comments

To look at the technical review prepared by the Environmental Assessment Branch (and yes there are some good people there who are working hard to see that this gets a real review), go here. The document has a lot of useful information you can reference in your comments.

Here are some quotes from the review:

"The proposed location of the project supports numerous species at risk (listed under Schedule 1, Schedule 2, or Schedule 3 of the Species at Risk Act as endangered, threatened, or special concern) including: Sprague’s pipit, chestnut-collared longspur, loggerhead shrike, common nighthawk, ferruginous hawk and yellow rail which are migratory species as well as northern leopard frog, short eared owl and little brown myotis (bat) which are resident species."

The review says that the construction process will destroy 62 hectares of native grassland, which is bad enough, but each site where a road goes through or a turbine is erected in native grassland will degrade the ecological viability of many more hectares of habitat. From the report again:

"Effect on wildlife species is variable and could include increased stress, loss of productivity, habitat or nest abandonment; potentially resulting in changes in distribution and local abundance. Amphibians, sharp-tailed grouse and ferruginous hawks have shown sensitivity to increased human activity. Noise and light emitted during operation may result in reduced use of adjacent areas by wildlife and vehicle traffic may cause temporary disturbance to wildlife. Habitat fragmentation and a loss of connectivity would also occur during construction and operation of the project. Construction activities would have an effect on wildlife movement including small mammals, snakes and amphibians. Operation of the turbines would also result in fragmentation as the presence of infrastructure can be perceived by some wildlife as a barrier. Windlectric concluded that wind energy projects have been shown to cause displacement and avoidance in birds."

But what about the risk of collision for the thousands of passerine and water birds who migrate through and breed at Chaplin? Well, here is a statement on the collision risk that should give the Minister enough reason to turn down this project. Toward the end of the Technical Review Comments, the Province's Environmental Assessment staff make it clear that they are dubious about the way that Windelectric did its collision risk assessment, a key issue in considering any wind project:

"Due to inherent uncertainty with all risk assessments and modelling activities, reviewers raised concerns that the assessment for this project may not provide an accurate estimation of the collision risk posed by the project. Reviewers felt bird strikes of stationary objects may not have been adequately accounted for in the assessment. Uncertainty regarding nocturnal migrating behavior and migration height of many passerine species has resulted in remaining uncertainty surrounding the risk posed to these species by this project. Passerines have been found to make up a majority of all bird fatalities at wind energy projects. The risk associated with direct impacts may be higher considering the proposed project site supports numerous passerine species some of which are considered sensitive or are listed under SARA. [the Species at Risk Act]."

Baird's Sandpipers--long distance migrant shorebirds that depend on a safe staging area at Chalpin Lake

Friday, October 16, 2015

Cast your ballot for the prairie

Eared grebes won't be voting on Monday
It would be foolish to claim that any of the federal political parties who have a chance of forming the government after we vote on Monday are strong on environmental issues; even more foolish to say that any of them will be great defenders of our prairie farms, ranches and ecosystems.

Just the same, your choice as a voter may contribute to the election of a government that will be making decisions regarding funding priorities, regulations, and programs relating to agriculture and other industries that will for the coming years affect the landscapes and creatures who do not have any way to influence policy--unless we keep them in mind when we vote.

As we consider the options, thinking strategically or not, it is worth pondering what each party might do if they form government. If the way I vote helps this or that party form government, will their decisions and policies protect and restore our grassland, farmland and wetlands? Or will their decisions and policies erode natural habitat and foster unsustainable agricultural practices?

local ranchers' cattle graze on the pastures at Stalwart National Wildlife Area, managed by the Canadian Wildlife Service 
Here are ten questions to think about as you go to the polls on Monday:

1. How can I help elect a government that will renew funding to conservation programming in Environment Canada, Agriculture and Agri-food Canada, and Parks Canada rather than a government that saves on taxes by cutting staff and programs in these ministries?

2. How can I help elect a government that will actually enforce the Species at Risk Act (SARA) and provide the science and policy resources necessary to complete and implement the embarrassing backlog of recovery plans for species at risk, rather than a government that clears the way for development by circumventing the legislation and looking for ways to weaken it?

3. How can I help elect a government that will expand and improve Environment Canada's Habitat Stewardship Program to fund more local non-government organizations who are trying to conserve endangered species and their habitats, rather than a government that withdraws funding from any organization that questions its direction?

4. How can I help elect a government that will restore funding to our National Parks and Historic Sites, and add more science and conservation staff to follow the Parks Canada mandate to protect the ecological and historic treasures of our nation, rather than a government that is bent on turning our parks into roadside attractions where all that matters it visitation figures and cost-recovery?

5. How can I help elect a government that will enforce strong regulations to ensure that oil and gas development and pipelines will not destroy sensitive habitats such as native prairie, rather than a government that colludes with the resource industry to remove and weaken public oversight?
Assessing range condition on native grassland

6. How can I help elect a government that will create programming that supports environmentally sustainable and carbon-sequestering practices on farms and ranches, providing incentives to producers who choose to follow these practices, rather than a government that cuts existing programs aimed at fostering healthy landscapes for growing food and habitat?

7. How can I help elect a government that will restore protection for our creeks and rivers, rather than a government that sees regulations on waterways as an impediment to development?

8. How can I help elect a government that will improve sustainable public access to natural landscapes by establishing new parks and conservation areas, rather than a government that divests itself of responsibility for millions of acres of grassland and makes new parks only in marine areas where there is no chance of any conflict with commercial interests?

9. How can I help elect a government that will restore Canada's international reputation as a leader in conservation science and environmental sustainability, rather than a government that muzzles scientists, closes libraries and archives, and refuses to sign international agreements on the import of endangered species, on desertification, and on climate change?

10. How can I help elect a government that will include the environmental ethics and knowledge of aboriginal people in its environmental policy development, rather than a government that looks for ways to outflank or buy favour with cash-strapped First Nations who have resource-rich territory?
Sun setting on Spy Hill-Ellice PFRA Pasture straddling the Sask-Man. border

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Saskatoon's Northeast Swale at risk

from the cover of a Meewasin Valley Authority pamphlet on Saskatoon's Northeast Swale

“Remember: the disappearance of native prairie and wetland means the disappearance of thousands of years of natural and cultural history. This resource can never be replaced. Saskatoon’s Northeast Swale can be conserved with the support and stewardship of the surrounding community. Please take care of your Northeast Swale and educate others to its value.” From a pamphlet on Saskatoon's Northeast Swale natural area, written by the Meewasin Valley Authority

What do we do when an ecologically important natural area and green space on the edge of a growing city is scheduled to have a major roadway slice through its belly? Simple--just call it a "parkway," build some wildlife culverts, post some speed limits, and everything will be ok.

That seems to be the approach that the City of Saskatoon and the Meewasin Valley Authority is taking with the Northeast Swale, a rich natural area of more than 700 acres of native grass and wetlands just inside the city limits. And if that was not bad enough, the province is planning to build a second major artery--a city bypass--through the swale one kilometre away.

Here is a map showing the two roadways planned for the swale, in the upper right hand corner.

And here is a recent story in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix giving a bit of background.

Last week Saskatoon writer and naturalist Candace Savage (A Geography of Blood and Prairie: A Natural History) published in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix a strong plea for saving the swale.

Dave Carpenter, writer, defender of natural areas and winner of this year's Kloppenburg Award for Literary Excellence, then followed up with this letter to the paper.

At the City Hall Council meeting this past Monday, Candace spoke and called the parkway and perimeter highway proposed within a kilometre of one another "a double whammy". In the Star-Phoenix report on the meeting, she said, "I'm afraid that despite all the intelligence and good will that has gone into the planning for the swale, it's going to fail because we aren't going far enough," Savage said. "We know with these major roadways coming through the swale there will be consequences."

As Candace wrote in a recent email, "the two major arteries will cut the Swale off from the natural east-west flow of the landscape, thereby fragmenting, isolating and undermining it."

As a large piece of rare intact grassland and wetland, the swale is a representative sample of the Aspen Parkland prairie that once stretched all across the middle of Saskatchewan. The Nature Conservancy of Canada says that less than 10 percent of the natural habitat in this ecoregion remains intact. The rest is growing canola and grain and urban subdivisions.

Really Meewasin? This is disappointing. Those of us suffering with the Wascana Park Authority in Regina have for years been pointing to you as a model of ecologically-minded planning. From your pamphlet on the swale there is no mistaking your pride and understanding of the ecological value of this "ancient river channel." You are better than this and you have a chance to prove it by protecting the swale from any development--roads included.

I am sure that you and the City of Saskatoon and the Province can put your heads together and find a better way.
Some last words from the Meewasin Valley Authority pamphlet again:

"Saskatchewan has lost more than 80% of its native prairie. Native grasslands are now one of the most imperiled ecosystems on the planet. The swale contains considerable areas of native prairie grasslands and offers high quality biodiversity, proximity to urban areas, economic benefits for recreation and education, and a natural filter for our air and water. The swale contains wetlands that provide a means of flood control for the surrounding community."

The badger is one of the rare creatures that depend on the swale as an intact corridor with no roadways intersecting (image courtesy of Hamilton Greenwood)

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