Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Chaplin Lake Shorebird Reserve: we can have both clean energy and birds

Chaplin Lake is one of the most important IBAs in the province
Natascia Lypny's story in today's Star-Phoenix and Leader-Post about the Chaplin wind energy project does what any good journalist does with a conservation issue related to development--it looks for the tension between two sets of interests. But in this instance, because wind energy is also a measure that in the long run helps keep the planet healthy, both "sides" are being expressed by the conservation interests, represented by nature groups and a bird scientist, Dr. Chris Sommers.

Somers and Nature Saskatchewan's Jordan Ignatiuk each make some cogent, fair-minded comments that capture the complexity of trying to balance the need for protecting bird habitat with the need for clean energy. Late in the story Chris says "There's a cost associated with generating any kind of energy, and we really just have to make sure we get the right balance, and I think that's what goes into this kind of decision."

Someone reading the story might think, "where is the conflict here? The bird people are not taking a strong stance to protect Chaplin Lake." 

But that is exactly how it should be--conservation people concerned about birds are not enemies of the wind energy sector; they are natural allies. They want clean alternatives to fossil fuels as much as anyone. They know that any wind farm will kill a certain amount of birds, but they know too that the death toll and habitat disturbance can be minimized with proper siting.

Bird Studies Canada (BSC), an affiliate of BirdLife International, is one of the continent's most important bird conservation organizations. They sponsor or support some of our best avian research and try to help Canadians conserve hundreds of sites across the country where birds congregate, migrate, and breed in large numbers through their Important Bird Areas (IBA) program. Chaplin Lake is one of these IBAs.

Given global concerns about human-induced climate change, Bird Studies is a strong supporter of clean energy. They want to see more wind farms in Canada and are always open to working with the wind energy industry to help minimize risks presented to birds and bird habitat. Here is what their recently updated statement on wind energy developments says on "Location of Wind Energy Developments":

Wherever possible, wind energy projects should be situated in areas that are already highly compromised by human development (e.g., in areas of intensive agriculture or urbanization) rather than relatively pristine areas, to minimize impacts on both wildlife and their habitats. Exceptions include cases where highly compromised sites are known to support important ecological functions such as roosting areas, lekking sites and migration corridors. Wind energy development should avoid natural areas containing populations of species at risk, known migration pathways of national or regional significance, and areas where birds are highly concentrated (e.g., waterbird colonies, shorebird and waterbird staging areas).

There is no need for conflict over wind energy. What is needed is an independent, made-in-Saskatchewan plan that considers all of the factors that must be taken into consideration when siting a wind farm: bats, birds, and other conservation values, social and aesthetic values, acoustic issues, and others.

This may sound like a tall order but it is being done in Europe and elsewhere on this continent. With the wind capacity we have in this province, we have an opportunity to be a leader in developing wind farms that are sited properly. This project at Chaplin is a good starting point. What can we do to bring conservationists and wind energy developers together so we get this right?

Here is a clip I took last week showing sanderlings feeding at Chaplin Lake:

1 comment:

  1. Certainly hope the decision takes into account the migrating birds. I think wind generation of electricity is great but there must be lots of places in Saskatchewan that are not in migrating bird pathways that would be good for windmills.


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