In PEC, the Blanding’s Turtle Killed the White Pines Windfarm. Now It’s Back in the News

The Blanding’s turtle (a threatened species) was the excuse used by the Ford government to kill the White Pines Windfarm. Long time landowners said they had never seen a Blanding’s Turtle on the proposed White Pines Windfarm site. Flat and dry, the habitat  simply didn’t provide  a habitat for the turtle. But, of course, that didn’t stop Todd Smith and Doug Ford from axing the windfarm proposal. Look at the habitat that DOES support Blanding’s turtles in the article bel ow.

Northern Ontario’s turtle tussle pits scientists against quarry builders, with a threatened species caught in the middle

When ecologists found a haven for Blanding’s turtles on a patch of Crown land, they waded into a conflict that is testing the Ford government’s new policy on endangered species protection. Then things got really ugly.


Masters student Gabriella Zagorski carries a Blanding’s turtle through a Northern Ontario wetland alongside field technician Shannon Millar. The species once ranged widely across the Great Lakes and U.S. Midwest, but roads and agriculture disrupted their habitat and their numbers dwindled.

To her colleagues, Gabriella Zagorski is the “turtle whisperer.”

In the wetlands of Northern Ontario, she can approach a turtle with such stealth that it won’t see her coming. “If you move really slowly, then they think you’re a tree or something,” said the 24-year-old field biologist. “It can take up to an hour sometimes.”

Ms. Zagorski’s patience paid off two years ago when she was working on her masters degree at Laurentian University in Sudbury and began looking for Blanding’s turtles – a rare and globally endangered species – in a soggy pocket of provincial Crown land about 150 kilometres west of the city. Over two summers, she and her teammates found 56 Blanding’s turtles concentrated in an area that measures about three kilometres across. The unexpected find makes the site one of the richest and most densely populated refuges for the species ever found in Canada.

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North Shore, Ont.
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Now, Ms. Zagorski’s turtles are caught in a showdown between a company that is seeking to turn the site into a quarry and local residents who oppose the project. The dispute has divided the township of North Shore, a picturesque stretch of rocky inlets and forested wetlands along the northern rim of Lake Huron where Ms. Zagorski’s study site is located.

This week, North Shore’s municipal council is expected to ratify a 3-2 vote to rezone the area for mineral extraction. If the rezoning is approved, it will be up to the province to say whether the quarry can go forward. The decision will become an early test of how species protection in Ontario is likely to be conducted under new legislation passed by Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s government last June.

In the meantime, the brewing controversy has already taken some strange turns, including one last year when Ms. Zagorski and her supervisor, biologist and professor Jacqueline Litzgus, found themselves accused of falsifying their data about turtles at the site.

Laurentian University biologist Jaqueline Litzgus, right, discusses a project with student Stephanie Delay at a turtle study site in Sudbury, Ont. IVAN SEMENIUK/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Those charges were levelled by a consulting firm that was hired to conduct an environmental assessment of the site on behalf of the quarry company. In a letter to Laurentian’s vice-president of research, the company wrote that the scientists had committed research misconduct and asked the university to investigate. The letter was copied to municipal and provincial officials connected to the approval process for the quarry.

The university determined the complaint to be without merit and did not launch a misconduct investigation. Dr. Litzgus, a long-time faculty member who is known for her work in turtle ecology, saw the broadside as an attempt to undercut the scientists’ credibility with decision makers. “It’s mind-boggling to me that this could have happened,” she said. “Researchers shouldn’t be attacked for collecting data that might protect a species at risk in accordance with the law.”

Without naming their accusers, the scientists included mention of a “defaming attack” when they published their findings in October’s edition of research journal Global Ecology and Conservation. They noted that “after several exchanges between lawyers, a letter of apology and a retraction of the accusations was received from the consultant.”

Public documents obtained by The Globe and Mail show that Tulloch Engineering was the consulting firm that made the allegations in March, 2018, on behalf of the quarry company, Darien Aggregates, and its majority owner, Rankin Construction Inc. of St. Catharines, Ont.

Researchers spent more than two years tracking this Blanding’s turtle across the Northern Ontario wilderness with a radio transmitter attached. Now, it is ready for release.

Ms. Zagorski, right, Ms. Millar, middle, and field technician Heather Van Den Diepstraten, go out on the water during their research PHOTOS: GINO DONATO/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

The matter is playing out against a shifting landscape of provincial regulations.

Under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act, proponents of a project that could negatively affect a listed species can apply for an “overall benefit permit.” To obtain such a permit, the proponent must take specific actions that helps the species elsewhere to an extent that outweighs any negative effects the project might cause.

This year, the Ford government amended the act to provide another way for a project to get a green light. In principle, the change would allow the quarry to proceed as long as the company contributes money to a provincial conservation fund – an approach that critics have dubbed “pay as you slay.” Conservation groups say the change has dangerously weakened Ontario’s species laws. MORE

Sadness for green energy supporters as dismantling begins on turbine project


Cranes with workers from Nova Scotia and Newfoundland get started on the dismantling of one of the completed turbines involved in the WPD White Pines wind project Tuesday morning in Milford. PHOTO: BROCK ORMOND/INQUINTE.CA

Supporters of the WPD White Pines wind turbine project are trying to keep a positive mindset despite the start of decomissioning Tuesday morning on Royal Road in Milford.

Around 50 people held a peaceful demonstration in front of one of the nine turbines erected in South Marysburgh and Athol wards in Prince Edward County as cranes rolled in to start the dismantling of four-completed and five-partially-completed turbines.

Local resident and green energy supporter Jen Ackerman said while the group assembled was a little smaller than she’d hoped, they were still strong in getting across an important message “loud and clear” of being mindful of children’s future.

Ackerman, who has a 14-year old son, said the planet is there to inherit for younger people, children and teens in particular, and the provincial government’s choice to order the deconstruction of these turbines worries her as a mother.

“(My son) is going to be basically carrying this load. It’s not his fault and he’s the one who’s going to suffer,” she said.

“I think that’s totally selfish of adults that are supposed to be responsible for their constituents and what’s best for them, that they would do this to kids like him. They’re basically putting the nail in the coffin for the planet.”

Ackerman added she believes there will be no other choice for the future provincial government to go to renewable energy once there’s no more fossil fuels and nuclear energy left to burn, which means there’s hope still visible for green energy supporters.

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Bruce Peninsula

“In other parts of Canada, they’re building wind farms. In other parts of Ontario, they’re building wind farms. I really do feel that one day, once we get rid of the politicians that we have now, of course there will be wind.”

Ackerman has one turbine on her property and an access road which leads to two more, which means she has a financial stake in the project.

However, she reiterated that her concerns are strictly environmental and that she and other supporters weren’t trying to shame people who are against green energy.

“We want to see green energy. be a contributor to the right solutions and see us go forward,” Ackerman explained.

Image result for blanding's turtle“People who are against it, they have their own reasons, but we can’t understand them. If you look around, there’s no Blanding’s Turtles here, there never has been and never will be and I’ve never seen birds fly over the turbines. All of the things that (the provincial government) has been saying and the things they’ve used against us has been proven untrue.”

Many groups joined the province in opposing the turbines, including the Prince Edward County municipal government, and the Alliance to Protect Prince Edward County (APPEC).

Green energy supporter Bill White said he feels that the current government was “totally insensitive” to climate change and hopes that the next one will be more in tune to the growing issue.

“It’s accepted right across Canada, that everybody is getting on board with the seriousness of climate change. The change in the last year (among the population) has been tremendous.”

White adds that when the government and local objectors to the turbine project came together to cancel it last year, climate change was not part of the discussions, but now more information and awareness is coming out about it.

“If that effort started now, it would be a different result.”

The first phase of the project involves a crane arriving on-site and lowering the towers to the ground, and the county says the road users agreement it has with the company remains in effect.

The work is expected to continue for several weeks until the end of January.

The second phase of the decommissioning, which is expected to begin in April 2020, consists of removing and remediating infrastructure installed for the project.

The turbines can take about three years to be taken down, according to Ackerman and the cost of the deconstruction work is about $100 million.

When asked for a municipal point of view on the subject on Monday, Prince Edward County Mayor Steve Ferguson said council and the municipality can only go as far as ensuring that the County’s road use agreement with WPD remains in force.

Ferguson explained the County is taking steps to help make the environment better that doesn’t require wind turbines, including installing solar panels and re-establishing the Environmental Advisory Committee, in the midst of a climate emergency.

“We’re certainly cognizant of the things we have to do to minimize the impact on the environment municipally,” he said. “We’ve also been trying to minimize single-use plastics around Shire Hall. We’re very concious of it, but wind turbines are not going to be part of that equation, because of the impact they have on the environment and the natural habitat that they interfere with.”

To read past stories on the climate crisis and the White Pines project, click herehere and here.

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Ferguson explained the County is taking steps to help make the environment better that doesn’t require wind turbines, including installing solar panels and re-establishing the Environmental Advisory Committee, in the midst of a climate emergency.

“We’re certainly cognizant of the things we have to do to minimize the impact on the environment municipally,” he said. “We’ve also been trying to minimize single-use plastics around Shire Hall. We’re very concious of it, but wind turbines are not going to be part of that equation, because of the impact they have on the environment and the natural habitat that they interfere with.”

To read past stories on the climate crisis and the White Pines project, click herehere and here.