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.


North Shore, Ont.
100 km

Leaflet | © OpenStreetMap

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

Don Ross: Speech at the White Pines Decomissioning

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Don and Heather Ross have been advocating for green energy initiatives in Prince Edward County for over a decade. Photo by Cole Burston

My name is Don Ross and I’m here today with my wife Heather. We’re members of the County Sustainability Group since it was formed in 2005.

We’ve lived in Milford for nearly 40 years, working and raising our 3 children here and are grandparents to 4 grand kids. We’ve been supporters of renewable energy projects for 20 years, since the turn of the century when the County would have been the first place in Ontario to produce clean electricity from wind farms.

Our wind resource here is among the best in the province. Instead of being known as the 21st century leader in wind energy for Ontario, we will be known forever as the first place in the world to tear down a wind farm. This shame will never go away and will remain long after these magnificent turbines are gone.

“ Come to where the status quo thrives and hope for change comes to die. Firmly entrenched on the wrong side of history. —Don Ross”

Perhaps our new motto for Prince Edward County can be : “ Come to where the status quo thrives and hope for change comes to die. Firmly entrenched on the wrong side of history .” Where we used to feel proud of living in the County “ pre-gentrification “,  we now feel embarrassed . We find ourselves saying to people who ask where we live…..” Near Kingston and Belleville.”

At about this same time last year, were it not for the unchecked powers granted to a vindictive government by our outdated first past the post electoral system, we’d have been celebrating the commissioning of the first and only wind farm in PEC. Instead, we now will be witness to it’s destruction, at huge environmental and financial cost, while some local and provincial politicians, anti-wind lobbyists, lawyers, Nimby’s and media pat each other on the backs for a job well done.

Fear and Smear campaigns once again proven effective. FUD ( Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt ) works! In destroying this wind farm, hope is being destroyed with it.

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Our generation, the Boomers and Zoomers, have known since the 60’s what could happen when infinite growth continued on a finite planet. We are the problem and we are the solution. What will you tell your descendants that you did once you knew?

I’d like to finish by reading this letter to the editor in a local paper last week by one of our CSG members- Rod Holloway. It sums up well this situation we are facing. If Greta Thunberg were here today I feel she would agree and have much more to say to us all. We had better start listening to her.

 Letter to the Editor:

The dismantling of the White Pines wind turbines is sheer madness and it begins this month.

 The climate emergency has been ignored by the provincial government, the federal government and sadly, local government. Lip service is paid to the approaching climate catastrophe, while no credible measures are taken to halt the rush toward climate Armageddon.

The scientists have made it clear. We need drastic cuts to carbon emissions by 2030, or the planet becomes uninhabitable. Instead of cutting emissions, the federal government imposes a carbon tax while building an oil pipeline. The provincial government illegally removes cap and trade in Ontario, and the local council allows the destruction of wind turbines that would at least be a symbol of hope for saving the environment.

Scientists have warned us that the result of doing nothing will be the utter devastation of planet Earth. How selfish and short-sighted we and our leaders are.

I’m not overstating the case, the destruction of the turbines and all the rest is sheer suicide and may even be murder. The present generation may survive, but if we continue our wilful blindness to consequences of our actions, we doom future generations to extinction.

We should be building wind turbines, not tearing them down. The house is on fire, and instead of calling the fire department, we cut the water hoses, slash the tires on the emergency vehicles, rip the smoke detectors off the walls and pretend that everything is fine.

It’s not!
Rod Holloway-Picton