Number of bird deaths from power line collisions grossly overstated

This is in response to the Aug. 6 editorial ‘Time to move on power line.’

The Gazette helps form public opinion in St. Albert and probably influences the actions of our elected officials. The newspaper’s opinion is that the power lines should be moved and a number of ‘facts’ were presented to support that opinion. I agree with the conclusion, because the power lines should be moved and if it happens, I’m told it’s a first in this province and perhaps beyond. However, I take strong issue with a key ‘fact’ based on personal experience.

I want the power line victory (in the eyes of bird lovers, naturalists, park lovers and tree huggers) to be won for all the right reasons. I don’t want this victory tainted with facts that stretch the truth. I don’t want councillors that ask questions and dig deeper on their own to be besmirched for doing so.

At the risk of sounding anti-environmental let me challenge one of the first statements in the editorial. “Environmentalists say the AltaLink power line is responsible for up to 400 bird deaths a year and should be moved.” So when you read that statement, are you left with the feeling that around 400 birds annually die by flying into these wires? Are you left with the feeling this is the view of some, all or most environmentalists? I’m sure that’s what the statement aims to establish but I say that is false.

It pains me to see the Gazette take the views of a few individuals and then use a rather wholistic term like ‘environmentalists say.’ I am a naturalist, a birder, a sports enthusiast, a volunteer and a lot more. Don’t use me, or the comments I’m sharing here, to represent the views of all naturalists, birders, sports enthusiasts or volunteers. You see, I’m also an environmentalist and I don’t believe 400 birds die annually by coming into contact with the power lines at Big Lake.

Plain and simple, I can barely agree with the statement ‘up to 400 bird deaths a year’ because that could mean 20, 40 or 60 birds, which is what I think is a much more accurate estimate. Could 400 deaths occur in a single year under the present conditions? Perhaps once in 100 years. Could a year go by without any deaths by striking the lines? Perhaps once in 200 years.

I have spent countless hours at the BLESS platform doing stringent counts of migratory birds in the spring. I have yet to see a bird strike the wires. Please, don’t get me wrong, strikes do occur. Corpses are found. But, the first statement in the editorial is, in my interpretation of the truth, an inferred gross exaggeration. Sorry, but let’s move these lines for the right reasons based on the best assessment of reality. Let’s not pressure our elected officials with false information. We might end up with an exaggerated response at huge and unwarranted expense.

Do I lose the label ‘environmentalist’ by not adhering to an exaggerated position? Is it necessary to stretch the truth to do the right things nowadays? Do people only listen when people yell the loudest?

Well, I hope not. I hope the vast majority of St. Albert citizens can feel comfortable in being labelled environmentalists and not have to feel they have to stretch the truth to make a point.

Let’s thank AltaLink for accepting the problem as its own and one it is willing to correct and for the most part, pay to correct. Remember, only in recent years, well after the lines were first placed, have St. Albert citizens come to value the Riel wetlands areas. For many years this was an opportunistic dumping ground where aesthetics and wildlife were of little or no concern. We were shortsighted back then. Let’s step forward with wisdom.

The citizens of St. Albert can partner in this decision without paying extra out of our pockets, but this is the hard choice facing our elected officials.

Dan Stoker

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Elke Blodgett