Protecting Wildlife at Wind Energy Facilities

September 28, 2023

A lot of work goes into planning a wind turbine facility, long before the turbines are installed. One big consideration is protecting the environment and putting in measures to give wildlife safe ways to navigate and places to live. Conservation also means educating the community about wildlife, so everyone can contribute to the effort.

At Henvey Inlet Wind in Ontario, these measures and more help protect a wide variety of species, including snakes and turtles. The Henvey Inlet Wind Energy Centre is a partnership between Nigig Power Corporation, a subsidiary of Henvey Inlet First Nation, and Pattern Energy.

“There are eight species of turtles in Ontario, and they are all considered at-risk because of the threats that face them,” says Nicole Kopysh, manager of environmental compliance and conservation at Pattern Energy.

“In terms of how Pattern approaches environmental stewardship, there’s great pride in it—it’s one of our core values and one of our mission statements at every facility.”

Wildlife at Henvey Inlet Wind

Located near Sudbury, Ontario, Henvey Inlet Wind turbines and access roads are very close to natural habitats.

“It’s important to us as a company to coexist and support the wildlife that exists around our facilities,” Nicole says. “Henvey Inlet Wind has a beautiful setting. There is a variety of wildlife in the area, and there is great pride in stewardship from the site staff in taking care of the wildlife, including the turtles and snakes in the local area.”

These efforts are continuous and go beyond the borders of the wind facility.

“Henvey Inlet Wind has invested significant time, effort, and resources into conserving, supporting, and protecting the wildlife that’s in the area. Some of the initiatives they’re taking on are to benefit the species in the region in general or for the species as a whole in Ontario, beyond the site,” Nicole says.

Henvey Inlet Wind funds multiple research projects that are producing valuable information and contributing to the protection, recovery, and management of at-risk turtle and snake species and their habitats in Ontario.

Building Safe Passages

To minimize disruption and dangers to the daily lives of local wildlife, Henvey Inlet Wind has built eco-passages into the roads.

“Essentially they’re travel tunnels for the turtles and snakes. They are installed under the roads. They’re surrounded by fencing that guides reptiles toward the tunnel, so they have a safe passage under the road, instead of using the road to get to the other side.”

The entrance to an eco-passage (bottom).

Nicole says they’ve been monitoring the tunnels for years, and they’re very well used.

“They’ve been a success in giving these reptiles a safe way to get around. When this site was being constructed, Henvey Inlet Wind specifically incorporated these tunnels into their road design.”

The passages are monitored by cameras that take photos when they detect motion. Biologists also monitor the natural wetland habitats and their usage.

“We monitored the natural habitats during the first few years of operations to document what species are continuing to use the habitats and in what numbers,” Nicole says.

A snapping turtle using an eco-passage.

Building Safe Habitats

Habitats have also been created on-site at Henvey Inlet Wind.

“One example is where they’ve replicated reptile hibernacula, essentially recreating a wetland. But they have very specific conditions to support the kinds of reptiles there. This involves creating the vegetation and water conditions they need. Henvey Inlet Wind is situated in an area that naturally has a lot of reptile habitats, so this was a bit of a pilot project to recreate some additional habitats within the project area and then monitor their use.”

An example of a natural wetland habitat.

Wildlife Training

Staff are trained on what to do if they come across something like a turtle or a snake on the road.

“We have an extensive training program at Henvey Inlet Wind about Species at Risk. Everyone who works at the site has to take this training, where they learn what kind of species they may see and what to do if you come across one. There’s also a reporting system, so if people see a species at risk, they’ll learn how to spot them, how to report them, and what steps to take to make sure they’re protected,” Nicole says.

The training is interactive to give staff an idea of what they should be looking out for and what they can expect.

“We do real-time, on-the-ground training where we put out decoys as a training tool for how to spot wildlife on the roads.”

Staff are also required to drive slower during the active season and keep their eyes on the road to watch out for wildlife.

A speed limit sign to remind drivers to slow down.

Nicole says that, while the extent and type of training provided at Henvey Inlet Wind is unique, “Every Pattern facility undertakes annual wildlife training and has a policy that any wildlife incident is reported. At Henvey Inlet Wind, every reptile sighting is reported.

“In the vein of continuous improvement and environmental stewardship, the more information we can have on what’s happening where and what’s present where, we can adjust our protective measures as needed.”

Anti-Poaching Campaign

While habitat protection and staff training aid in protecting animals, some human activities continue to threaten them.

“We’ve just launched an anti-poaching awareness campaign that will go out across the region and in the community. A lot of people are surprised to learn that poaching happens in Ontario and that it’s a threat to the species, but it’s a known threat to turtles,” Nicole says.

The campaign poster will be published in the local newspaper, posted throughout the community, and will be available for download on the Henvey Inlet Wind facility page on Pattern Energy’s website.

The poster for the anti-poaching campaign.

“Henvey Inlet Wind has taken on this campaign, which will raise awareness that taking turtles or their eggs from the wild is illegal in the province, and it is a threat to the species. The campaign will also explain what to do if you see poaching or anything suspicious happening,” Nicole explains.

Suspicious activity could look like someone setting traps in a wetland.

She says poaching happens for a number of reasons, but some incidents are related to the illegal pet trade and people capturing turtles for food or medicine.

“Poaching is a global issue. I think that’s why people think it doesn’t happen here, but there have been documented cases of it here. It’s a challenge, and spreading awareness is an important step.”

The shared commitment of Henvey Inlet First Nation, Nigig Power Corporation, and Pattern Energy to protecting wildlife involves long-term, proactive planning and carefully tailored action. The example at Henvey Inlet Wind shows how a program’s design must accommodate the needs of local wildlife and how important it is for project development to take conservation into account from the beginning.