This morning we woke to news from California that at least six golden eagles were slaughtered at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power's Pine Tree Wind Project in the Tehachapi Mountains. The US Fish and Wildlife Service is investigating, but so far, no wind energy company has been prosecuted by federal wildlife authorities in connection with the death of birds protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.
As long as the Department of the Interior permits the wind industry to continue its charade that these bird deaths, like others in California and elsewhere, are an anomaly and that the turbines are otherwise safe for wildlife, the impacts will continue unabated. It's time for the public to stand up and demand that wind developers, who cloak themselves in "green", take responsibility for the destruction left in their wake.
The below message from the American Bird Conservancy (ABC) is something we should all be willing to support. Please take a moment today and send your comments to the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
Press release from the ABC:
New Wind Guidelines Need Improvements for Wildlife
The Department of the Interior has released new voluntary guidelines for wind development that reverse agency protection recommendations for birds and add an unrealistic deadline that would lead to "rubber-stamping" of wind projects. Because the guidelines are not mandatory, contain significant loopholes, and offer "benefit of [law] enforcement discretion" under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, American Bird Conservancy believes changes are needed to minimize potential harm to birds.
The new guidelines could allow harm to come birds by giving FWS biologists responsibility to review wind projects within an extremely truncated deadline, and without the funding to hire the requisite additional staff. If FWS misses this deadline, it's unclear whether wind projects that move along without FWS input would still receive "benefit of enforcement discretion." In addition, the new guidelines remove protections for both birds and people that FWS biologists had recommended in their peer-reviewed guidelines, including:
* Allowing greater latitude in installing overhead power lines between wind turbines, which increases the risk to larger birds such as eagles, hawks, and cranes, instead of burying the lines.
* Removing a recommendation that wind developers address wildfire risk and response planning, something that could be potentially very important, especially in Western communities or areas experiencing drought.
* Removing a recommendation that wind developers avoid discharging sediment from roads into streams and waters, a standard recommendation at construction sites that protects water quality.
* Removing a recommendation to avoid active wind turbine construction during key periods in the life histories of fish and wildlife, such as the nesting season for migratory birds.
Comments can be sent to email@example.com until Aug. 4.
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This month, Reuters reported that the Obama administration is working on a plan that will permit wind developers to kill endangered whooping cranes who fly in the path of the turbine blades.
The formal language of the Administration is less pointed but the impact the same.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service intends to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on a proposed application for an Incidental Take Permit (ITP) issued under Section 10(a)(1)(B) of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act).
If approved, wind developers will be permitted to 'take' an unspecified number of endangered species including the whooping crane. 'Take' under the Endangered Species Act, is defined as the injuring or killing of endangered species.
A bird at risk
Whooping cranes are rare birds that occur only in North America. The July 2010 total wild population was estimated at 383 with only one self-sustaining flock, the Aransas-Wood Buffalo National Park population, numbering just 283 individuals. Twice yearly, whooping cranes undertake their 5000-mile migration journey between their breeding ground in northwest Canada to their wintering area on the Texas coast. The bird's 200-mile wide flyover area is well defined crossing through Alberta, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas. Ninety-four percent of all observations of whooping cranes occur in this area.
Wind farms have the potential to directly kill whooping cranes either from the turbines themselves or associated construction of power lines. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that as many as 40,000 turbines could be built in the 200-mile wide corridor. Current estimates put the turbine count in the path at 2,705 turbines (40 operational wind plants). A single death of a whooping crane by a turbine blade will impact the entire population. Whooping cranes that do not perish from direct collisions with the blades could suffer potentially irreparable harm through the loss of hundreds of square miles of vital migration stopover habitat.
According to a 2009 government report, a rise in mortality rate of just three percent annually would doom the species. As it is, loss of genetic diversity will continue unless the wild population is able to grow to approximately 1,000 individuals, a goal that is likely improbable given current rates of land development in critical habitat areas.
The majority of wind farms proposed and built in the U.S. do not require federal permits so there's no nexus for wind developers to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service prior to siting projects. Still, wind energy facilities must lawfully abide by the Endangered Species Act, despite their favored status under the Obama administration.
We encourage readers to see Judge Roger Titus' landmark opinion involving the Beech Ridge wind energy project (December 2009) where he recounts some of the legal history of the Act including the 1978 Supreme Court decision that halted construction of the Tellico Dam  in Tennessee. Titus cites this from the 1978 decision: “examination of the language, history, and structure of the legislation under review here indicates beyond doubt that Congress intended endangered species to be afforded the highest of priorities,” (id. at 174) and that Congress’ purpose “was to halt and reverse the trend toward species extinction, whatever the cost,” (id. at 184). The value of endangered species was found to be "incalculable."
Few developers bother to file for incidental take permits even in cases where the potential of injuring or killing endangered species is high. And why bother? Despite known cases of endangered and threatened species killed at wind plants, we know of no cases where penalties have been imposed. In fact, the threat of enforcement was hardly even noticed until the Beech Ridge decision. In 1978 it was the Department of the Interior who filed the Tellico Dam case. Today, U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, sides with the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) in proclaiming that wind power is compatible with existing federal laws protecting wildlife and their habitat.
With all due respect, Secretary Salazar is wrong.
The fact is we have federal laws and decades of legal precedence directed at protecting endangered species that now create uncomfortable obstacles to nebulous energy goals (20% wind power by 2030) and shifting tax policy that promote job creation and renewable energy.
A Safe Harbor plan
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is acting at the request of the Wind Energy Whooping Crane Action Group, a collection of 19 of the largest wind energy developers .
The incidental take permit sought by the Group, if granted, will sweep away decades of environmental policies meant to protect whooping cranes and their limited habitat. Under the new plan, wildlife impacts that would be deemed unacceptable in the context of different kinds of projects will be excused. Other birds included in the plan are the lesser prairie chicken, Sprague’s pipit, the mountain plover, piping plover and interior least tern. In exchange, applicants must agree to develop and abide by a habitat conservation plan aimed at minimizing impacts.
For nearly a decade, the wind industry has downplayed the impact of turbines on birds by pointing to house cats and buildings as the real danger but wind farms are not as benign as claimed. The Beech Ridge decision was a wake-up call for both developers and the Department of the Interior. Hiding violations from the public will be harder moving forward and as more turbines are erected.
Offering safe harbor to developers is inherently wrong. Especially when the proposed habitat conservation plan will be developed by the wind industry and overseen by an administration that has consistently advocated for wind. Instead, Fish and Wildlife Service scientists and field offices should be allowed to do their jobs and enforce the laws we have.
The next step in the process is for the Fish and Wildlife Service to receive public comment on the plan. The Service published a notice in the Federal Register on July 14, 2011 initiating a 90-day comment period. For information on how and where to submit comments, visit the Service’s web site to download a copy of the notice.
The Endangered Species Act is one of the few defenses whooping cranes have against irreversible decline and extinction. Please consider making your voice heard on this critical matter.
 The Tellico Dam was later completed after Congress exempted the project from the Endangered Species Act.
 The Group includes Acciona North America; Allete; Alternity; BP Renewables; Clipper Wind Energy; CPV Renewable Energy Company, LLC; EnXco; Duke Wind Energy; Horizon Wind Energy; Iberdrola Renewables; Infinity; MAP Royalty; NextEra Energy Resources; Renewable Energy Systems Americas; Terra-Gen; Trade Wind Energy; Element Power; Own Energy; and Wind Capital Group.
Editor's note: A separate and developing story involving Bald Eagles and the Goodhue Wind project approved in Minnesota provides important perspective.
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Last summer, the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee (NHSEC) voted unanimously to permit construction of the highly controversial Granite Reliable Wind Energy facility, a $275 million, 99-megawatt project proposed by Noble Environmental Power. The project is to be sited along three peaks in the State's northern-most Coos County.
Windaction.org, a party to the proceedings, argued that the erection of thirty-three industrial-scale turbines and construction of over thirty miles of road with 50-foot ledge-cuts and the destruction of 13-acres of wetlands would have an unreasonable and permanent impact on New England's unique and increasingly rare High Elevation Spruce-Fir Forest habitat.
We were not alone in our position.
New Hampshire's Department of Fish and Game (NHF&G), the Counsel for the Public appointed by the NH Attorney General, New Hampshire Audubon, The Nature Conservancy, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency all filed documents with the NHSEC asserting that the project, as proposed, would cause permanent and lasting harm to the environment. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also filed technical letters with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recommending a full Environmental Impact Statement ("EIS") be done in accordance with the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA).
According to testimony submitted to the NHSEC, the project bisected the remaining parcels of high elevation habitat in New Hampshire. These forested ridges supported several species of conservation concern in the State and region including the American Marten (state threatened), the Bicknell's Thrush (state special concern) and the Three-toed Woodpecker (state threatened). Turbine placement at elevations above 2700 feet would cause direct habitat loss as well as additional habitat degradation for these species. Regarding Bicknell's Thrush, New Hampshire Audubon argued that the high-elevation spruce-fir forests of northeastern North America provided the only breeding habitat available to this forest-interior species.
Bicknell's Thrush have the smallest breeding range of any North American bird with forty-five percent of the potential habitat located in New Hampshire. NHF&G informed the State that the proposed level of impact on Bicknell's Thrush habitat was incompatible with the long-term health and viability of the species and that given the extremely limited global distribution of this bird, the State could not afford to take any chances with this extremely rare bird species.
During its public deliberations on environmental impacts, one Committee member admitted "Clearly, what we have is a void here. None of us know what the impacts [on the natural environment] are going to be, except for the direct impact of losing forest." Despite this 'void' the NHSEC found the project would not have an unreasonable adverse effect on the environment and voted to approve it.
Windaction.org appealed the Committee's order to the State's Supreme Court citing numerous questions of law, including the above. The Court declined our appeal with no reasons cited.
State insiders tell Windaction.org that the approval of Noble's application makes one fact clear: when it comes to wind energy in New Hampshire, no adverse impact will reach the level of being 'unreasonable'.
This week, Vermont utility regulators approved wind power contracts for the state's two largest electric utilities to purchase energy from Noble's wind project. In so doing, the stain of this project will now spread to Vermont ratepayers.
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Kevin Kawula distributed his letter below to environmental organizations throughout Wisconsin in hopes of raising awareness about the shockingly high bat mortality discovered at operating wind energy facilities in the State. Windaction.org shares Mr. Kawula's concerns and thought it appropriate to feature his letter in this week's Wind Alert!
"The notion that the wind industry is predominantly made up of small, environmentally conscious operations is one that must be quickly dispelled. These are large, corporate-scale utility companies, not unlike coal and oil conglomerates ... with a checkered environmental track record to date. Voluntary guidelines will not change that paradigm, and will work about as well as voluntary taxes." -- George Fenwick, President American Bird Conservancy
Things are going badly for our wildlife populations in and around the operating industrial scale wind projects in Wisconsin.
Anecdotal reports from people living in Wisconsin wind projects report an absence of normal wildlife, i.e. no turkey, no deer, fewer or no songbirds, and no bats. Relatives and friends outside the wind facility report greater numbers of deer and turkey.
The birds and deer are leaving the area, but the bats are as likely to be dying, as leaving.
A recent post-construction bird and bat mortality report, conducted by We Energies (WEPCO) CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD as part of receiving approval for its Blue Sky Green Field project, shows that the bird deaths were 11 to 12 bird deaths/per turbine/per year. This is four times higher than the national average of 3 bird kills/per turbine/per year.
Even more alarming are the bat kill rates of 40.54 to 41/per turbine/per year This is more than ten times the reported national average of less than 4 per turbine per year.
Wisconsin's turbine related bat deaths are among the highest in North America, and equal to the bat mortality numbers from Pennsylvania/Appalachia area which stunned conservationists across the nation.
The total number of bats killed by the 88 turbine Blue Sky Green Field project is estimated to be between 3,500 to 3,600 per year.
Two additional post construction reports show the same bat kill rates at the Cedar Ridge project, and slightly higher kill rates at Invenergy Forward Energy project near the Horicon Marsh.
These three projects alone have resulted in an estimated 8,000 bat deaths per year.
That's 16,000 dead bats for the two years these projects have been in operation.
Predictions for number of bat kills for the pending Glacier Hills wind project are expected to be equally as high, adding at least another 3500 turbine related bat deaths per year.
Can Wisconsin bat populations sustain this kind of impact?
Bats are not being struck by the blades (135 feet long with tip speeds of 180mph), but are suffering catastrophic damage to their lungs as they fly into the low-pressure zone that is created behind the rotating blades.
This drop in pressure causes their lungs to expand rapidly, burst, fill with fluid and blood, and they drown. It is called barotrauma - deep-sea divers get a version of it called the bends, when raised too quickly from the depths.
Birds have different lung structures, so they are not as readily affected, but bats are mammals and have lungs much more similar to ours, so take a deep breath, and imagine you can't stop inhaling until your lungs burst.
Bats live up to thirty years, reproduce slowly, maybe one pup a year, and because they maintain tight family groups, the loss of a single bat can have a significant impact.
Bats are a vital link in the natural balance of Wisconsin's wild and not so wild areas.
I cannot think of a time in human history that bats have not been flying over Wisconsin, but the loss of our bat population could happen in our lifetimes.
White nose syndrome, a nasal/respiratory fungus, is threatening cave roosting/hibernating species of bats, in the eastern United States into extinction, but has not yet reached Wisconsin.
Industrial wind turbines kill all species of bats, even the tree roosting/migrating species we hoped might be spared from the white nose blight.
If the state continues to follow its plan to add 200 to 300 new industrial turbines each year until 2025, turbine related bat deaths could be as high as 131,200 to 192,700 bats per year.
This total annual mortality number is unlikely, because the remaining bat populations would likely crash from mounting annual losses before then.
I am asking that we, as conservationists, help stop this needless slaughter.
Contact the Department of Natural Resources and the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin with your concerns.
Shari Koslowsky, Conservation Biologist with the DNR, has been very helpful in explaining the post construction mortality numbers. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org , (608) 261- 4382.
My main concern is that there is no representative of any organization with expertise in wildlife and natural habitat protection on the Wind Siting Council. The Wind Siting Council is a 15 member organization currently working on creating guidelines for siting wind turbines in our state.
I am asking that the DNR require the PSC to stop the operation of industrial scale wind turbine facilities at night (curtailment) when electrical demand is low and easily met by existing base load generation which cannot be shut off.
The period from dusk until dawn must be reserved for migrating and feeding wildlife as an equitable distribution of a state ("free wind") natural resource, for the greater good of the whole rural community, human and animal. Night time curtailment would ensure safe passage for bats and night migrating birds, and provide a reliable period of quiet for the undisturbed sleep that is vital to any being's health.
CLICK HERE to leave a comment on the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin's Wind Siting Council's docket.
Energy independence will eventually mean grid independence, but until then the decision makers need to face the facts and take responsibility for the harm caused by their decisions, and remedy the problem.
Mr. Kawula is a board member of the Rock County Conservationists, TPE Member, Spring Valley Planning and Zoning board member, Owner and operator of Lone Rock Prairie Nursery, and Rock County Parks Volunteer.
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This week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service transmitted its final set of recommendations on how to minimize the impacts of land-based wind farms on wildlife and its habitat to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. In the press release that accompanied the document, the Service claimed the recommendations represented the consensus of "22 diverse members of the Wind Turbine Guidelines Federal Advisory Committee".
'Diverse' is not a term we'd use. In fact, the Committee's membership from the outset was grossly skewed in favor of industry representatives and ignored leading experts on critical wildlife impacts, a direct violation of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA).
Windaction.org and others raised this objection with the Secretary of the Interior on at least two separate occasions.
In a letter submitted on January 17, 2008, we called on then-Secretary Dirk Kempthorne to revamp the membership of the Wind Turbine Guidelines Advisory Committee after finding that:
1) No committee members possessed research expertise or publication record regarding bats, nor direct knowledge or experience involving bat interactions with wind turbines. This was a glaring omission in light of ongoing reports of massive bat mortality at wind energy facilities;
2) The committee lacked the requisite expertise regarding bird impacts, especially with respect to effects on migratory birds using the Appalachian mountain ridges in the eastern U.S., despite the fact that dozens of planned wind projects are slated for this part of the country;
3) No committee members had significant research, scientific, or regulatory experience with wind energy development and associated wildlife impacts resulting from onshore wind projects in the eastern U.S.
These scientific and technical omissions were especially troubling in light of the many individuals on the committee who either expressly represented or were clearly aligned with the interests of the wind industry.
Only after that letter was sent, and only after some of the original members declined to serve, did the Secretary agree to add two people to the Committee with any experience in bat biology.
A second letter sent May 11, 2009 reiterated our concern with the Committee membership and informed Secretary Ken Salazar that after more than one and one-half years since the Committee's formation, the draft recommendations read more as an unabashed endorsement of wind power than a rigorous effort to address the harmful - and ever growing - effects on wildlife of poorly sited and constructed wind power projects.
Despite its charter to provide advice and recommendations to the Secretary of the Interior regarding effective measures to avoid or minimize impacts to wildlife and their habitats related to land-based wind energy facilities, the Committee's draft recommendations did little more than offer justifications for not developing rigorous, enforceable criteria to address the escalating wildlife impacts.
The Department ignored our letter.
The final set of recommendations just released provides a laundry list of basic suggestions that we would expect from individuals and local town boards just learning about wind energy development and its possible impacts. The report creates an illusion of concern, but offers nothing more than what a wind developer might recommend if asked. If this is the best the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can produce, then the entire exercise was a waste of time and public dollars.
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Significant bat mortality at wind energy facilities first became widely known in the United States in 2003 when research scientists observed alarming numbers of bats killed at FPL Energy's Mountaineer wind energy plant in West Virginia. The forty-four turbine site located along the forested Backbone mountaintop was found to be slaughtering bats at annual rates of over 50 bats per turbine with some estimates placing the count at close to 100 bats. High mortality was also observed that year at the Meyersdale wind farm in Pennsylvania, another FPL project.
Researchers from Texas-based Bat Conservation International ("BCI") were invited to investigate the cause for the high mortality with the intent of trying to minimize and/or avoid the impact. FPL (now Next Era) initially agreed to cooperate, but in 2004 abruptly changed course and banned further visits by scientists to the sites. To our knowledge, bat kills are continuing unabated and Windaction.org has no independent information to suggest anyone is even monitoring the problem.
In 2007, renown bat expert Dr. Thomas H. Kunz and others published "Ecological impacts of wind energy development on bats: questions, research needs, and hypotheses", which detailed the significant risk that industrial-scale wind turbines posed for migratory and local bat populations in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. The authors projected that by 2020, annual bat fatalities at wind energy facilities in this area alone could reach 111,000 bats.
The authors also made clear that their preliminary projections of cumulative bat fatalities were likely unrealistically low.
And developers' own consultants agree. During court proceedings before the U.S. District Court involving the Beech Ridge wind energy facility proposed for West Virginia, experts predicted that more than 135,000 bats would be killed by the turbines through a combination of direct collision with the turbine blades and barotrama. The Beech Ridge project is close geographically to the Mountaineer facility.
Dr. Kunz elaborated on his concerns in written testimony submitted to the court as follows:
"the most severe threats facing bats in eastern United States are habitat loss, White Nose Syndrome, and proliferation of poorly sited industrial wind developments. Habitat loss and degradation as a result of human activity has been occurring for a long time, but the recent threats of White Nose Syndrome and industrial wind developments - and particularly the cumulative effects of the two simultaneous threats -could have especially deleterious effects on a number of bat species in the eastern United States, including the endangered Indiana bat."
Vermont's Agency for Natural Resources is taking bat mortality very seriously. In recommendations to the Vermont Public Service Board involving a 5-turbine project along Vermont's Georgia Mountain, the agency proffered maximum allowed mortality thresholds:
"Adverse impacts to bat populations may occur as a result of the new wind facility and should be addressed when estimated bat fatalities for the period July 1 through September 30 at the Green Mountain site exceed 0.0 threatened and endangered bat species/ turbine (Indiana or small footed bat), 3.0 migratory bats/ turbine (combinations of red bat, hoary bat and silver- haired bat) or 5.0 bats/turbine of other species (combinations of little brown bat, big brown bat, northern long-eared bat, and tri-colored bat)."
But wind developers building in agriculture areas or areas away from forests essentially ignored the bat problem believing it only applied to a few projects along ridgelines in eastern States.
In proceedings before the Wisconsin Public Service Commission on the Blue Sky Green Field Wind Energy Center (88 turbines), developer We Energies dismissed recommendations by the State's Department of Natural Resources (DNR) that pre- and post- construction studies be conducted to understand the effect on resident and migratory bats. Their witness testified that the "project's bat mortality rate is reasonably likely to compare with the published mortality rates at wind farms located in similar agriculturally-dominated landscapes."
Still, the Commission required the project conduct post-construction studies and the results were staggering. Bat mortality was found to be over 40 bats per turbine per year with counts nearly split between migratory and resident species. In an expected 20-year project life, over 70,000 bats will be decimated by this single project.
Scientists at the DNR made it clear to the Commission that there were too few scientific studies completed nationwide for anyone to understand the estimated potential for impacts for a particular wind farm simply by performing a literature review and extrapolating the results from wind farms located in similar environments. And they were right!
The State of Wisconsin now has a decision to make on what to do about bat mortality. Windaction.org hopes Wisconsin and We Energies will act more responsibly than NextEra and the State of West Virginia. An important step is to first acknowledge that the problem exists.
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Windaction.org joined other environmental interest groups and individuals in submitting a sixty-day notice of federal law violations to the Department of Interior in connection with the proposed Cape Wind offshore wind energy facility. Laws cited include the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act.
The notice and supporting appendices were prepared by attorneys Jessica Almy and Eric R. Glitzenstein of Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal, the Washington D.C. public interest law firm representing the groups.
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Since 2003, with the discovery of significant bat kills at the Mountaineer wind energy facility sited on a forested ridgeline in West Virginia, the wind industry has been battling the issue of how best to predict and site wind facilities to avoid, or minimize the problem. High bat mortality has since been reported at project sites worldwide, particularly involving migratory species, prompting concerns of cumulative effects on bat populations.
World renown bat expert, Dr. Thomas H. Kunz, and others, in their peer-reviewed paper entitled "Ecological impacts of wind energy development on bats", detailed the significant risk that industrial-scale wind turbines pose for migratory and local bat populations in the Mid-Atlantic Highlands region of the United States. The authors projected that by 2020, annual bat fatalities at wind energy facilities in this region alone could reach 111,000 bats. They also state that their preliminary projections of cumulative bat fatalities are "likely to be unrealistically low, especially as larger and increasing numbers of wind turbines are installed."
High bat mortality is not limited to the eastern region of the U.S. Drs. Kunz and Merlin Tuttle raised the red flag in Texas where limited or no studies are underway and researchers in Canada, where barotrauma was first identified, are also trying to quantify the problem. When the devastating bat-killing disease white-nose syndrome - which has now spread to much of the East Coast - is factored into the equation, it's easy to understand why leading bat experts are predicting truly dire consequences unless drastic changes are made in the way that wind power projects are sited and regulated.
With that background, we introduce the law suit filed by Animal Welfare Institute, Mountain Communities for Responsible Energy, and others against Beech Ridge LLC.
At issue is whether the massive Beech Ridge project - consisting of over 120 industrial wind turbines spread out over 23 miles on multiple Appalachian ridges in Greenbrier County, West Virginia - will likely kill, wound, harm, harass, or otherwise "take" any federally endangered Indiana bats during the two decades that the turbines will operate. Discovery taken to date by the plaintiffs' attorneys reveals the scale of risk to bats as follows:
• that Defendants' own consultant - BHE Environmental ("BHE") - has predicted that more than 135,000 bats would be killed by the turbines, through a combination of direct impacts with the turbine blades and barotrauma;
• that such deaths will likely include other "myotis" species - the taxonomic group that includes Indiana bats - including such species that have been captured on the Beech Ridge site and that resemble the Indiana bat and share similar ecological characteristics;
• that other wind power projects built on Appalachian ridges - including the "Mountaineer" facility in West Virginia, which is close geographically to the Beech Ridge project - have had far higher rates of bat mortality than wind power projects located in other parts of the country, and that the available data reflect that Appalachian projects have killed higher percentages of myotis species than elsewhere in the country;
• that hundreds of Indiana bats presently hibernate in caves within ten miles of the project site - including some that are less than seven miles from turbine locations - and that there are no currently operating wind power projects closer to known Indiana bat hibernacula;
• that Indiana bats can and do migrate between summer roosting and foraging habitat much further than the distance between the hibernacula and the project site;
• that there is in fact "suitable" Indiana bat habitat on the project site itself, as confirmed by the parties' site inspection;
• that the 23 miles of Beech Ridge turbines will be physically located between known Indiana bat hibernacula to the south and east of the project and known Indiana summer foraging and roosting habitat to the west and north of the project;
• that Defendants performed no surveys whatsoever regarding Indiana bat - or, for that matter, any other bat - use of the site during the crucial Fall migration period although both the United States Fish and Wildlife Service ("FWS") and WV DNR sent BHE letters urging that such surveys be performed.
Despite these facts, the developer asserted that Indiana bats were unlikely to be killed, injured, or otherwise taken because Indiana bats have never been detected on the project site itself.
But, in fact, pre-trial investigations uncovered that several such surveys were completed in July 2005. The developer now admits a subcontractor collected "ultrasound" data and the acoustic data sat in a file cabinet unanalyzed. Two experts for the Plaintiffs, Drs. Lynn Robbins and Michael Gannon have analyzed these long-hidden files and have determined that Indiana bats were almost certainly present on the site during the survey.
The trial start date is set for Oct 21; Windaction.org will be watching these proceedings closely. This single project, if permitted to proceed, will pose an alarming risk to bats, including Indiana bats. But what sobers us most is that data involving the Indiana bat was never publicly revealed until a civil suit was filed and the right document requests made. There is no excuse for this cover-up by Beech Ridge LLC and its environmental consultant, BHE Environmental Inc., and they shouldn't be allowed to get away with it.
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This week, Cleveland Plain Dealer bird blogger, Jim McCarty, wrote a delightful article on the successes of Audubon's Seabird Restoration Program in nurturing and tracking the return of rare seabirds to Maine's coastal areas. Mr. McCarty is obviously a bird enthusiast who has spent time researching and writing about the risks to migrating birds should a "string of colossal power-producing windmills" be erected in Lake Erie.
This week he offered an update to his research by reporting on the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service ("USFWS") Advisory Committee now preparing turbine siting guidelines designed to protect birds from wind turbines. He wrote that this action by USFWS "came in response to pressure from environmental conservation groups" including the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and opined that a "bird-friendly boost from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service" will convince wind proponents to make necessary concessions in order to protect our feathered friends.
Unfortunately, Mr. McCarty's optimistic explanation for why USFWS established the Advisory Committee reflects a rewrite of history dating back to 2003. Windaction.org warns that he and other wildlife activists not take any solace in the Committee's work for a host of reasons.
A time line of the events as they relate to this Committee may help reveal why skepticism of its work product is warranted.
May, 2003: The US Fish and Wildlife Service released its Guidance on Avoiding and Minimizing Wildlife Impacted from Wind Turbines. USFWS regional directors were informed that "wind energy facilities can adversely impact wildlife, especially birds and bats, and their habitats. More facilities with larger turbines can lead to cumulative effects that will initiate or contribute to the decline of some wildlife populations." The Service made it clear that the guidelines did not negate or otherwise weaken existing federal laws protecting wildlife. The guidelines called for a minimum of three years of preconstruction studies to assess risk to migrating birds.
January 2006: The wind industry viewed the USFWS Guidelines as "impractical, inappropriately restrictive, and developed without adequate industry input". A letter surfaced, authored by Mark Sinclair of Clean Energy States Alliance, a wind advocacy group, announcing a collaborative process for resolving wind/wildlife conflicts. His letter stated the outcome of this process "may result in a product that is significantly different than the existing USFWS Interim Guidance". Members of the collaborative included USFWS, the American Wind Energy Association - the powerful wind industry trade group - National Audubon Society, Sinclair's Clean Energy States Alliance, and others. The meetings were not publicly noticed, nor were they open to the public. Laurie Jodziewicz, spokeswoman for AWEA, said the point of the group was to "develop guidelines that everyone could agree on."
Make no mistake. This effort was not triggered by environmental conservation groups. To the contrary, such groups, including National Audubon, were complicit in the industry's effort to weaken our national Guidelines.
January 31, 2006: The founders of Windaction.org with others sent a letter to Interior Secretary Gale Norton inquiring about the collaborative process and asking whether USFWS intended to "comply with the basic openness and accountability provisions of the Federal Advisory Committee Act ("FACA"), 5 U.S.C. App 2." FACA applies to any committee established or utilized by one or more agencies in the interest of obtaining advice or recommendations for the Federal Government. Its provisions also require that committees be fairly balanced in terms of points of view represented and the function to be performed.
We were rightly concerned that closed-door meetings would simply be an opportunity for the wind industry and its advocates to force revisions of the agency's Guidance in a manner that made turbine siting and operation easier, but detrimental to wildlife.
February 9, 2006: Scheduled first meeting of the Collaborative. Upon receipt of our January 31 letter, the process was canceled.
March 2007: The USFWS announced it would be forming an Advisory Committee based on FACA. The intent of the Committee was to evaluate and develop guidelines for the safe siting of wind energy facilities.
October 2007: The Committee and members list were formally announced. Of the 22 members (including Mark Sinclair) none possessed research expertise or experience involving bat interactions with wind turbines nor expertise in bird impacts especially with respect to effects on migratory birds using the Appalachian mountain ridges in the eastern U.S. Other expert deficiencies were glaring.
January 17, 2008: Windaction.org and others submitted a letter to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorn informing him that the composition of the committee was illegally skewed in favor of wind industry representatives and the selection process ignored leading experts on critical wildlife impacts.
Shortly after, Dr. Clait Braun declined his appointment to the Committee telling Windaction.org that one reason was that the Committee was stacked in favor of wind interests. Others declined participation leaving a few openings. In response to our letter, the Service scrambled to fill the slots with bat "experts".
March 6, 2008: USFWS Career Deputy Director Ken Stansell responded in a proforma letter stating "We believe the selection of the members met the goal of achieving balance" among geographic regions, wildlife interests and industry interests.
January and April, 2009: The first few drafts of the guidelines were released by the Committee for public comment.
May 11, 2009: Windaction.org and others submitted a second letter to Secretary Salizar requesting he immediately suspend work on the committee citing excessive industry influence in preparing the Committee's draft recommendations.
To date, our concerns with the Committee's membership have been ignored.
Scientists have written to USFWS expressing concern with the draft guidelines including Dr. Shawn Smallwood, a prominent biologist in the area of impacts of wind turbines on avian life. Those familiar with the history of the Committee and the 'agendas' of its individual members have little faith that its work product will serve any value in protecting vulnerable wildlife resources - a job we would have thought to be the highest priority for the USFWS.
Windaction.org encourages greater Congressional oversight by the House Natural Resources Committee. Some States are being more proactive than the Feds. For instance, Mr. McCarty and other bird enthusiasts may wish to look to New York State for its guidance released in January 2009.
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New Hampshire's Site Evaluation Committee is deliberating on Noble Environmental's proposal to erect a 99-megawatt wind energy facility in northern Coos County.
The project has caught the attention of several high profile environmental groups in the State including New Hampshire Audubon, The Nature Conservancy, and Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) - all of whom issued strong letters, and in the case of AMC, testimony, detailing the significant impacts to sensitive wildlife habitat should the project proceed. Biologists at New Hampshire Fish and Game (NHF&G) submitted equally strong testimony arguing the project will produce an unreasonable adverse effect on the natural environment.
The facts proffered by the above mentioned groups are consistent.
The project located on managed timber land spans four ridgelines. The bulk of the thirty-three turbines are slated for rare, pristine old-growth forest that, according to NH's Wildlife Action plan accounts for only about four-percent of the state's land area but whose habitat type supports sixty-six vertebrate species including several threatened species. In particular, this high-elevation spruce-fir forest is home to the Bicknell's thrush, American martin, and the three-toed woodpecker, all known to be resident at the project site. Tracks of the Canada lynx, now believed to be pioneering back to the State have been observed onsite.
The project proposes to build 33 miles of roads involving 50-foot ledge cuts and surface widths ranging from 24 to 150 feet wide. Noble's engineer confirmed under oath that this photo taken at the Kibby Mountain wind facility in Maine accurately represents what can be expected in New Hampshire.
The project also seeks to fill over thirteen (13) acres of wetlands including the destruction of eight vernal pools.
The US Army Corps of Engineers has informed Noble that the alternatives analysis conducted on the project is inadequate and more needs to be done to prove that the proposed site location and plan layout is the least impacting. Technical letters prepared by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and EPA concur with the Army Corps finding.
Still, Noble Environmental has resisted all requests to relocate or remove turbines that might reduce the environmental damage complaining that any changes to the plan will harm the project's economic viability. No concrete evidence has been supplied by Noble to substantiate this point.
But it would appear that by Noble holding firm at least two parties have caved to its will - AMC and NHF&G. In the final days leading up to the State hearings, AMC, NHF&G, and Noble hastily slapped together an agreement termed the High Elevation Mitigation Agreement. The key conditions of the agreement are simple:
1) Land surrounding one of the four turbine strings sited on one of the four peaks (Kelsey Mountain) will be deeded to the State of New Hampshire as conservation land.
2) Two offsite parcels totaling 260 acres will be deeded to the State.
3) Funds totaling $950,000 will be paid to NHF&G of which $200,000 will be used to conduct post-construction studies on the effects of wind facilities on high-elevation species and the remaining $750,000 will go towards purchasing additional conservation lands.
AMC's and NHF&G's firm opposition to certain turbine strings being constructed was not firm at all. When faced with a choice between managed commercial timbering in the area - a regulated industry active in the state for decades (and now green-certified) - and the project, the project was deemed the lesser evil.
This position taken by AMC and NHF&G is even more incredible after considering AMC's David Publicover's own statements that timbering at high elevations in New England typically produces low commercial value and the steep slopes significantly impede harvest due to cost. This aerial photo of the Kelsey ridgeline showing an area near-black with forest appears to validate this point.
The haste in which the agreement was negotiated and signed did not go unnoticed during the hearings. Windaction.org, a party to the proceedings before the State, had the opportunity to cross-examined AMC and NHF&G on the agreement, a summary of what was revealed detailed below:
Did AMC or NHF&G perform a trade-off analysis that looked at total acreage impacted by the project including forest interior habitat lost?
Answer - "No." NHF&G stated in testimony that 3747 acres of high-elevation habitat would be affected.
Did AMC or NHF&G consider how far into the forest the direct edge effects of building the road, turbine pads, and associated transmission would be felt?
Answer - "No." AMC's Dave Publicover added under oath that "We knew those edge effects were there. We knew approximately what they were. ...We weren't basing our mitigation on any specific, you know, mitigation acreage ratio."
Did AMC or NHF&G visit the mitigation land to determine the quality of the habitat and whether it was comparable to the habitat that would be lost?
Answer - "No." In fact, some of the mitigation land was recently timbered, confirmed in aerial photos obtained by Windaction.org.
Did AMC or NHF&G prepare a scope of work for any post-construction studies and did either validate whether the $200,000 was sufficient to cover costs including administrative costs?
Answer - "No."
Did either AMC or NHF&G consider how much land could be purchased for the $750,000 and the availability of comparable habitat elsewhere in the State that was not already protected?
Answer - "No." Under oath, NHF&G stated it was difficult to tell what landowners will demand for land but the Department knows of several properties that had recently been cut.
It remains to be seen whether the State of New Hampshire will endorse the agreement signed by NHF&G, AMC, and Noble Environmental. Windaction.org would hope the Committee will hold a higher standard for the State than what NHF&G and AMC have demonstrated. The lesson learned in this case is that we cannot assume those negotiating mitigation settlement agreements have the knowledge, experience, or commitment to protect the natural resources at stake, even when that's their job.
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In September, the U.S. Forest Service released its Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the first wind energy project proposed for national forest lands.
Iberdrola's Deerfield Wind application proposes to erect fifteen 2-MW turbines in the Green Mountain National Forest located in southern Vermont. The project site is adjacent to the older Searsburg project erected on private land in 1997.
A review of the DEIS reveals disturbing information regarding the Forest Service's assessment of this project's impacts in the context of the National Environmental Policy Act or NEPA.
The "purpose and need" section appears designed to achieve a predetermined result of siting an industrial wind energy facility on Forest Service land adjacent to the existing Searsburg site. Justifications used for considering the project application include (quoting the document):
Neither statement is accurate nor is there any attempt to substantiate these assertions. The Forest Service has no basis for claiming the project will provide "long-term cost stability" given the unpredictability of the wind resource and Iberdrola's inability to secure a long-term power purchase agreement for the energy. Since the New England states are participants in the regional cap and trade program, Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative or RGGI, the Forest Service cannot claim emissions will decrease should the project be built. Emissions will only be displaced.
In the alternatives analysis, the Forest Service never contemplates an alternative where the project is built on private land, an obvious omission. The only three alternatives provided, including a 'No Build' option, reflect variants of the original. The message is clear -- the Forest Service is committed to seeing this project built here and built now.
But the most offensive aspect of the DEIS document is how it reads more like a repackaging of Iberdrola's application rather than a serious assessment under NEPA in many important topics including aesthetics, economic benefits, impact on wildlife and the natural environment, and safety (ice throw, blade and turbine failure). It appears the Forest Service shamelessly accepted Deerfield Wind's studies, with no apparent attempt to validate the assumptions and conclusions made by the developer on project benefits and impacts.
For example, on Noise impacts, the Forest Service accepts Iberdrola's recommendation that the Project meet a nighttime guideline for protection against sleep disturbance of 45 A-weighted sound pressure levels (dBA) averaged over an eight-hour night at the wall of nearby residences.
By doing so, the Forest Service ignores the growing body of data, detailing the risk of turbine noise in rural communities. WHO recommends that sound levels during nighttime and late evening hours be less than 30 dBA during sleeping periods and that for sounds containing a strong low frequency component (typical of wind turbines), WHO asserts these limits may need to be even lower to avoid health risks. They also recommend that the criteria use dBC frequency weighting instead of dBA for sources with low frequency content.
The Forest Service also fails to note that the International Standards Organization (ISO) in ISO 1996-1971 recommends 25 dBA as the maximum night-time limit for rural communities. Sound levels of 40 dBA and above are only appropriate in suburban communities during the day and urban communities during day and night. There are no communities under this standard where 45 dBA is considered acceptable at night.
It's not possible to determine whether the Forest Service willingly conceded its responsibility to Iberdrola in assessing the impacts of the project or whether it did so out of ignorance, but the outcome is the same.
If the Federal Government is serious about understanding and documenting the impacts of wind energy projects on our National Forests, the American public deserves more. This DEIS cannot be allowed to set a precedent. Windaction.org advises the Forest Service to scrap the Deerfield Wind DEIS and begin again, but this time with a focus on research, not reproduction.
If our readers share these concerns, please take a moment to e-mail your thoughts to the Forest Service. The deadline for comments is Friday, November 28.
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The New York Times recently published "Thinking Anew About a Migratory Barrier: Roads" in which reporter Jim Robbins explores the impacts of road development on wildlife habitat at Glacier National Park in Montana.
Noting that scientists now understand the impacts of roads crisscrossing the landscape, Robbins writes "Some experts believe that habitat fragmentation, the slicing and dicing of large landscapes into small pieces with roads, homes and other development, is the biggest of all environmental problems."
Dr. Michael Soulé, retired biologist and founder of the Society for Conservation Biology is quoted: "It's bigger than climate change. While the serious effects from climate change are 30 years away, there's nothing left to save then if we don't deal with fragmentation. And the spearhead of fragmentation are roads."
For perspective as to the enormous roads which have been built along forested Appalachian ridgetops for industrial wind energy projects, Windaction.org examined these images prepared by Dan Boone, which provide before and after aerial photos of the very southern end of the NedPower windplant in West Virginia. The NedPower facility is the most recently constructed wind energy project in the mid-Atlantic region, comprised of 132 2-MW Gamesa wind turbines, each nearly 400 foot tall and a 3-blade rotor assembly with diameter of more than 260 feet.
The average width of the area bulldozed for the road corridor and other project infrastructure varies from about 75 to 100 feet. We estimate that over a square mile of forest was lost due to this one wind facility, about 650 acres, or roughly 5 acres of forest cleared on average for each wind turbine. The forest acreage loss is greatly exceeded by the amount of ecologically-significant "forest-interior" habitat that was eliminated by the extensive fragmentation of the area's forest coverage.
From an ecological perspective, roads create "edges" which severely affect "forest interior" wildlife. For example, woodland birds which nest near forest "edges" are more likely 1) to have their eggs or young taken by scavengers/predators who disproportionately frequent "edges", and 2) to be "parasitized" by brown-headed cowbirds who lay their eggs in other birds' nests. In addition, there are a host of ecological concerns associated with created "edges" within the "forest interior" such as:
1) increased sunlight and evapotranspiration (drying) which changes vegetation structure and composition along the zone of forest that adjoins edges, with penetrating effects up to several hundreds of feet, and
2) greatly increased dispersal and colonization of forest edges by invasive, non-native species of plants and animals.
Wind developers typically downplay the size of the roads and press for mitigation to compensate for the impacts. But it's nonsensical to assume 'X' acres of disturbed forest-interior can be mitigated with 'Y' acres of some arbitrary parcel some distance away.
Trisha White, director of the Habitat and Highways Campaign for Defenders of Wildlife notes, "the downside of mitigating road impact is thinking that it heals all wounds. The biggest danger is thinking that we can put in new roads with crossings and things will be just fine. There are so many more impacts. Nothing could be more incorrect.”
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Earlier this month, Supervisor David Parrish of the Idaho Fish and Game Department (IDF&G) was demoted after warning Southern Idaho's China Mountain wind energy facility would harm wildlife. His letter to the Times-News newspaper, written in response to an editorial published in the same paper, merely stated the 450 megawatt China Mountain facility, a project that will span 30,700 acres (including over 20,000 acres of public lands) in the Jarbidge Foothills "will have negative repercussions on Idaho's wildlife" and briefly explained why.
He ended his letter with a simple request to "Let the bureaucratic process work before passing judgment on whether the project is good for Idaho or Twin Falls County." By "bureaucratic process" Mr. Parrish was referring to the Federal Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) complex effort of collecting data in preparation for the draft environmental impact state (EIS) due out in 2010. The BLM initiated this effort in June. Little is known right now about the impacts of the project on the natural environment and Parrish's comments were entirely appropriate.
Apparently, his letter irked two state lawmakers with a vested interest in seeing the project get approved: Rep. Stephen Hartgen, former publisher of the Times-News newspaper and now a consultant for China Mountain Wind LLC and Sen. Bert Brackett whose nephew owns land on which part of the wind farm could be built.
While the axe was dropping on Mr. Parrish, no one at IDF&G or the legislature bothered to notice staff biologist Jim Mende's two appearances before the Bingham County Planning and Zoning Commission during its public review of Ridgeline Energy's wind energy project, a 150-turbine project proposed for the Wolverine Canyon area. Mr. Mende's official opinion helped convince the Bingham County planners to approve the project, twice, when first submitted and again on appeal.
But Mende's message, according to official minutes from the public hearings (Sep 26, 2007, Mar 26, 2008), was inconclusive and in some cases misleading. He wrongly stated that newer wind turbines have blade speeds that are slow enough for wildlife to avoid (in fact, blades travel up to 200 mph at the tip). He confirmed there was limited research available to conclude the project would be detrimental to wildlife, but speculated "if they do see a site is causing a particular problem, he thinks Ridgeline will address that with operations or alterations in their protocol." Representing IDF&G, Mende offered meaningless assurances that "he would encourage some language in the permit that would encourage the developer to continue discussions with Fish and Game." The minutes reflect no statements made regarding oversight or penalties for enforcement.
Windaction.org denounces the actions of IDF&G and advises Idahoans not be lulled into believing their State agencies responsible for protecting wildlife, are doing their job.
Unfortunately, Idaho is not unique when it comes to wind energy development. Windaction.org has found that those States where the Governors have declared their State will be "a leader in renewable energy" have had similar shifts in priorities, in the face of existing environmental and wildlife protection laws.
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On July 10, George Wallace of the American Bird Conservancy provided testimony before the House Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife and Oceans where he stated “The wind industry is prepared to increase the number of turbines 30 fold over the next 20 years ... at the current estimated mortality rate, the wind industry will be killing 900,000 to 1.8 million birds per year. While this number is a relatively small percentage of the total number of birds estimated to live in North America, many of the bird species being killed are already declining for other reasons, and losses of more than a million birds per year would exacerbate these declines.”
Two recent news articles corroborate Dr. Wallace’s concerns. The first details the risks of wind development on the endangered Whooping Crane, of which only 525 birds exist on the planet.
Yet, according to Laurie Jodziewicz, AWEA's manager of siting policy, the wind industry will "continue to grow in the crane's migration corridor and should not be subject to regulations that don't apply to other industries."
The second article states, in general, avian populations are more at risk today than ever. “So drastically have overall migratory bird populations fallen that one scientist who compared weather satellite images over time, found that migrating bird flocks were 50 percent smaller than they were several years ago.”
The wind industry perpetuates claims that their experts have resolved how best to site the turbines where they will do the least damage. Talk is cheap, and this claim is unsubstantiated. The fact remains that avian and bat species populations are at risk from wind blades, towers and transmission infrastructure. The industry advocates the dangerous strategy of addressing mortality problems after the wind projects are operational, but what then?
Windaction.org calls on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency, the Canadian Wildlife Service, and the respective State and Provincial agencies to stop acceding to wind developers and vigorously protect the resources under their watch.
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National Audubon’s newly released position statement on wind energy development is short, sweet, and dangerous. Notable deficiencies in the Statement include:
1) Audubon’s use of italics of the word "population" in an apparent effort by Audubon to a) limit concern over wind plant development's impact to wildlife species and b) discourage concern over the numbers killed. The notion that only "population" level impacts should be of concern is an unacceptable flaw in this document since no one can determine what constitutes a "population" for most species of nocturnal migrant songbirds or bats.
2) Audubon asserts that “habitat impacts” can occur and fails to acknowledge the considerable habitat loss that IS OCCURRING. The document omits the term “fragmentation" when describing impacts of wind energy development and appears to only grudgingly concede there may be impacts.
3) Audubon's call for guidelines is weak, and represents thinking that is several years behind the times. Guidelines that do not require mandatory compliance by the wind industry are meaningless. We question whether Audubon understands that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has had wind/wildlife guidelines available for 5 years and that this voluntary guidance has been largely ignored by the wind industry.
4) Most egregious is Audubon’s failure to recognize the threat of wind energy development on our national forests and state-owned lands. Audubon should be calling for a ban on wind development on public lands as long as suitable privately-owned lands are available. Further, Audubon should be insisting that wind projects on public lands comply with more stringent siting and monitoring requirements than any provided via "guidelines".
(Analysis by D. Daniel Boone)
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New York's Maple Ridge wind energy facility (195 turbines) will slaughter up to 10,000 migratory birds and bats annually. The collision rate reported after the first fall season mortality survey were 34.12 targets per turbine or 6700 collisions, 72% of which are migrating bats (see: http://www.windaction.org/documents/8533 ). IWA estimates yearly collisions to rise to 10,000 after accounting for spring migration and other year-round migrants. Reports that cite the number of carcasses recovered are not representative of the number of birds and bats actually killed.
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[ Impact on Birds | Denmark ]
[ Impact on Landscape | West Virginia ]
[ Impact on Landscape | West Virginia ]
[ Impact on Landscape | West Virginia ]