Impact on Wildlife and North Dakota
U.S. District Judge Michael Davis dismissed a lawsuit filed by the developer of the 100-turbine Merricourt project, which remains unbuilt amid lingering fears that whooping cranes and piping plovers will be slashed to death by its turbine blades.
Seventy-six groups led by American Bird Conservancy (ABC), one of the nation's leading bird conservation organizations, have called on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to fully analyze the environmental consequences of a proposed North Dakota wind farm to the endangered Whooping Crane. FWS is considering issuing the first-ever Incidental Take Permit (ITP) to a wind farm for the killing of endangered Whooping Cranes and threatened Piping Plovers.
"It is perplexing that similar prosecutions have yet to be brought against the operators of wind farms. Every year wind turbines kill hundreds of thousands of birds, including eagles, hawks, and songbirds, but the operators are being allowed to get away with it. It looks like a double standard."
But scientists still don't know much about the long-term effects of wind turbines on wildlife. So researchers are studying a variety of bird species to determine if they are killed by spinning turbines, or avoid habitat hear them.
One of the places they're searching for answers is the prairie pothole region of North Dakota, often called the nation's duck factory.
Tanner Gue knows as well as anyone just how wet it's been this summer in some of North Dakota's prime waterfowl country.
That's good for ducks, of course, even if it sometimes complicates life for people trying to study them.
A UND graduate student, Gue, 25, is heading up the fieldwork portion of a two-year research project aiming to learn more about the impact of wind farms on the survival of nesting ducks.
Death comes from above and below for birds on the causeway that separates Lake Audubon from Lake Sakakawea along the Missouri River.
Biologists believe overhead electrical power lines and car collisions make the two-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 83 through the Audubon National Wildlife Refuge one of the world's deadliest places for birds, on land or air.
Recently, biologist Darren Doderer located casualty No. 373, a mangled and bloodied double-crested cormorant that appeared to have hit one of the dozen or so unmarked overhead power lines.
Facing a huge increase in North Dakota's number of wind towers, state regulators promised to pay close attention to projects' potential effects on the whooping crane, a huge bird is in danger of extinction.
"We generally aren't happy until you are," Public Service Commissioner Kevin Cramer told Jeffrey Towner, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife field supervisor in Bismarck, and Terry Ellsworth, an agency wildlife biologist, at a commission meeting Tuesday.
Most of North Dakota's wind energy projects are outside the normal migratory path that whoopers take from Canada to Texas each year, wildlife officials say.
With wind energy towers rising around the state, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials worry about rare whooping cranes that pass through on their migration route betweem Canada and Texas.
Representatives of the Fish and Wildlife Service plan a meeting this week with the North Dakota Public Service Commission and a separate meeting with officials of some 30 wind companies working in the Great Plains. They want to discuss a habitat conservation plan for the big white birds.
"It's on the table now because we're seeing such a rapid increase in the number and size of wind power projects.
A world's-largest scale wind farm proposed for Oliver and Morton counties could snare and kill a migrating endangered species.
Whooping cranes pass through those counties flying between northern Canada and Texas and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is concerned that an explosion of wind farms up and down the Great Plains' flyway will further endanger the rare birds.
The agency charged with protecting the enormous white cranes will meet with the Public Service Commission next week to talk in general about the problem. It will meet in Denver later in the week with 30 wind companies working the Great Plains region.
Whooping cranes, one of the world's rarest birds, have waged a valiant battle against extinction. But federal officials warn of a new potential threat to the endangered whoopers: wind farms.
Down to as few as 16 in 1941, the gargantuan birds that migrate 2,400 miles each fall from Canada to Texas, thanks to conservation efforts, now number about 266.
But because wind energy, one of the fastest growing sources of renewable energy, has gained such traction, whooping cranes could again be at risk - from either crashing into the towering wind turbines and transmission lines or because of habitat lost to the wind farms.
"Basically you can overlay the strongest, best areas for wind turbine development with the whooping crane migration corridor," said Tom Stehn, whooping crane coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.