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Maps aid habitat: Wind farms, birds a delicate mix

A regional conservation group is pointing out where birds and wind farms might not mix. A Playa Lakes Joint Venture mapping project shows the few remaining acres of habitat for the lesser prairie chicken and where playa lakes can draw large numbers of migrating birds. "There has been a lot of interest from the wind industry, local and state conservation groups and state agencies," said Megan McLachlan, a geographic-information system analyst for the group. "We've gotten a lot of phone calls the last couple of months asking us to share the data. There's a lot of people working on the issue."

A regional conservation group is pointing out where birds and wind farms might not mix.

A Playa Lakes Joint Venture mapping project shows the few remaining acres of habitat for the lesser prairie chicken and where playa lakes can draw large numbers of migrating birds.

"There has been a lot of interest from the wind industry, local and state conservation groups and state agencies," said Megan McLachlan, a geographic-information system analyst for the group. "We've gotten a lot of phone calls the last couple of months asking us to share the data. There's a lot of people working on the issue."

The maps show where wind farms and their infrastructure, such as transmission lines, could have negative impacts on birds. They are not meant to advocate strict restrictions but to get information out early before wind development takes off with the arrival of transmission lines.

"We did it pre-emptively, but it's a complicated issue," McLachlan said. "We're not really saying do or don't put something there."

When playas have water in them, they attract migrating birds, from songbirds to ducks and geese. Wind-energy facilities "may introduce collision risks for birds flying in and out of wetlands,"... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

A regional conservation group is pointing out where birds and wind farms might not mix.

A Playa Lakes Joint Venture mapping project shows the few remaining acres of habitat for the lesser prairie chicken and where playa lakes can draw large numbers of migrating birds.

"There has been a lot of interest from the wind industry, local and state conservation groups and state agencies," said Megan McLachlan, a geographic-information system analyst for the group. "We've gotten a lot of phone calls the last couple of months asking us to share the data. There's a lot of people working on the issue."

The maps show where wind farms and their infrastructure, such as transmission lines, could have negative impacts on birds. They are not meant to advocate strict restrictions but to get information out early before wind development takes off with the arrival of transmission lines.

"We did it pre-emptively, but it's a complicated issue," McLachlan said. "We're not really saying do or don't put something there."

When playas have water in them, they attract migrating birds, from songbirds to ducks and geese. Wind-energy facilities "may introduce collision risks for birds flying in and out of wetlands," according to a report with the maps.

Risks for the lesser prairie chicken involve altered habitat. The prairie-chicken population has declined by 98 percent since the 1800s, according to the U.S. Audubon Society.

The Natural Resource Conservation Service lists multiple reasons for the problem.

"In the 20th century, human influences such as the conversion of native rangelands to cropland, decline in habitat quality due to herbicide use, petroleum and mineral extraction activities, and excessive grazing of rangelands by livestock have contributed to this decline," according to information

from the agency. "Severe drought has also significantly impacted prairie-chicken populations."

The species is a candidate for listing as threatened or endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

There are no requirements in Texas or on the national level for choosing sites for wind farms. Some states, such as Oregon, Vermont and Maryland, are developing rules, and environmental impact - including danger to birds - is one factor regulators consider.

In Texas the challenge of keeping birds alive and generating electricity from the wind has ended up in court. Several conservation groups and the King Ranch are suing wind developers Babcock & Brown and Iberdrola in part because wind turbines off the Gulf Coast might affect migrating birds.

"The problem is there's no regulation or environmental review except what developers do, and there's some conflict of interest there," said David Newstead, president of the Coastal Bend Audubon Society, a party in the court battle.

Wind developers make their own rules on how to choose sites across the country if a state or local government hasn't set up policies.

"Preconstruction studies are pretty much standard practice," said Laurie Jodziewicz, manager of siting policy for the American Wind Energy Association, an industry group. "Pretty early on they're assessing what species are present and what might be impacted."

The general idea of wind power is not the problem for the conservation groups.

"Every conservation group, national and international, and the Audubon Society have all been strong advocates of wind if it's properly sited," Newstead said.

But the groups do have issues with some wind-farm locations and don't think birds will adapt to the wind turbines.

"Some people say they'll bump into them a couple of times and learn," Newstead said. "The blades look like they're turning slowly, but they're moving at 160 mph at the tips. That's a pretty steep learning curve if you hit that."

The prairie chicken presents a different challenge in that it doesn't like power lines or other man-made structures that rise above the landscape.

"They might not kill a single prairie chicken, but you'll take a huge swath of habitat and make it unusable," Newstead said.

Trade groups are trying to make up a flexible framework of rules.

"The issues can be very different in different parts of the country," Jodziewicz said.

The Nature Conservancy has created maps similar to Playa Lakes Joint Venture for other parts of the country, and the wind association welcomes the information.

"Having all that information has been an important tool," Jodziewicz said. "But you still have to look at the specific sites."

Some conservation groups cite large numbers of bird deaths in the Altamont Pass area of California as evidence turbines don't belong where large numbers of birds are present. However, wind groups point out there are thousands of smaller turbines at Altamont that are closely spaced and spin faster than modern turbines.

"Thankfully, we haven't seen that elsewhere," Jodziewicz said. "The industry really learned a lesson. So now each site is assessed carefully because of that."

 


Source: http://www.amarillo.com/sto...

JUN 24 2008
http://www.windaction.org/posts/16129-maps-aid-habitat-wind-farms-birds-a-delicate-mix
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