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.