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As local windmill project grows, friend of the animals speaks up

Rick Koval wants to speak for the plants and animals he believes will be harmed by the construction of roads and wind turbines around Crystal Lake.

A naturalist, Koval feels qualified to talk for the fly poison bulb-borer moth. The Jefferson salamander. The Eastern hognose snake.

He has walked the terrain dozens of times in the past 20 years because the place is crawling and buzzing with interesting creatures.

It’s like a big eco-town with a bunch of different neighborhoods: oak barrens, bogs, swamps, rock outcroppings and deciduous forest.

Koval high-fived co-workers and volunteers at the nonprofit North Branch Land Trust, where he works, after Gov. Ed Rendell in 2004 announced public money would be used to purchase almost 5,000 acres of this land for preservation and recreation.

Based in Kingston Township, the land trust aims to preserve open space in the region, and this Bear Creek Township acreage was ranked the top preservation need in the county’s open-space study.

But unbeknown to Koval and many others, the land’s prior land owner, Theta Land Corp., had leased the property’s wind rights to Energy Unlimited Inc., before the sale.

The firm has approval to build 25 wind turbines and is seeking permission from Bear Creek Township to build another nine.

“Little did we know, (Rendell) should’ve said, ‘We’re... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

A naturalist, Koval feels qualified to talk for the fly poison bulb-borer moth. The Jefferson salamander. The Eastern hognose snake.
 
He has walked the terrain dozens of times in the past 20 years because the place is crawling and buzzing with interesting creatures.
 
It’s like a big eco-town with a bunch of different neighborhoods: oak barrens, bogs, swamps, rock outcroppings and deciduous forest.
 
Koval high-fived co-workers and volunteers at the nonprofit North Branch Land Trust, where he works, after Gov. Ed Rendell in 2004 announced public money would be used to purchase almost 5,000 acres of this land for preservation and recreation.
 
Based in Kingston Township, the land trust aims to preserve open space in the region, and this Bear Creek Township acreage was ranked the top preservation need in the county’s open-space study.
 
But unbeknown to Koval and many others, the land’s prior land owner, Theta Land Corp., had leased the property’s wind rights to Energy Unlimited Inc., before the sale.
 
The firm has approval to build 25 wind turbines and is seeking permission from Bear Creek Township to build another nine.
 
“Little did we know, (Rendell) should’ve said, ‘We’re going to have an industry there,’ ” Koval said.
 
Energy Unlimited has argued that there will be little, if any, impact on wild creatures, but Koval doesn’t buy it.
 
“I think environmental prostitution is what it is. If you destroy one part of this area, it’s like cutting off a few fingers.”
 
Koval supports wind energy, but not at this particular site.
 
“Windmills are an inappropriate use for a real beautiful piece of conservation property that belongs to the public,” he said. “Wind energy is an industry, and it could be quite abrasive to the environment around it. People think you sprinkle windmill seeds and get these Dutch windmills growing. That’s not the case.”
 
Fifteen rare invertebrates and four plant species of concern are found on the land, known as Arbutus Peak.
 
One species, the fly poison bulb-borer moth, is a rare moth that has not been identified outside of Pennsylvania.
 
About the size of a thumbnail, the moth is brown and tan with silver spots on its forewings. It flutters about in September.
 
“It’s found in six counties in Pennsylvania and nowhere else in the world,” Koval said. “It’s very rare.”
 
Its host plant is called the fly poison lily. The plant is common in Pennsylvania, but the moth isn’t. The lily is toxic to all other insects.
 
“We are not sure why,” Koval said. “We are studying that. It’s worth studying, and we don’t know what turbines will do to that moth habitat.”
 
Koval believes the new roads needed to build and service the wind turbines will disturb the habitat for smaller salamanders. Some of these species are common, but others are on a state watch list.
 
The four-toed salamander needs spongy wetland adjacent to unbroken forest.
 
“When you create large roads, it will die going to and from its breeding grounds,” Koval said. “What will happen here, I don’t know.”
 
The site contains the Jefferson salamander, which is named after Jefferson College and the U.S. president. The species is uncommon in Pennsylvania, he said.
 
Jefferson eggs are hatched and developed in vernal wetlands – seasonal pools that fill up with water in the spring. He foresees the topography changing with the addition of turbines and roads and fears the species will be fooled into hatching eggs in “pseudo-catch basins” that dry up more quickly.
 
“The larvae will die. That can compromise that species.”
 
Koval has seen the eastern hognose snake at the site – a species that has been flagged as “of concern” in the state because of its decline.
 
This nonpoisonous snake likes dry, arid soil and eats only one animal – the toad. It has a plate at the tip of its nose to burrow into soil to find toads, he said.
 
The hognose puffs up like a cobra when defending itself, inflating its neck and hissing loudly. It will strike with its mouth closed, he said.
 
If the tough-guy approach doesn’t scare off the predator – or person – the hognose rolls over and plays dead, with its tongue hanging out, he said. The snake rarely bites people.
 
“It could win an Academy Award by all means in the natural world,” Koval said.
 
A bunch of migrating birds of prey and water fowl pass through.
 
“In inclement weather they rest by large bodies of water,” Koval said. “If they stop at Crystal Lake for a rest and have to pass through a maze of turbines, they could be killed.
 
“I’ve personally seen bald eagles and golden eagles there. It’s a high elevation.”
 
Koval believes the turbine blades will kill bats.
 
Liking or disliking bats is not the point, he said.
 
“They’re insect-eating mammals. They eat vast amounts of good and bad insects. They’re there for a purpose.”
 
It wouldn’t take much to impact the bat population because bats are slow breeders, producing only one offspring per year, he said.
 
Koval also worries about the golden-winged warbler, one of most-watched species of birds because it is declining drastically in the northeastern part of the country, in part, because of a loss of shrub-land habitat.
 
Unique plants also thrive in the terrain around Crystal Lake, he said.
 
There’s the magenta rhodora flower. People come from hundreds of miles away to see it in bloom in this region, he said.
 
Colonies of purple wild lupine thrive in the dry soil, providing food for butterflies and moths.
 
A plant called the turtlehead also flourishes in the damp spots of the terrain, attracting a butterfly called the Baltimore checkerspot, he said.
 
“It’s beautiful. It’s also one the state is watching and keeping record of.”
 
To see more wildlife scenes from the Crystal Lake area, go to www.timesleader.com
Jennifer Learn-Andes, a Times Leader staff writer, may be reached at 831-7333.


Source: http://www.timesleader.com/...

MAR 19 2006
https://www.windaction.org/posts/1764-as-local-windmill-project-grows-friend-of-the-animals-speaks-up
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