Library filed under Impact on Birds from Pennsylvania
Johnstown veterinarian Tom Dick is a longtime bird-watcher and a battle-scarred veteran of local environmental struggles. So, it’s no surprise to find him at the forefront of concerns about the threat that wind turbines could present to migrating birds and bats. Dick is especially worried about the effect large-scale development of wind farms might have on the rugged and largely unspoiled Allegheny Front, the mountainous wall that stretches north and south along the Cambria-Somerset-Bedford county borders. And like many opponents to the rapid pace of wind-energy development, he is afraid the true cost of the industry will not be known until it is too late for some species.
Is the region’s explosion of windmills a threat to migrating birds, including golden eagles? A fledgling partnership between the National Aviary and the Johnstown-based Allegheny Plateau Chapter of the Audubon Society is working to answer that question. The groups are trapping golden eagles as they migrate past the Allegheny Front Hawkwatch near Central City. Global positioning transmitters are attached to the birds’ backs to track their movements. The study is designed to provide information that may help to save one of the most majestic birds of eastern North America from the perceived threat posed by the rapid development of wind farms along a critical migration route.
The western wind that whips across Pittsburgh into the mountain ridges of central Pennsylvania has the power to send thousands of migrating eagles soaring for miles and to keep 115-foot-long windmill blades spinning. But if birds and blades interact, the results could be fatal. The National Aviary on the North Side and Powdermill Avian Research Center in Westmoreland County are partners in a project to track the biannual migration of eastern golden eagles through the Appalachian Mountains. They plan to share what they learn with agencies that permit wind farms.
In an effort to limit bat and bird kills by windmills, the Pennsylvania Game Commission yesterday suggested a voluntary agreement with wind-farm developers. The proposal is an “intermediate step” in protecting birds and bats from the whirling blades, said William A. Capouillez, director of the Bureau of Wildlife Habitat Management. “It’s not quite where we want to be from a regulatory standpoint, but it’s better than what we have now,” he said. “No other state has anything similar.” The Game Commission is charged with protecting all the state’s wildlife.
How many birds and bats are killed by the rotating blades of wind turbines? How many such deaths are acceptable to increase our electricity supply? Those are two unresolved questions for Pennsylvania’s wind-power industry.
Some of Pennsylvania’s mountaintops may become a battleground between developers and environmentalists. Developers are eyeing the ridges of the Appalachian Mountains, which cross the middle of the state, to construct wind turbines to generate electricity. But migrating birds fly over those mountains every year and environmentalists worry the giant rotating blades of the turbines could kill many birds and alter their migrating patterns. About 150 people, residents and members of conservation groups, gathered Saturday at Kutztown University to discuss the growth of wind energy in Pennsylvania and nearby states.
As wind power gains steam as an alternate energy source in Pennsylvania, Donald Heintzelman wants to make sure the towering turbines are built far from the migratory routes of raptors and bats along the Appalachian Trail. ‘’I'm not opposed to wind facilities,'’ said Heintzelman, organizer of Saturday’s Wildlife and Wind Energy Conference at Kutztown University. ‘’I want them put in the correct place. Like it or not, these are coming.'’ But most of the speakers at the conference weren’t as ready to embrace the inevitability of the new technology, saying the blades of the giant windmills kill tens of thousands of birds and bats, reduce their ability to nest and breed and are an eyesore. They also said wind is a poor alternative to fossil fuels because it will only decrease electrical consumption by a small percentage.
Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Katie McGinty’s claim that the huge bat kill resulting from the Mountaineer industrial windfarm in West Virginia was an “aberration” is false. The kill rate for bats due to collision with the blades of industrial wind turbines on forested ridgetops east of the Mississippi River is 50-100 bats per turbine per year.
Bird watchers might be the single group of people most worried about the environmental impact of wind farms. The Appalachian Mountain ridges in Bedford and Somerset counties, where developers hope to build many wind turbines, are prime migration routes for scores of raptor, songbird and insect species, said nature writer and birder Scott Weidensaul, who lives in western Schuylkill County. "They are one of the world's great migratory bird pathways," Weidensaul said. "It's not just hawks. Everything flies down those ridges -- butterflies, dragonflies, owls." Tens of millions of songbirds fly down the mountain ridges of Pennsylvania at night during migrations, he said. They are drawn to tall, lighted objects, whether communication towers or wind turbines. Some hit the towers; some hit the spinning blades.
The winds that attract energy companies such as Gamesa to the Alleghenies also blow over pristine lands, causing a quiet controversy before local governments. Stan Kotala, a longtime member of the Juniata Valley Audubon Society, is raising concerns with local officials about possible construction of wind farms, with 400-foot- high structures, lights and constant noise, along the Blair County’s mountain ridges.
Juniata Valley Audubon asks concerned residents to contact Gov. Ed Rendell, their senators and representatives and the Department of Environmental Protection to voice their displeasure over the gross waste of almost $400,000 to study a proposal that would cause so much harm to both outdoor recreation and wildlife, and provide only minuscule amounts of expensive, unreliable electricity.
Yet they think they are hearing from the Bedford County Planning Commission that turbines may not be such a good idea, said Robert Stanton, a West Providence Township supervisor.
Ottaway News Service HARRISBURG -- The Kittatinny Ridge, a 185-mile forested highland linking the Delaware Water Gap, Susquehanna Water Gap and the Mason-Dixon line, is the focus of a new conservation effort. A campaign by Pennsylvania Audubon seeks to place Kittatinny Ridge, also known as Blue Mountain, in the public consciousness as the largest uninterrupted forest area in eastern and central Pennsylvania. Kittatinny Ridge faces multiple threats from ill-planned development as well as an overabundance of deer, insect pests and illegal dumping by humans, the environmental group says.