Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Birds, bats, and wind farms

The Wildlife Society Bulletin reports that wind farms kill over 573,000 birds in the United States annually, including about 83,000 hawks, eagles and falcons. Research suggests that the number of bats that are killed may be double that of birds, making it well over 1,000,000 bats killed annually. As one official told me, large bats such as the Big Brown Bat and Hoary Bat are being “decimated at an alarming rate” particularly in the Eastern United States. However these numbers may not be entirely accurate since not all information is made available to the public – at least in Idaho that is. In Idaho, information on wind farms located on private land is proprietary and therefore not available to the general public.Furthermore, there is no state oversight for wind farms and their relationship with agencies such as the state Fish and Game (F&G) Department is cooperative rather than regulative; in other words, to some degree wind farm owners and developers can choose whether or not to cooperate with the state F&G Department. On private land, any regulation comes from county Planning and Zoning committees although F&G has input. So the regulation of wind farms on private land can be inconsistently applied from one county to the next.In speaking with various officials, it became clear that there are some State legislatures and representatives who have leased their land to these wind farms, so it’s highly unlikely that the State of Idaho would support any changes in wind farm regulation or their releasing of information. To further complicate matters, the federal government turns a blind eye to wind farms and has never fined a wind farm for any of the deaths, although each one of the 83,000 raptors killed annually is a federal crime.

One of the reasons for so many bird deaths is that wind farms are constructed in areas of strong wind currents – the exact wind currents that birds use, which drives the birds directly through the wind farms. In Idaho, some of these large wind farms have been constructed in Sage Grouse and Sharptail Grouse habitat. The impact to sage hen (grouse) is not necessarily death by turbine blades, but loss of habitat; sage grouse avoid tall structures such as trees, etc. and wind farms located in sage grouse habitat drive the birds away, further reducing their habitat. For years now, there has been a debate over whether or not to list the sage hen as an endangered species, and Idaho is working to bring back the sharptail, both of which could be detrimentally affected by wind farms. In Bingham county, several proposals to construct a wind farm at the mouth of Wolverine Canyon have been denied and residents strongly opposed their construction in this recreational area. Should this wind farm be constructed, essentially 45 miles of the Blackfoot Mountains from Blackfoot to Ririe would be in wind farms.Yet ironically, environmentalists who can so severely impact the oil and logging industries, turn a seemingly blind eye to ecological devastation caused by this source of “green energy”; the State of California can shut off water to farmers in the San Joaquin Valley to preserve the delta smelt – an endangered fish, yet allow 10,000 bird deaths annually in the Altamont Pass wind turbines. The federal government has prosecuted oil and power companies with federal crimes for birds killed in waste ponds or electrocuted on power lines. In 2009, Exxon Mobile paid $600,000 for killing 85 birds in five states. PacifiCorp paid more than $10.5 million in 2009 for electrocuting 232 eagles along power lines and at its substations. According to the Canada Free Press, 28 dead birds were discovered in oil waste pits and maximum penalty for each charge under the Migratory Bird Act is six months in prison and a $15,000 fine.

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