Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Environmental Groups Bow to Wind Industry Pressure on Bird Deaths

Despite studies that wind energy projects are responsible for at least 440,000 bird deaths each year--a number expected to climb to one million by the year 2030--Defenders of Wildlife and the Nature Conservancy have signaled tentative agreement with voluntary wind energy guidelines that would reverse US Fish and Wildlife recommendations to protect birds, according to E&E newsThe acquiescence of big environmental groups  to energy industry demands is disheartening, underscoring the important role of organizations that work to balance conservation and renewable energy without compromising on core environmental principles, such as Solar Done Right, Western Watersheds Project, and the American Bird Conservancy.

The American Bird Conservancy (ABC) has registered its concern with the draft guidelines, which cut out recommendations by scientists working for the US Fish and Wildlife Service at the insistence of the wind energy industry.  “Given the Administration’s commitment to scientific integrity, it’s hard to understand why the peer-reviewed work of agency scientists was dismissed in favor of text written by an industry-dominated Federal Advisory Committee,” said Kelly Fuller, Wind Campaign Coordinator at ABC. “ABC would like to see the next draft include more of what the agency scientists wrote.”

“ABC supports bird-smart wind energy development in which birds can co-exist with wind energy. America must avoid repeating the mistakes we made with hydropower half a century ago, when we built dams without careful environmental review or consideration, necessitating spending millions of dollars today to remove them. We must likewise steer clear of the mistakes we are making today with coal, which result in costly impacts to public health and wildlife. These new guidelines are not bird-smart,” she added.

Recommendations on wind energy were developed over a two-year period by an industry-dominated, 22-member Federal Advisory Committee and forwarded to the Secretary of the Interior in March 2010. Over the next year, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists made a series of changes to those recommendations to improve protection for birds. Those revised guidelines were then published for public comment in February 2011 (an overwhelming number of the comments called for the guidelines to be strengthened, not weakened). They also underwent scientific peer review. Last week, FWS re-issued a new draft of those guidelines, that removed many of the key bird protection elements following pressure from industry.

In addition to killing special status birds such as golden eagles, sandhill cranes and red-tailed hawks, wind turbines also pose a severe danger to bats.  According to a recent news article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette,  Pennsylvania wind farms killed nearly 10,000 bats last year, sending ripple effects through local ecosystems.  Another wind facility proposed for Nevada is expected to inflict extensive casualties on a migrating population of over 1 million Brazilian free-tailed bats that roost in a nearby cave, according to Basin and Range Watch.   Similar impacts can be seen with many wind projects throughout the US.

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