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Wind Turbines, Green Energy or Avian Enemy?
by Scott Thomas
Sea & Sage Audubon Conservation Co-Chair
printed with permission of the author

 
Raptor Mortality  Sea and Sage Audubon, similar to other environmental organizations, is supportive of alternative energy solutions such as wind turbines.  Wind turbines are classified as "Green Energy" and therefore receive tax and financial advantages.  However, the high mortality rate of birds, particularly raptors at some wind turbine facilities (wind farms) is simply not acceptable.
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Wind farms, such as the one at the Altamont Pass, near Livermore CA, kill thousands of raptors each year. In direct violation of such laws as the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), the Federal Bald Eagle Act (FBEA) of 1940, which was amended to include Golden Eagles, and California Department of Fish and Game Codes.
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Year after year several hundred Red-tailed Hawks, roughly as many Burrowing Owls, 75 to 100 Golden Eagles and hundreds more raptors are slaughtered by wind turbines, poorly located in  the Altamont Pass. Although design features are important to reducing raptor and other bird mortalities, location is most important factor.
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Location, Location  Not only was the Altamont Pass wind farm placed in a pinch point along a major migration route, it is surrounded by the highest density of breeding Golden Eagles in the world.
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Help from activists and County Supervisors  The Center for Biological Diversity, with help from groups like California Audubon; have been fighting for changes at the Altamont Pass wind farm for some years.  Recently, in response to a lawsuit filed by the Center, and pressure from State Attorney General Bill Lockyer, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors has demanded important changes at the facility.  The Board is requiring that the Altamont wind farm be turned off in winter months.  This, along with some other required operational changes, is designed to reduce raptor kills during peak migration periods.
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Along with the seasonal idling of all the turbines, changes to individual turbines are planned.  Research has shown that taller turbines kill fewer birds, particularly larger raptors. They also generate more electricity, allowing for fewer turbines for the same generating capacity.   In addition placement of new turbines that results in a configuration without a geometrically sharp end unit can reduce deaths.   The retirement of some old turbines, replaced with new designs, has potential to lower the carnage.  And, the rethinking of previously ill-conceived rodent and cattle management programs on and around the facility may prove beneficial.  The Alameda County Board of Supervisors is to be commended for the efforts being made. Time will tell if it is enough.
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Butterbredt Springs  The location problem, however, will never be completely resolved at Altamont Pass. Ultimately all the design and operational changes may not be enough. One would think that the lesson here is to carefully pick the location, before launching plans for a wind farm. Apparently, the lesson has not been well learned.  Plans for a wind farm in Butterbredt Springs which will impact migratory songbirds are being processed in Kern County near Lake Isabella.  Despite warnings from the Wind Turbine Industry and groups like Audubon, Kern County officials are resting their hopes for a new wind farm on an obviously poor assessment, of the location.
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I hope all of us can become well educated about this important issue.  Our input to public officials is vital at this time.  The mistake of placing a wind farm in a migratory bird route should be as obviously wrong as placing a dam on a scenic, salmon run.
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For more information on Altamont Pass and the Center for Biological Diversity please go to http://www.bilologicaldiversity.org.  For more information on Butterbredt Springs and what LA Audubon is doing to fight the poor location choice, please read the following article written by Garry George. 
Update on the Wind Turbine Situation 
& Butterbredt Springs 

by Garry George
LA Audubon Conservation Chair
printed with permission of the author
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The DWP Board of Commissioners, appointed by Mayor Hahn, voted on April 19, 2005 to approve the Environmental Impact Report on the Pine Tree Wind Farm Development project just south of Butterbredt Springs in the Mojave. Los Angeles Audubon Society objected to the EIR's conclusion that the project will have no impact on avian populations on the grounds that the potential risk to migratory songbirds was not studied properly. The Biological Assessment for avian populations focused on raptors, and the biologist only visited the site once during the period from April 15 through May 30, and then for only one hour. Birders from LAAS and other organizations have visited Butterbredt Springs during that same "peak migration" period and found up to 6,000 birds in one day.  Board members Pat Heirs and Dexter Kelly traveled downtown to attend the important meeting along with Santa Monica Bay Audubon's Mary Prismon and Chuck Bragg. Our pleas to DWP Commissioners to follow protocol recommended by the wind industry and conduct proper migratory songbird studies "before construction" fell on deaf ears as Commissioners, supported by DWP staff and environmental organizations, including CEERT (www.ceert.org), Coalition for Clean Air (www.coalitionforcleanair.org), and Physicians for Social Responsibility- Los Angeles (www.psrla.org), Global Green (www.globalgreen.org), and the Natural Resource Defense Council (www.nrdc.org), voted to approve the EIR and start the permitting process that will allow construction of roads and wind farms in the next few months. Los Angeles Audubon is not opposed to wind energy, as long as the projects are done right and the proper studies are completed and included in the EIR for public review prior to construction. This site is of particular concern to our chapter due to our long history of over twenty years birding the area. Board member Pat Heirs sums up the sentiments of the Board when she states "We won't stop until we know for sure that these turbines aren't murdering millions of migratory songbirds, and it's the DWP's obligation to prove that to the public before they build them." LA Audubon's next option is to file a CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) lawsuit against DWP objecting to the EIR. Stay tuned for developments in this important issue, the first case in California involving the potential harm of wind farms to migratory songbirds.

 

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