Re: USFWS revised draft Land-based Wind Energy Guidelines
These are the comments of Save the Eagles International (STEI) regarding the above subject.
A) - We believe the proposed Guidelines are replacing the precautionary principle with “adaptive management”, which in essence means: build first and deal with real impacts on biodiversity later. This will have catastrophic consequences for many bird and bat species. But perhaps it already has, for this lax policy is not new to the Fish and Wildlife Service.
o wit the now doomed Whooping Crane. In your issue paper on that critically endangered species, we read that 2,433 wind turbines - and their power lines which are so deadly to these birds - have been erected in the United States portion of the Whooping Crane migrating corridor, and that thousands more are to come (1).
With so many deadly obstacles in their path, no amount of “compensation” as recommended in the Guidelines will save the flock that flies this corridor. It is currently composed of 247 Whooping Cranes, and is the only viable flock of this species in the world (1). It is surprising that the FWS would have been lax enough to permit such a crime.
Knowing as we do the dedication and commitment to wildlife exhibited by so many FWS employees, we can only surmise that this biodiversity disaster in the making is a reflection of the degree of political pressure that is being wielded on the Service. The composition of the Federal Advisory Committee (FAC) in charge of steering the revision of the Guidelines is eloquent: it is so heavily loaded in favor of the windfarm industry that the bird and bat species of concern won’t stand a chance.
STEI thinks that existing and planned windfarm developments have already condemned the Whooping Crane and the California Condor to survival in captivity. The next species to disappear from US skies could be the golden eagle.
B) - Much of the effort of the Guidelines is to provide for mitigation and “compensation”, while providing for the issue of “take permits”, i.e. licenses to kill species of concern. As someone said about the windfarm invasion of Maine’s eagle habitat, this amounts to “killing the babies here, and building an orphanage there”. - It won’t wash.
Mitigation and compensation never succeeded in the past - to wit the windfarms of Altamont Pass (California), Smola (Norway), Woolnorth (Tasmania), etc. Nothing permits to say they will succeed in the future. The precautionary principle should be applied here, but conservation wisdom seems to have disappeared from the philosophy of the Fish and Wildlife Service, at least where windfarms are concerned.
Windfarms are erected in the most windy spots, which are also sought by raptors for added lift. So they kill a great many of these birds. Trying to compensate by protecting raptor habitat elsewhere, generally in areas less attractive to raptors, is a fool’s bargain.
C) - The Guidelines have done away with another sound principle of conservation, which is to consider cumulative impacts. They adopt a case-by-case, salami-slicing approach that makes a mockery of that principle. The words “cumulative effects” do appear in the Guidelines, but in a lip-service fashion.
D) - The Guidelines are, in our opinion, useless where biodiversity protection is concerned, because they continue to rely on environmental impact assessments commissioned and controlled by wind farm developers. Asking businessmen to evaluate the risk that their projects will represent for birds and bats is not just absurd: it is laughable. There are many consultants willing to manipulate and deceive, predicting very low mortality provided the money is good. Effectively, windfarm developers have been quick to find the most complacent among them, whose names keep coming in front of our eyes over and over again. STEI has been denouncing these worthless studies many times, be they pre-construction of post construction. A notable exception has been those by Dr Shawn Smallwood, and a few other researchers while not in the employ of wind farm operators or other constraining sponsors.
E) - The Guidelines pave the way for the routine deliverance of licenses to kill protected or endangered species (in bureaucratic jargon, a “take permit”). A new name was even coined to allow the killing of an undetermined number of eagles by a single windfarm: the “programmatic take permit” (1). In STEI’s opinion, this spells the doom of the golden eagle in the US, and a notable decline in bald eagle populations.
F) - STEI opines that the Guidelines, actually, constitute a road-map showing windfarm developers how to proceed to site their projects anywhere they please, even where they will kill Eagles or Whooping Cranes. If they use the bureaucratic jargon, follow the bureaucratic steps described in the “Decision Framework Using a Tiered Approach”, and talk to the Service, they will be judged with leniency if their windfarms end up having serious adverse effects on the environment. The Guidelines themselves say so:
“The Service urges voluntary adherence to the guidelines and communication with the Service when planning and operating a facility. In the context of voluntary guidelines, it is not possible to absolve individuals or companies from MBTA or BGEPA liability, but the Service will regard such voluntary adherence and communication as evidence of due care with respect to avoiding, minimizing, and mitigating significant adverse impacts to species protected under the MBTA and BGEPA, and will take such adherence and communication fully into account when exercising its discretion with respect to any potential referral for prosecution related to the death of or injury to any such species.”
Note: the 5-tier assessment process proposed by the Guidelines has no value if the developers themselves or their consultants do the footwork, which is the case.
G) - However lax and inefficient are the proposed Guidelines, making them voluntary is yet another concession to the FAC, i.e. to windfarm developers, and against bird and bat species of concern.
It boggles the mind that, at a time where all attempts have failed to adequately mitigate and compensate for the carnage of raptors at Altamont Pass, Guidelines would be proposed that rely basically on mitigation and compensation, and pave the way for more eagle and other mortality through the issuance of take permits.
Having criticised the proposed Guidelines, STEI wishes to propose some positive measures that would help reduce the ill-siting of wind turbines in areas where they will kill eagles and other threatened species.
1) - STEI recommends that no windfarms be allowed within 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) of eagle nests. This is what the Spanish Ornithological Society recommended in its first version of their current guidelines. They then rapidly published a new version in which their recommendation had been watered down into a warning that there may be a risk to eagles if windfarms were installed within 15 km of their nests. Obviously, pressure had been applied upon the bird society, which is member of Birdlife International. But the idea remains the same: within 15 km, breeding eagles may be killed.
As for young roaming eagles, they may be killed anywhere, especially on hilltops and mountain ridges. Indeed this is where eagles fly to get added lift from deflected winds, and where most windfarms are located for their prevailing windy conditions.
Eagles and windfarms are therefore on a collision course. The great birds’ future is very bleak.
2) - STEI recommends that environmental impact assessments should be conducted by independent experts neither chosen, paid, or controlled by windfarm interests. To finance these studies, we propose that developers pay $300,000 to $500,000 upfront when applying for a permit to build any windfarm, the exact amount depending on the sensitiveness of the area. The experts would be chosen jointly by USFWS and NGO’s renowned for not supporting blindly the wind industry (e.g. the American Bird Conservancy or STEI). We also recommend that these studies be made over 3 years pre-construction, by at least two qualified ornithologists. Any excess monies should be pooled by FWS and used to finance other independent studies to help understand the lethal relationship birds/bats/windfarms.
STEI doesn’t receive any money at all. We are all volunteers. This allows us to say what we think, which is that biodiversity is in grave peril, and that windfarms are the cause. Cats and windows don’t kill eagles and whooping cranes. Windfarms and their power lines do.
(1) - WHOOPING CRANES AND WIND DEVELOPMENT - AN ISSUE PAPER
By Regions 2 and 6, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service - April 2009
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