Voluntary Federal Wind Farm Guidelines Insufficient to PreventBird Impacts Says Bird Conservation Group

For Immediate Release Contact: , 202-234-7181 ext.210

Least Tern Nesting
Greater Sage-Grouse. Photo: Alan Wilson

(Washington, D.C., June 07, 2010) In letters to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Director Bob Abbey, American Bird Conservancy (ABC) President George Fenwick identified key shortcomings in recent federal plans to address the impacts of wind farms on birds.

Fenwick challenged the government’s plan to suggest voluntary guidelines for wind developers rather than imposing mandatory regulations, saying this would fail to result in industry compliance. He also highlighted differences in wind guidelines proposed by two Interior agencies, the BLM and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and stressed the need for guidelines to be consistent across all agencies.
“I find it ironic that the Interior Department is asking us to believe that the wind industry will follow voluntary guidelines when their own land management agency is not even doing so,” Fenwick said.

The Fish and Wildlife Wind Advisory Committee has made excellent recommendations for the generation of wind power that ABC wants adopted throughout the Federal Government. The major shortcoming in the Committee’s recommendations, however, is that they are proposed as voluntary, rather than mandatory, and as such will do little to curb unacceptable levels of bird mortality and habitat loss at wind farms.

Fenwick is positive in terms of the overall effort put forth by BLM regarding wind, but in his letter to Abbey, identified over a dozen concerns, most significant among them, a key inconsistency between the FWS guidelines and a recent BLM Wyoming plan for Greater Sage-Grouse habitat. The FWS guidelines clearly advise against development close to leks, saying that, “development within three to five miles (or more) of active sage grouse leks may have significant adverse impacts on the affected grouse population.” Yet the BLM plan allows for siting as close as 0.6 miles.

In his letters to Salazar and Abbey, Fenwick asked for meetings with the two federal leaders, and identified a variety of other wind management issues, including:

1. Wind project sites should be carefully evaluated at the proposal stage for habitat conflicts and migratory bird collision risks, and projects should avoid sensitive sites such as Important Bird Areas, Wildlife Refuges, and areas of concentrated bird use.

2. Short-term operational shut-downs of turbines should be required at times during which large numbers of migratory birds can be predicted to pass through a wind farm. Such conditions (e.g., low cloud during peak migration times) occur for limited periods, but likely account for the bulk of migratory bird mortality risk. Similar shutdowns that use radar systems to detect birds so that operators can quickly start and stop the turbines have already been adopted in other countries that generate power through wind (e.g., Spain and Mexico).

3. Infrastructure, such as power lines and lighting, should be minimized and designed not to interfere with the migration of birds such as the endangered Whooping Crane.

4. The implementation of compensatory mitigation habitat banking.

There are approximately 31,000 megawatts of installed wind generation capacity in the United States, with an additional 5,000 megawatts under construction. New construction is expected to reach 16,000 megawatts per year by the year 2018, and to continue at that rate or faster until 2030, by which time wind would generate as much as 20 percent of the nation’s energy needs. At that point, the United States would be able to produce approximately 350,000 megawatts of wind-generated electricity, equivalent to about 200,000 – 300,000 large, industrial-scale turbines. If wind projects continue to be operated as they are today, approximately 1,000,000 birds will likely be killed each year from flying into those turbines. Mandatory regulations on siting and operation would significantly reduce the number of birds killed.

“The notion that the wind industry is predominantly made up of small, environmentally conscious operations is one that must be quickly dispelled. These are large, corporate-scale utility companies, not unlike coal and oil conglomerates, in business to make corporate-scale revenues, and with a checkered environmental track record to date. The industry could have been acting voluntarily to reduce bird mortality for more than 20 years, but has failed to do so,” Fenwick said. “Voluntary guidelines will not change that paradigm, and will work about as well as voluntary taxes.”

Fenwick also added that the ABC positions on many Greater Sage-Grouse management issues are very similar to those adopted by the Western Governor’s Association.






American Bird Conservancy conserves native birds and their habitats throughout the Americas by safeguarding the rarest species, conserving and restoring habitats, and reducing threats while building capacity of the bird conservation movement. ABC is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit membership organization that is consistently awarded a top, four-star rating by the independent group, Charity Navigator.

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