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Wind Energy and Bird Mortality
A rather curious letter recently appeared on the editorial page of the Tulsa World, “Wind Turbines,” from Jim Wiegand, Redding, CA. Mr. Weigand has no ties to Tulsa, and the letter had an editor’s note: “Wiegand is a nationally recognized wildlife biologist and expert on the effects of wind turbines on birds.” A search shows that Mr. Weigand has a biology degree from the 1970s and makes a living selling antiques. He has done nothing to qualify him as an expert on wildlife biology, and none of his claims, here or elsewhere, are supported by reliable research. His occupation is writing letters to newspapers and posting comments on websites critical of wind energy. The letter began: “The wind industry is hiding massive genocide of birds and bats associated with turbines. The industry has created fraudulent mortality studies and adopted voluntary guidelines to hide its slaughter.” The letter never mentioned the birds again, but went on to criticize wind power and conspiracy theories.
Wind turbines sometimes kill birds and bats, but bird genocide? In other writings, Mr. Wiegand claims that windmills are responsible for dozens of whooping crane deaths and will cause their extinction within five years. So far, there has not been a single Whooping Crane death that can be attributed to windmills. Carla Gilbert, in a post on the article, questioned the danger to similar birds. “When I was traveling in Portugal a few years ago, we could see many wind farms from the highway. We were informed that storks like to build their nests on them. When the bus stopped for refueling, I took pictures of the storks sitting on their nests on from the turbines and saw several storks coming and going from their nests. I didn’t see any injured or dead birds.” And the storks aren’t going extinct because of the windmills. One falconer, at first worried about the windmills, now puts his falcon boxes in wind turbines and sees them as no greater threat to the birds than his window.
There has been considerable opposition to windmills and renewable energy in general, so it’s hard to know if all the criticism is real. Studies have found about an average of five to eight dead birds per windmill. That’s about the number of birds that go into a window on their own each year. When you add in the birds killed by cars and hunting, it appears that other human activities pose a greater threat to bird genocide than wind turbines. For birds, the main threats are windows, cats, climate change, disease, hunters and pesticides.
There is concern for protected species such as prairie chickens and eagles. There are severe penalties for harming eagles, so to be safe, windmill owners apply for permits to legally kill eagles. This has caused quite an outcry, but recently, the government has given companies a 30-year moratorium on enforcing protection laws while they study the problem. It doesn’t seem likely that an eagle would fly into a windmill, particularly since another criticism concerns the noise windmills make. However, there are confirmed reports of 85 bald eagles being killed by windmills in the past five years, about 17 per year. Eagles are at the top of the food chain, so any environmental pollutant is likely to harm them, and DDT was the main cause of their population decline. Once DDT was banned and they were protected, their population dropped to about 140,000 in North America and they were removed from the endangered species list. They are harmed by many pollutants associated with energy production – about 280 were killed by the Exxon Valdez oil spill. It is a shame when one of the beautiful birds is accidentally killed. If we cut any activities that could harm them, then we would have to stop much of the energy production.
The concern with the lesser prairie chicken is that they avoid tall structures and windmills may force them to move from their normal habitat. Prairie chickens come together to mate each brings a large communal area called a lek. An oil company opposed to wind power drove a group of reporters up to a lake in the Osage Hills to show them what could be lost if windmills were built there, as if a van full of reporters wouldn’t drive around their lakes. to disturb them. Many of the wildlife and noise problems could be addressed by where the windmills are located and sensible laws are needed to see that the windmills will disturb animals and people as little as possible.
Research finds that actual evidence of windmills killing birds is greatly exaggerated. In the Journal of Applied Ecology Volume 49, Issue 2, pages 386-394, April 2012, the authors found that the impact of wind farms on bird populations is minimal, with the greatest impact occurring during construction rather than subsequent operation. A comprehensive study of bird mortality in Canada found that most human-related bird deaths (about 99%) are caused by feral and domestic cats, collisions with buildings and vehicles, and power transmission and distribution lines. A related peer-reviewed study on bird mortality says that their data suggest that < 0.2% of the population of any species is currently affected by mortality or displacement from wind turbine development. They concluded that although the number of windmills is projected to increase tenfold over the next two decades, "population-level impacts on bird populations are unlikely, provided they are highly sensitive or rare habitats, as well as areas of concentration for endangered species. avoided".
Mr. Wiegand’s letter is mostly fiction. Some people cannot see the value or beauty of windmills and look for any excuse to criticize them.
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