ABC renews call for regulations to reduce the number of birds killed at wind farms

2/14/2015 | 0

The Brazos Wind Farm, also known as the Green Mountain Energy Wind Farm, near Fluvanna, Texas. From Wikimedia Commons.

The Brazos Wind Farm, also known as the Green Mountain Energy Wind Farm, near Fluvanna, Texas. From Wikimedia Commons.

We’ve learned that American Bird Conservancy has filed a petition calling on the Department of the Interior to establish new regulations governing the impacts of wind-energy projects on migratory birds.

ABC filed the petition on February 12, 2015. It includes substantial revisions to an earlier petition, also filed by ABC, that called for wind-industry regulations that would reduce the number of bird deaths expected to be caused when the industry reaches projected buildout levels.

A key provision of the petition would have the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service establish a permitting process that would significantly improve the protection of birds covered by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and would afford the wind industry a degree of regulatory and legal certainty that cannot be provided in the absence of such a process.

“This is the second time we have petitioned for improvements on the permitting issue — this time with new and even stronger arguments — and it appears that FWS is now starting a process that could lead to that becoming a reality,” said Michael Hutchins, national coordinator of ABC’s Bird Smart Wind Energy Campaign. FWS filed a notice of intent to take action on this issue.

“We recognize that properly sited and operated wind-energy projects may be an important part of the solution to climate change, a contemporary challenge that indisputably poses a rapidly growing threat to species and ecosystems,” Hutchins said.

1.4-2 million birds killed annually

Whooping Cranes at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Texas, by mayhaga.

Whooping Cranes at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Texas, by mayhaga.

Based on the operation of 22,000 turbines, FWS estimated in 2009 that at least 440,000 birds per year — including threatened and endangered species — were being killed by wind turbines (PDF). Since then, another study, published in the March 2013 issue of the Wildlife Society Bulletin, expanded that estimate to 573,000.

The number of wind turbines in the United States is expected to increase 10-fold by 2030, or perhaps earlier. Together, the projects are projected to kill between 1.4 million and 2 million birds each year.

Because these estimates do not include mortality at associated power lines and towers, which are also undergoing massive expansion, ABC believes the projection will be exceeded significantly. Power lines and towers currently kill more than 6.8 million birds annually.

Further, wind-energy projects are expected to affect almost 20,000 square miles of terrestrial habitat and another 4,000 square miles of marine habitat.

MBTA not being enforced

Bald and Golden Eagles are protected under both the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, and many species listed under the Endangered Species Act — including Whooping Crane, California Condor, Least Tern, Kirtland’s Warbler, Northern Aplomado Falcon, Roseate Tern, and Piping Plover — are also protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

While the Endangered Species Act and Eagle Protection Act provide mechanisms for FWS to regulate, and in some instances authorize, the take of endangered and threatened species and Bald and Golden Eagles, no comparable mechanism exists under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to limit or authorize incidental take by wind-power projects.

”In effect, the MBTA is not being enforced, except perhaps under very special circumstances,” said Hutchins. “This reality is particularly significant for the wind industry because wind-energy projects will inevitably take birds protected under the MBTA. In fact, because it is virtually impossible to operate a wind-energy facility without killing or injuring at least some migratory birds, most operational wind-energy projects are in ongoing violation of the MBTA, and are effectively breaking the law with impunity.”

In addition, federal officials are aware of other planned wind-energy projects that will also take migratory birds. Many of the projects are in or near Important Bird Areas or major migratory bottlenecks, such as the south shore of Lake Erie or northern shores of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.

“Because it is virtually impossible to operate a wind-energy facility without killing or injuring at least some migratory birds, most operational wind-energy projects are in ongoing violation of the MBTA, and are effectively breaking the law with impunity.” — Michael Hutchins, ABC

New study estimates 573,000 birds died at wind farms last year.

ICF co-founder George Archibald discusses cranes and wind power.

Julie Craves explains why so many birds fly into wind-turbine blades.

Read ABC’s policy on wind energy and bird-smart wind guidelines.

Other conservation news from ABC.