Johnstown veterinarian Tom Dick is a longtime bird-watcher and a battle-scarred veteran of local environmental struggles.
So, it’s no surprise to find him at the forefront of concerns about the threat that wind turbines could present to migrating birds and bats.
Dick is especially worried about the effect large-scale development of wind farms might have on the rugged and largely unspoiled Allegheny Front, the mountainous wall that stretches north and south along the Cambria-Somerset-Bedford county borders. And like many opponents to the rapid pace of wind-energy development, he is afraid the true cost of the industry will not be known until it is too late for some species.
“We’re running against time because the turbines are going in so quickly,” Dick said. “The reality is: What do you want? Do you want to slow down and have a moratorium so that we can study these issues and figure out proper siting and regulations, or don’t you want any regulations? Well, they don’t want any regulations. They’re just coming in. As a result, you’re going to probably ruin one of the most diverse biological areas in Pennsylvania. It’s the longest continuous mountain range, and one of the highest-elevation areas in the state. It’s actually the continental divide of Pennsylvania.”
And, its a migration route for thousands of birds, bats and insects.
Dick is one of the volunteers who keeps a vigil each fall and spring at the Allegheny Front Hawkwatch, operated by the Allegheny Plateau Chapter of the National Audubon Society to tabulate the number of migrating birds that pass with the change of seasons. During the recently completed fall period, those volunteers counted 18,348 birds of prey headed south, including 222 golden eagles.
“Where the Appalachians go through is a really important corridor for migrating raptors,” said Todd Katzner of the National Aviary, who has begun a telemetry study of golden eagle migration, largely to assess the threat from windmills.
“We look at golden eagles as an umbrella species,” he said. “If we protect the golden eagle, we are going to be protecting a lot of other things beneath it ““ other birds of prey, song birds, etc. If you protect big birds of prey, you end up protecting other species as well.”
By Joe Gorden
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