Game commission wants to make sure birds won’t be harmed by new energy-producing windmills on the Appalachian ridge.
Looking through 10-power binoculars from the south lookout at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary years ago, I watched a golden eagle soaring past a red-tailed hawk and a red-shouldered hawk.
“Wow,” I wrote in my journal, “golden eagles are BIG.”
Since then I have harbored a long-distance, at least a quarter- mile to a half-mile away, love for golden eagles. Unrequited or not, golden eagles deserve our protection, if not our love.
Eastern golden eagles are a distinct geographic and genetic population, allowing the Pennsylvania Game Commission to list them as “Pennsylvania vulnerable” for conservation purposes.
Their population is remaining stable or rising slightly, with partial evidence being the fall 2006 migration numbers recorded at hawk-watch sites along Appalachian ridges, going from north to south: Bake Oven Knob, 130; Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, 170; Second Mountain, 127; Waggoner’s Gap, 275; Allegheny Front, 222. (For more on the counts, see www.hawkcount.org.)
Those are good numbers, but quite variable for eagles migrating along the same basic route. Several things contribute to those differences, including where the site is on the migration corridor for eastern golden eagles, how wide it is and whether wind and cloud cover affected the migrating goldens.
Golden eagles are most commonly seen in Pennsylvania during fall or spring migration, the former usually producing greater numbers of sightings. Less showy than the white-headed and tailed adult bald eagle, the golden is glorious in its own right with its powerful flight and 61/2-to-71/2-foot wingspan. Their 23/4-to-31/2-inch talons are pretty impressive, too.
The installation of electricity- producing windmills, a welcome and much-needed source of energy along Pennsylvania’s Appalachian ridges, is making it necessary to accurately map the eagle’s migration route to protect them from possible harm from windmills. While wildlife agencies and conservation organizations favor wind- generated power, they want to ensure that wildlife is protected from harm.
PGC is partially funding golden- eagle migration research that started last fall along Appalachian ridges. Funded primarily by National Aviary and Carnegie Museum of Natural History, the study is budgeted for $177,989.
PGC has previously provided $153,00 to study the effects of windmills on bats and birds in Luzerne County.
PGC is the state agency charged with ensuring the safety of this state- and federally-protected species prior to positioning windmills along the Appalachian ridges. Goldens appear to migrate along a 30-to-60-mile-wide corridor of ridges.
Todd Katzner of National Aviary is heading the research that will, among many things, trap goldens and fit them with transmitters before releasing them for tracking via satellites using GPS technology. Two eagles were trapped last November, fitted with transmitters and released. You can follow them at www.aviary.org.csrv/eaglepa.php. Four more eagles will be trapped and outfitted electronically to help establish migration paths.
Transmitters for this research cost $4,000 each, plus an annual $1,000 fee for receiving satellite data.
“The information is crucial,” Katzner said, “to understanding the correlation of eagle movements, landscape features and weather, and should help us determine if differently constructed wind turbines expose eagles to greater risk or provide increased protection. We are currently operating in an information void.”
The PGC wildlife action plan noted that “careful attention should be made to proper siting of turbines away from major migration pathways to minimize the risks of collision. Thorough preconstruction and postconstruction studies are necessary to document the effect of wind turbines on golden eagles and other migrating raptors.”
“Turbine locations should ultimately be the product of a thorough wildlife impact analysis,” Bill Capouillez, the PGC habitat honcho, said.
Windmills are providing and will provide much-needed energy to a nation obsessed with overusing energy. Wind-generated electricity is only a partial solution for energy problems that have long been on the horizon. Increased conservation efforts are needed for the safe, productive continuation of our country, but they should not harm wildlife.
While PGC is showing concern, and acting upon it, it is not convinced that windmills create a major problem for wildlife.
“The project may conclude there won’t be a problem for eagles,” Dan Brauning, PGC wildlife biologist said. “Right now, Eastern golden eagle numbers are stable or rising. We’d prefer to see them stay that way.”
By John McGonigle
Published on February 4, 2007, Sunday News (Lancaster, PA)