Two bird specialists familiar with the Pennsylvania Game Commission efforts to protect wildlife from wind turbines offered cautious support, although each found things they didn’t like. A bat specialist was more critical.
Keith Bildstein, director of conservation science at the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Berks County, likes the draft agreement that would establish rules wind-energy developers would voluntarily follow. But he would prefer that the Game Commission impose an immediate moratorium on wind farms being built on high-risk sites, meaning places where wind turbines would be most dangerous to birds and bats.
“We need to begin development of wind power at low-risk areas,” Bildstein said.
“Do pre-construction and post-construction monitoring. Find the problems.”
He said building at intermediate-risk sites shouldn’t be allowed until post-construction monitoring is done at low-risk sites.
Surprisingly little is known about the big picture of bird migration through Pennsylvania, and most of the existing knowledge has to do with birds of prey, Bildstein said. He praised the commission for devoting research dollars to studying the migration of golden eagles.
“There will be first-class individuals involved,” he said. “We should learn a lot and avoid an environmental train wreck.”
Scott Weidensaul has written several books on birds and is active in state bird organizations such as Pennsylvania Audubon. He saluted the Game Commission for taking on “this difficult and contentious” issue.
“I think the draft guidelines are a good first step, since they bring the question of wildlife impacts to the table statewide in a way that’s not been considered before,” he said.
Weidensaul said the guidelines appear to be on the right track when it comes to migratory raptors and bats, but the lack of any requirement for pre-construction nocturnal songbird migration monitoring is disappointing. He said pre-construction monitoring ought to be a true site suitability study and not solely an information-gathering exercise.
“To me, the real question will be what happens if wind developers refused to sign on to the voluntary agreement, which unfortunately appears likely in at least some cases,” he said. “The commission has suggested it would then take legal action if there are bird or bat kills, and I’ll be very interested to see if they are able to follow up on that threat.”
William A. Capouillez, director of the Bureau of Wildlife Habitat Management, said the Game Commission plans to announce publicly which wind-energy developers sign agreements.
Michael R. Gannon, a professor of biology and bat specialist on the faculty of Penn State University’s Altoona campus, said there does not appear to be a requirement that the bat surveys be impartial. He worries that developers will hire hack consultants who can be counted on to turn in favorable results.
“As I have seen in other sites in Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia, developers hire the same individuals again and again who submit virtually the same documents on how wind development at any of the areas in question will not have any effect on bat populations,” Gannon said.
By David DeKok
Of The Patriot-News
28 February 2007
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