Is the Massachusetts Audubon Society, with a mission to protect birds, selling them out for a contract worth over 7,000,000 dollars to monitor their deaths?
The saga of the Massachusetts Audubon Society and the Cape Wind project continues with the January 14, 2008 release of the MMS Draft Environmental Impact Statement and Massachusetts Audubon’s lack of follow through on its Challenge to Cape Wind and its permitting agencies, to “Get it right.”
According to a story written by reporter Beth Delay of the Boston Globe on January 15, 2008, just one day after the DEIS release, Jack Clarke, director of public policy and government relations for the Massachusetts Audubon Society is satisfied that the MMS Draft Environmental Impact Statement on the Cape Wind project has addressed the groups concerns, ““They (MMS) have done an adequate and thorough job of reviewing the potential environmental impacts with regard to avian life” he said.”
It would seem Mr. Clarke has conveniently forgotten “The Mass Audubon Challenge” clearly stated publicly in the media and on their Website:
Part I. The Challenge
“Recently, you may have read or heard about the Mass Audubon Challenge regarding the proposed Cape Wind project. In March of this year (2006), following extensive staff and board review of the project, Mass Audubon challenged Cape Wind and its permitting agencies to accept comprehensive and rigorous monitoring and mitigation conditions that will reduce the risk to birds and other wildlife. If these conditions are adopted, and remaining significant data gaps are filled with a finding of no significant threat to the living resources, Mass Audubon will support this Cape Wind project…”
What are these remaining significant data gaps that needed to be filled?
Movement of endangered terns and threatened plovers during the late summer to early fall migration. The abundance and distribution of migrating songbirds. Nighttime distribution and behavior of hundreds of thousands of long-tailed ducks in and around Horseshoe Shoal.
The Mass Audubon Challenge requires that these gaps are addressed with a finding of “no significant threat” and that their approval of the Cape Wind project is contingent on the closing of those gaps.
Of these three significant data gaps and for the sake of brevity let’s take one, ‘the abundance and distribution of migrating songbirds’ as an example to see if and how this gap was filled by the ‘adequate and thorough job’ attributed by Jack Clarke of Mass Audubon to the MMS while keeping in mind that millions of neotropical songbirds are under threat according to the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service. (“Neotropical migratory birds are at greatest risk of decline. Declines in some species are gradual while others are more dramatic. Some species including the Wood Thrush, Cerulean Warbler, Bobolink, Grasshopper Sparrow, and the Western Bluebird are declining sharply.” USFS) All bird species that migrate over Nantucket Sound are severely threatened by collisions with man-made structures in their flight paths, and the loss of critical habitat at both ends of their migratory routes.
[*Biologists estimate that over one billion birds are killed each year from aerial collisions.]
”Migratory birds often congregate in large numbers when traveling through bottlenecks, such as narrow costal plains of peninsulas. Many migrating birds, such as warblers and thrushes, migrate at night are attracted to lights, especially during inclement weather, At such times these nocturnal migrants can become disoriented and strike tall lighted structures, the Federal Aviation Administration requires lights on all structures of 200 feet or more. Cape wind turbines exceed that height and therefore lighting would be required.” Mass Audubon
The Executive summary of the DEIS (Draft Environmental Impact Statement) states in Table E-1 under Avifauna:
Construction Impacts; Minor,…. Operation Impacts: Minor to negligible
Where’s the Data?
Mass Audubon required 3-years of avian studies. According to their Avian Data Summary on Feb 21, 2006 on Migratory Passerines, the applicant had not met these criteria, and there was no indication that they will.
Thorough research of all the sections concerning passerines (Neotropical songbirds), shows that “no consistent three year study of spring and fall migration data at the project site was conducted”. Which, of course, begs the questions; How could the MMS find the impacts to be minor; and how could Mass Audubon, in turn, find the DEIS to be adequate and thorough with the contingency data need unsatisfied?
The model of scientific study for hazards to birds at an off-shore wind farm site used by the MMS (and to be used, apparently, by Mass Audubon if they get a monitoring contract) that cite Horns Rev in Denmark, did not include songbirds.
DEIS 9-4 Monitoring and Mitigation:
“It should be noted, however, that the assessments from this study were primarily focused on waterbird behavior and collisions, and potential effects on other kinds of migrating birds were not addressed. This study also made no attempt to quantify the effects of weather conditions, such as areas with fog, on potential collision rates.”
Mass Audubon did not conduct any songbird migration studies of its own but was critical of the data collected by the applicant for the U.S. Army Corps DEIS.
“Mass Audubon did not conduct any studies of songbird migration. The Applicant completed two seasons of data collection using radar – one each in the spring and fall migration periods. The summaries as presented are of limited value due to flaws in the analysis and because there was no replication by season.”
There was an additional Spring 2006 (April 18-June 3) radar survey added to the MMS DEIS which was, according to section 4-48 Description of Affected Environment, supposed to operate continually 24 hours a day; but didn’t due to- “equipment malfunctions”.
There were no Fall 2006 passerine migration studies done at all.
“The impacts of a large-scale wind energy facility may include disturbance, displacement, barriers to movement, collision and habitat loss. The scientific understanding of avian risks associated with wind farms is still evolving, and the precise level of risk to bird populations for any particular project is difficult to predict. Such risks are site-specific, and are also affected by the design, size, number, array and lighting of wind towers.” Mass Audubon
So, why has Mass Audubon dropped its requirement that the data gaps be filled as a critical part of their ‘Challenge’?
Could it be Mass Audubon has now modified its ‘Challenge’? And, If so, why?
Part II. of the ‘Challenge’;
“Adoption of an Adaptive Management Plan, which includes a rigorous three-year monitoring program in the event that the project results in significant adverse environmental impacts.”
“Mass Audubon challenges the state and federal permitting agencies, and Cape Wind to meet the following conditions for the proposed Cape Wind Energy Project. Mass Audubon will draft an Adaptive Management Plan with partner conservation organizations, and state and federal agencies, as appropriate, subject to peer-review. “
“Mass Audubon will excuse itself from certain aspects of the review panel when and if it participates directly in conducting field research related to the project that will be subject to the Review Panel’s review.”
The Adaptive Management Plan contract has an estimated worth of over seven million dollars.
Rumors are flying about a conflict of interest. “Seven million birds for seven million dollars?”
Is Mass Audubon underestimating the public’s ability to put two and two together?
Mass Audubon: A Challenge Proposal Regarding The Cape Wind Energy Project
Massachusetts Audubon Society Website
Avian Use of Nantucket Sound Mass Div. of Fisheries & Wildlife, Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program
The American Bird Conservancy estimates that 80% of the birds killed at wind farms are songbirds.
*The towers we need for our cell phones and pagers, the lines that bring us power, the cars and trucks that help us travel, sources of energy, such as wind turbines, and event the windows in our homes and office buildings create obstacles for birds in flight. Collisions with these obstacles may cause the death of one bird or, in the case of communication towers, tens of thousands of birds in a single incident. Biologists estimate that over one billion birds are killed each year from aerial collisions. International Migratory Bird Day 2005: Collisions – Clearing the Way for Birds
Authors note: Industrial wind plants are proliferating. These towers are as tall as 40 story skyscrapers with moving blades the size of a football field traveling at over 200mph at their tips. Cape Wind proposes to erect 130 of these towers in 25 square miles (the size of Manhattan Island) in the Nantucket Sound, a critical migratory route and endangered species habitat. The turbines will be equipped with blinking lights, fog horns and a 100ft Electrical Service Platform, providing tired and disoriented migratory birds a hazardous place to land.
By Dona Tracy, Citizen Journalist
Cape Cod, MA
Sunday, January 20, 2008
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