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Bird naturalists, environmentalists fear windmills endanger migrating birds

BLUEFIELD – Adding wind turbines to the obstacle course migratory birds face already creates one more challenge they do not need, naturalists with the American Bird Conservatory stated recently.

The issue of wind turbines returned to Tazewell County, Va., in mid December when Dominion Resources announced that it had purchased 100-percent ownership of 2,600 acres of property on East River Mountain for the purpose of creating the proposed Bluestone River Wind Farm. Some county residents supported the project, citing potential for economic development, while others objected because they feared it would harm property values and damage scenery.

In other parts of the country, environmentalists have expressed fears that wind turbines could endanger birds.

Golden eagles, whooping cranes and greater sage-grouse are among the birds affected by poorly planned wind projects, conservancy members in Washington, D.C. said. Birds following East River Mountain, which crosses the West Virginia and Virginia border, on their routes could also be impacted, one member said.

“Most of those ridges in the east are used by migratory birds,” said Mike Parr, a spokesman for the conservancy. “There are two main areas. One is used by raptors, hawks and related birds that migrate during the daytime.”

These predatory birds include boardwing hawks, turkey vultures, sharp shinned hawks and Cooper’s hawks, Parr said. Golden eagles also use such routes, but they are more common in the West than the East.

Another group of species using the mountain ridge routes is songbirds, which migrate at night instead of the daytime, Parr said. These include birds such as warblers and thrushes.

Mountain ridges are among the visual landmarks birds use while migrating. Birds of prey will use the updrafts around these ridges to help them gain altitude, he said.

Large wind turbines are required to have lights for the safety of pilots. This lighting can draw birds to them, putting them in danger of being hit by the blades, Parr said. White strobe lighting is better than steady lights, and not placing windmills right on the edge of ridges also helps.

Raptors are endangered by windmills because they tend to focus on searching for prey.

“Birds are not expecting stuff like this on the landscape,” Parr said. “There’s already an obstacle course. There are oil platforms, feral cats, cities with glass they can fly into, and communications towers. Most of the problems have to do with light pollution and infrastructure they’ve got to avoid.”

The conservancy is urging the adoption of standards to minimize the impact of wind turbines.

“Without strong standards designed to protect birds through smart siting, technology, and migration programs, wind power will soon affect millions of birds,” said Kelly Fuller, wind program coordinator for the American Bird Conservancy. “Given the subsidies paid to the wind industry by the government, many of the negative impacts to birds will be unwittingly funded by the American taxpayer. We understand the problem and know the solutions. American Bird Conservancy supports wind energy, and some operators are already working to protect birds, but we need to make all wind power bird smart now before major build out occurs.”