In a move that could affect wind farm development in Illinois, the American Bird Conservancy recently asked the U.S. Department of the Interior to use its legal muscle to protect birds from wind turbines.
The group filed a petition recently asking the federal government to use powers contained in the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to force planners to limit the impact of turbines on birds from the very start of a new development.
The ABC thinks wind farms should be required by law to seek a federal permit before construction, and each site be evaluated for possible harm to birds.
ABC supports wind power when it is “bird-smart,” said ABC wind campaign coordinator Kelly Fuller. After all, wind-generated electricity is clean and helps reduce global warming which has already had negative impacts on birds, she said.
But she said ABC is convinced voluntary guidelines to protect the birds aren’t working. The government estimates at least 440,000 birds are killed annually by collisions with wind turbines. If the government doesn’t take action to establish enforceable regulations, the expansion of wind power could result in more than one million bird deaths each year by 2020, she said.
Dead birds include species that could become endangered over time, ABC warned, and some existing wind farms are located on migratory paths of species that already are rare, such as the condor of California.
Fuller cited one recent incident in West Virginia when lights left on at night drew birds to the site and led to the deaths of about a half million songbirds.
ABC is left to wonder: If the penalties in place under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act can be used to punish others who harm birds, why haven’t they been used to push wind farms where bird deaths occur.
Closer to home, the John Wesley Powell chapter of the Audubon Society has had good luck working with area wind farm developers. One developer of the Twin Grove Wind Farm east of Bloomington Normal worked closely with the group to ensure its turbines were buffered from sensitive bird-migration routes. Another developer of the White Oak Wind Farm north west of Normal agreed to move several turbines after Audubon warned the blades were too close to the Mackinaw River and Evergreen Lake, which raised concern about danger to raptors, including bald eagles, and waterfowl and cranes.
But Angelo Capparella, a bird expert at Illinois State University and the conservation chair of the Audubon chapter, likes the idea of having federal guidelines in place. Companies that take precautions to protect birds would also benefit from standards that require their competitors to do likewise, he said.
“The bird community as a whole is perfectly fine with wind power. Everybody knows there will be some mortality but the more they are minimizing it, the better that will be,” he said.
The petition is available online at www.abcbirds.org.
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