March 24, 2012

Local wind projects may endanger golden eagles 23 March 2012

SAN DIEGO – The growing number of bird killed by blades of wind turbines could impact a major San Diego project.

Video released by conservation group Save The Eagles International has revealed a vulture being struck and killed while flying near a wind turbine. In another video, taken at night in infrared, a bat is shown also suffering the same fate.

Across the nation, about 450,000 birds are killed every year at wind farms. According to Dave Bittner, executive director for the Wildlife Research Institute in Ramona, golden eagles are another bird species vulnerable to the windmills.

“They’re big soaring birds and they like to hunt under the towers,” he said.

Approximately 94 eagles’ nests currently reside in San Diego County.

Safety of airborne wildlife is an issue for county supervisors, who are about to consider a series of wind projects for the county. As the projects line up for approval, worries about the survival of the county’s golden eagles persist.

“Wind turbines, if placed incorrectly, can be a great threat to golden eagles,” Bittner said.

At the Altamont Pass Wind Farm in the Bay Area, an average of 67 golden eagles are killed by turbines every year. Bittner said he knows of five local eagles that have been killed at wind farms across the state during the past 15 years.

His group was hired to track the eagles by Iberdrola Renewables, who just received federal approval for a 62-turbine project in the far East County.

Almost one year ago, researchers put a satellite transmitter on a golden eagle hatchling that was nesting about seven miles from the project site.

So far, the eagle has stayed away from the chaparral-filled project site, which lacks the small animals eagles prefer to feed on.

“The closest he got is about a half-mile of the wind turbine,” Bittner said.

The safety of the eagles will remain an important concern for about six more wind projects in the pipeline.

“When we first heard about green energy, we thought there was no backside to it,” he said. “Now we’re finding out there is some payment that wildlife make in order for us to have green energy.”

The county’s planning group will consider the Iberdrola’s wind power project in May.

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