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Bird conflict with wind farms

Construction on the Rim Rock Wind Farm is expected to be done in the fall of 2012. The turbines will be up for years and officials are taking steps to make sure the towers won’t negatively impact birds in the area.

When it comes to species of concern, there’s a lot to look at. Researchers want to document where active nests are using pictures and GPS coordinates. They want to know what kind of birds are in the area, and how they use the habitat for hunting and raising their young.

What better way to study the raptors near Kevin than with a bird’s eye view. Crowded in a helicopter, Ornithologist Joe Platt, Ph.D. and other wildlife biologists can better cover the 1,100 square mile project site. “A good project is based on having good science,” he explains before taking off to survey the area.

With maps of the area, Platt can compare where nests are and where turbines will be popping up. “You look at how the birds use the habitat.”

The hawks and eagles have been here for generations, they’ve grown accustomed to the habitat. Now, construction and wind turbines are changing the landscape. “One of the ways that wind turbines come in conflict with birds of prey is the chance of collision, where they’ll fly in, and they can be killed by the turbines,” Platt says.

Greg Copeland wants to avoid that. He’s the director of wind energy development for NaturEner, the company building the wind farm. He says the company is working to make sure the birds and turbines can co-exist.

Normally, nest assessments start early on, but Copeland says the proper guidance documents weren’t available when construction started. So the company is making up for lost time. “This project was so far along in the construction and design phases, it did not give us the opportunity to work through the steps they have in that guidance document, but we’re trying to reproduce that to the best extent we can,” Copeland says.

“So then you can place the turbines in settings which are less likely to cause harm to the birds,” Platt adds.

NaturEner has made a promise not to work near a nest containing eggs, chicks, or fledging youngsters. It’s a promise which makes the construction schedule a little more complex than normal. “We’re balancing species specific criteria, weather, and construction criteria as a way of trying to accomplish our goal,” Copeland points out.

The goal is to have a 189 megawatt wind farm up and running by October. Platt says that shouldn’t be a problem, “The birds can still forage around them [turbines] and nest near them.”

Platt expects chicks near Kevin to hatch in the next few weeks. Some of the birds he was looking for include golden eagles, red tailed and ferruginous hawks, and prairie falcons. His study expanded ten miles in every direction from the center of the wind farm.