SEARSBURG, Vt. – A proposed wind farm in southern Vermont has Fish and Wildlife officials concerned about possible negative impacts on bear populations. So they have begun to track the bears’ movements before construction even begins.
Fish and Wildlife biologist Forrest Hammond points an antenna in the direction of a ridgeline in the Searsburg-Readsboro area. Its the proposed site of the Deerfield Wind Project. He’s using the device to track bear.
“The Deerfield wind project has been proposed in what we consider some of the largest critical habitat for bears that might be impacted by a project like this,” Hammond says.
The beeping identifies one of four collared – or tagged – bears in this bear-fertile forest. He is monitoring the bear’s behavior before ground is broken on the new turbines. The ultimate purpose is to find out what impact– if any– the new turbines will have on bears’ movements. Researchers will track them for seven years.
“Whether or not the bears use of different habitat changes once the construction begins and the turbines are in and they are operating. How far the bear is displaces from that area. Or, as some people feel, the bears will just come and feed on berries next to the road and the project won’t have an impact at all,” Hammond says.
Hammond says 11 nearby turbines operated by Green Mountain Power are not located in critical bear habitat. Therefore, they are not a cause for concern. But he says that because the adjacent Deerfield project is, its impact needs to be studied. It’s actually a required part of the permitting process.
Ski areas throughout the region have been the focus of similar studies on bear populations. And the results are NOT always bad news for bears.
“And we knew more about how the bears used that high elevation habitat around the ski areas. So, we actually were able to streamline projects at ski area all around the state,” Hammond says.
But– Hammond says– MORE nuisance bears– the ones that prey on backyard bird feeders– are one potential negative consequence if bears are in fact found to be displaced by the Deerfield project.
“If the bear is not feeding in remote sites, far removed from people, and are displaced out of these areas to lower elevations, then their chances of coming into contact with people and there being a conflict then would be much greater,” he says.
Fish and Wildlife officials say the research is the first of its kind anywhere in the country. Studying the potential impact of wind energy on bear populations and they say the results have the potential to affect future projects across the region.
Iberdrola Renewables, the group behind the project, is coughing up a half a million dollars for the study.
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