CADILLAC – For scientific purposes, windmill developers can apply for collector’s permits to gather the bodies of dead animals found on property they lease. DNR All Bird Biologist Karen Cleveland said many developers used to apply for the permits through consulting firms that also studied the bodies to determine cause of death and to gather other physiological data.
Recent changes in federal guidelines pertaining to collector’s permits require the developer to be the primary applicant instead of the consulting firm, shifting legal liability to the developer. This was done as a measure to separate windmill development requests from general development requests, Cleveland said. In response to the federal changes, the Michigan DNR also changed their permit requirements to match.
When turbine developers express an interest in starting a wind farm anywhere in Michigan, officials from the DNR, including Cleveland, advise them about the potential impact the turbines could have on the local wildlife.
“Since the DNR doesn’t have any regulatory authority over wind development, we identify risk factors and make recommendations to the developers,” Cleveland said.
While wind turbines don’t seem to have a negative or positive impact on land animals in Michigan, Cleveland said avian creatures appear to be more at risk of being affected by the machines.
“Research has shown birds change their behavior around windmills,” Cleveland said. “They avoid being around the turbines when nesting. As far as what impact this has on the bird’s overall population, it’s hard to say at this point.”
Birds also can be killed when they collide with wind turbine blades, which appear from the ground to be moving slowly but actually travel at speeds close to 100 mph at their tip.
“The relationship between turbine development and bird death caused by collision with blades is predictable,” Cleveland said. “If a lot of birds are known to move through an area and a developer decides to put up a windmill in that area, it’s safe to say a lot of those birds would be killed by blades. Wind developers have to be careful about this.”
Bats are another flying animal that can be adversely affected by windmills, but unlike birds, their death rate is somewhat unpredictable due to the nature of how the turbines affect them.
“When the blades travel through the air, they create a rapid change in pressure the bat’s body cannot handle,” Cleveland said. “It’s like they get the bends and die from internal bleeding.”
Cleveland compared the change in pressure caused by the windmill blades to the vacuum feeling you would get if you put your hand behind a moving fan, only magnified by an enormous degree.
Concerns about “white nose syndrome,” which is a nonindigenous fungus that weakens the bat during hibernation, causing them to wake up during the unforgiving winter in search of food. Their weakened condition coupled with the danger posed by wind turbines has many wildlife experts worried about the bat’s future in Michigan.
Adding to the potential risk for wind developers is that one species of bat, the Indiana bat, is on the federal endangered species list, and penalties for killing the animal can be severe, Cleveland said.
Heritage Sustainable Energy, which owns the wind farm near Stoney Corners in Missaukee County, has applied for and been granted a collector’s permit.
Several messages left with Heritage regarding the number and types of animals collected in the Missaukee County wind farm area were unanswered at press time.
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