(Washington, D.C., April 27, 2021) A proposed wind energy facility in Orleans County, New York, is among the first projects proposed under the state’s new renewable energy development law. This law ignores well-established best practices that would minimize impacts to birds, despite outcry from bird conservation organizations. Regulations to implement the law went into effect in March 2021, and developers are clamoring to shift to the streamlined permitting process.
“The Orleans County project is located in a major migratory pathway for birds, and adjacent to a high-biodiversity wetland complex that supports nesting Bald Eagles and many rare species,” says Joel Merriman, American Bird Conservancy’s (ABC’s) Bird-Smart Wind Energy Campaign Director. “The project poses a high risk to birds, but the state’s new regulation may mean it’s on a glide path to approval.”
The wetland complex adjacent to the proposed Heritage Wind project site encompasses Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge, as well as Oak Orchard and Tonawanda Wildlife Management Areas. Together, these properties and adjacent habitat are designated an Important Bird Area by National Audubon Society, as well as being identified as an important area for many species of concern, including the Sedge Wren, Short-eared Owl, and Black Tern, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation. In addition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has found that this area is a major migratory pathway for songbirds.
“It’s a bad place for wind turbines, plain and simple,” Merriman continues. “It’s really unfortunate – this conflict could have been avoided, had the developer kept turbine locations away from this incredibly important area.”
After the Bald Eagle population crashed nationwide due to the effects of the pesticide DDT, the state worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to release young eagles at “hack sites,” including at the Oak Orchard Wildlife Management Area.
“This area played an important historical role in re-establishing Bald Eagles in the state,” Merriman says. “Bald Eagles are particularly vulnerable to collisions with wind turbines, so it seems both tragic and ironic that this project should be proposed right at the edge of this important site.”
“New York has been a champion for birds in many arenas,” Merriman continues. “But where wind energy development is concerned, the pendulum has swung entirely too far. I understand wishing to speed the project review process, but in this case, far too much would be sacrificed.”
“We need renewable energy to combat climate change,” says Merriman. “But we must not let our shared sense of urgency overwhelm our responsibility to protect vulnerable bird populations.”
A hearing for the New York Heritage Wind project will take place on May 20 (register here using Event Number 129 579 1750 and Password “May20-5pm”), and written comments can be sent via email until May 21. ABC urges those concerned about the project’s threat to birds to voice their concerns at the hearing and share their written comments before the deadline.
ABC thanks the Leon Levy Foundation for its support of ABC’s Bird-Smart Wind Energy Program.
American Bird Conservancy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving wild birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. With an emphasis on achieving results and working in partnership, we take on the greatest problems facing birds today, innovating and building on rapid advancements in science to halt extinctions, protect habitats, eliminate threats, and build capacity for bird conservation. Find us on abcbirds.org, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (@ABCbirds).
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