Windmill facility presents difficult question for ensuring bird safety
Credit: Windmills facility in Oswego presents bird safety questions | Bill Conners | Outdoors | Poughkeepsie Journal | Jan. 26, 2022 | www.poughkeepsiejournal.com ~~
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The New York State Office of Renewable Energy Siting issued a siting permit for a 33-turbine wind energy facility to be located near the Oak Orchard/Tonawanda Wildlife Management Area near Lake Ontario.
That creates a conundrum for people like me. I understand the need to swap out oil for wind, but at the same time we must protect our wildlife resources. The obvious question is: Can we do both?
One hint of the problem that can be encountered is that questions have already been raised about the placement of at least six of the turbines because of their proximity to the Oak Orchard Wildlife Management Area. Apex Clean Energy – developers of the project – has argued that removal of the six cited turbines could reduce Heritage Wind output by 33.6 megawatts per year, from the more than 180 megawatts currently projected. Apex is obviously going to do all it can to avoid the revenue hit.
Oak Orchard WMA is designated as a Bird Conservation Area because of its important bird habitat. The Department of Environmental Conservation estimates each spring upwards of 100,000 Canada geese and thousands of ducks including black ducks, mallards, American wigeon, northern pintails, blue-winged and green-winged teal, northern shovelers, ringnecked ducks and others stop there to rest and feed before continuing north. Some of the birds do remain to nest on the area.
There are also visits from less common birds such as cinnamon teal, ruddy duck, European wigeon, cackling goose, white-fronted goose, blue goose and snow goose, though less frequently reported. When they are reported, it is usually by more experienced birders.
A retinue of shore birds, marsh birds and wading birds, warblers and other songbirds also use the management area’s habitat during the spring migration starting in early March and continuing until about mid-May.
Because the six turbines in question are only two miles from the Oak Orchard WMA, Apex Clean Energy is being “pushed” to drop them from the plan or relocate them to mitigate “a potential significant elevated risk of fatality to nighttime migrating birds flying into and out of the Iroquois complex,” which would include both the Tonawanda Wildlife WMA and the Oak Orchard WMA.
As much as avian mortality from wind turbines may be a concern, it is also difficult to measure, especially in light of the recent push toward wind energy expansion. Studies have suggested that mortality can be as high as 20 birds per megawatt per year. Again, that is only an estimate. One study I found estimated losses of between 140,000 and 328,000 a year to turbines across the lower 48 states. However, that study – published in the journal Biological Conservation – is more than a decade old and was completed ahead of the real push to wind power that we see happening now.
I have also read at various times that avian losses due to collisions with vehicle traffic, collisions with structures – most notably windows – and predation by cats, both feral and pets, can be measured in the billions. The Smithsonian Institution reports collisions with glass likely kills between 365 million and 1 billion birds annually in the U.S., with a median estimate of 599 million. Collisions with cars and truck likely kill 200 to 300 million or more.
What staggers my imagination is the losses from cats. Nearly 10 years ago the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – has found that bird mortality caused by outdoor cats is much higher than has been widely reported, with annual bird mortality at that time was estimated to be as high as is 2.4 billion in any given year.
Losses from wind turbines should not be ignored, especially where they are sited in a migratory bird flyway.
Waterfowl hunting is a more than $2 Billion industry that – according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – creates more than 34,000 jobs nationally.
Oswego County on Ontario’s eastern shore recently passed a resolution opposing turbines on Lake Ontario.
I spoke to Town Supervisor Sean Pogue of the Town of Barre, Orleans County, the chosen site for the Apex Clean Energy Project. His view is more pragmatic. Recognizing the need for energy development, he does not oppose the use of wind turbines. At the same time, he believes that you can’t put the turbines in the air and then walk away. They have to be studied and evaluated, and adjustments made using what is learned about their operation.
Concerns regarding the siting, operation and impact on wildlife certainly can’t be ignored. The sporting community has to rely on the DEC to hold the developers’ feet to the fire to make sure that losses to our natural resources are not ignored, especially that of our waterfowl resources.
Comments solicited on fishing regulations
There is still time to send your comments to the DEC on the proposed changes announced in December to the statewide fishing regulations. According to DEC the proposal will also significantly reduce the number of special regulations found in the annual Fishing Regulations Guide.
changing the statewide regulation for rainbow trout and brown trout in ponds to allow for year-round fishing and aligning harvest limits for rainbow trout, brown trout and brook trout across streams and ponds at five fish per day no minimum size, only two of which can be over 12 inches;
changes the statewide regulations for Atlantic salmon and lake trout to allow for year-round fishing;
all openers for sportfish will begin on a hard date;
ice fishing will be allowed statewide unless specifically prohibited in all but nine Adirondack counties, where the existing regulation prohibiting ice fishing in waters inhabited by trout will remain.
Submit comments on the proposal via email to email@example.com or via mail to the Inland Fisheries Section, NYSDEC, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-4753; subject line “Fishing Regulations Proposal Comments.” Comments will be accepted through Feb. 6.
Bill Conners of the Federation of Fish and Game Clubs writes on outdoors issues.
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