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Wind Energy and Bird Mortality
A rather curious letter recently appeared on the Tulsa World editorial page, “Wind Turbines,” by Jim Wiegand, Reading, CA. Mr. Weigand has no ties to Tulsa, and the letter read an editor’s note: “Wigand is a nationally recognized wildlife biologist and expert on the effects of wind turbines on birds.” A search revealed that Mr. Weigand has a biology degree from the 1970s and makes a living selling antiques. He has done nothing to qualify him as an expert on wildlife biology, and none of his claims, here or elsewhere, are backed up by reliable research. His profession is writing letters for newspapers and posting comments on websites critical of wind energy. The letter began: “The wind industry is hiding the genocide of birds and bats associated with massive turbines. The industry has created fraudulent mortality studies and issued voluntary guidelines to hide its slaughter.” The letter never mentioned the birds again, but continued to criticize wind power and conspiracy theories.
Wind turbines sometimes kill birds and bats, but bird genocide? In other writings, Mr. Wiegand claims that windmills are responsible for the deaths of dozens of cranes and that they will cause them to become extinct within five years. So far, there are no crane deaths that can be attributed to windmills. Carla Gilbert, in a post published in the article, denied the danger of such birds. “When I was traveling in Portugal a few years ago, we could see many wind turbine farms from the highway. We were told that storks like to build their nests on top of them. When the bus stopped to refuel, I took pictures of the storks sitting on their nests on top of the turbines and saw some storks coming. and flew away from the nests. I have seen no injured or dead birds. And the windmills do not cause the falcons to disappear. One falcon, who was at first worried about the windmill, now places his falcon boxes on the wind turbines, and considers them no more of a threat to the birds than his picture window.
There has been a lot of opposition to windmills and renewable energy in general, so it’s hard to know if all the criticism is factual. Studies have found an average of five to eight dead birds per windmill. This is approximately the number of birds that nest in the picture window each year. When you add in birds killed by cars and hunting, it appears that other human activities pose a greater threat to bird genocide than wind turbines. The main threats to birds are windows, cats, climate change, disease, hunters and pesticides.
There are concerns for protected species such as lesser prairie chickens and eagles. There are severe penalties for harming eagles, so to be safe, windmill owners are asking for permission to kill eagles legally. This has caused quite a bit of protest, but the government recently gave companies a 30-year moratorium on enforcing the protection laws while they study the problem. It is unlikely that an eagle would fly into a windmill, especially since another criticism concerns the noise of windmills. There are still confirmed reports that windmills have killed 85 bald eagles in the last five years, about 17 a year. Eagles are at the top of the food chain, so any environmental pollutant can harm them, and DDT was the main cause of their population decline. After DDT was banned and they became protected, their population recovered to about 140,000 in North America and they were removed from the endangered species list. They are harmed by many of the pollutants associated with energy production—about 280 died in the Exxon Valdez oil spill. It’s a shame when one of these majestic birds accidentally dies. If we stop any kind of activity that could harm them, then we have to stop a large part of our energy production.
The concern with lesser prairie chickens is that they avoid tall structures and windmills can cause them to move from their normal habitat. Prairie chickens come together to mate, each bringing a large communal area called a roost. One production oil company opposed to wind power took a group of reporters over the Osage Hills to Lake Leka to show what they could lose if they built windmills there, as if driving a van full of journalists with their Lekas was out of the question. disturbing them. Many wildlife and noise problems can be solved by siting windmills, and sensible laws are needed to ensure that windmills cause as little disturbance to animals and people as possible.
Research has shown that the fact that windmills kill birds is exaggerated. In the Journal of Applied Ecology Volume 49, Issue 2, pages 386-394, April 2012, the authors found that the impact of wind farms on bird populations is minimal, with greater impacts during construction than during subsequent operation. A comprehensive study of bird mortality in Canada found that most human-related bird deaths (about 99%) are caused by feral and domestic cats, collisions with buildings and vehicles, power transmission and distribution lines. A peer-reviewed study on bird mortality says their data suggest that < 0.2% of any species' population is currently affected by mortality or displacement by wind turbine development. They concluded that although the number of windmills is expected to increase tenfold over the next two decades, "population-level impacts on bird populations are unlikely, provided highly sensitive or rare habitats, as well as areas of concentration of species at risk." averted."
Mr. Wiegand’s letter is mostly fiction. Some people don’t see the value or beauty of windmills and look for any excuse to criticize them.
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