Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Battle of the Blades

Six months ago, all of us here in northwest Ohio were at the center of the birding world. Six months ago we were awash in a whirl of warblers and their watchers. Vast numbers of migratory birds poured in from the tropics, while semi-vast numbers of birders poured in from all over the United States and beyond to celebrate the “Biggest Week in American Birding” here in the “Warbler Capital of the World.”   
 Six months in the future, in May 2011, we expect it all to happen again. But right now, as fall migration fades in November, the scene in northwest Ohio is getting quieter. The traveling birders are mostly elsewhere now, celebrating specialties in south Texas, chasing rarities in California or Florida. They haven’t necessarily forgotten about us, but at the moment, we might not be on their minds.


And that’s unfortunate.
The timing of this is bad for the birds, from one particular angle. Right now there are threats to the stopover habitats here in northwest Ohio, the very spots that sustain all those migratory birds when they pause here on their travels. Various energy companies are pushing projects to set up noncommercial sized turbines very near the Lake Erie shoreline, some of them practically right on top of critical bird habitats and it's important to note that these "smaller" turbines can still exceed 300 feet.


Many of them are being proposed for schools, which is particularly problematic.  Many schools in this area are in serious financial trouble and searching desperately for ways to reduce costs.  Wind turbines (especially when the wind energy company gives them at no cost, as they have in some cases along the lake shore) seem like the perfect solution.  And in the right location, maybe they are. 
Unfortunately, some of the schools involved here are deep within the areas of highest concern for migratory birds and within a mile of active Bald Eagle nests. When you speak out about these concerns, many people simply label you as "The crazy tree huggers who are more worried about their little tweety birds than they are about helping kids learn."


Building wind turbines on school grounds is also a brilliant marketing plan and it's worked very effectively. That is, until they started proposing them in areas of migratory bird stopover habitat, and the ideas of science and due diligence became the proverbial "flies in the ointment."
And as we are discovering, there are virtually no regulations of any kind controlling where such noncommerical, "midsized" turbines can be erected. Compounding the problem is the fact that there's currently no data available on the impacts these "midsized turbines" have on birds and wildlife. Many people we've talked to question just how much damage a single wind turbine (even one 300+ feet tall) can really do. While we don't have hard data, when asked this question, we share this true story.


Several years ago, when the first cell phone tower stabilized by guy wires was erected in this area, the farmer who had leased that section of his field to the communications company for the tower came into a local wildlife research facility one spring morning with a bushel basket filled with dead adult male Rose-breasted Grosbeaks.  He had picked them up until the basket was full (he said there were lots more, but he only picked up what the basket would hold) and brought them in to see if anyone could tell him what they were. 
One night.
One tower.
One set of guy wires.
One bushel basket of dead birds.

So, the answer is, yes.  One wind turbine (or any tall structure) in an area of major stopover habitat like the Lake Erie Marsh Region has the potential to do significant damage. Now just imagine if there's another, and another, and another.

The people of this area are intelligent, caring, superb people.  They understand that Lake Erie is a precious resource that brings billions of tourism dollars to the area each year and they are passionate about caring for it and protecting it. And yet, many remain unaware of the massive bird migration that takes place here or the amount of ecotourism dollars generated by visiting birders.

Black Swamp Bird Observatory, along with the local visitor's bureaus:  Lake Erie Shores and Islands, and other organizations, is working very hard to raise awareness of just how essential this stopover habitat is for the birds and the marvelous asset it represents for the region.
The good news is that it's not too late. We still have an important opportunity to get this right and, rather than view this as a challenge -- one side versus the other -- we're trying to present it as an opportunity to prove to the world that we can find a reasonable solution. If we can make this work here in northwest Ohio, it could set a valuable  precedent and send a powerful message about the potential for responsible renewable energy.

Here's how you can help.

1) Tell Others
If you're a fellow blogger, we encourage you to share this issue with your readers. If you're a writer (or you know someone who is) please consider an article about this issue.

2) Sign a Petition
Black Swamp Bird Observatory,
Ohio Ornithological Society, and Greater Mohican Audubon Society have created an online petition and we urge you to support our efforts by signing it, here:  Protect Critical Migratory Bird Stopover Habitat in Northwest Ohio

3) Write Letters of Support
For more information, please visit BSBO's website at:
http://www.bsbobird.org/

And please read:  
A Long Night's Journey Into Death.

Thank you so much! ~Kimm and Kenn

7 comments:

  1. It would be great if wind energy really had a neutral impact on the environment. Unfortunately, we know that any tall structure can kill many, many migrating birds over time. What sense does it make to propose wind energy as good for the environment, then label people as "tree-huggers" when we ask the industry to support their claims? Thanks for this post.

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  2. I suppose it's good that you feel you can make a difference, but history shows what the future will hold. You may make a difference for a short time, but once the world grasps the fact that our fossil fuel resources will run out in this century, I think everyone will rush out to use windmills, nuculear reactors and whatever else they can come up with and it will happen within the next 50 years. I don't believe that anyone will show concern for wildlife when they don't have any power to their homes or food to eat, so it might be better to just fight for legislation to mount screens over the blades, just as a stand up house fan is made and let them put up the windmills that way, since wind power will happen anyhow.

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  3. Interesting blog. What a tough call! Save energy or migratory birds? It seems like there has to be another way to save money. A recent article came out about tracking the effects of turbine farms on Golden Eagles (results not in yet). http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101025101828.htm

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  4. I don't believe it is an either / or decision between wind energy and migratory birds. I believe we need wind energy to reduce our dependence on fossil fuel energy (and its negative environmental consequences) and this will only become more pressing over time. However, there are consequences on birds any time we erect tall structures. As we know, lots of birds die when they encounter tall buildings. Progress is now being made towards the design of buildings to help reduce their impact on birds. Illinois Congressman Mike Quigley has recently introduced legislation to force these design constraints on government buildings and I hope that commercial builders follow suit. I hope / believe that design constraints on towers and wind turbines can be developed which will minimize their impact on birds. I don’t know how much research has been done in this area, but I would encourage more. It would appear that placement of wind turbines should be limited to areas away from concentrated areas of bird migration. Unfortunately, birds tend to migrate in areas with the best wind energy.

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  5. Your photography is right on and the bird portraits are beautiful. I have not seen anything quite so colorful here in southwestern Ohio where I live.

    Do you have anything out especially to attract migrants to stop over?

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  6. Thanks to you both for bringing this issue to everyone's attention.
    I hope we can ALL make a difference one day.

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  7. I added myself to follow your blog. You are more than welcome to visit mine and become a follower if you want to.

    God Bless You :-)

    ~Ron

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