Monday, November 29, 2010

The Quest for Responsible Wind Energy Continues

From Homebase in Oak Harbor, a very tired Kimberly Writes:
Today, Black Swamp Bird Observatory hosted a meeting in Port Clinton, Ohio, to discuss the far reaching implications of wind turbines in migratory bird stopover habitat. We approached the issue from several angles, with experts speaking on ecotourism and the preservation of our last remaining scenic landscapes, the bird and bat mortality issue, and even the efficiency and economics of these machines. We gave a large gathering of community leaders--as well as representatives from the wind energy industry who were in attendance--a great deal to consider. Certainly no one there today can continue to claim ignorance about the fact that wind turbines in this region will share the air column with millions of migratory birds, including the critically endangered Kirtland's Warbler, the state endangered Sandhill Crane, and one of the largest concentrations of Bald Eagles in the lower 48 states.


Today, we took the first step in working toward some reasonable solution to the need for renewable energy and the need to be responsible stewards for migratory birds, ecotourism, and the scenic vistas that we must cling to so fiercely if they are to be preserved for future generations. We have learned that nothing is sacred in our quest to generate more and more and more electricity. Nothing is sacred -- unless we kick and scream that it is.


An example of some of the information brought out today: Thanks to one of our experts, Bill Evans, the audience learned that the plan to target schools in the Lake Erie Marsh Region as places for wind turbines (many deep within the area deemed by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to be the highest area of concern for birds and bats) has some serious flaws. School yards are frequently lighted throughout the night for safety purposes. The combination of large banks of lights -- that have been proven to attract nocturnal migrants -- coupled with 300 foot structures with spinning blades is a potentially lethal combination.



Many organizations and agencies were represented at today's meeting, including: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ohio Division of Wildlife, Ohio State Parks, Ducks Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy, the American Birding Association, two of the three Ottawa County Commissioners, the Mayor of Port Clinton, SureEnergy, Erie and Ottawa County departments of tourism, Audubon chapters, Ottawa County Community Improvement Corp., and local business owners. We also invited the press, and reporters from The Beacon (Ottawa County) and The Metropress (Lucas County) were there covering the discussion.



Here are the seven items we presented as desired outcomes from today’s meeting. These points resulted in some great dialogue and left us with at least a glimmer of hope that we can continue to work together to ensure the integrity of the quality habitat (for birds and humans) in this region.



Desired Outcomes:
 • Support for our three-year moratorium on additional wind turbines within three miles of the Lake Erie shore in Lucas, Ottawa, Sandusky, and Erie Counties until research on nocturnal migrants (including radar studies) can be completed


• Expansion of the current voluntary wildlife review process for industrial turbines to include midsized turbines 100 feet or more in height and/or 10 Kilowatt or greater



• Explore the potential for consortia of local schools to install turbines in areas outside the zone of highest concern, sharing the energy benefits



• Explore the potential for other sources of renewable energy within the zone of highest concern

• Explore the potential of bringing economic growth to the area by encouraging wind turbine manufacturing plants to locate here



• Permanent ban on any wind turbines 300 feet or higher within the zones of highest concern as identified by Ohio Department of Natural Resources



• Development of a local level Western Basin Wind Working Group



Being a part of the birding and conservation community means that you are frequently blessed by the outpouring of support from your fellow warriors. Today, our team at Black Swamp Bird Observatory, Ohio Ornithological Society, and Greater Mohican Audubon Society, was bestowed great gifts of knowledge and expertise from none other than:
Ted Eubanks (http://www.fermatainc.com/)

Bill Evans (http://www.oldbird.org/) and (http://www.towerkill.com/)
Keith Lott (Ohio Division of Wildlife)
Dan Boone (http://www.VAwind.org/).


---Talk about the bird conservation dream team!


Also part of today’s dream team were Kenn Kaufman, Cheryl Harner, Jen Sauter, Mark Shieldcastle, Julie Shieldcastle, Ken Keffer, Paul Baicich, Dana Bollin, and Guy Denny. Larry Fletcher and the staff at the Ottawa County Visitors’ Bureau hosted today’s meeting and we offer them our gratitude for their hospitality.


I’d also like to mention that our online petition is having an impact. I know most of you have signed it, but if you haven’t please do, and consider encouraging others to as well.
http://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/924/482/794/ 

You can also visit http://www.bsbobird.org/wind_energy.htm for more information.


We’ll keep you posted as we continue to work toward a solution.

Thanks!  ~kimberly

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Marsh Mellow

The past few months have been among the most challenging of my life.  I have never fought so hard for something that seemed so unattainable. I have never been more angry, frustrated, bitter, confused, and even depressed, as I have been since BSBO decided to speak out about the wind turbines that are creeping their way into migratory bird stopover habitat in northwest Ohio.


That's certainly a neat and tidy little term, isn't it?  "Migratory Bird Stopover Habitat."  All  scientific and clinical.  


This is what it really is...


It is a part of our history 
The Lake Erie Marsh Region of northwest Ohio is all that is left of what was once referred to as The Great Black Swamp


It is our heritage
The marshes were historically owned by duck hunting clubs before eventually being transferred to the state and federal wildlife agencies.  Think what you want about duck hunting, but were it not for the foresight and absolute respect for the resource shown by hunters, these marshes would have been developed long ago.   If you have ever enjoyed a day of birding or nature observation at one of these areas, then you have duck hunters to thank for it. Purchase a habitat conservation stamp!


It can represent the difference
between life and death
The Lake Erie marshes are of global significance for thousands upon thousands of shorebirds, waterfowl, and songbirds: like the Blackpoll Warbler.

 These remaining patches of habitat allow birds like Blackpoll Warblers to rest and feed during an astounding journey that we cannot begin to comprehend. 
The fall migration route of the Blackpoll Warbler includes an 80 hour, nonstop flight over the open ocean.

It is a place where life, and joy, and beauty
gather in epic proportions
A gorgeous male Black-throated Blue Warbler
by Brian Zwiebel

The flame-throated (male) Blackburnian Warbler in Spring



The lovely little Pied-billed Grebe
The magnificently elegant Northern Pintail Drake.
My favorite bird photo of all time: by Brian Zwiebel



A retina-burning, joy-inducing Prothonotary Warbler


It is an economic boon for the Lake shore communities
Here, in this magical place, one tiny bird (in this case a Golden-winged Warbler), has the power to gather the masses and hold them spellbound. Every year, thousands of birders visit this area to enjoy the spectacle of songbird migration. While they are here, they spend millions of dollars, and make a significant economic impact on the local communities.


It's a place to celebrate
Students from the Fremont, Ohio Migrant School visit BlackSwamp Bird Observatory to celebrate birds and learn about bird migration and stopover habitat!

It's a place where you will find the bizarre...
The "Mr. Potato Head of the Bird World"
The American Woodcock

...and the totally cool
The specially adapted comb on the toe of the Whip-poor-will for cleaning the rical bristles around its massive pie hole!(Is that the coolest thing, or what?!)

It's a great place to raise your kids
Adorable Black Tern nestlings
banded in the Metzger Marsh Wildlife Area

Even some big honkin' kids!
Bald Eagle Nestlings

It is the opportunity to teach
Perrysburg High School biology students learn about bird migration research, the importance of conserving stopover habitat for migratory birds, and potential careers in wildlife conservation.

And an opportunity to discover
A female Connecticut Warbler in breeding condition, banded July 26th, in the Navarre Marsh, a first July record for Ohio.
 
It is a place to find inspiration
Each year, volunteers like Vic and Lois Harder donate thousands of hours to wetland research, education, and outreach in this area. They make the work of nonprofit organizations and state and federal wildlife agencies possible, and in the process, they provide an endless supply of support and inspiration.

And it is a place where I have witnessed
the depths of the human spirit
This is me with my friend, Michael.  Michael comes to visit me and the marsh with his friends from Lotts of Nature, a program for folks who are dealing with special challenges. The program is sponsored by Lott Industries and organized by my friend Helen Polachko.   (Helen is amazing!) When they arrive, I am waiting for them in the parking lot, because I know that, practically before the van has stopped, Michael will come crashing out the door to hug me. Michael and the rest of the members of the group face challenges that we can't even begin to imagine.  But, in spite of all the obstacles they must overcome each and every day, there is still room for happiness. The look of unabashed joy on Michael's face when he gets to touch and release a wild songbird sears itself onto my heart like a tattoo.  It will stay with me forever and it carries me though some of the darkest days. This magical place has brought so many amazing person into my life and into my heart. 

It is the only documented stopover habitat
in the world for this bird


The rare, and critically endangered, Kirtland's Warbler




The stopover habitat in the Lake Erie Marsh Region is many things to many different birds and many different people.


It is NOT...






A place for these.


I hope you will join me and Kenn and Black Swamp Bird Observatory, Ohio Ornithological Society, and Greater Mohican Audubon Society in expressing how thankful we are for the few remaining places on the planet that provide the critical stopover habitat that connects birds with their breeding and wintering grounds, and provides us with such joy and beauty. Please sign this petition and let the politicians know that this matters to you.  Protect Migratory Bird Stopover Habitat in Northwest Ohio


Thank you!
Kimm and Kenn

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
Nature Blog Network