Red kites agonizing under wind turbines, State of Navarre, Spain.
- courtesy of GURELUR

How much wildlife can USA afford to kill?

America’s wind farms are actually slaughtering millions of birds and bats annually

By Mark Duchamp

Screen-shot-2014-03-18-at-3.43.47-PMThe Obama administration is issuing 30-year permits for “taking” (killing) bald and golden eagles. The great birds will be legally slaughtered “unintentionally” by lethal wind turbines installed in their breeding territories, and in “dispersion areas” where their young congregate (e.g. Altamont Pass).

By chance (if you believe in coincidences), a timely government study claims wind farms will kill “only” 1.4 million birds yearly by 2030. This new report is just one of many, financed with taxpayers’ money, aimed at convincing the public that additional mortality caused by wind plants is sustainable. – It is not.

Dr. Shawn Smallwood’s 2004 study, spanning four years, estimated that California’s Altamont Pass wind “farm” killed an average of 116 Golden Eagles annually. This adds up to 2,900 dead “goldies” since it was built 25 years ago. Altamont is the biggest sinkhole for the species, but not the only one, and industry-financed research claiming that California’s GE population is stable is but a white-wash.

Beheaded Golden Eagle from Altamont Pass-  Courtesy of Darryl Miller, California
Beheaded Golden Eagle from Altamont Pass- Courtesy of Darryl Miller, California

Eagles are not the only victims. Smallwood also estimated that Altamont killed an average of 300 red-tailed hawks, 333 American kestrels and 380 burrowing owls annually – plus even more non-raptors, including 2,526 rock doves and 2,557 western meadowlarks.

In 2012, breaking the European omerta on wind farm mortality, the Spanish Ornithological Society (SEO/Birdlife) reviewed actual carcass counts from 136 monitoring studies. They concluded that Spain’s 18,000 wind turbines are killing 6-18 million birds and bats yearly.

Extrapolating that and similar (little publicized) German and Swedish studies, 39,000 U.S. wind turbines would not be killing “only” 440,000 birds (USFWS, 2009) or “just” 573,000 birds and 888,000 bats (Smallwood, 2013), but 13-39 million birds and bats every year!

However, this carnage is being covered up by self-serving and/or politically motivated government agencies, wind industry lobbyists, environmental groups and ornithologists, under a pile of misleading studies paid for with more taxpayer money.

Wildlife expert Jim Wiegand has documented how areas searched under wind turbines are still confined to 200-foot radiuses, even though modern monster turbines catapult 90% of bird and bat carcasses much further. Windfarm owners, operating under voluntary(!) USFWS guidelines, commission studies that search much-too-small areas, look only once every 30-90 days, ensuring that scavengers remove most carcasses, and ignore wounded birds that happen to be found within search perimeters. (Details at MasterResource.org)

These research protocols are designed to guarantee extremely low mortality statistics, hiding the true death tolls – and the USFWS seems inclined to let the deception continue. In addition, bird mortality data are now considered to be the property of windfarm owners, which means the public no longer has a right to know.

Nevertheless, news has leaked that eagles are being hacked to death all across America. This is hardly surprising, as raptors are attracted to wind turbines. They perch on them to rest or scan for prey. They come because turbines are often built in habitats that have abundant food (live or carrion) and good winds for gliding.

Griffon Vultures – courtesy of the association of ecologists GURELUR, Navarre, Spain
Griffon Vultures – courtesy of the association of ecologists GURELUR, Navarre, Spain

Save the Eagles International (STEI) has posted photographs of raptors perched on nacelles or nonmoving blades, and ospreys building a nest on a decommissioned turbine. Moving blades don’t deter them either: videos show a turkey vulture perched on the hub of a spinning turbine, and a griffon vulture being struck. Birds perceive areas traveled by spinning blades as open space, unaware that blade tips are moving at up to 180 mph. Many are focused on prey. These factors make wind turbines “ecological death traps,” wherever they are located.

By 2030, the United States plans to produce 20% of its electricity from wind. That’s nearly six times as much as today, from three or four times as many turbines, striking more flying creatures due to their bigger size (even the mendacious study predicting 1.4 million bird kills recognizes this). Using the higher but still underestimated level of mortality published by Smallwood in 2013, by 2030 our wind turbines would be killing over 3 million birds and 5 million bats annually.

But this is shy of reality by a factor of ten, because 90% of casualties land outside the search perimeter and are not counted. We are thus really talking about an unsustainable death toll of 30 million birds and 50 million bats a year – and more still if we factor in other hide-the-mortality tricks documented by STEI.

This carnage includes protected species that cars and cats rarely kill: eagles, hawks, falcons, owls, condors, whooping cranes, geese, bats and many others. The raptor slaughter will cause rodent populations to soar. Butchery of bats, already being decimated by White Nose Syndrome, will hammer agriculture.

Griffon Vultures - courtesy of the association of ecologists GURELUR, Navarre, Spain
Griffon Vultures – courtesy of the association of ecologists GURELUR, Navarre, Spain (Click on picture to enlarge)

 

The U.S. Geological Survey says the value of pest-control services to US agriculture provided by bats ranges from $3.7 billion to as much as $53 billion yearly. These chiropters also control forest pests and serve as pollinators. A Swedish study documents their attraction from as far as nine miles away to insects that swarm around wind turbines. Hence the slaughter.

Wind lobbyists claim they need “regulatory certainty.” However, eagle “take” permits will also ensure extinction certainty – and ecological, agricultural, economic and social disasters that America cannot afford.
____________

Mark Duchamp is president of Save the Eagles International, a nonprofit conservation organization: www.SaveTheEaglesInternational.org and Chairman of WCFN, the World Council for Nature – www.wcfn.org

(Image at top of page: Red kites agonizing under wind turbines, State of Navarre, Spain. - courtesy of the association of ecologists GURELUR, Navarre, Spain)

10 thoughts on “How much wildlife can USA afford to kill?”

  1. The industry has known about the damning images that exist at wind farms for decades. That is why everything possible is done to keep the site and the magnitude of these mutilated bodies from the public.

    Currently the best place to get images of wind industry’s eagle slaughter is at the Eagle Depository in Denver. Each year over 2500 eagle fatalities come in and these are not power line collisions, electrocutions, and vehicle fatalities. The need for this Depository came up in the mid 1990′s because the wind industry was killing so many eagles. It was set up primarily to recycle eagle feathers to Native Americans. The sight of an eagle killed by a wind turbines is unmistakable and a complete audit of the Eagle Depository with images for each body is needed.

    At a board of supervisors meeting in Redding CA I even heard wind industry reps use eagle feathers taken from the eagles killed at the Hatchet Ridge Wind Project as a selling point to the local Pit River tribe.

    .

  2. Well done, Mark. I have, for years, asked for studies that tell us how much industrial wind we can site before ecosystems collapse because of location specific, species specific extirpation. Both the wind industry and state/federal officials send me to a study that tells how much taxpayer money is available and where transmission lines run. There is NO mention of a study by industry or the government that even touches on the subject of “How much is too much?” My follow up question has always been, “How can this be considered environmentally sustainable or environmentally conscientious when there are no environmental studies guiding the process?”

    This is an extremely timely and important article. Wind developers are assaulting the major migratory flyways, migratory stopover sites and over-wintering habitat. The cumulative impacts will be astonishing. How long will it take for the adverse impacts to be felt across North America and more importantly, what can be done to reverse the process?

    I have no doubt that climate change will be blamed for the adverse outcomes from this wanton, reckless and unnecessary carnage. An individual with the Wind Wildlife Institute told me this is an unfortunate necessity. Climate change is apparently going to kill them anyway so this cannot be avoided. This is the equivalent of a diabetic cutting off their arms and legs because they MIGHT lose them later in life anyway.

    The fact is that we cannot create or maintain sustainable landscapes without birds and bats. Chemical applications will be necessary to do the job birds/bats used to perform for free. The land will die. The water will be polluted with run-off from the land so water creatures will suffer. It is astonishing to realize that the environmental movement has been co-opted by industry and will have led us, hand in hand, down the slippery slope to mass ecological imbalance in the name of “sustainability”.

  3. More on the Smallwood studies conducted at Altamont……………… Though primarily flawed because of lengthly search intervals, these were the best mortality studies to have ever conducted at a wind farm in North America.

    These Smallwood studies were also used to reach a settlement to lower Raptor mortality at Altamont that involved the Audubon Society. Audubon was part of a legal settlement that required a 50% reduction in mortality. Here is a direct quote from the settlement agreement……….. “The 2007 Settlement Agreement requires the Wind Power Companies to reduce raptor mortality by 50% and to implement adaptive management measures if a 50% reduction in mortality is not achieved.

    But what good are any studies at Altamont if they are going to be rigged to hide mortality? I have found that very little has changed at Altamont Pass and one of the “adaptive management” measures is that studies are being rigged to make it appear that lower mortality has been achieved. It is all smoke and mirrors because hundreds of carcasses are now being eliminated from the calculations. These fatalities include golden eagles, burrowing owls, red-tail hawks, and kestrels are being culled from the data with the exclusionary term “incidental” carcasses. This was not done with the pre-settlement studies. A high percentage of carcasses are also being eliminated with new exclusionary formulas and undersized search areas.

    Audubon knows about all this because I have written about it in several articles. As long as the propeller style wind turbines are installed at Altamont Pass, any reduction in mortality will be due to diminished populations of the species being slaughtered and not because of Audubon or any of the so called adaptive management strategies.

    Also note that in the settlement agreement that Audubon endorsed the repowering of Altamont with huge and even more deadly turbines. This was a move that had been in the works for years by the industry, long before there was ever a lawsuit. None of this really had anything to do with actually reducing mortality. As a result by endorsing the repowering of Altamont with even larger he propeller style wind turbines , Audubon helped to guarantee that at least 2-3 times more deadly open-bladed rotor sweep will be added to this wind farm.

    On paper Altamont may appear to have decreased raptor mortality but these huge turbines will have new mortality search areas 7-10 times too small with wind personnel culling bodies and none of the studies will actually be conducted in a scientific manner.

  4. Just in, more proof of the wind industry rigging their mortality studies………. I just received a recent mortality study released from Altamont on 2.3 MW turbines. This study found a total of 84 fatalities, 65 birds and 19 bats……………………..53 (63%) of the carcasses were found beyond the 50.5 meter blade length with 105 meter search areas. A few fatalities were spotted out to 208 meters but primary searches were limited to 10 meter circles out to 105 meters. One fatality was even listed as being “too far” to give the distance so it was probably found beyond 208 meters. Only 13 of the 84 carcasses were found at a distance from the tower base out to half the length of the blades (25.5 meters).

    In contrast studies on similar and even the same turbines in the Eastern US list the average distance of carcasses found at less than 50% of the turbine blade length. With most carcasses reported being close to the turbine towers. Unlike this Altamont study and many other I have, few carcasses are ever recorded past a turbine’s blade length. In addition no adjustments are made for mortality estimates for carcasses that land beyond the industry’s small search areas.

    Like I have stated in the past, the information put in the mortality studies from Canada and the Eastern US, defy the laws of gravity and are impossible.

  5. I fight fracking and have touted solar and wind energy as an alternative. This is horrifying to find out. I knew of the problem but not of the magnitude. For those of you who work on this, isn’t there another way they could get wind energy without using these turbines? I was in Asheville, NC last year taking a farm tour, and I saw a wind turbine that was shaped like a cylinder. No turbines at all. In general, I am in favor of what is called distributed generation. Everyone should have solar panels or these cylinders at their homes. No large solar or wind farms for me. Why should the large utilities profit when we can get off the grid?

  6. Hi Lauren,

    It’s not just bird and bat mortalities that are a problem with industrial scale wind turbines. We are not simply killing birds and bats or sprawling through their critical habitat (the air column), we are actually causing diseases by ignoring what the DOE discussed as early as 1987: the harmful effects of low frequency noise. All for a technology that doesn’t provide any of the benefits the wind industry touts. The industry standard was developed by Enron so I guess we shouldn’t be surprised.

    http://windturbinechildren.org/site/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/foals-with-LFN-exposure-study-2010-Denmark-Wind-turbines-Lyon-follow-up.pdf

  7. My feelings exactly. Why can’t the commercial wind farms come with a better design? This wildlife death is completely unacceptable.

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