New guidance to protect birds from windmills

26 Mar 2012

Windmills in southern California - a threat to wildlife?

On Friday, the US Fish and Wildlife Service released an 82 page guidance document designed to minimize harm to birds from wind turbines. I previously posted about a Service decision to allow some golden eagles to be killed incidentally by a wind farm.

The Guidelines are to assist developers in identifying species of concern that may be affected including migratory birds; bats; bald and golden eagles and other birds of prey; prairie and sage grouse; and listed, proposed, or candidate endangered and threatened species.

While a primary concern is collision with turbines and infrastructure, there are also concerns about:

  • Loss and degradation of habitat;
  • Fragmentation of large habitat blocks into smaller segments that may not support sensitive species;
  • Displacement and behavioral changes; and
  • Indirect effects such as increased predator populations or introduction of invasive plants.

The Guidelines use a “tiered approach” to assess potential adverse effects.  During pre-construction tiers (Tiers 1, 2, and 3), developers are to work with the Service to identify, avoid and minimize risks to species of concern. During post-construction tiers (Tiers 4 and 5), developers will assess whether their actions are achieving the goals and, when necessary, take additional steps to reduce impacts.

Subsequent tiers refine and build upon issues raised and efforts undertaken previously. Each tier offers questions to help the developer evaluate the potential risk associated with developing a project at the given location.  This approach enables a developer to abandon or proceed with project development, or to collect additional information, if required. Not every tier must be fully satisfied.

Adherence to the Guidelines is voluntary and does not negate the responsibility to comply with laws and regulations. However, if a violation occurs the Service should consider a developer’s documented efforts to communicate with the Service and adhere to the Guidelines to minimize the consequences. It seems as if there is no “magic bullet” for energy – every option has costs and consequences that must be considered.

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