December 19, 2012

Birds, Bats and Turbines

What is known about the impact of wind energy on birds, bats and other wildlife? To find out, I attended the December 2012 Wind Wildlife Research Meeting IX hosted by the American Wind Wildlife Institute in Denver, Colorado.  The majority of the wind energy research and monitoring is site-specific and focused on avian and bat fatalities due to collisions with wind turbines, their behavior near the turbines, and impacts of wind on select bird and bat populations.  One of my take-away messages is that each species of bird and bat interacts with wind turbines idiosyncratically so that it’s difficult to make generalizations.  Nesting success in wind fields varies, as well.  Wind energy structures can affect resident and migratory birds and bats, but impacts vary by geographic region, topography, seasons, and weather.  Golden eagles in southern California, for instance, migrate high in the sky, but resident and wintering eagles forage close to the ground and may be more vulnerable to turbine collisions.   To complicate the assessment of impacts, the wind companies responsible for pre and post construction modeling do not use standardized protocols and the results are not assembled in a common database, so it is difficult to compare impacts.

Industry and permitting agencies tend to be preoccupied with those species listed under the Endangered Species Act, such as Indiana bat, because of the legal permitting requirements.   Raptors also are the subject of an increasing number of studies. However, CBI and fellow conservation organizations are quite concerned about the cumulative impact of wind turbines, associated roads and energy infrastructure on the natural habitats themselves and landscape intactness and connectivity. 

I was also interested to see how CBI’s initiative, Decision-support for Conservation in the Tehachapis Mountains and Southern Sierra (CA), fits into the nationwide dialogue on wind energy. Working with federal and state agencies over the last two years, CBI assessed landscape-scale conservation values across the 4.8 million acre region to identify where new wind and other development projects could be most compatible with landscape-scale conservation values. To facilitate project review and make datasets and project results transparent and public, CBI created spatially-explicit decision-support tools accessible via Data Basin. After attending the Research Meeting, it became apparent that CBI’s project is ahead of its time.  While there are studies elsewhere in the nation which integrate biological and environmental data, regional-scale decision-support tools which integrate available datasets and prioritize areas within the landscape is a new approach to wind energy siting.


Decision-support for Conservation

Building tools to minimize ecological impacts in the Southern Sierra and Tehachapi Mountains

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About the author:
Susan Antenen
Project Coordinator
Susan Antenen is the Conservation Biology Institute’s Sierra Nevada Project Coordinator
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