Industrial Wind Threatens Our Birds- Winter Raptors
By Gerry Smith
Northwestern Jefferson county is a haven for many “mouse raptors” in winter. Several species including the Red-tailed Hawk, Rough-legged Hawk and New York State threatened Northern Harrier abound. Owl species including the state endangered Short-eared Owl and Snowy Owl are often present in impressive numbers. Nocturnal owls, such as the Long-eared also occur but their secretive habits make them harder to detect. Concentrations of Bald Eagle containing the occasional Golden Eagle are present. Our area hosts some of the largest assemblages of certain species seen in the northeastern United States in winter. Proposals for the Horse Creek and Big Galloo wind complexes place all these magnificent birds at risk.
Many factors, such as prey availability, population fluctuations of prey on breeding and wintering grounds and related breeding success, affect numbers of raptors present locally in any given year. In years when meadow mouse populations are high in our area and food sources to our north fail many species winter in our area. In a good year dozens to hundreds of large birds of prey are concentrated in relatively small areas. While many species of Hawks and Owls are always vulnerable to these extremely tall turbines, large concentrations increase the probability of mortality from these bird-killing monstrosities.
In particular when high raptor numbers are present the frequency of aggressive interactions between birds increase. Some birds are better hunters than others and some try to make a living by stealing prey from their associates. Some species defend winter territories and aggressive interactions occur when boundaries are being contested. During these flights the focus is on the other bird and little attention is played to the surroundings. Aggressive chases may continue for several minutes and rise well into the range of any turbine blades that would be present.
Many winter raptors occur in obvious pairs or form breeding pairs on the wintering grounds. By mid January and beyond pairs may be observed close sitting and in courtship flights to establish or reinforce pair bonds for the coming spring. As the birds’ hormones increase with expanding daylight these flights become more frequent and they will rise high then dive low and rise high again. As we all know when hormones are flowing in any animal the individual may be quite oblivious to other aspects of life. One need only observe the behavior of teen-age humans on a beach for proof of this. Courtship behavior in our raptors has evolved to assure the strong pair bond needed in the breeding season. When turbines are present this formerly adaptive behavior places adults at risk as they pass through the aerial footprint of the blades several times a day.
A majority of these raptors are birds of open habitats. Filling quality habitat with six hundred foot tall “trees” has the potential to alter their habitat search image. This search image for prey selection, habitat and other factors of the species ecology impacts on the survival of an individual and the long-term success of the species.For example a Short- eared Owl choosing a night roost in woodland, rather than in tall grass far from woods, has a defective search image for a roost site. There is a high probability that such an individual would be sorted out of the gene pool as lunch for the Local Great Horned Owl before returning to the breeding grounds.
The fragmentation of our open areas by turbines and associated access roads could have very serious consequences beyond mortality for these populations.
Virtually no one is addressing the potential for large-scale habitat degradation or the cumulative impacts of industrial wind complexes. The potential for Horse Creek and Big Galloo to degrade or destroy high quality raptor habitat is very real. The raptor concentrations in Northwestern Jefferson county have potential tourism benefits for birders. Thus the proposed turbine complexes have additional economic as well as ecological downsides. Most of these raptors reproduce slowing and their populations exhibit cyclic fluctuations. Mortality and habitat loss due to anthropogenic causes may threaten regional population viability. The winter hawk and owl concentrations are another reason to just say NO to proposed industrial wind complexes here.
Amherst Island Wind Project (Posted 8.7.2016)
Bill Evans, from Old Bird, Inc, posted this information on the Cayuga Birds earlier this week. It reports the culmination of a frustrating battle between environmentalists, local residents, and the wind industry. Many of you may have had the opportunity to visit Owl Woods on Amherst Island and to enjoy observing multiple species of owls roosting in the conifers. Unfortunately, there are drastic changes ahead.
I urge you to read the testimonies that led to the decision through the link Mr. Evans provided. It shows what those who oppose wind projects are up against and will be applicable to many situations in New York state, like Galloo Island, Horse Creek, and Lighthouse Wind projects to the west.
Subject: Amherst Is. wind project
Date: Wed Aug 3 2016 18:28 pm
From: wrevans AT clarityconnect.com
The Ontario Environmental Review Tribunal released their finding today that the folks fighting the wind project on Amherst Island did not prove that engaging in the project will cause serious harm to human health or serious and irreversible harm to plant life, animal life or the natural environment
The details of the decision can be found here: http://elto.gov.on.ca/ert/deci…
This may be the last winter for the Cayuga Bird Club to visit Amherst Island. before 26 wind turbines are built.
The public comment period for the proposed Amherst Island Wind Farm is now open.
The message below was posted to the Kingston Field Naturalists Facebook page January 16, 2014.
Birders and Naturalists:
Opposition to wind turbines on Amherst Island has entered the next phase and we need your help. This is a plea to join Jean Iron, Ron Pittaway, Dr. Roberta Bondar, and birders worldwide to oppose wind turbines on the Island and in particular adjacent to Owl Woods, world famous as a birding destination and a favourite for life owls.
The Ontario Ministry of the Environment has invited public comments on a Renewable Energy Approval application by Windlectric/Algonquin Power to build up to 36 industrial wind turbines on Amherst Island. Comments must be received by March 8, 2014.
The posting is here on the Environmental Registry (or visit http://www.ebr.gov.on.ca and enter the number 012-0774 in the search line.)
You are asked to send one email to oppose the industrialization of Amherst Island by writing to Susanne Edwards, Ontario Ministry of the Environment (with EBR 012-0774 in the subject line) by March 8, 2014.
To: firstname.lastname@example.org, with copies to email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
Please tell the Ministry in your words why it is important to preserve Amherst Island. Some of the key messages you may wish to address include:
• All of Amherst Island is an Important Bird Area of Global Significance on the Atlantic Migratory flyway and is home to 34 species at risk including Blanding’s Turtle. Habitat will be fragmented and lost.
• The Island is internationally recognized for concentrations of wintering hawks and owls, with birders travelling from around the world to visit Owl Woods, where it is possible to see up to 11 species of owls.
• Amherst Island was ranked second in biodiversity significance (Lake Ontario Islands –
Northeast), and includes 400 hectares of Provincially Significant Coastal Wetland.
• Amherst Island is one of Nature’s jewels in Lake Ontario — of similar significance to
Point Pelee for migratory birds
Named one of the Top Ten Endangered Places in Canada by the Heritage Canada Foundation (now known as Heritage Canada The National Trust) due to the threat of wind turbines on its rich cultural and natural heritage, Amherst Island is simply the wrong place for wind turbines.
You can learn more about Amherst Island at: Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/ProtectAmherstIsland .
Onondaga Audubon is a co-signer of this letter.
Ms. Sally Jewell, Secretary
Department of the Interior
1849 C Street, N.W.
Washington DC 20240
Dear Secretary Jewell;
As advocates for wildlife and birds, the following Audubon Chapters in New York state are outraged and dismayed to learn of the Department of the Interior’s decision to provide 30-year authorizations to wind companies to kill Bald and Golden Eagles. We respectfully request that you withdraw this proposed rule and ensure our important raptor species are protected.
Our organizations have been involved in avian impact assessments for wind projects in New York State for many years. While some assessments are done well, others are clearly deficient. To issue permits for 30 years when there are wind projects located where they should never have been sited is irresponsible, even reckless.
A clear example of an industry failure to assess the risk to eagles is the recently proposed South Mountain Wind project proposed to be built within an Audubon Important Bird Area in the Town of Walton, Delaware Co., New York. In regards to impacts to both Golden and Bald Eagles, the Co-Chair of the nearby Franklin Mountain Hawk Watch has called the site “possibly the worst place in New York to build a wind project”. While the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) staff in Cortland, NYare now familiar with the controversy surrounding this project, no federal or state regulator questioned the data provided by the developer until Audubon became involved. Before we brought problematic data to their attention, a permit to “take” Bald Eagles was under consideration. Even though the area is as important to Golden Eagles as it is to Bald Eagles, Golden Eagle – a NYS Endangered Species – was totally ignored in the NYS Environmental Assessment Form.
The developer failed to follow the recommendations of the USFWS, NY State Department of Environmental Conservation, and the New York State Guidelines for Conducting Bird and Bat Studies at Commercial Wind Energy Projects. They failed to adequately survey for migrating and winter resident eagles, hiring surveyors who could not accurately identify raptors. They also ignored significant Bald and Golden Eagle migration data from 10 miles “upstream” of the project. There are multiple other failures regarding this project, all of which highlight that a blanket permit for the take of Bald and Golden eagles would lead to devastating impacts on these species from improperly planned wind developments. We would gladly provide you with the documentation given to USFWS staff in New York on the inadequacies of the South Mountain wind project.
While other impact assessments may not be as egregious as the South Mountain Project’s, the fact remains that the number of eagle deaths at some sites remains guesswork. Since our organizations were not contacted by any agency or the developer of the South Mountain wind project it is possible a “take” permit would have been issued based on very poor data. The 30-year permit rule is a blank check for the wind industry and provides no comfort or confidence at all that you will be protecting America’s majestic Bald and Golden Eagles and safeguarding their populations.
In fact, your agency has not approved a single Advanced Conservation Practice that is scientifically defensible, and has little or no ability to monitor wind projects, as demonstrated by the above example, and others. Yet, your permit rule has been represented as a conservation maneuver because of the presence of Advanced Conservation Practices and monitoring.
You have made the terribly misguided decision to lock in bad practices for 30 years, which will result directly in an untold number of dead eagles rolling back years of conservation gains. We once again urge you to withdraw this rule and do what’s right for America’s symbol, the Bald Eagle.
Boycott Canada Aye
(pronounced A north of the border)
By Gerry Smith
Please note these views are my own and may not represent those of NYSOA officers.
I am increasingly angry as I watch our northern neighbors in Ontario proceed toward development of industrial wind turbine complexes in sensitive areas at an irresponsible pace. For example just across from Cape Vincent, New York is the nearly 90 turbine complex on Wolfe Island, Ontario. This industrial development utilizes the old technology of 4-500 foot turbines that have been shown to have serious potential for bird and bat mortality and habitat disruption. In addition turbine development of these types converts a rural area into an industrialized zone, highly fragmented by roads and turbines. Based on the average twenty percent of rated power production provided annually, these developments represent a huge commitment of land resource for very little power gain at the great cost to other resources. Development of such complexes along coastlines and mountain ridge leading lines for bird migration and in areas with bat species of concern are particularly worrisome.
Unless we as a society agree to cover most of North America with turbines, Industrial wind power cannot significantly contribute to influencing climate change. All it can do is to allow developers to feed at the taxpayer’s trough with little long-term benefit and much potential harm to the rest of us and the natural world.
I remember fondly my past visits to Amherst Island, a large island located where Lake Ontario joins the St. Lawrence River. World famous amongst naturalists for its concentrations of irruptive owls, this island is a birder’s delight in those years when local meadow vole populations are high. The famous “owl woods” with its multiple Boreal and Northern Saw-whet Owls present is a delight to the heart of any nature-oriented visitor. The snow drifted winter fields of Amherst are a pastoral scene quiet and clean with spectacular numbers of winter raptors occurring in some years. To me it is difficult to imagine that anyone could even conceive of considering a large industrial development of any kind on Amherst Island. Unfortunately that is just the case in the name of so called green energy. Just as on nearby Wolfe this area is a recognized important bird area. Just as information from Wolfe has shown there is great risk to both birds’ and humans’ ability to enjoy them from a proposed turbine complex. Just as on Wolfe Island greed and stupidity are currently ruling the day and threatening this wonderful place with a proposed turbine development.
At this time the proposed development on Amherst Island is something over 30 turbines. Based on personal experience these numbers for a given project often grow significantly. Several of the proposed towers would be located proximal to the owl woods. In addition to the threat of raptor mortality and habitat disruption, the average 50 decibel background noise from the spinning blades would affect both birds and people. The Kingston Field Naturalists have decades of data on many birds and other species from Amherst Island. They are concerned with these projects’ impacts on birds, bats, invertebrates and many other living organisms. Hopefully the government of Ontario will take their concerns and those of the small but rapidly growing anti-wind movement in the province more seriously. If so siting decisions may improve and the whole issue be revisited.
And if not? It is time for concerned birders to weigh in on energy issues such as this. Clearly corn ethanol and industrial wind are losing strategies in alternative energy. They are renewable energy but they are not Green energy. The down-sides of industrial wind at a place like Amherst Island far exceed any benefits. For far too long those of us “Environmentalists” have yearned for clean green renewable energy and this has clouded our judgment regarding many aspects of wind power. We ”naturalists.” as I now call myself, need to stand up and say that while small scale individual wind power seems to be desirable the cost benefit ratio of industrial wind in sensitive areas is unacceptable. If high density housing developments were proposed adjoining the owl woods I have no doubt that US birders would now be screaming to high heaven.
Well it is time American birders prove that perhaps we are less nice than our Canadian counterparts. In particular here is what I am going to do and I hope you will join me:
• Raise your wallet high and wave it clearly. In correspondence with the government of Ontario, including the prime minister, indicate that if this obscene project is permitted you and your Yankee dollars will not be traveling north.
• Urge all birding organizations you belong to initiate similar activities and launch a boycott of Canadian Travel.
• As a member of the NYSOA conservation committee I will be urging our organization to boycott Canadian birding or any other activity that would benefit their economy.
• The economic power of birders can be significant and is an excellent way of getting politicians’ attention.
As one closely involved at Wolfe Island, where scientific input and reason were completely ignored, I suggest the current proposed tactic has a greater chance of success. KFN and other citizens of reason in Canada may be listened to as they present arguments against this project. We can hope so but in my opinion the greatest contribution we on this side of the border can make is to be polite ugly Americans waving a threatening greenback.
Anyone wishing to contact me may do so at goshawk@gisco. net 315-771-6902
May the peace and joy of the natural world brighten your day.
Excerpted with permission from New York Birders, October 2013
by Maryanne Adams, Conservation Chair, with
input from Gerry Smith. April 2013
Is it hypocritical to decry fossil fuel use and then
disparage an alternative energy source like wind
power? The answer is complicated and depends on
priorities. Corporations, of course, wish to make
a profit no matter what externalities result from
this goal. The consumer wants cheap electricity.
Environmentalists want to curb Global Warming.
And last, but not least, birds and bats simply wish
to survive. Unfortunately, the life forms with the
smallest voices are caught in the crossfire.
Most of us realize the importance of bats for their
roles in pollination, seed dispersal, and pest control.
Unfortunately, thousands are killed by wind turbines
every year. In fact, according to the Pennsylvania
Game Commission, in that state alone, wind turbines
killed more than 10,000 bats in 2010 (1). Because the
average reproductive rate is only one or two young
per year, losses to certain bat species may not be
We all know that birds are killed by wind turbines, but
soon it may become even easier to obtain permission
to do this. Currently, there is a proposal on the table
to change an important rule that protects eagles by
rushing to get it approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service before the new Secretary of the Interior takes
charge. At this time, corporations may obtain permits
that kill a limited number of eagles, but the permits
must be renewed every five years. However, “… at
the request of wind industry lobbyists, the federal
government has now proposed making the permits
good for 30 years! That means 30 years without the
possibility for public review of the permit.” (2) If this
were to happen, environmental organizations might
finally raise a fuss at the national level.
Locally, answers are still “blowing in the wind” in
the Jefferson County part of the OAS service area.
Here, and in nearby Canada, several wind projects are
proposed for the critical flyway along the eastern and
northeastern part of Lake Ontario. In our opinion the
fact that these large scale projects are even still being
considered for such sensitive areas is a testimony to
the arrogance and stubbornness of their proponents.
In the town of Cape Vincent, at the junction of the St.
Lawrence River and Lake Ontario, those wonderful
environmentalists, British Petroleum, are seeking an
Article 10 approach to override town law. Article 10 is
a power plant siting bill passed by the state legislature
in the middle of the night a couple of years ago. In
addition to being highly undemocratic in its manner
of enactment, this legislation can override local home
rule. While we will not know the outcome of this
procedure in Cape Vincent for about a year, there are
reasons to be concerned. In addition to being the worst
kind of “greenwashing” on BP’s part, any project in an
area with very sensitive bird and bat resources should
be of great concern to true environmentalists. Another
proposed project in Jefferson County, Horse Creek,
threatens grassland birds, bats and rare alvar natural
communities. This projects time frame is longer than
the Cape Vincent project’s, but still requires careful
monitoring. In nearby Canada, a turbine complex at
Ostrander Point is a terrible proposal being close to
Prince Edward Point, a migration concentration area
of great importance.
We are sure that some reading this article will not
agree with these concerns and will cite the need for
“green energy.” While we are in complete agreement
that we need alternative energy to reduce further
climate change, these projects will do more harm than
good. Industrial wind is far more about corporate tax
breaks and profits than it is about alternative energy.
Did you know that something called the production
tax credit (PTC) provides wind energy producers
with 2.2 cents for every kilowatt-hour of electricity
produced? The PTC “provides a subsidy to the wind
industry that is at least 12 times greater than that
provided to the oil and gas sector and 6.5 times greater
than that provided to the nuclear industry.” (3) With
an incentive like this and lack of meaningful siting
guidelines beyond voluntary ones, is it any wonder
that energy companies are scrambling to grab all the
land they can? Responsible corporate citizens would
not consider placing habitat-disrupting bird and bat
Cuisinarts in areas where these projects are proposed.
What we see in the North Country and Canada are
stubborn corporate entities backed by either selfinterested
and/or misguided citizens who care little for
impacts on other organisms.
We applaud the citizens and local government of the
Town of Hammond, St. Lawrence County. Through
wise land use decisions concerned about the long-term
future of their community, they developed limits on
wind power. Apparently these reasonable restrictions
were not to the liking of the corporate sponsors of
the project who took their toys and went home. Cape
Vincent’s leaders have endeavored to do the same but
BP persists in trying to thwart local home rule. Gosh,
for those who viewed the conduct of this corporate
entity during the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, such conduct
sure does come as a great SURPRISE?
These comments do not necessarily reflect those
of the OAS board. When one considers kW output,
destruction of critical habitat, cost of subsidies to the
taxpayer, and appalling lack of placement guidelines
and regulatory oversight, industrial wind power is a
highly problematic energy source. Dispersed small
tower personal wind power appears a good idea,
but giant multinational corporations cannot make a
fortune on that. In his 20s and 30s, Gerry Smith fought
nuclear power with a passion. In those days none of
us (except for, maybe, Al Gore) had heard of global
climate change. Currently, and understanding all its
downsides, the only ways to meet energy matters of
the next 50 years are conservation, efficiency and, per
Mr. Smith’s next bumper sticker – MORE NUKES.
Victory for Home Rule Over Industrial Wind –At Least for Now
Several years ago, residents of the Town of Hammond rid themselves of wind-lease-holding public officials and revised the “Wind Energies Facilities Law.” Their intent was to “set laws that would ‘ensure that public health, safety, and welfare will not be jeopardized’ by the building of wind turbines” (http://wind-watch.org/news/?p=25663).
Not everyone was pleased with this action. Toward the end of 2011, a lawsuit was brought against the Hammond Town Board by several leaseholders and the developer, Iberdrola. They filed an Article 78 petition against the board because they felt that the revised law “discriminated against landowners who had contracts in place prior to the law being past (sic) and it set unreasonable restrictions on developers” (http://www.wind-watch.org/news/?p=25379).
After months of review, State Supreme Court Judge David R. Demarest dismissed the case. He determined that the Hammond wind law is not arbitrary or capricious and follows a ‘well-considered and comprehensive plan which serves the residents’ (http:// wind-watch.org/news/?p=25663). Why is this important? This ruling may be applied to future lawsuits. Specifically, the Hammond legal victory “set precedent for any attempt by British Petroleum or their wind lease holders who might want to file similar Article X action against the Town of Cape Vincent” (http://wind-watch.org/news/?p=25663).
Under Article X, electric generating facilities of 25 megawatts or higher are eligible for an override of local laws. Because the $300 million Cape Vincent Wind Farm project could supply more than 285 megawatts of power, it would be able to challenge the town’s recently proposed zoning laws (http://www.watertowndailytimes.com/article/20120721/NEWS03/707219860).
According to the revised regulations, setbacks for commercial turbines must be:
- Six times the total height of the proposed structure from the nearest residence, the nearest project boundary line, boundaries of adjacent towns and any road and property line.
- Two miles from the Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River waterfronts.
- 1.25 miles from the boundaries of the Village of Cape Vincent and hamlets of Rosiere, Millens Bay and St. Lawrence Corners; Route 12E; Seaway Trail; National Scenic Byways and schools.
- Audible spectrum noise limits ranging from 35 decibels to 45 decibels were also set for night, evening and day (watertowndailytimes.com).
On July 21, board members listened to comments from residents on the new zoning and on their Comprehensive Plan. Most people who offered comments were in favor of the strict limitations for turbine placement. Many residents, especially the retired and seasonal population, oppose wind farms because of visual pollution and noise, property devaluation, and potential health problems. On the other hand, some struggling farming families wanted fewer restrictions because they needed the additional revenue wind turbines on their land would bring.
One thing that did not sit well with Cape Vincent Town Board members was that BP had failed to notify them of their plans to increase the wind project by 43% from the original size. Town officials learned of the expansion plans secondhand from a letter that BP sent to the Public Service Commission.
BP Wind Energy hopes to get around the local restrictions proposed for wind turbines and expedite the approval of the Cape Vincent project by submitting an application to a state siting board under Article X of the 2011 Power NY Act (watertowndailytimes.com). In their opinion, the ‘local community should bear the burden of proof to demonstrate why the more restrictive requirements are appropriate’ (watertowndailytimes.com).
But the Zoning Law Rewrite Committee was prepared. Although their objectives included preserving the rural character of Cape Vincent and preventing property values from plummeting, their main goal was to preserve local control. According to Committee Chairman Bob Brown, ‘Our goal was to write an addendum for the zoning law that the Article X board would not find unreasonable. We can justify each one of the requirements that we put in based on health, safety, science, and technology’ (http://wind-watch.org/news/?p=25287).
The Town Board of Cape Vincent hopes to adopt the revised zoning law by early August.
For information about birds and wind development, we recommend the following sources:
In the near future, Gerry Smith will be adding a blog commentary on the ecological impacts of industrial wind power in our region.
Contributed by Maryanne Adams, July 2012
The Impact of Industrial Wind Complexes
While not as destructive as hydro-fracking, Industrial wind complexes have severe impacts on birds and bats and other aspects of the natural world. These impacts intensify when projects are placed in inappropriate locations such as sites where migrant birds concentrate, areas with concentrations of raptors or other sensitive areas. Areas near/in the Great Lakes, along mountain ridges and in/on ocean coastlines are questionable sites for such projects. We applaud the decision of the New York Power Authority to abandon its GLOW (Great Lakes Offshore Wind) project in lakes Erie and Ontario. Unfortunately onshore projects are still planned for areas close to Great Lakes shorelines. Based on data from the Wolfe Island Ontario project and many other factors, New York should reconsider and eliminate all projects within 5 miles of our two Great Lakes or St. Lawrence River. The more we learn about current industrial wind projects that use large horizontal turbine designs the more questions are raised. While these projects may provide alternatively generated power they are definitively not “Green” in any true sense. Much more technical development, design change, ecological impacts assessment and other study is required before turbine complexes are placed in ecologically sensitive areas.
by Gerry Smith