What a conundrum… can we, as environmentalists, support wind power as a clean, safe, eminently renewable energy source or should we, as birders, decry its dangers to migratory birds? Actually, we can do both, but only if we get our collective act together to address the very real opportunities and threats posed by wind turbines.
Wind power is going to happen. Heck, it’s already happening. That fact cannot be doubted or wished away. As oil becomes more expensive, fossil fuel stores deplete, and the reality of global warming penetrates even the most obdurate minds, renewable domestic sources of energy will only grow in popularity. Unfortunately, though this is the time for that subsection of the environmental community that focuses most on birds and other flying critters to be proactive on the topic of how to build and place turbines to make them safer, nobody seems to have seized the initiative. American Bird Conservancy presents a cogent Wind Energy Policy on its site and specific Audubon chapters like Mass Audubon and Audubon Pennsylvania have been outspoken on the topic. However, the National Audubon position is hard to find. Anyway, we need more than just policies. We need action.
Birding enthusiasts and organizations rarely have as much to contribute to issues of national concern as they do on the subject of wind power.Â Birders should be out in front of the issue everywhere, not simply in a few states. Furthermore, the beneficial involvement of birding and naturalist groups should be prominent. Cooperation and commitment can lead to a multitude of positive outcomes from clean power to secure flyways.
Birders need to own this issue, especially because our involvement can make wind power a safer alternative for birds than other sources of energy.Â Laura Erickson has written intelligently on the subject. One point she puts in perspective quite nicely is the comparative dangers to avifauna of the current energy extraction paradigm:
Bird deaths at towers are certainly gruesome, but we should not close our eyes to the huge numbers of birds lost when:
- the very mountaintops where Cerulean Warblers concentrate are destroyed for coal extraction;
- acid rain from burning oil, gas and coal leaches calcium from soil, making it unavailable in invertebrates and leading to eggshell thinning in thrushes and other ground feeders;
- up to 2 million birds died landing in oil field waste pits to bathe and drink in 1997 alone;
- mercury emissions from power plants, especially those burning coal, continue to cause mortality and reduced reproduction in fish-eating birds such as loons and Osprey;
- oil spills continue to kill a huge number of birds.
Clearly, the status quo isn’t doing avifauna any favors. Wind power can be a boon, not a bane to birds, bats, and other living creatures, as long as parties with their interests at heart make it so. Birding organizations on the national, state, and local levels should get organized and get smart about making the dream of clean, safe, renewable power a reality for all of us.