Archive for American Bird Conservancy
The birding community in Washington, D.C., is abuzz over a rare, iconic avian visitor. The Snowy Owl, which has always been a “must-see” bird for the birding community, has been spotted at Arlington’s Reagan National Airport in recent days; other owls were spotted earlier at Dulles International Airport and later at Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI). Continue reading
A new study shows that in spite of updated designs, U.S. wind turbines are killing hundreds of thousands of birds annually—a number that may balloon to about 1.4 million per year by 2030, when the ongoing industry expansion being encouraged by the federal government is expected to be fully implemented.
The findings were issued in a new study by scientists at the Smithsonian Institution Migratory Bird Center (SMBC), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and Oklahoma State University (OSU), published in the December issue of the journal Biological Conservation and authored by Scott Loss (OSU), Tom Will (FWS), and Peter Marra (SMBC).
The study, “Estimates of bird collision mortality at wind facilities in the contiguous United States,” was based on a review of 68 studies that met rigorous inclusion criteria and data derived from 58 bird mortality estimates contained in those studies. The studies represented both peer-reviewed and unpublished industry reports and extracted data to systematically estimate bird collision mortality and mortality correlates.
“The life expectancy for eagles and all raptors just took a big hit. Clearly, when you look at this study and you consider the new 30-year
eagle take permits just announced by the Department of Interior, this is a bad month for this country’s iconic birds,” said Dr. Michael utchins, National Coordinator of American Bird Conservancy’s (ABC) Bird Smart Wind Energy campaign.
Whooping Crane © Joel Jorgensen, from the surfbirds galleries.
According to George Fenwick, President of ABC: “This study by top scientists says that hundreds of thousands of birds are being killed by the wind industry now, and that the number will escalate dramatically if we continue to do what we have been doing. The biggest impediment to reducing those impacts continues to be wind industry siting and operating guidelines that are only followed on a voluntary basis. No other energy industry gets to pick and choose where they put their facilities and decide how they are going to operate in a manner unconstrained by federal regulation.”
“The industry has been saying for some time that bird mortality would be reduced with the new turbines compared to the older, lattice structures. According to this study, that does not appear to be the case,” Hutchins pointed out, since the study excluded data from wind developments using older designs.
“The status quo is legally, as well as environmentally, unsustainable,” Hutchins said further. “The federal government is seeking to promote an energy sector in a manner that is in violation of one of the premier federal wildlife protection statutes. In December 2011, we formally petitioned the Department of the Interior to develop mandatory regulations that will safeguard wildlife and reward responsible wind energy development. We continue to believe that is the solution.”
A coalition of more than 60 groups has called for mandatory standards and bird-smart principles in the siting and operation of wind energy installations. The coalition represents a broad cross-section of respected national and local groups. In addition, 20,000 scientists, ornithologists, conservationists, and other concerned citizens have shown their support for mandatory standards for the wind industry.
According to ABC, poorly sited and operated wind projects pose a serious threat to birds, especially birds of prey such as Bald Eagles, Golden Eagles, hawks, and owls; endangered and threatened species such as California Condors and Whooping Cranes; and species of special conservation concern such as the Bicknell’s Thrush, Cerulean Warbler, Tricolored Blackbird, Sprague’s Pipit, and Long-billed Curlew.
One particularly interesting finding of the new study concerned the height of turbines. The scientists found that bird collision mortality increased significantly with increasing hub height. Across a range of turbine heights from 36 to 80 meters, the study predicts a staggering tenfold increase in bird mortality. This is especially important because the study identifies an apparent trend toward increased turbine height. Further, the study states: “This estimate (1.4 million) assumes that average wind turbine height will not increase. Installation of increasingly larger turbines could result in a greater amount of mortality.” Such an eventuality may be likely given that a Department of Energy report found that the average turbine hub height of U.S. wind turbines has increased 50 percent between 1998 and 2012.
The report offered several additional key observations about wind energy and bird mortality:
- The mortality rate at wind farms in California was dramatically higher than anywhere else. According to the study: “We estimate that 46.4% of total mortality at monopole wind turbines occurs in California, 23.1% occurs in the Great Plains, 18.8% occurs in the East, and 11.6% occurs in the West.”
- Failure to consider species-specific risks may result in relatively high rates of mortality for some bird species even if total mortality is relatively low.
- Annual mortality estimates derived from a partial year of sampling may substantially underestimate mortality. Pre-construction studies should be conducted for at least one entire year prior to wind facility siting decisions.
- The fatality records in the study identified at least 218 species of birds killed at wind energy installations.
- Conclusions about collision rates and impacts of collisions on bird populations are tentative because most of the mortality data is in industry reports that are not subjected to peer review or available to the public.
- Pre-construction assessment of collision risk at proposed wind facilities has been unreliable with no clear link documented between predicted risk levels and post-construction mortality rates.
“A key issue that was illustrated in this study, and one that we continue to have great concerns about, is data transparency and availability. While some companies may do the right thing and collect bird mortality data and make it available, others may not, especially if it is not in their economic interest,” Hutchins added.
The new study comes just after the Department of Justice announced a settlement on the prosecution of Duke Energy’s wind developments in Wyoming in connection with the deaths of 14 Golden Eagles and 149 other protected birds. That first-ever settlement resulted in $1 million in fines and mitigation actions and was the first prosecution of a wind company in connection with bird mortality.
Jason Scott Lee, star of 25 motion pictures and raised in Hawai‘i, has lent his voice to a new public service announcement aimed at helping to save the highly endangered Palila (Loxioides bailleui). This bird is found only in a small patch of māmane forest on Mauna Kea volcano on Hawai‘i Island.
The Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resource’s Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW) and American Bird Conservancy (ABC) have initiated a new outreach campaign that features the PSA which began airing statewide this week, and is also available for viewing at RestoreMaunaKea’s YouTube. Lee is the voice of the Palila in this brief overview describing the causes for the bird’s declining population and management efforts to help save it.
“Not many people are familiar with what a Palila is and why they are worth saving. That’s because they live in remote and rugged terrain that few people ever visit,” said Robert Stephens, Coordinator for DOFAW’s Mauna Kea Forest Restoration Project. “What makes Palila special is that they are a classic example of the spectacular evolutionary process that occurred in the remoteness of the Hawaiian Islands. They survived in the dry forests for thousands of years by adapting to a food source, māmane pods, that is toxic to other wildlife. Palila belong here and are one of the things that makes Hawai‘i one of the most amazing places on the planet.”
Palila © Ryan O’Donnell, from the surfbirds galleries.
In January 2014, a 9 x 12-foot mural featuring Palila and māmane will be completed for display on a prominent building in downtown Hilo, the county seat and largest city on the island.
The Palila has been loved by Hawaiians since ancient times and, along with other native species, they formed the environment that influenced the formation of a unique culture. Queen Emma visited Mauna Kea in the early 1880s, and a series of mele (chants) commemorate the event, including one describing the memorable song of Palila (from Nogelmeier 2001, He Lei no Emalani: Chants for
Queen Emma Kaleleonalani).
|“E aha ana lā ‘Emalani
I ka wai kapu a Lilinoe
E nanea, e walea a‘e ana
I ka hone mai a ka palila
Oia manu noho Kuahiwi”
|“What is Emmalani doing there?
At the sacred water of Lilinoe?
She is relaxing and she is enjoying
The soothing song of the Palila,
Those birds that dwell upon the Mountain.”
The population of the Palila, a Hawaiian honeycreeper, has declined 66 percent in the past decade, with fewer than 2,200 birds currently left. The Palila’s downward population slide is a result of habitat degradation, predation, and severe drought conditions that are causing reductions in food supply. The native māmane and naio forests upon which the Palila depends have been degraded by non-native feral sheep, goats, cattle, and hybrid mouflon sheep over the past 200 years. The Palila once lived across most of the Island of Hawai‘i, but its range has shrunk to roughly five percent of its historical size. Other threats include long-term drought influenced by climate change,
non-native, feral cats and mongooses that prey on adults and nestlings, fire, and invasive non-native plants. In a series of court orders beginning in 1979, the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawai‘i ruled that to prevent the bird’s extinction, the Department of Land and Natural Resources must permanently remove non-native ungulates (grazing mammals) from the Palila’s designated Critical Habitat on Mauna Kea through all necessary means, including fencing and aerial hunts.
“The Department of Land and Natural Resources is committed to protecting and conserving Hawai‘i’s unique natural, cultural and historic resources which are held in public trust for current and future generations of the people of Hawai‘i nei. We hope our children’s children will be able to know the soothing song of the Palila,” said William Aila, DLNR Chairperson.
DOFAW, with critical support from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is replacing the fence that encircles the majority of Palila critical habitat on Mauna Kea to prevent sheep and goats on adjacent lands from entering protected areas, while also removing the non-native ungulates from within the fence that destroy the native forests. In addition, DOFAW, the Mauna Kea Forest Restoration Project, ABC, and hundreds of local volunteers are restoring and replanting Mauna Kea’s māmane forest, that Palila depend upon for about 90 percent of their diet.
“The Palila is a gorgeous, unique Hawaiian treasure, but unfortunately not enough people are aware of its precarious situation,” said Chris Farmer, American Bird Conservancy’s Science Coordinator for Hawai‘i. “We believe educating people about the importance of this species and the threats we are managing today, will build local and national support for the actions necessary to preserve this bird for future enerations.”
American Bird Conservancy (ABC) is reviewing the revised eagle rule announced today by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), asserting that the plan may mark a setback in protecting Bald and Golden eagles, two species that have inspired Americans for centuries. Continue reading
American Bird Conservancy (ABC), one of the nation’s leading bird conservation groups, says that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) proposal to list the western population of the Yellow-billed Cuckoo as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act falls short of providing the necessary protections for the imperiled bird species whose numbers have plummeted in recent decades. Continue reading
In a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, a coalition of forest and wildlife conservation groups today called on the Obama administration to implement measures in the final Northern Spotted Owl Recovery Plan to protect post-fire forest habitats and structures used by the threatened owls and their prey. Continue reading
The Department of Justice (DOJ) today announced a settlement on the prosecution of Duke Energy’s wind developments in Wyoming in connection with the deaths of 14 Golden Eagles and 149 other protected birds, amounting to $1 million in fines and mitigation actions. This is the first prosecution of a wind company in connection with bird mortality. Continue reading
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has revised the formal List of Migratory Birds that are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) and other laws by adding 23 species to the list and removing four, bringing the total number of birds protected under those laws to 1,026. Continue reading
|The diminutive ʻElepaio (pronounced “el-a-pie-o”) had remarkable powers, according to native Hawaiians. Canoe-builders considered the bird an incarnation of their patron goddess Lea: If the bird pecked at a fallen koa tree, it was a sign that the tree was riddled with insects and unusable for boat-building. Farmers believed that this insectivorous bird was the incarnation of Lea’s sister goddess, Hina-pukuʻai, a patron of agriculture. Continue reading|
Not far from the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area, a massive 2011 wind storm struck and leveled trees for miles across northwestern Wisconsin, causing a variety of widespread problems, which for some are still an issue today. Yet out of the wind-strewn wreckage comes a happy “re-start” for the tiny Golden-winged Warbler, one of the most threatened, non-federally listed bird species in eastern North America. Continue reading