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“Birds of Prey Remain at Risk” (Windpower’s ‘avian mortality’ issue today)

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- November 24, 2010

“Citing a dearth of applicable wind-generation modifications, Dick Anderson of the California Energy Commission suspects that current bird fatality levels in the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area (WRA) will mirror those revealed by a 1991 CEC study.  ‘Very little has been done by the wind companies to effectively change the situation,’ Anderson recently said.  Though studies have yielded a ‘better understanding’ of avian causalities, few measures appear to be reducing avian impacts.”

– Staff Article, “Altamont Avian Mortality Continues; Improvements Grounded,” California Energy Markets, January 23, 1998, p. 2.

Last week, my post “Cuisinarts of the Air” (Revisiting an environmentalist term for windpower)” ended with the question and a request for readers:

So what has happened in the last decade regarding industrial wind in bird-sensitive areas? Comments and updates welcome!

Well, as if led by an invisible hand, Science magazine published a letter-to-the-editor (November 12, 2010: p. 913), “Birds of Prey Remain at Risk.”

The authors contend that the California bird problem has not gone away. But where is the outrage? Why does Big Environmentalism (BE) look the other way?

The answer, I believe, is that BE must accept industrial wind as part of their cap-carbon-to-cap-capitalism crusade given the dearth of other supply-side options. But windpower gives little emission reduction for the government buck and has a host of side issues–so the question again arises: why?

I believe that the real reason why environmentalists are wind-intoxicated is because the photo-shoped, no-sound images of wind turbines represent the PR front for a whole agenda. Wind is BE’s (environmental) loss leader, so to speak, and part of the consolation prize is higher energy prices, which is a per se good to them. But this is putting form over substance a la Enron. The bubble of misdirection will eventually burst.

The letter follows:

E. Kintisch’s News story “Out of site” (special section on Scaling Up Alternative Energy, 13 August, p. 788) discusses the bird-of-prey deaths (including golden eagles) caused by wind turbines. The story implies that the problem at the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area (APWRA) in California has been reduced by spacing turbines farther apart and removing turbines from problematic sites. These statements are misleading.

In fact, numerous mitigation measures recommended by the Scientific Review Committee as part of the Alameda County Avian Wildlife Protection Program were either never implemented or implemented in a piecemeal manner (1).

Neither total avian fatality rates nor fatality rates of focal raptors (golden eagle, red-tailed hawk, American kestrel, and burrowing owl) at the APWRA have decreased when compared with the periods 1998 to 2002 and 2005 to 2009. Some fatality rates may have actually increased between the comparison periods (2).

For the period from 2005 to 2007, an estimated 65 golden eagles were killed annually at the APWRA (3). Given that little has been done to implement substantial mitigation measures, such high fatality rates for golden eagles, as for other species, will likely continue.

To reduce bird deaths in the APWRA, we must either (i) abandon the site altogether for wind energy production or (ii) replace existing infrastructure with fewer, larger wind turbines, and choose their locations by using map-based technologies that incorporate mortality studies and species-specific avian flight behavior (4) or avian land-use patterns (5).

Even then, no single siting plan can take into account the patterns of all avian species. What works for birds might not work for bats.

  1. Douglas A. Bell (Wildlife Department, East Bay Regional Park District, Oakland, CA 94605) and K. Shawn Smallwood(Davis, CA 95616).


  1. K. S. Smallwood, Environmental Energy Law Policy Journal, 229 (2008).
  2. K. S. Smallwood , “Fatality rates in the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area 1998–2009” (Altamont Scientific Review Committee Report P145, 2010); .
  3. K. S. Smallwood, B. Karas, Journal of Wildlife Management 73, 1062 (2009).
  4. K. S. Smallwood, L. Neher, “Siting repowered wind turbines to minimize raptor collisions at the Tres Vaqueros Wind Project, Contra Costa County, California” (Altamont Scientific Review Committee Report P162, 2010);
  5. K. S. Smallwood, L. Neher, D. A. Bell, Energies 2, 915 (2009).


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  2. Jon Boone  

    Readers might also be interested in this commentary by one of the continent’s leading birders, Kenn Kaufman, who remains evidently clueless about wind’s power dysfunction but who understands the threat to what he holds dear, particularly vulnerable populations of avian species:http://nimsoh.blogspot.com/2010/11/long-nights-journey-into-death.html.

    Imagine his horror when he discovers that all those bird deaths, all that loss of valuable habitat, will have been done by an enterprise that cannot put a dent in our fossil fuel consumption, by an operation put in play by multinational corporations, themselves swaddled in coal, gas, and oil, to avoid paying their fair share of taxes.

    As for the likes of Audubon and The Sierra Club, not to mention the arrogant vapidity of Greenpeace and the Environmental Defense Council, their cynical support for wind, under the ends justifies the means banner of saving the environment, is so palpably Orwellian that contempt cannot describe how I feel about them. Abject disgust comes closest.


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