One of the tragic patients we get at the wildlife hospital where I volunteer is raptors such as hawks, who’ve suffered an encounter with a windmill. Unlike Quixote’s imaginary foes, the windmills through Altamont Pass present a viable lethal threat to wildlife of the area. In fact, Altamont Pass has the highest bird kill rate at any windmill site in the world, owing to the poor planning of building it directly on a major raptor migration corridor.
The injuries are monumental, including such devastating ones the severed wing recently called in as an emergency. From a Center for Biological Diversity report:
. . . astronomical levels of raptor mortality continue unabated, due in part to the failure of federal and state wildlife protection agencies to take any regulatory action. Bird kills at Altamont Pass occur in violation of federal and state wildlife protection laws, including the Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle Protection Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and numerous California Fish and Game Codes. The wind power industry has been aware of the magnitude of the impacts to birds of prey at Altamont Pass since at least 1988, when the first of numerous studies of raptor mortality was published.
According to the report, part of the solution is to replace the outdated turbines with larger ones that can dramatically reduce the mortality numbers. But the industry has been slow to implement these critical changes.
Which is why the news I came upon recently from Oregon-based Iberdrola Renewables is good news indeed, even if the raptors of Altamont Pass won’t be benefitting directly. Iberdrola released a company-wide avian and bat protection plan calling for wildlife and habitat protection. From the company’s press release, this plan:
establishes a process for contact with agencies and non-governmental organizations early in the site assessment stage of project evaluation. It also sets up internal policies for pre- and post-construction monitoring and proper site design, impact assessment, permit compliance, nest management, training, mortality reduction measures and mitigation.
You can see the full text of the plan at www.iberdrolarenewables.us/pdf/Signed_ABPP_10-28-08.pdf.
There are times you genuinely wish others could see the results of their actions and decisions as graphically as some of us do. These consequences often lie far beyond the papers and computer screens of those whose choices become a life and death matter for our wildlife and environment. I’ve often wondered if it would matter — if the personal paradigm would shift as a result of this vision.