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Group Wants Independent Review of Wind Power Wildlife Deaths

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Don't worry. These geese aren't really that close to the turbine. | Photo: John Britt/Flickr/Creative Commons License

A national bird protection group is asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to require independent, third-party monitoring of bird and bat deaths at wind power facilities across the country, calling the current self-reporting system a "conflict of interest" that benefits energy companies.

In a press release issued late Friday, the American Bird Conservancy called on the USFWS to reform the current wildlife mortality monitoring systems in place at wind facilities, which allow the operators to select and hire consulting biologists that report to the companies, rather than to USFWS or the public. The group also called for better ways to assess the risk proposed wind facilities pose to birds and bats before those facilities are built.

The group says that under the current system, wind companies can site projects in areas that are especially dangerous for birds, then influence their hired biologists to downplay the resulting wildlife deaths, and claim their wildlife mortality data as protected trade secrets.

 

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An example of energy companies claiming their wildlife mortality data as proprietary information arose in November, when the Portland, Oregon-based wind company Pacificorp asked a federal judge to block release of their bird-mortality data to the Associated Press.

In December, we ran a commentary calling for independent monitoring of wildlife injuries at renewable energy sites. That commentary, which was cited in Friday's press release by the American Bird Conservancy, prompted reactions from some readers who were surprised to learn that third-party monitoring wasn't already required.

In a January 8 letter to USFWS, Michael Hutchins of the American Bird Conservancy's Bird Smart Wind Energy Campaign spelled out just why allowing energy companies to self-report on wildlife injuries seems counterintuitive. In a response to the USFWS's claim that the agency couldn't compel companies to hand over their mortality data, Hutchins wrote:

In its Friday release, the Conservancy described a short laundry list of monitoring reforms it's asking USFWS to implement. They include both pre- and post-construction studies conducted by independent biologists approved by USFWS; billing the wind energy companies to cover the costs of those biologists; ensuring the biologists reported directly to USFWS without company oversight; making that data available to the public; and mandatory Environmental Assessments and incidental take permits for protected species.

The American Bird Conservancy also called attention to a plan that would give the American Wind Wildlife Institute (AWWI) control over companies' wildlife mortality data, on the condition that that data remain confidential.

AWWI, a consortium of wind industry companies and mainstream green groups, would sign non-disclosure agreements with the reporting companies, which would make those companies' wildlife kill numbers confidential and not subject to Freedom of Information Act requests.

"This seems like a less-than-veiled attempt to continue to keep the public and concerned NGOs in the dark," Hutchins.

For ongoing environmental coverage in March 2017 and afterward, please visit our show Earth Focus, or browse Redefine for historic material.
KCET's award-winning environment news project Redefine ran from July 2012 through February 2017.

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