Covering up bird mortality at wind farms

PRESS RELEASE
12-13 September 2016

Hiding evidence of the massacre

News of bird and bat deaths at wind farms have reduced to a trickle. Does that mean that a solution has been found? Yes, it has, but it’s not what you think. Wind turbines are every year more numerous and the massacre they cause is ever increasing. What has changed is that the cover up is now effective at 100%, or just about.

The following news sheds light on the latest technique for making mortality data unavailable to the public (and the media):

Wind farm sues to block bird death data

Yes, you read correctly: “releasing (the wind farm’s) bird and bat kill reports would provide “trade secrets” to its competitors”. Surrealist, isn’t it? But that’s only one of the many lies we must deal with when investigating that hugely subsidized industry. Below, we present the “trade secrets” they are trying to hide:

trade secrets
courtesy of Ontario Wind Resistance

Indeed, in present day United States, mortality data legally belong to wind farm owners, and the public has no right to see the numbers without their permission. This is the “solution” that has been found for covering up the butchery of eagles, cranes, pelicans, condors, swans, swallows, bats, owls, falcons, hawks, geese, gamebirds, songbirds etc.

Throughout the world, ever since shocking mortality statistics at wind farms made the news 15-20 years ago, efforts have been made by the wind industry and complicit governments to hide the numbers. In the UK for instance, wind farms have long stopped being monitored for mortality; in Spain, the monitoring has been done, but the reports were filed away without publishing; elsewhere, whenever a wind farm had to be checked for mortality, its owner would select ornithology consultants based on their reputation for “cooperation” – i.e. whose reports always showed “manageable” numbers. This is still the preferred method for covering up in some countries, e.g. Canada or Australia.

To make it even safer for European wind developers, and regardless of the proclaimed right of the public to be informed on environmental matters (Aarhus Convention), reports concerning wind farms’ impact on birds and bats were soon stamped “property of the developer”, meaning that he may edit them before publication. “The wind companies rewrite all ecological work themselves“, said to me a UK ornithologist who had worked for wind developers. But a non-disclosure clause in the contract kept him from revealing publicly what he knew and what he saw. This is now standard practice in wind farm monitoring contracts.

Thanks to these various methods to hide the evidence, high mortality numbers soon disappeared from the headlines, and the public lost interest, trusting large ecology NGOs and bird societies to watch over protected wildlife. However, conflicts of interests oblige (i.e. $$$), these organizations keep denying that significant harm is being done to biodiversity. For instance, none of them has published the report by the Spanish ornithological society revealing millions of deaths a year in Spain. Yet it is based on 136 monitoring reports obtained from the Spanish government under Freedom of Information legislation.

Granted, the particularly deadly Altamont Pass wind turbines kept coming back in the news now and then, but the media has become so gullible (or complicit) that even their repowering for another 25 years didn’t make waves.

The issuing by the US administration of “incidental take permits”, allowing wind farm operators to kill a number of eagles accidentally, did cause anger among bona fide conservationists, especially as wind farm operators can easily hide the real number of eagles they kill. But this scandal didn’t make the evening news on television. Most NGOs don’t really mind: there is no money in protesting, but plenty of it to be reaped from Big Wind, awash as it is in subsidies.

In Scotland, an issue that could become a hot potato is the census of golden eagles. Originally due in 2013, this politically-sensitive 10-year survey was postponed to 2015, and to date we are still waiting for its publication. Cynics are suggesting that it takes time to doctor the figures and edit the text, which would otherwise reveal a sharp drop in the Scottish golden eagle population, coinciding with the period when the moorlands were invaded by wind farms.

Coincidence or not, a report just surfaced in Edinburgh, reassuring the Scots on the fate of their beloved eagles. Wind turbines may be installed near eagle nests, it claims, provided ornithologists are paid, during the life of the wind farm, to feed the eagles and monitor their behavior. It’s pure rubbish, but it keeps ornithologists and bird societies happy. Officially, they are the ones who “know” about birds, and their opinion is taken into consideration by the authorities; so it’s important for the wind lobby to keep them cheery. In reality, we know that wind turbines attract (and kill) eagles, as they do other raptors, swallows and bats: read Biodiversity Alert. In short, the new report is just another one of many biased, misleading studies financed by wind interests. If you read the press article till the end, it actually claims that Beinn an Tuirc wind farm helps Scottish eagles survive. Yes indeed, the bigger the lie, the more people will believe it.

The population survival issue was tackled differently in the western United States: the golden eagle census was carried out from a plane. Obviously, scientific rigor was lacking: seen from an aircraft, it is easy to mistake a juvenile bald eagle for an adult golden eagle. The wind coalition used this worthless census to report a “stable golden eagle population” in the western States. Different methods, same misleading result.

One of the countries where the cover up wasn’t achieved at 100% is Australia. Mortality at the infamous Woolnorth wind farm apparently ceased being reported to the public, but a few months ago, that of the Macarthur wind farm hit the news, causing concern worldwide.

More recently, another Australian wind farm discreetly announced (you have to search their newsletter thoroughly – page 2, paragraph 3) that it was killing many eagles: Bald Hills wind farm – 7 eagles killed in 4 months. Seven in four months is the official figure, so the reality could be even worse. It’s also a good indication that, as revealed by Save the Eagles International, raptors are attracted to wind turbines (and then killed). But don’t be surprised that, in spite of the evidence provided in STEI’s article, bird societies completely ignore this lethal attraction exerted by wind turbines: it would hurt the wind industry if they recognized it. Here you can, again, appreciate the hypocrisy surrounding the whole issue.

Finally, the cover up is naturally helped by scavengers, which become rapidly aware that wind turbines provide easy food in the form of dead or injured birds and bats. So they make the rounds daily, mostly at night or at dawn when their chances are best. Searchers employed by consultants rarely start their work as early as foxes and crows, so they miss most carcasses. In addition, they visit the site once every week at best, leaving plenty of time for scavengers to clean up the grounds.

That is how the company operating Bald Hills WF, above, can claim they only found 19 bird carcasses (assuming the figure wasn’t simply doctored). You’ll note that there were 7 eagles among them: typically, small carcasses disappear whole, while larger ones often leave some remains behind. Some wind farm operators instruct their employees to bury the evidence , but some carcasses can escape their vigilance, given the very large surface to be searched, and the vegetation.

At Altamont Pass, California, Dr Smallwood estimated in 2004 that 116 golden eagles were being killed yearly by the 5,000 (small) wind turbines (1). These mostly young, wandering eagles, were from California, the western United States, and even Canada. The massacre will continue as new, bigger turbines replace the old ones. The “green” NGOs don’t really care – do we hear them protest? The killing is now legal (incidental take permits), and that keeps the operators out of trouble if some eagle carcass happened to be discovered by a member of the public. The wind industry wins. The extermination of eagles, hawks, falcons, cranes, swallows, owls, bats and other highly valued species may continue unabated.


This important article was received via  Mark Duchamp, President of Save the Eagles International

(1) – Altamont Pass wind farm, 116 golden eagles killed yearly: see Page 73, Table 3-11: Species/Taxonomic group: Golden eagle

Mortality per year:
– adjusted for search detection: 75.6
– adjusted for search detection and scavenging: 116.5

DEVELOPING METHODS TO REDUCE BIRD MORTALITY IN THE ALTAMONT
PASS WIND RESOURCE AREA – Shawn Smallwood & Carl Thelander (2004) – for the California Energy Commission. http://www.energy.ca.gov/reports/500-04-052/500-04-052_00_EXEC_SUM.PDF

4 comments to Covering up bird mortality at wind farms

  • Alastair Henderson

    this is very depressing given the length of time this slaughter has been on-going not to mention those untold future deaths.
    Is there a future for birds in light of this and previous information regarding wind turbine’s?

  • Scottish citizens should press SNH, their MPs, the RSPB or whomever, to get the 2015 golden eagle census published. It is your right to be informed on environmental matters, says the Aarhus Convention.
    The report may have been doctored, but it MUST be published one way or another. If it has been manipulated to show no decrease in the population, birders in Scotland would be able to verify if a given golden eagle territory reported to be occupied by a breeding pair is really so.

  • This is the email I sent to the journalist author of the article ” Wind turbines ‘have no effect on eagles’, study finds”, Scotland on Sunday, 11 Sept 16

    Madam,

    I was surprised to learn that a 20-year study at Beinn an Tuirc had concluded that the wind farm is actually helping maintain the golden eagle population in Scotland (sic);

    You may be interested to know that the study was in fact abandoned after the male eagle had “disappeared” many years ago.
    Mr Malcolm Ogilvie, Scottish ornithologist well known for his efforts to deny any harm done by wind turbines, but who nevertheless managed to keep them out of his own island of abode (Islay), recognised it in the attached post on the forum Raptor Conservation Yahoo Group on July 25th 2007, while replying to a post by Sylvia Wallace. In it he wrote:

    “I know of the missing eagle at Beinn an Tuirc, where there is no evidence either way whether the windfarm had anything to do with the bird going missing. Which other ones do you know of that you write in the plural?”

    Of course there was no evidence: the scope of the study did not include searching for dead eagles, or any birds for that matter. It did not even include recording the flights of intruding eagles over the wind turbines. It was a bogus study, one of the many financed by wind interests or their government accomplices. I know about it from the year 2003, or was it on my second trip from Spain in 2005? when I went to Scotland and looked myself for dead birds under the Beinn an Tuirc wind turbines, getting my feet drenched in peat bog.

    To think that the study was resurrected over a decade later to cover for the fact that the Scottish golden eagle survey has been shelved without publication is indicative of the level of corruption that permeates the Scottish government, its agencies, and most NGOs which make a living pretending they protect the environment.

    In this regard, you may wish to read the press release I sent yesterday:

    http://savetheeaglesinternational.org/releases/covering-up-bird-mortality-at-wind-farms.html

    Regards

    Mark Duchamp +34 693 643 736
    President, Save the Eagles International
    http://www.SaveTheEaglesInternational.org
    Chairman, World Council for Nature
    http://www.wcfn.org

  • A. Green

    In the USA, there’s been a lot of outrage over plans to issue 30 year incidental take permits. I feel the length of the permit is partly beside the point if a) the issuance of the permit is based on flawed and mostly voluntary survey data, and b) the USFWS continues to be denied the necessary funding to make informed risk assessments for take permit issuance on a case by case basis, to say nothing of having the proper capabilities to regularly review permitted sites–and be able to take their owners to task for violations.

    The agency’s take permit application process for windfarms is actually reasonably standardized. So much so, that the survey requirements (including Pre and Post Construction Monitoring, Eagle Point Counts) required by the agency’s current permitting process for each site have a very low bar for admissibility. Even when done in good faith by the utility (which does happen from time to time), these surveys tend to yield only scant information about the actual level of risk an operating windfarm poses to eagles and other raptors in a given locale. The permit application process is so standardized, even, that other very useful data–e.g., data collected by skilled observers as part of a utility-backed monitoring effort–that more accurately reflects the actual risk profile of a site is categorically dismissed by the agency in the permitting process since the data doesn’t simply “plug in” to the USFWS’s “standard” models used for evaluation and comparison of windfarm sites across the country. Unfortunately in both government and academia today (especially in the USA), the Model Is All, even when there is a large enough body of actual data available that would largely sidestep the need for statistical conjecture.

    As such, I see the system as completely rigged. The windfarms have no legal or economic incentive to release their data, and good faith operators who try to buck this trend stand to only open themselves to catastrophic liabilities. And the USFWS has been reduced to setting bad faith operator-friendly requirements in a misguided attempt to “encourage” participation in their process, which only makes the permitting process a “stay out of jail” card based on tenuous and arguably dubious reporting and “mitigation” requirements. In the scheme of things, it is true that the level of political, social, and environmental corruption connected with wind interests are a drop in a large bucket compared to the actual mafia of oil and gas interests, and overall it is definitely a healthier business to have in or near your community than many others. But this whole permitting process is flawed to the extent of being patently useless for all parties except windfarm owners, who see the whole “eagle issue” as a roadblock to be dynamited rather than an opportunity to make the welfare of eagles and other raptors a natural extension of their supposed commitment to “sustainability” as green(er) energy makers. How do they not see their own hypocrisy?

    I would encourage birders and raptorwatchers across the world to actively and systematically monitor windfarms from adjacent land where you have the expressed permission of the landowner, entering your results daily into publicly accessible conservation-oriented online databases, e.g., BirdTrack, eBird, Trektellen, HawkCount, etc. Even compile summaries for your local bird club! With overwhelming documentation and grass roots support, perhaps we can at least start forcing the issue of public disclosure of wind sites by taking the initiative of collecting and disclosing the data ourselves if windfarm owners aren’t feeling bold.