Skip to content

3

A new study in the Journal of Raptor Research attempts to tally bald eagle and golden eagle deaths at wind energy facilities nationwide, as the AP reports:

Wind energy facilities have killed at least 67 golden and bald eagles in the last five years, but the figure could be much higher, according to a new scientific study by government biologists.

The research represents one of the first tallies of eagle deaths attributed to the nation's growing wind energy industry, which has been a pillar of President Barack Obama's plans to reduce the pollution blamed for global warming. Wind power releases no air pollution.

But at a minimum, the scientists wrote, wind farms in 10 states have killed at least 85 eagles since 1997, with most deaths occurring between 2008 and 2012, as the industry was greatly expanding. Most deaths — 79 — were golden eagles that struck wind turbines. One of the eagles counted in the study was electrocuted by a power line.

The vice president of the American Bird Conservancy, Mike Parr, said the tally was "an alarming and concerning finding."

A trade group, the American Wind Energy Association, said in a statement that the figure was much lower than other causes of eagle deaths. The group said it was working with the government and conservation groups to find ways to reduce eagle casualties.

Still, the scientists said their figure is likely to be "substantially" underestimated, since companies report eagle deaths voluntarily and only a fraction of those included in their total were discovered during searches for dead birds by wind-energy companies. The study also excluded the deadliest place in the country for eagles, a cluster of wind farms in a northern California area known as Altamont Pass. Wind farms built there decades ago kill more than 60 per year.

The research affirms an AP investigation in May, which revealed dozens of eagle deaths from wind energy facilities and described how the Obama administration was failing to fine or prosecute wind energy companies, even though each death is a violation of federal law.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which employs the six researchers, has said it is investigating 18 bird-death cases involving wind-power facilities, and seven have been referred to the Justice Department. The authors noted the study's findings do not necessarily reflect the views of the agency, although some of their data was obtained from staff.

Wind farms are clusters of turbines as tall as 30-story buildings, with spinning rotors as wide as a passenger jet's wingspan. Though the blades appear to move slowly, they can reach speeds up to 170 mph at the tips, creating tornado-like vortexes.

Wind farms in two states, California and Wyoming, were responsible for 58 deaths, followed by facilities in Oregon, New Mexico, Colorado, Washington, Utah, Texas, Maryland and Iowa.

In all, 32 facilities were implicated. One in Wyoming was responsible for a dozen golden eagle deaths, the most at a single facility.

The research was published in the Journal of Raptor Research.

See also Chris Clarke's summary of the findings at his ReWire column for the California-based KCET.org: "California Leads Nation in Wind Turbine Eagle Deaths."

We just received this update from Molly Anderson via email: "Due to current acorn conditions (or lack thereof) we will be cancelling this workday after all. It’s such a shame too because the weather is going to be nice and cool."

Needless to say, a widespread failure of the acorn crop for a third year in a row is very bad news for wildlife in our area.

Approximately a couple dozen land-owners on Jacks Mt. have signed leases permitting the building of turbines and access roads on their properties. ... Our society must develop sources of clean energy, including the use of wind – but turbines should be in places where they will do more good than harm.

JVAS member Greg Grove's letter to the Huntingdon Daily News:

To the Editor, Daily News;

A recent article in the The Daily News (August 30, 2013) described the possible placement of wind turbines on Jack’s Mt. in an entirely positive light. However, there is another very alarming side to this story.

Approximately a couple dozen land-owners on Jacks Mt. have signed leases permitting the building of turbines and access roads on their properties in the following townships: Union, Menno, Oliver, Granville, and Wayne. In addition, at least three properties have also been leased on Stone Mt. in Brady Township, Huntingdon County.

Our society must develop sources of clean energy, including the use of wind – but turbines should be in places where they will do more good than harm. Wind turbines are massive structures, towering 400 feet or more into the air, much higher the towers that support electric power lines.

The sharply peaked ridgelines of Jacks and Stone are far too narrow for the towers. Not mentioned in the Daily News article is that the construction of the towers and access roads will require removal of a significant portion of the mountain top, perhaps as much as 100 feet (or more) of elevation in some places. That is not a typo – imagine our ridges with 100 feet blasted off the top: environmental destruction on a huge scale.

Along with the sheer destruction, what effect will this have on water supplies? The water on which we depend in the valleys comes in large part from the slopes of Jacks and Stone Mts. Nor do we know the effects of the proposed mountaintop removal on wildlife. For example, each fall and spring, thousands of raptors, including several hundred Bald and Golden Eagles migrate along the two ridges, using the power of the wind deflected up slope to save energy as they move between winter and summer ranges. Turbines extending over 400 above the ridge top, with blade speeds (at the tips) of well over 100 mph will likely kill some as happens at other wind projects. Besides raptors, uncounted thousands of other birds as well as bats fly along the ridges, susceptible to the turning blades.

Economic benefit is cited as a reason to welcome wind farms. How much of a boon may occur remains to be seen. Balance that against the fact that our region derives much income from tourism (everything from sight-seers to hunters). Ridges with their tops blasted away are not likely to enhance the experience of visitors from outside the region. Among other aspects, Jacks is nationally known for hang-gliding appeal, drawing many people to the area. Cut the mountain down and put up towers with spinning blades – that attraction will probably disappear.

Our region would realize no particular benefits from the electricity generated; it would simply go into the national grid. The companies, which are not American, are constructing wind projects in Pennsylvania because a significant portion of their costs is government-subsidized. Pennsylvania’s wind profile is of borderline value for generating electricity–without the subsidies, it is unlikely turbines would be constructed in Pennsylvania.

Township supervisors should be made aware of the issues arising from the building of turbines on Jacks and Stone. They cannot prevent the placement of turbines or of people leasing their land to turbine companies. But they can craft ordinances that put some legal restrictions on the siting of turbines, affording at least some protection for neighboring property owners from turbine noise, shadow flicker, and accidents.

An organization called SOAR (Save Our Allegheny Ridges) has been formed to inform the public and township officials about the negative aspects of wind turbines in our mountains. (http://saveouralleghenyridges.org/). There is also a Facebook group called Friends of Jacks Mountain that provides updates on the situation on Jacks and Stone for those who wish more information.

Greg Grove
Huntingdon

Anti-conservation lawmakers are taking aim at Pennsylvania's endangered and threatened species. Pennsylvania HB 1576 and SB 1047 would diminish the Pennsylvania Game Commission's and Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission's ability to protect endangered and threatened species in our state.

The Altoona Mirror has just published a letter from JVAS Conservation Chair Stan Kotala which expresses the view of the whole JVAS board:

Anti-conservation lawmakers are taking aim at Pennsylvania's endangered and threatened species.

Pennsylvania HB 1576 and SB 1047 would diminish the Pennsylvania Game Commission's and Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission's ability to protect endangered and threatened species in our state.

The commonwealth has a long and proud tradition of independent fish and game agencies. Politicians shouldn't mess with it.

These bills would send the Commission's endangered and threatened species lists to the Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC), an agency dominated by the legislature, for additional scrutiny.

The IRRC does not have scientific expertise or standards to evaluate species listing proposals. Proponents of the bill claim that this is just like asking for a second opinion on a medical diagnosis. That claim is absurd. Second opinions on a diagnosis are rendered by another physician, not by political appointees with no science background.

These agencies' biologists are better judges of the threats to wildlife than political appointees would be. The agencies make decisions regarding proposals for protecting rare, threatened, or endangered species in an open, transparent manner.

As if we needed more reasons to oppose these bills, their passage would likely mean the loss in up to $27 million in federal wildlife restoration funds, representing up to a third of the budgets of the Game Commission and the Fish and Boat Commission.

These federal funds would be lost because managing threatened and endangered species in the fashion proposed by this bill would demonstrate our state's incompetence in wildlife management.

In addition, these bills could encourage more federal involvement in species protection. One of the criteria utilized by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in determining whether to pursue listing of a species is the sufficiency of state resource protection laws. By curtailing the authority of the Commissions, this proposed legislation could prompt a more active federal role in species protection.

Juniata Valley Audubon asks that conservationists oppose Pennsylvania HB 1576 and SB 1047.

The deceptively named "Endangered Species Coordination Act" (House Bill 1576 and its Senate companion, SB 1047) would gut the ability of our state resource agencies to list and protect rare plants and animals; essentially only those listed by the federal government would be covered.

Pennsylvania author and naturalist Scott Weidensaul shared the following message on a birding listserv. I'm sure he wouldn't mind if we passed it on, as well.

I trust by now everyone on this list is aware of the significant attack being launched on rare species in Pennsylvania. The deceptively named "Endangered Species Coordination Act" (House Bill 1576 and its Senate companion, SB 1047) would gut the ability of our state resource agencies to list and protect rare plants and animals; essentially only those listed by the federal government would be covered.

A hearing held in Schuylkill County on Monday showed clearly how poorly the bill's own sponsors understand the issues, since virtually all of the examples they raised of allegedly onerous regulations involved federally listed species like Indiana bats, not those like great egrets, American bitterns and upland sandpipers that are listed only by the state, and and which already receive a fairly limited degree of protection because of this.

Among other problems, the bill would make protection of high-quality trout streams far more difficult, and allow lawmakers — not scientists and resource experts — to invalidate protection for rare plants and animals. It shifts the burden for determining whether rare species will be impacted by projects from the developers to the state, and requires — but does not define — "acceptable data" to back up any action. Care to guess who will determine what constitutes "acceptable" data? It won't be the wildlife professionals.

As if we needed more reasons to opposes these bills, their passage would likely mean the loss in up to $27 million in federal wildlife restoration funds, representing up to a third the budgets of the Game Commission and Fish and Boat Commission:

"Pennsylvania could lose $27 million over bills to amend endangered species laws" (The Morning Call)

If you're interested in viewing the hearing for yourself, the video is at: http://livestre.am/4AP00 [Also embedded below.]

This bill is not a joke — with 60 cosponsors, HB 1576 is very likely to win passage, and there's little doubt the governor would sign it.

It's critical every birder in the state takes a moment to contact their state representative and senator, and express in the strongest possible terms their opposition to this travesty of a bill. It is especially important if your rep or senator is a cosponsor. (Mine is, and he got an earful from me about it). The House cosponsors are:

PYLE, GERGELY, MALONEY, MILLARD, MULLERY, KAUFFMAN, D. COSTA, BLOOM, HELM, HARHAI, RAPP, GOODMAN, CUTLER, GIBBONS, AUMENT, MARSHALL, C. HARRIS, REED, PICKETT, MATZIE, HEFFLEY, EVERETT, MASSER, M. K. KELLER, SWANGER, KNOWLES, METCALFE, DUNBAR, SONNEY, GROVE, KRIEGER, REESE, STEVENSON, NEUMAN, SANKEY, CAUSER, SACCONE, ROCK, GODSHALL, TOBASH, MURT, R. BROWN, SCHLEGEL CULVER, P. COSTA, DAVIS, BURNS, P. DALEY, ENGLISH, TALLMAN, BAKER, BARRAR, CHRISTIANA, ELLIS, EVANKOVICH, KORTZ, JAMES, KULA, MAJOR, METZGAR, MOUL, MUSTIO, OBERLANDER, TOOHIL, SNYDER, PASHINSKI, READSHAW, ROAE, SAYLOR

There are fewer Senate co-sponsors:

SCARNATI, WAUGH, GORDNER, ERICKSON, HUTCHINSON, WHITE, RAFFERTY, MENSCH, BRUBAKER, KASUNIC, FONTANA, BREWSTER, TARTAGLIONE, YUDICHAK AND HUGHES

Do this before you pick up your binoculars this weekend. You owe it to the birds.

Scott Weidensaul
Schuylkill Haven, PA

Check out this heart-warming story of wildlife rehabilitation on Froggy 98's website: "Sparky Returns Home to the Swamp." The author did exactly the right thing by calling her local WCO, and the rehabilitor, Centre Wildlife Care, is the best in our area.

From the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry's Forest Resources Planning and Information Team:

The Bureau of Forestry is beginning the planning process to revise the State Forest Resource Management Plan (SFRMP).  The SFRMP is a broad, state-wide plan used to guide the Bureau of Forestry’s management of state forest resources.

Public participation is an integral part of state forest management.  As part of the SFRMP revision, we developed a survey to gather public input that can be incorporated into the planning process. Additional opportunities for public input through 2014 will include written comment and public meetings. Hearing from the public gives us insights into the needs and concerns of citizens and stakeholders, so we can better adapt our management strategies.

As a valued state forest stakeholder or user, we are interested in your survey response.  The survey takes approximately 10 minutes to complete.  Please use the following link to access the survey on the Rothrock State Forest webpage. You will find a link to the survey under the Advisories section of the webpage. The survey will be available online through October 31, 2013.

www.dcnr.state.pa.us/forestry/stateforests/rothrock

Please feel free to share this link with other state forest stakeholders or users that you may know.

One suggested short- and long-term priority for forest planners: planting western hemlock or native red spruce to replace the eastern hemlocks killed by the hemlock wooly adelgid, to preserve cold-water habitat and many other essential wildlife values.

Game Commission biologists are seeking assistance from residents in a regional monitoring effort to collect bat maternity colony data this summer. This monitoring is especially important due to the mortalities in bat populations throughout the northeastern United States, including Pennsylvania, being caused by White-Nose Syndrome.

Read the Game Commission press release (via PA Environment Digest). Here's a snippet:

Game Commission biologists are seeking assistance from residents in a regional monitoring effort to collect bat maternity colony data this summer. This monitoring is especially important due to the mortalities in bat populations throughout the northeastern United States, including Pennsylvania, being caused by White-Nose Syndrome.

"WNS primarily kills during the winter, but the true impact of WNS on bat populations cannot be determined using estimates from winter hibernacula alone," said Calvin Butchkoski, Game Commission wildlife biologist. "Pennsylvanians can help us more fully gauge the impact of WNS on the landscape by hosting a bat count this summer. We are especially urging people who have ever conducted a bat count for the Game Commission in the past to redo a count this year."

To obtain applications and information on how to participate, visit the Game Commission's Appalachian Bat Count webpage. Forms on the website guide interested participants through the steps of timing, conducting a survey and submitting their findings to the Game Commission. Scout groups, 4-H clubs, local environmental organizations, and individual homeowners can all participate in this important effort.

The Mid-Atlantic Center for Herpetology and Conservation is pleased to announce the launch of the Pennsylvania Amphibian & Reptile Survey (abbreviated as PARS), a new amphibian and reptile atlas created through a partnership with the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission. This ten-year project (2013-2022) is calling on Pennsylvania’s naturalists, amateur and professional herpetologists, and nature enthusiasts in general, to join the increasing ranks of citizen scientists collecting important observations for science and resource agencies.

From Pennsylvania Herp Identification:

The Mid-Atlantic Center for Herpetology and Conservation is pleased to announce the launch of the Pennsylvania Amphibian & Reptile Survey (abbreviated as PARS), a new amphibian and reptile atlas created through a partnership with the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission. This ten-year project (2013-2022) is calling on Pennsylvania’s naturalists, amateur and professional herpetologists, and nature enthusiasts in general, to join the increasing ranks of citizen scientists collecting important observations for science and resource agencies. The amphibians and reptiles of Pennsylvania need your help.

Read the rest.

Around the world, amphibian populations are in decline, and scientists have not been able to figure out why. Now a study of leopard frogs in Pennsylvania has identified a possible culprit, and the ramifications are troubling, according to a Penn State ecologist.

From Penn State News, "Study suggests link between agricultural chemicals and frog decline":

Around the world, amphibian populations are in decline, and scientists have not been able to figure out why. Now a study of leopard frogs in Pennsylvania has identified a possible culprit, and the ramifications are troubling, according to a Penn State ecologist.

Research conducted primarily at Penn State's Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research Center at Rock Springs in the summer of 2007 — described in a recently published article in the journal Nature — suggests that chemical pollution can increase often-deadly trematode (parasitic flatworm) infections in a declining amphibian species.

"Like canaries used to gauge the safety of air in coal mines, amphibians are thought to be the 'canaries' in our freshwater environments, and reductions in their health can warn that subsequent species declines might be in store," says Hunter Carrick, associate professor of aquatic ecology in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences, who was one of the lead investigators in the study.