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Environment: Do we have to choose between clean energy and the animals?

Eagles At Risk

It all seemed so simple once. You know: "Save the whales," "save the spotted owl" and so on.

Now, black and white has given way to green versus green.

Take the Los Angeles Times story on Monday about wind turbines and golden eagles, "Wind Power Turbines in Altamont Pass Threaten Protected Birds."

 As staff writer Louis Sahagun notes: 

Scores of protected golden eagles have been dying each year after colliding with the blades of about 5,000 wind turbines along the ridgelines of the Bay Area's Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area, raising troubling questions about the state's push for alternative power sources.

Apparently, we can save the planet, or we can save the eagles -- but not both?

Well, not exactly. There are at least two lines of thinking. 

One, the technology fix: 

The neighboring Buena Vista Wind Energy Project recently replaced 179 aging wind turbines with 38 newer and more powerful 1-megawatt turbines. That repowering effort has reduced fatality rates by 79% for all raptor species and 50% for golden eagles, according to a study by Shawn Smallwood, an expert on raptor ecology in wind farms.

And two, the "keep things in perspective" approach:

Nationwide, about 440,000 birds are killed at wind farms each year, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service. The American Wind Energy Assn., an industry lobbying group, points out that far more birds are killed each year by collisions with radio towers, tall buildings, airplanes, vehicles and in encounters with hungry household cats.

Though I think the lobbying group has a point, I like Door No. 1 better. If better turbines and careful site selection can reduce bird fatalities, I promise to do my part and keep my tabby under control.

And speaking of keeping things under control, it was "Animal Farm" at the L.A. Times over the weekend. We had horses, pigs and gators: 

Horses "Are Wild Horses Native to the U.S.? A Federal Court Seeks the Answer,"  "Wild Pigs Are Wearing Out Their Welcome in San Diego County"  and "Florida Gator Trappers Feel the Bite of Changing Economy."

In a nutshell: Some wild-horse advocates are trying to prove that they are a native species, which would mean greater protection for the animals; in San Diego County, authorities are Pigs sure that feral pigs there are not a native species and want to cull the several hundred running loose; and in Florida, where alligators used to be endangered but now have rebounded, there's so little money to be made from hunting gators that even private contractors don't want the work.

It's enough to give those of us wanting to do the right thing for the planet a headache. Our quest for clean energy is killing protected birds; our efforts to protect the West are colliding with our affinity for remnants of the Wild West; and a success story in Florida has been so successful Aligator that the state's oldest inhabitants are threatening to eat its newest ones. (Plus, we've apparently added another job to the list of ones Americans won't do!) 

The moral in all this?  Maybe that line from the commercial of a few years back said it best:

It's not nice to fool Mother Nature.


Ridding the state of foam

Protecting our military dogs

California's black bears dodge another bullet

-- Paul Whitefield

Photos, from top: A prairie falcon chick. Credit: Don Kelsen / Los Angeles Times. A Nevada Department of Agriculture helicopter rounds up wild horses east of Reno, Nev., in 2002. Credit: Liz Margerum /Associated Press. A feral pig in eastern San Diego County. Credit: Department of Fish and Game. Johnny Douglas says he's giving up on trapping nuisance alligators. Credit: Red Huber / Orlando Sentinel


Comments () | Archives (8)

The comments to this entry are closed.

Mitchell Young

An interesting side note in the 'gator' story is that the struggling trappers are turning to 'jobs Americans won't do (tm)' -- one has started 'tending lawns', one is 'cutting floral products', and one 'remodels houses'. I suspect that in California, the monopolization of those types of jobs by immigrants (legal and illegal) has hindered similar readjustment for our unemployed.

Mitchell Young

To clarify, I don't think there are struggling gator trappers in SoCal, but there are plenty of young men laid off from, say, jobs as city recreation leaders or real estate aids or whatever that could be doing relatively pleasant outdoor work like mowing lawns in the local gated community.


One thing to consider about birds killed by turbines as opposed to those killed by tall buildings and hungry cats is the kind of bird killed.

As reported near turbines, the mortality is often to raptors, some of which are endangered, and which don't reproduce at a fast enough rate to sustain continual kills.

Those killed in collisions with tall buildings and by hungry cats tend to be the much more prolific kinds of small bird, whose reproductive rate is much faster than that of a raptor, and whose existence is not threatened. Not that any bird or animal kill is acceptable, and losing species is going on at too fast a rate to take chances on small populations of birds.

Turbines tend to be built in rural areas, on mountain ridges, near coasts, offshore where the rarer types of birds congregate or pass in their migratory routes.

How we manage the problem needs to be addressed before it's too late.

Mary Cummins

Bats are also being killed by the wind turbines. Wind power companies are now doing environmental analysis before installing new wind turbines. They send trained bat and bird biologists to ascertain species, numbers, times that the migratory bats and birds pass through the area.

Mary Cummins
Animal Advocates


Aren't there other designs that could be used that don't employ 100 foot blades? I've seen some turbines that are cylindrical and have a much smaller footprint.
It would seem there is a solution to this problem, but no one is willing to look at it.


Wait till you read what they are doing to the camels in Australia!!


Barbara Walker

So, regarding door #2 - we are going to ADD to those numbers? Saying that more birds die from other impacts we created is not a very good argument for wind turbines. The wind turbine design needs to be changed so there is no net loss.

save the deserts!

Huh? Why is it that the LAT, no matter how many facts are in front of them, cannot ever EVER report on the enormous environmental and economic benefits of efficiency upgrades, rooftop solar and other democratically-owned, decentralized, sustainable solutions? It is embarrassing to have every article and editorial obsessing over Big Energy "solutions" and ignoring REAL solutions, in a city and state that are both incredibly sunny and incredibly sprawling, not to mention solar-friendly!

Wake up and stop re-typing press releases from Big Energy profiteers. Local solar and efficiency upgrades, financed with PACE/AB811 loans and generous feed in tariffs would not only save all of us lots of money, but they would spare our open spaces from the relentless slaughter of Big Solar, Big Wind, Big Transmission and other Big Energy boondoggles.

LOCAL, democratically-owned, non-deadly solutions are shovel-ready now. They are cheaper, faster, cleaner and better in every way.



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