America needs energy from every safe source possible, but wind power creates unique threats to birds. So it was a big deal in March when Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced new wind energy siting guidelines that will help us reduce our dependence on fossil fuels while protecting wildlife.
For the first time ever, major wind developers have pledged to voluntarily incorporate bird-friendly guidelines in the construction of new wind energy projects and to modify existing turbines. These guidelines provide for mediation to address potential disputes about where to put wind farms. But they are also a roadmap for collaboration between industry and conservationists.
The new guidelines will help steer wind turbines away from important habitat and toward land already seeing the impacts of development. They will provide added protection for sites with high risk potential for birds. And from now on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will have a seat at the table for decisions on where to site wind projects. That’s a change, and an important new safeguard.
The wind industry and conservationists agreed not only on protecting birds and bats in the air but on how to address what’s known as habitat fragmentation on the ground. Now wind developers will be expected to avoid building turbines in a way that cuts up and divides critical habitat areas in forests, grasslands, or other threatened places.
We know from our Audubon science team that warming trends driven by carbon pollution from fossil fuels have already disrupted bird migration patterns up and down the four superhighways in the sky we call flyways. Our science team analyzed 305 species wintering in North America and found that nearly 60 of them were shifting their ranges northward by an average of 35 miles. Simply put, warming trends are among the most significant threats to birds, their habitats, and global biodiversity.
The National Audubon Society held one of the 22 seats on the Wind Turbine Guidelines Advisory Committee, which worked closely with the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for three years to develop workable guidelines based on consensus rather than confrontation. Members also included experts from The Nature Conservancy and Bat Conservation International, major wind companies such as Iberdrola and Horizon, as well as state wildlife agencies and tribal representatives.
The guidelines forged by this diverse group aren’t only for the birds; they will create jobs for local economies and help make our nation a healthier place to live, for people and wildlife. It’s a real-world, bipartisan approach that recognizes it’s all about location, location, location.