Two environmental issues are at a crossroads on the shores of Lake Erie with two prominent natural resources on a collision course.
Birds and birders flock to the shores of Lake Erie. There is more of a concentration of bald eagle nests here than anywhere in the United States except Alaska. The Atlantic and Mississippi Flyways converge near here. Each spring this area is the home of the largest birding event in the country, The Biggest Week in American Birding, which last year helped attract more than 70,000 birders from all over the world, reports thebeacon.net.
Economic impact studies conducted by Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO) and Bowling Green State University show that visiting birders spend more than 30 million dollars in the area each spring. The internationally renowned Kaufman Birding Guides and the Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO) have made this area their home.
Here where the water meets the shore, the winds are frequent and strong. Wind turbines are being constructed at schools and private industries all over the area. As a green, clean, renewable alternative to the fossil-fuel-fired plants, wind power is becoming a popular choice.
However, even with government subsidies, wind power is still an expensive alternative form of energy. The other significant negative with wind power is that birds, especially songbirds, eagles and other raptors, can be killed by wind turbines.
In this area where birds migrate and converge, and where wind power is relatively new, the debate has risen to a crescendo, according to thebeacon.net.
Camp Perry, along the lakeshore west of Port Clinton, is in the process of erecting a wind turbine. Since 2007, The Black Swamp Bird Observatory, whose offices and bird banding station are a few miles down the shoreline at the entrance to Magee Marsh, has been expressing their concern that the Camp Perry wind turbine is at a location that endangers migrating birds, raptors and nesting eagles, including the eagles on the grounds of Camp Perry.
Recently Lake Erie Business Park, between Camp Perry and Magee Marsh, revealed plans for erecting six wind turbines.
Camp Perry has gone through regulatory steps and discussions and had an Environmental Assessment. However, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife (DOW) have found that study to be flawed, containing as many as 50 erroneous statements, according to Kim Kaufman of BSBO.
Traditional studies of avian mortality from wind turbines also have several difficulties, according to Mark Shieldcastle of BSBO. For one, once a songbird hits a wind turbine, not much is left of the songbird. Another is that scavengers often consume the evidence.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has warned that according to environmental impact analysis studies, some facilities in important bird areas could kill thousands of birds and bats per year, reports thebeacon.net.
At Laurel Mountain, West Virginia, in October of 2011, wind turbines killed 500 birds in one night (to read earlier report, click here).
Meanwhile, Camp Perry has filed a “finding of no significant impact” and has begun construction of the wind turbine. The wildlife agencies, including the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife and the ODNR Division of Wildlife, Ducks Unlimited, BSBO and the National Audubon Society, have disagreed that there is no significant impact.
At Lake Erie Business Park, no environmental assessment studies and no wildlife review are required, since they are privately funded. Erie Township, where Camp Perry and the business park are located, has no zoning regulations. When asked about the wind turbine construction, James McKinney of Lake Erie Business Park had no comment.
“It seems that the government has failed us, that the protection that we thought we had, we don’t. It took thirty years for us to recover the bald eagle population in Ohio, and their population could go downhill very quickly since their reproductive rates are much lower than that of songbirds,” said Shieldcastle, a nationally recognized eagle expert and widely known as the eagle person for the state of Ohio.
He recalls that in 1979 there were four pairs of eagles in Ohio. Now there are 300 nesting pairs in Ohio, with more than 50 nests along the shoreline between Sandusky and Toledo.
“If we can’t protect birds here, with all we know, where can we protect them?” asks Kaufman.
When 200 birds were caught in a freak ice storm in northern Alberta, and landed on Syncrude’s oilsands tailing ponds, Greenpeace was all over the story calling the bird deaths reprehensible. When hundreds of birds are killed by wind farms, allegedly a more environmentally friendly source of energy, Greenpeace is conspicuously silent.
Is it okay to butcher countless birds, create noise pollution, and make beautiful scenic areas ugly—all for the sake of green energy?
You be the judge.
There is nothing in which the birds differ more from man than the way in which they can build and yet leave a landscape as it was before.
—Robert Lynd, The Blue Lion and Other Essays