Monday, March 29, 2010

The Land Giveth... and the Wind Industry 'Taketh' Away

While preparing to speak about industrial wind at an upcoming town meeting, I was going over some informational documents pertaining to this new phenomenon sweeping across our state. As I perused The US Dept. of the Interior’s ‘Guidelines for Building and Operating Wind Energy Facilities in Maine’, I became incensed.

The guidelines were designed for the Wind Industry. The US Fish and Wildlife Service, which is charged with ensuring the safety and viability of this country’s wild and aquatic creatures, goes to some length to inform the developers of wind turbine installations how to site their energy facilities for minimal impact on those species. I felt hope as I began to read. Perhaps there actually was a government agency stepping up to the plate and doing what was right… doing its job! But it didn’t take me long to realize that, once again, America was dropping the ball. It was obvious that one more government agency has been told that Industrial Wind is ‘environmentally friendly’, and therefore, they must allow its presence on the unspoiled mountaintops of Maine.

The report deals specifically with wildlife laws applying to wind power, including the Endangered Species Act, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, and the Migratory Bird Treaty. Throughout the report wind industry developers are ‘encouraged’ to study in advance the potential adverse effects to native wildlife. They are ‘encouraged’ to develop site evaluations. They are ‘encouraged’ to incorporate measures to avoid and minimize risks. When it comes to tampering with wetlands, the Wildlife Service ‘strongly supports’ a sequential approach to ‘avoid, minimize, and mitigate wetland impacts’.

I couldn’t believe what I read. Not once did this report from the department which is charged with protecting our living, breathing natural resources say, ‘You WILL study the potential adverse impacts on our wildlife!’ or ‘You WILL incorporate measures to avoid risks!’ And even if they DID issue those directives, the developer still had all the power. For it is the developer who hires the consultants and scientists for these studies. These experts don’t work for the government, or for the wildlife. They work for the Wind Industry. That is a direct conflict of interest, no matter how you look at it

To do this right, the Service should stipulate what types of studies are done, and the duration and amount of detail required for each one. And while the developers absolutely should pay for the costs of the research required, that money should be put into an escrow account overseen by a third party with no bias. And it should be the Service which chooses the biologists and specialists, not the developer. That is only good common sense.

But the lack of firm direction and oversight was not what infuriated me the most. When discussing the wildlife and the potential to do it harm, these guidelines only pertain to certain species; eagles, Canada lynxes, migrating birds and bats, and the like. Our native creatures which are not ‘protected’ seem to be given no credence at all. What about the effects these industrial turbines will have on our moose population, which move to the high ground in the winter for the forage and protection and less-encumbering snow depths? Those sheltered areas will be cleared of many of the softwoods that they rely on. Our deer herds have suffered recently, too, from harsh winters and massive logging operations. The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife admits they know very little about the effects that these industrial developments will have on the foraging and hunting abilities of our native creatures, or how they will effect their mating habits, reproduction capabilities and hibernation instincts. And yet, these other species don’t seem to be taken into account when ‘encouraging’ developers to ‘utilize’ the Service’s guidelines.

And then, there is the ‘take’. The US Department of the Interior defines it thusly: “‘Take’ means to pursue, shoot, shoot at, poison, wound, kill, capture, trap, collect, molest or disturb.’ And ‘disturb’ under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, means to agitate or bother “to a degree that causes, or is likely to cause…injury to an eagle, or a decrease in its productivity by substantially interfering with its normal breeding, feeding or sheltering behavior.”

Understand this: It is illegal to ‘take’ those animals on the aforementioned lists of endangered or protected species. You and I would be in big trouble if we molested, disturbed or shot at any of those animals. Big trouble! That’s as it should be. And yet–and I’m quoting from the guidelines again–‘If take of a listed species is anticipated, wind developers are encouraged to contact the Service to discuss obtaining an incidental take permit’. ‘A permit is necessary to avoid potential liability for take.’

Instead of advocating for a ‘no take’ policy, the department charged with safeguarding our endangered and protected species is looking out for the well-being of the wind industry! They are telling them in advance that if, in fact, the developers do foresee the ‘taking’ of these special animals, they should get a permit to do so, first. So that they won’t be held liable!

This is wrong. However one looks at these policies and the way they are written, they are simply wrong! Skewed. Biased towards one particular industry, and at the expense of our native wildlife.

There are so many reasons why these guidelines should be scrapped, and why a real set of uncompromising standards should be written–standards that the wind industry must adhere to, just like the average Mainer has to.

I could go on indefinitely. Instead, I will point out one more gem from this set of guidelines designed for the burgeoning Wind Industry. It relates to migratory bird and bat ‘mortality events’. The Service says that if more than twenty-five individual birds or bats are ‘taken’ in a twenty-four hour period, that ‘should’ be reported to the Service within twenty-four hours. Any less than twenty-five? Those bird and bat deaths can be summarized in annual reports provided to the Maine Field Office. I’ll bet the wind industry hopes only 8,759 birds and bats die at each industrial wind development every year. It would surely cut down on the amount of paperwork the developers ‘should’ provide to the Field Office.

It’s time to put a stop to this madness. We’re dallying where we’ve no right to be in the first place. Big Wind should not get special dispensation when it comes to the health and well-being of this land’s inhabitants, be they human or wild. Please get involved and make your voices heard.

The top picture came to me in an email from my friend Wally McKenney.
I think (if my memory isn't failing me) the second photo of the bald eagle was taken by my father, game warden (retired) Chuck Bessey.
The third photo of the soaring eagle was taken by me in September of 2009, in the skies over my home-- Lexington Township. Yeah... it could have been a great picture if I'd taken the time to read the instructions that came with my camera...


  1. For some reason, I can't add any photos to this blog entry. I'll keep trying (while maintaining my sunny disposition, of course...)

  2. Okay... I was able to upload some photos this time.

    I swear, the god of computers just does this to keep me humble. Or make me anxious. Or drive me insane...