Jan 15, 2008

Wind Farm Threatens Horicon NWR

sandhill cranesThe Fond du Lac Reporter in southeastern Wisconsin is reporting that the Horicon Marsh Systems Advocates — an environmental advocacy group — has pledged to closely monitor the wind farm that will soon be built at least two miles from Horicon National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin.

The HMS Advocates have been fighting the wind farm project for some time, as they worked to ensure the company would be forced to build the turbines at least five miles from the eastern edge of Horicon NWR, so as not to interfere with moving bird populations. According to the HMS Advocates’ website:

In the summer of 2004, Forward Energy submitted an application to the Wisconsin Public Service Commission for the construction of a wind center consisting of 150 wind turbines. The wind center will cover an area consisting of the towns of Lomira, Byron, Leroy, Brownsville and Oakfield. This encompasses an area of 33,000 acres next to the Horicon Marsh. HMS Advocates feel that this project will have a devastating effect on the projected area.

HMS Advocates is not opposed to the idea of renewable energy sources. However, the organization feels that the proposed location is devastating to a prized area in our state. The Horicon Marsh is unique source of wildlife to our nation. Here are some things that make the Horicon Marsh special:

  • Horicon Marsh is the largest freshwater cattail marsh in the US
  • Renowned for its migrant flocks of Canada geese, it is also home to more than 260 species of birds
  • Due to its importance to wildlife, Horicon Marsh has been designated as
    • “Wetland of International Importance”
    • “Globally Important Bird Area”
  • Both a state wildlife area and national wildlife refuge

With their last legal battle fought, the HMS Advocates are now preparing for Invenergy Wind LLC to have 86 turbines operating by May at the $250 million Forward Wind Energy Center. According to the Fond du Lac Reporter, the HMS Advocates will now commit themselves to monitoring the impact of the turbines:

“We plan to monitor the project and bring news of bird kills to the attention of the media and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services to push for charges in accordance with the Bird Migratory Treaty Act,” said Curt Kindschuh, public information officer for Horicon Marsh Systems Advocates. “The death of Sandhill cranes, Canada geese, eagles, hawks, any migratory bird at all could result in significant state and federal fines for Invenergy or the hosting landowners.”

Among the most likely victims are sandhill cranes and local bat populations. The National Wildlife Refuge Association — which supported at least a four-mile setback for the wind farm — submitted comments for the project’s Environmental Impact Statement back in 2005, and stated:

..we understand that the total elimination of avian mortality under these circumstances is impossible, but the risk to some species of concern is particularly troubling. For example, Sandhill Cranes at Horicon National Wildlife Refuge use not only the marsh itself but also surrounding farmland for feeding and assembling (a majority using areas within three miles from the refuge boundary). Concern for this operating buffer is important. Not surprisingly, more Sandhill Cranes have been observed in the western portions of the current turbine zone. Indeed, hundreds of Sandhill Cranes use a few of the same fields (in the fall) where turbines are planned. It is unknown how they will adjust, if at all. The status of experimental Whooping Cranes should also be considered. If cranes from the Wisconsin experimental flock become established at or near Horicon Marsh, the site will become the focus of intense national and international conservation efforts. The largest gathering of migrating Canada Geese in the world (200,000 to 300,000 in the fall) may be secure, but close placement of turbines to Horicon Marsh does not make them more secure. Also unknown is the impact on other waterfowl. And each year, very large numbers of shorebirds, waders, raptors (especially in winter), and other birds move in and out of Horicon to forage in nearby farm fields, moving at relatively low altitude between resource areas…

…the impact on four cave-dwelling bat species at the abandoned Neda Mine, 10 miles south of the project area, bats which fly in and out of the marsh as they feed on insects, is unknown. Horicon Marsh provides a regionally important wetland for foraging bats, and conservation agencies have concluded that without studies to prove otherwise, the project area is likely to have greater bat abundance than other areas of east-central Wisconsin. Here is another case — with proximity to the marsh an issue — where extra care is advised.

But extra care does not seem to be in the cards for Invenergy. In fact, the Fond du Lac Reporter quotes the company as saying they plan to petition to move even closer to the refuge with future turbines, depending on the outcome of avian mortality surveys.

While wind farms offer much hope for weaning humans off of fossil fuels, the reality is that not every area is suitable for a large collection of tall, moving wind turbines. Careful thought and study — not greed — should go into deciding if a prime wildlife area is the best place for a major wind farm. If the wildlife risk is too high, then wind turbine companies would be wise to look for other locales. Otherwise the wind industry will begin to develop the same anti-environmental reputation that has been the bane of the fossil-fuel industries.

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