|Wind farm project likely to kill 200-300 eagles - Australia
|SAVE THE EAGLES INTERNATIONAL DENOUNCES THE DUPLICITY OF BIRD SOCIETIES
|Yaloak, Victoria, is a “déja vu” situation, a mainland repeat of the Woolnorth windfarm fiasco in Tasmania. There, 20 wedge-tailed eagles have been hacked to their deaths by rotor blades. More of them may have been killed at other wind farms on the island but the authorities are not keen to find out, much less to inform the public. Mitigation attempts have all failed, so the carnage won´t stop.
The Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle is a sub-species of the mainland “wedgie”. Already on the endangered list, it is now condemned to extinction as the State government is transforming its habitat into an aerial minefield of sorts. Its cousin species is more abundant on continental Australia, but a larger number of wind farms will be built in its breeding territories and dispersion areas, acting as "population sinks". Yaloak is a case in point: next to the proposed wind farm is an escarpment that attracts young, transient eagles. They come from Victoria, NSW, SA, and possibly beyond. That will cause an ongoing massacre, and the bird population of the bordering Brisbane Ranges National Park will too be affected. It is definitely the wrong place for building a wind farm.
.OBJECTION TO THE YALOAK SOUTH WIND FARM PROJECT
(Note: in this paper, wedge-tailed eagles may be referred to as WT eagles or “wedgies”.)
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1 - Distance from eagles´ nests
In addition to transient eagles that spend undetermined periods of time in the area, two breeding pairs are reported to be nesting within 1 km of the future wind farm. The science shows that eagles in general are not afraid of wind turbines: they are in fact attracted to them - see footnote (1) below. As a result, they often get killed by their blades (2). This is what prompted the Spanish Ornithological Society (SEO/Birdlife) to warn that wind farms located less than 15 km from large raptors´ nests may have detrimental effects on these birds (read: lethal or crippling collisions) (3).
In Germany, a radio tracking experiment found that Lesser Spotted Eagles have “a much greater home range than previously believed.” The director of the study, Dr. Meyburg*, concludes that the prevailing setback of 3 to 6 km around eagle nest sites is insufficient (4).
*Dr. Meyburg is President of the World Working Group on Birds of Prey.
Even the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), a vehement supporter of the construction of more wind farms (sic), admits that they should not be built closer than 5 km from white-tailed eagles´ nests, and 2.5 km from golden eagles´nests (though in this case it should really be 9 km, for a 2.5-km radius only comprises 50% of the eagles´ flights). The RSPB may have chosen 2.5 km because of its close ties with the wind industry (2), which has many projects within eagle breeding territories in Scotland. We have denounced this threat to the survival of eagles in Scotland ---> Scottish government, European Commission guilty of ecological vandalism.
Says the RSPB : "Golden Eagles are within home range core areas (2.5km radii) for 50% of the time, and avoidance of these will reduce risk of collision by territorial adults..." (5)
Conclusion on the setback issue
In view of the eagles´ propensity to fly close to wind turbines, to be struck by their blades and die as a result, it makes sense to establish a buffer zone of several kilometres around eagle nesting sites. Our organisation, Save the Eagles International, recommends a setback of 9 km for Scottish golden eagles, and 15 km for eagles in general in Spain. Regarding wedge-tailed and white-bellied sea eagles, the diversity of Australia´s geography, climate, vegetation cover and availability of prey render impractical the recommendation of a standard setback. A case-by-case approach would be required, but in no circumstances the resulting buffer zone should be less than 5 km (a short distance for any eagle to fly) if only because eagles are attracted to wind turbines (1) and because of the egregious Woolnorth experience.
The one-kilometre setback proposed for Yaloak South is clearly insufficient and will result in many deaths among breeding adults. At the Woolnorth wind farm in Tasmania, an insufficient buffer zone is causing the death of 5 WT eagles annually (13). This is the "black-hole effect" denounced by Dr. Eric Woehler, chairman of Birds Tasmania: "It´s killing eagles that were resident and drawing more in from the surrounding areas, so it will continue to be a black hole for these birds" – i.e. a population sink (6). At Yaloak, mortality is likely to be even higher in view of the significant number of "floaters" and immature eagles that transit through the site, attracted by the escarpment (among other things). Typically, they will spend days, weeks or months in the area, hunting, feeding, and interacting with other eagles (it is called “a dispersion area”).
The vicinity of the Brisbane Ranges National Park is an added source of concern, as the Yaloak wind farm may act as a population sink for some of its bird populations.
2 - Dubious allegation by Biosis Research Pty Ltd
The developers´ consultants argue that the ongoing removal of kangaroo carcasses would help keep the eagles away from the turbines. But this prediction is not based on fact. Like other eagles, wedgies prefer live prey to carrion, and they would continue to hunt in the windfarm area as usual. Logic also suggests that they would spend more time hunting if they don´t have carrion to fall back upon when unsuccessful. This would increase the risk of collision. Young eagles that haven’t yet mastered sufficient hunting skills do feed mainly on carrion, but the removal of carcasses to keep them away from the turbines is impractical (see our remarks further below). The Biosis allegation is also wrong because:
a) eagles do not fly only to look for food,
b) like most raptors they are attracted to wind turbines (1).
The huge Altamont Pass WRA* in California is the best-studied wind farm in the world because of its high raptor mortality. A number of ornithologists have done research at the site, but the most comprehensive studies have been carried out by Dr. Smallwood et al., who have been monitoring “the Altamont” for about 10 years. They found that golden eagles flew within 25 metres of the turbines:
- about 4.5 times more often than expected by chance when these were not operating,
- about 3.2 times more often than expected by chance when these were operating.
They also noted that the eagles did perch within 25 metres of operating turbines 6.5 times more often than expected by chance.
Other raptors were found to have the same penchant (1).
*WRA : Wind Resource Area
This attraction explains the scientifically-documented high raptor mortality at wind farms : over 35,000 raptor deaths at the Altamont over 27 years, including 2,000 - 3,000 golden eagles (16). Dr. Smallwood concluded that this mortality was not specific to the Altamont wind farm: it is explained by the remarkable abundance of raptors in the area, especially transient birds (as in Yaloak). Altamont is not an exception: other wind farms kill raptors as well, but in proportion to their abundance (3).
Various mitigation measures were implemented at the WRA over the years, without significant results. Golden eagles continue to be killed to this day, causing a population decline over a huge area (transient eagles come to the Altamont from as far as Canada). In their ultimate field work at the WRA, Dr. Smallwood et al. observed 56% less golden eagles than in earlier years, and concluded to an apparent population decline (1).
To try and disprove this apparent decline, which would hurt the reputation of wind farms and put a limit to their expansion in eagle habitat, US consultants WEST Inc. were hired to carry an ongoing golden eagle census over the Western United States. But of a census it only has the name. In fact it only consists in observations made from an airplane (sic). Based on these, West Inc. recently reported that the GE population is not declining (17). But the method employed rests credibility to their findings:
- seen from an airplane, an adult golden eagle looks like a juvenile bald eagle. The survey data, therefore, is likely to be unreliable, and so is the “census” based on it.
- the small number of alleged golden eagle sightings is then extrapolated into a population estimate. Basing themselves on 181 eagles spotted from an airplane in 2009, West Inc. estimated the population of golden eagles in the Western US to be 20,722 (sic).
This is a good example of the sort of junk science our decision makers are using when dealing with windfarm applications, guidelines, or policy. The report was commissioned by the US Fish & Wildlife Service: in the US as in Australia, public administrations use the same accommodative consultants as the wind industry. The results invariably favour windfarm interests, but bird societies fail to denounce this whitewashing. Money talks: in the US, the Massachusetts Chapter of the Audubon Society first opposed a windfarm project offshore Cape Code saying it could kill up to 6,000 birds a year, including roseate terns (classified "endangered species" in the US). Several years and a multi-million-dollar monitoring contract later, they gave their approval to the project. - Need we say more?
The same disgrace afflicts bird societies in other countries. For example: in the UK, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) rent their name to a utility company which sells "RSPB Energy", whose name implies that renewable energy is harmless to bird life. Yet wind turbines are killing several million birds (and bats) across the world each year, a great many of them protected raptors and migrating birds ---> Chilling Statistics
3 - The proposed mitigation of removing carrion won´t help
Young eagles with undeveloped hunting skills feed mainly on carrion. But eagles can survey a wind farm area much faster than would a couple of windfarm employees. They can also repeat their searches many times throughout the day, more than the workers ever could. It is therefore doubtful that the employees would find the kangaroo and other carcasses before the eagles did. And as the men search the grounds for carrion, they would flush any eagles present, increasing the risk of collision for the great birds.
But assuming ad argumentum that the employees would always remove each and every new carcass before the eagles could find them, that wouldn´t stop young eagles from flying in the windfarm area, looking for food or a perching site, or interacting with other eagles. Like the adults, if carrion were scarce or absent they would have to spend more time in the air looking, thus increasing their chances of being struck by a rotor blade. Finally, at the risk of repeating myself: eagles are attracted to wind turbines, regardless of the presence or absence of carrion.
The most likely effect of this proposed mitigation is that the employees would find crippled or dead birds before would ornithologists or the public. They could make embarrassing eagle carcasses disappear. This is what they do in Spain, in Sweden, and probably in other countries as well (footnote 3 – see “HIDING THE EVIDENCE”). Conservationists would be led to believe, erroneously, that the mitigation was proving successful. The result of this error would be the installation of more wind farms close to wedgies´ nests or in dispersion areas for young eagles, with adverse consequences for the conservation of the species.
The removal of carcasses, land management, and other mitigation techniques have been tested at a cost of 2 million pounds at the Beinn an Tuirc wind farm in Scotland. It was a failure, even if the developer, Scottish officials and some ornithologists* crowed success. Their report has been analyzed and its flaws brought to light (7). But critiques are unwelcome where billions of dollars of taxpayers´money are being handed out as subventions to special interests (in this case the wind industry). The flawed report was thus taken at face value, and an extension of the B&T wind farm was approved.
*Some ornithologists have become keen defenders of the windfarm business. The deep pockets of the industry have created an overwhelming conflict of interest in their profession and among bird societies (2).
4 - The precedent of Challicum Hills
Biosis Research Pty Ltd argues that the Challicum Hills wind farm has not, apparently, killed any eagle in spite of its proximity to an active nest only 300 metres away. But 24 searches spread over 2 years can´t obviate the disposal of bird carcasses by scavengers and wind farm employees. For the latter, it is easy enough to do as the search dates are known in advance (if not exactly, at least approximately).
It also happens that each and every collision does not result in immediate death, allowing the birds to walk away and die some distance from the wind farm (see picture above). This is what Dr. Smallwood et al. (2009) call "the crippling bias", which causes some deaths to go undetected - there is a telling picture of a golden eagle that walked away from the Altamont windfarm, here ---> Click here and scroll down to picture
In any event, Biosis admitted : "the work does not discount the possibility of WT eagle collisions" (having occurred at Challicum Hills). Indeed, the presence of eagles at the nest in 2009 does not constitute evidence that no eagles have been killed in prior years. The eagles sighted in 2009 may be newcomers, and prior residents may have collided with rotor blades. We don´t know either that the birds present in 2009 are not dead as we speak, and that the vacancy hasn´t again attracted other eagles from the surrounding area (the black hole effect). Seen from a distance with binoculars, some eagles may be identified by distinguishing features, such as missing feathers, but they are the exception.
In any event, as there was no attempt to identify the eagles observed in prior years, noting unique features if any, the main argument of Biosis rests on an unproven “fact".
Generally speaking, monitoring reports must be treated with caution. The value of their findings is all too often impaired by budget constraints, inadequate scope or methodology, and a number of subjective factors. They can also be doctored, or even edited - e.g. the Lekuona report (12). Like most people, ornithologists try to keep their jobs. Right now, the wind industry is their principal employer, so it is their best interest to find little evidence of bird mortality. This is easily done by following one´s natural penchant for loafing.
In the circumstances, reports showing little or no casualty cannot be taken for granted. They do not constitute "evidence". On the other hand, dead birds that have been found do constitute solid evidence. Logic tells us that statistics of significant eagle mortality at wind farms (2), and comprehensive scientific studies conducted at the wind farms of Altamont (California) and Smola (Norway), are proof enough that wind turbines should not be erected where eagles fly.
Adults forage and interact mostly in a radius of several kilometres from their nests, hence the setback recommendations we discussed above. Young eagles fly much further, exploring entire countries. Certain areas attract them, like Altamont, Yaloak, or Edinbane and Allt Dearg in Scotland, and it stands to reason that these should be kept free of wind turbines. Building wind farms in such locations amounts to premeditated eagle genocide. So where are the bird societies when we need them?
The dubious claim that a wind farm located 300 metres from an active nest doesn´t appear to have killed any eagles in several years of operation should act as a red flag, especially when used to justify the construction of more wind farms close to eagle nests (e.g. Yaloak). When Big Money is involved, the incentive to deceive the public can be irresistible. The allegation that eagles nesting 300 metres from a wind farm will not necessarily be killed could bring millions, perhaps billions of dollars to the wind industry worldwide. It would be used to argue that wind farms can be built in areas previously off-limits because of the presence of eagles, while contenting bird societies through the provision of monitoring and/or mitigation contracts.
Like bird surveys and impact assessments, windfarm monitoring and mitigation are of great benefit to ornithologists. This could explain why many of their objections recommend "more studies", and make their approval conditional upon "monitoring", "mitigation", or both. The eagles may die, but the profession prospers.
If great, iconic birds being killed in significant numbers can´t stop the combined greed of windfarm developers, politicians and bird societies, nothing will. Australia´s unique, spectacular and world-famous bird life is therefore in peril.
5 - Conflict of interest
The basic self-interest of Biosis Research Pty Ltd is to cultivate an image of competence, professionalism and objectivity. But their conflicting interest is to please the developer who hired them, and who is to pay an agreed-upon sum of money when he receives their report. If he is satisfied, they will be hired again, by him or by another developer. Bonuses may even be part of the reward.
Unfortunately for bird life, this conflicting interest is the more powerful of the two. It is exacerbated in the windfarm business because governments, public administrations, and many ornithologists and bird societies share the same views as the developers, subject as they are to conflicts of interest of their own. Wind farms are now ranking ahead of biodiversity to the point where protected birds, natural reserves, and national parks (e.g. in England) are no obstacle to their apparently limitless expansion. Renewable energies are fashionable and enjoy considerable political, financial, and emotional support. This combination is playing havoc with the environment and the biodiversity it supports.
There is money to be made at the expense of taxpayers, and a powerful moral excuse to do it. Wind farms, at the moment, are perceived as an industry that helps save the planet, even if many independent engineers and climatologists do not agree. This combination of greed and alleged moral high ground is corrupting everything to do with wind farms, including ornithology and the noble goal of preserving our natural treasures.
Birds Australia are remarkably silent about a wind farm to be built as close as 500 metres from the center of a small but strategic wetland, at Bald Hills, Victoria. Yet we can read in their policy statement: "Mortality should be avoided wherever possible, and windfarms should not be located near habitat where birds congregate or pass through in large numbers, such as at wetlands." In a recent report, the Spanish Ornithological Society warn that wind farms may negatively impact wetland bird life up to 15 km away (through collisions of birds flying in and out). (3)
We are not aware of Birds Australia denouncing the Yaloak project either. Yet it is likely to kill more eagles than the wind turbines at infamous Woolnorth.
Birds Australia states: "Impact assessments need to be comprehensive, thorough and unbiased." But the Biosis report on Yaloak possesses none of these qualities.
In a previous report about the exploitation of windpower in Tasmania, consultants Biosis & Symbolix exhibited a combined mortality prediction of about one wedge-tailed eagle per annum for a total of seven wind farms across the island (13). The prediction turned out to be way off the mark, by no less than one order of magnitude. In fact Woolnorth, the only wind farm being monitored in Tasmania (or in any case the only one whose results have been publicised) has had a mortality averaging five eagles per year, i.e. five times that predicted for all 7 Tasmanian wind farms taken together (13).
In any other business, the reputation of the consultants would have been shattered by such a poor job. What would we think of an engineer who would have certified an elevator to be safe for 10 persons, when in reality it wasn´t even safe for a single one?
But in the windfarm business it works the other way around: consultants get rewarded for their mistakes, their incompetence, and their lack of scruples. Under-performers get hired over and over again, whereas others who have done a professional job and raised the red flag will never be able to land another contract.
Biosis were hired to assess the impact of the Yaloak project in spite or because of their dismal record at predicting eagle mortality at Tasmanian wind farms. This is not an isolated case. All over the world the industry have their favourite consultants, e.g. West Inc. in the United States, or Natural Research Projects Ltd in Scotland. It is easy to figure out how one becomes a favourite in the business of assessing collateral damages for and on behalf of the perpetrators.
The whole environmental impact assessment procedure needs an overhaul. The independence of consultants should be encouraged, protected, and guaranteed. But in reality the opposite is occurring. We have an absurd system where windfarm developers are being asked to assess themselves (or through their favourite consultants, which amounts to the same thing) the damage their projects will cause to the environment. To make things worse, the decision makers often have a compelling interest to approve the projects regardless of the consequences. This leaves the environment unprotected, which is the opposite of what pretends their rhetoric. In a sane political system, nobody would ask Exxon to assess the damage done by the Exxon Valdez. But in planning departments across the world this is exactly what is happening where wind farms are concerned.
In the case of Yaloak we have been talking mainly about one emblematic species, but fooling ourselves about windfarm mortality will have deleterious effects on biodiversity in general. The cumulative impact of thousands of wind turbines across Australia will put at risk not only its eagles, but many other bird populations as well.
6 - Downsizing
Some may object to our comparing Yaloak with Woolnorth, as the latter has more turbines. Pacific Hydro may also offer to further reduce the number of turbines for Yaloak. But fewer machines won´t necessarily cut down on raptor mortality, as evidenced by the removal of some of the turbines at the Altamont. As noted earlier, Dr. Smallwood et al. evidenced that eagles and other raptors are attracted to wind turbines; consequently, when some turbines are eliminated, the birds fly closer to those remaining. To wit: in Sweden, an eagle was killed by a wind farm of only 3 turbines (2). At Starfish Hill, South Australia, wind turbines killed two wedgies within 10 days of their inauguration (2) - a clear sign that eagles do not avoid being near wind turbines, even when unfamiliar with them. They could even feel curiosity towards these strange machines.
The video in the next section may help understand how raptors get struck by rotor blades.
7 - Unreliability of modelled collision predictions
Save the Eagles International have recently complained to the European Union about a case of scientific fraud involving a collision model (8). We also described the technique for doctoring such models.
One of the determining factors being fed into collision models is the calculated avoidance rate. But there is much confusion about the word "avoidance". It should not be construed as evidence that eagles avoid flying near wind turbines. On the contrary, raptors are attracted to wind turbines: this has been scientifically documented by Dr. Smallwood et al. (1), and evidenced by numerous raptor collisions at wind farms worldwide (2) (10). It is further corroborated by the following videos and pictures:
- Video ---> Griffon vulture colliding with a wind turbine in Greece
The bird shows no sign of being conscious of the danger.
- Video ---> Turkey vulture perched on a moving turbine in California
Remarkably, the author of the video thinks it proves that birds and wind turbines can live together. But 81 turkey vultures were killed by wind turbines at the Altamont as of 2004 (16), and up to 2,000 griffon vultures are being killed by wind farms in Spain annually (10).
- Picture ---> Red-tailed-hawk perched on a nacelle
- Picture ---> Raptor perched on a blade
The calculated avoidance rate does not reflect an aversion towards wind turbines. It is simply the result of a poorly understood discrepancy in the process of modelling bird collisions. Let me explain, without going into too much detail:
- step one: the researchers feed data into their collision model, e.g. the number and size of the turbines, the surface of the area under observation, and the observed bird activity at rotor height. But note the following:
- to determine a collision rate, it has to be an existing wind farm that has been previously monitored for mortality (e.g. the Altamont, Woolnorth, Smola).
- the choice of the area of observation and of its size is subjective and will bear heavily on the results (8).
- step two: running the model, they will find how many of the estimated flights are likely to pass through the turbines´ rotor-swept-areas (as if birds were stones cast evenly through the wind farm);
- step three: with the help of more input data (e.g. bird size) and assumptions (e.g. average bird and rotor speeds), the model will tell them how many of these flights are likely to end up in collisions;
- step four: there will be a discrepancy between these predicted collisions and the actual mortality as previously monitored: e.g. if 100 was the prediction and 5 the reality, the researchers will conclude in a somewhat simplistic manner that there is a 95% "avoidance rate", i.e. that 95% of the birds supposed to have been killed did in fact avoid flying through the rotor-swept areas. Some certainly did take evasive action, but the researchers ignore too many other things, such as the likeliness of errors in the survey data, subject to the well-known “observers’ bias”. They also ignore the subjectivity of their own assumptions fed into the model (choice of the observation area and its size, birds flying like cast stones evenly through the area, bird and rotor speed, etc.).
- step five: they apply this “avoidance rate” to predict mortality at other wind farms. As the determination of the rate in question can be doctored easily (see steps 1 to 3), one can actually predict mortality "a la carte". A good example of this is the scandalous case of the Edinbane wind farm proposal, where Scottish authorities first asked that an avoidance rate of 95% be applied. But when they found that the prediction would come to 137 eagle collisions over 25 years, they decided that an avoidance rate of 98% could be used. This had the effect of reducing the prediction from 137 to 27 collisions. Then the developer removed 9 turbines from his plan and the prediction was further reduced to 15. This number was what the administration had advised would be acceptable (in fact it is not, given that the Scottish golden eagles are "in demographic difficulty") - See: (8) ---> look for: THE SCANDAL OF THE EDINBANE WINDFARM.
The above shows that collision modelling can be, and has been used as an instrument of deception. Save the Eagles International therefore rejects its use as an aid for decision making. We are not alone to advocate against it, but others prefer to use understatements, as follows:
- from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (letter of 19 June 2006 regarding the Edinbane wind farm project in Scotland): “Over the course of the application the model has been run a considerable number of times resulting in a wide range of predicted collision rates. This emphasises the caution required in interpreting the results from the model." (11)
- from Mike Madders and Philip Whitfield , renowned Scottish ornithologists: "There are practical problems associated with gathering the data required to run the model and numerous assumptions must be made concerning bird behavior. This can lead to deficiencies in the input parameters which potentially have a large effect on the model outputs. Hence, we make recommendations for potential improvements, such as quantifying error in flight height estimation, training of observers in acuity skills, quantifying bird detection-distance functions, and research on factors influencing activity budgets and flight behavior. In addition, the model outputs are usually adjusted to take account of turbine avoidance by birds and this aspect of birds´ behavior is poorly understood." - UPLAND RAPTORS AND THE ASSESSMENT OF WIND FARM IMPACTS - Mike Madders & D. Philip Whitfield (March 2006)
- and from the British Trust for Ornithology, Wind Farm Collision Risk Model and its Application (April 2005): "We cannot therefore recommend the use of the SNH model without further research into avoidance rates”.
The unreliability of avoidance rates is further confirmed by the considerable variance between predictions and actual mortality. Woolnorth is a good example: real life collisions are more than ten times higher than predicted collisions. Thus, cumulatively, the doctored assessment of bird mortality at wind farms may result in the extinction of a number of bird species in Australia, starting with the Tasmanian Wedge-tailed Eagle.
For Yaloak, consultants Biosis used deceptive tricks. Feeding various inappropriate avoidance rates into their computer, they produce a choice of modelled predictions going from 4.3 to 0.4 eagle deaths per year. Then they lead us to believe that the smaller predictions are the most likely to be correct. This perfectly illustrates the point that we made about mortality predictions “a la carte”.
But the deception goes a step further. At the Stockyard Hill Hearing in March 2010, Ian Smales, senior consultant zoologist of Biosis Research Pty Ltd., stated: "The Wedge-tailed Eagle is a species that appears to exhibit a lower avoidance rate than most bird species (S. Muir, Symbolix Pty. Ltd, unpublished data), which is why the 90% avoidance rate has been provided in Biosis Research collision risk modelling for that species at Woolnorth since 2006 (15). So why didn´t Biosis use a 90% avoidance rate for Yaloak in their WT eagle Collision Risk Assessment of December 2009? Why did they use instead 95%, 98%, 99% and even 99.8% (!) which they knew would minimise mortality predictions to the extreme, and be completely out of touch with reality? It does look to us like a case of willful deception.
Ian Smales said that they used 90% for Woolnorth "since 2006", but did not mention the erroneous rate they used before that. Says raptor specialist Stephen Debus in his comments on Yaloak: "Smales & Muir (2005) ’Modelled Cumulative Impacts on the Tasmanian Wedgetailed Eagle of Wind Farms across the Species’ Range’ (Biosis & SymboliX report) predicted about one Wedge-tailed Eagle death per year across all of Tasmania (= seven wind farms), from collisions with wind turbines, on the basis that there was likely to be a 99% or greater avoidance rate."
This shows that Biosis changed their avoidance rate from 99% to 90% between 2005 and 2006, which increases collision predictions by about ten times.
Why did they do that, you ask?
- Because real mortality at Woolnorth shattered their predictions. But in reducing their rate from 99%+ to 90%, they evidenced the following:
1) they erred immensely in their original choice of 99%+ (ten times less collisions)
2) they acknowledged their error - yet inexplicably chose 99%+ for Yaloak in 2009,
3) the “observed avoidance rates” they based their choice upon, and the scientific literature where they found it, are worthless, and indicative of the amount of junk science that clutter the bird/windfarm question.
4) proof is given that the empirical method used by Save the Eagles International (below) is far more reliable as a management tool than collision modelling.
"If you put tomfoolery into a computer, nothing comes out of it but tomfoolery. But this tomfoolery, having passed through a very expensive machine, is somehow ennobled and no-one dares criticise it." - Pierre Gallois
We have shown that, by manipulating the avoidance factor, it is possible to predict mortality "a la carte" and choose whatever figure is needed to obtain the approval of any windfarm project. It would be foolish, knowing this, to continue trusting collision models, especially when run by people having a clear self interest in getting windfarm projects approved.
THE METHOD OF SAVE THE EAGLES INTERNATIONAL (SEI)
SEI recommends an empirical method to assess the impact of Yaloak on eagles:
- survey breeding eagle abundance at Yaloak in a 17 km radius from the center of the wind farm.
- perform a similar survey at Woolnorth, ensuring that the breeding eagles killed by the wind farm have all been replaced by newcomers.
- perform a 12-month survey of floaters and immature eagles present in the same areas, and select the highest number found at any one time.
- compare the results for the 2 wind farms.
- determine from the comparison if Yaloak is likely to kill less, as many, or more eagles than Woolnorth.
- considering that hundreds of windfarms are or will be built across Australia, determine how many eagles can be killed cumulatively every year without having detrimental effects on the population.
- considering that Woolnorth kills an average of 5 WT eagles a year, decide if Yaloak should be built.
From the data available in the Biosis report (Chapter 8), there are indications that Yaloak may cause more eagle mortality than Woolnorth, where the victims are mainly resident eagles plus newcomers that replace them when they die. Yaloak will kill resident eagles and newcomers like Woolnorth, but also a significant number of transient eagles coming from anywhere in Australia.
SEI´s rough estimate of 200-300 eagle deaths at Yaloak over 25 years is based on the actual Woolnorth mortality rate of 5 resident WT eagles per year, plus 3-7 transient ones. In the Biosis report on Yaloak we read: "on one occasion 15 wedge-tailed eagles were seen attending a kangaroo carcass". If we assume, conservatively, that the 4 resident adults and 4 of their (possible) juveniles were present, that leaves a minimum of 7 transient wedgies. This suggests that the area attracts a significant number of floaters and other immature eagles. Evidence from the Altamont shows that many of these are likely to get killed by rotor blades, so it is wise to take a precautionary approach - hence our choice of 3-7 collisions per year for transient eagles.
Our method may not be perfect, but is has the merit of being about ten times better* than modelled predictions as calculated by Ian Smales or Biosis Research Pty Ltd.
* Consultants erred by a factor of 10 (and possibly more) in their prediction for 7 Tasmanian wind farms.
Real mortality statistics from Woolnorth, Smola, Altamont and elsewhere have proved that collision modelling misleads decision makers to the point of causing biodiversity disasters instead of avoiding them. The fate of the Tasmanian Wedge-Tailed Eagle, for instance, was sealed by the “error” of biased consultants.
If great, iconic birds being killed into extinction can´t stop the combined greed of windfarm developers, politicians and bird societies, nothing will. The cumulative impact of thousands of wind turbines will play havoc with Australia´s spectacular, unique, and world-famous bird life. Should we allow the future of biodiversity to be decided by failed computer models manipulated by discredited consultants?
NOTE: Stephen Debus (raptor specialist, PhD in zoology, University of New England) submitted some critical comments of the Biosis assessment (13).
Save the Eagles International endorses his comments.
May 21st, 2010
President, Save the Eagles International
Further developments on this case:
Wind farms: suspicious error by consultant condemns Tasmanian eagle to extinction
Will Australia approve eagle-killer windfarm at Yaloak, rewarding mendacious consultant?
Does the Australian government care about biodiversity? - Yaloak is the test.
Recommended reading : Scottish government, European Commission guilty of ecological vandalism.
(1) - RANGE MANAGEMENT PRACTICES TO REDUCE WIND TURBINE IMPACTS ON BURROWING OWLS AND OTHER RAPTORS IN THE ALTAMONT PASS WIND RESOURCE AREA, CALIFORNIA - California Energy Commission, PIER Final Project Report - Dr. Smallwood et al. (October 2009)
Raptors are attracted to wind turbines : see the ANNEX at the end of the following paper, Section A ---> Scottish government, European Commission guilty of ecological vandalism.
(2) - EAGLE MORTALITY STATISTICS ---> LINK to statistics
The entire paper is relevant to Yaloak and is recommended reading. There is every reason to believe that Birds Australia is afflicted by the same conflict of interest that grips the RSPB. In BA´s declared policy regarding wind farms we read: "Comprehensive and ongoing monitoring of bird mortality should occur at all windfarms, so that rigorous data on mortality rates can be centralised and made publicly available." Yet we can´t find any mortality statistics at all on their website or anywhere in Australia. Save the Eagles International, based in Spain, does publish statistics related to Australia - see "wedge-tailed eagles" and "ospreys" in the above article. Why doesn´t Birds Australia? It certainly looks like double-talk to us.
(3) - DIRECTIVES FOR ASSESSING THE IMPACT OF WIND FARMS ON BIRDS AND BATS (in Spanish : DIRECTRICES PARA LA EVALUACION DEL IMPACTO DE LOS PARQUES EOLICOS EN AVES Y MURCIELAGOS) - SEO/Birdlife (Dec. 2008).
Translation of their significant findings : see the ANNEX at the end of the following paper, Section B ---> Scottish government, European Commission guilty of ecological vandalism.
(4) - HIGH MORTALITY RATE IN JUVENILE AND ADULT BIRDS: CAUSES OF DEATH IN LESSER SPOTTED EAGLES - Meyburg, B.-U. & C. Meyburg (2009)
In Germany, there is a recommended setback of 3 to 6 km around eagle nest sites, but experience shows it isn´t ample enough:
"Wind turbines - a new permanent danger.
The number of victims at wind farms is undoubtedly higher than officially known. The plans to greatly increase the numbers of these installations in Brandenburg and elsewhere can only be viewed with the greatest concern as far as the Lesser Spotted Eagle is concerned. Wind farms in the USA claim thousands of victims annually. As with the help of ST studies it is now known that the Lesser Spotted Eagles have a much greater home range than previously believed, the protective belt around known nest sites of 3 or 6 km only partly helps to solve the problem." ---> LINK
(5) - BIRD SENSITIVITY MAP TO PROVIDE LOCATIONAL GUIDANCE FOR ONSHORE WIND FARMS IN SCOTLAND
RSPB Research Report No 20 - June 2006 ---> LINK
See pages 57-61 for white-tailed eagles - recommended setback of 5 km
See pages 70-73 for golden eagles - recommended setback of 2.5 - 9 km
The paragraph on Collision Risk for the golden eagle shows the extent of the RSPB´s duplicity: they are withholding mortality data, thus helping windfarm developers. Their statistics are a fraction of those published by Save the Eagles International ---> Eagles and wind farms : mortality statistics
(6) - Dr. Eric Woehler, chairman of Birds Tasmania : the Woolnorth wind farm is acting as a "black hole" ---> BLACK HOLE
(7) - The failure of the Beinn an Tuirc mitigation - see our description of the manipulation in the following paper: Covering up the death of eagles at Scottish windfarms
(8) - Collision modelling : look for sections "The Scandal of the Edinbane Windfarm" and "How the Manipulation Works", here ---> Scottish government, European Commission guilty of ecological vandalism.
(9) - 20 eagles killed at Woolnorth
(10) – - WIND FARMS SLAUGHTER VULTURES IN SPAIN - COVERING UP THE EVIDENCE - M. Duchamp (May 2006): ---> LINK
(11) – Collision modelling not reliable: RSPB letter of 19 June 2006 regarding the Edinbane wind farm project ---> LINK
(12) – Editing monitoring reports ---> Birds and windfarms - Critical analysis of 4 reports on bird mortality at windfarm sites.
(13) – Critique of the Biosis assessment by Stephen Debus (raptor specialist, PhD in zoology, University of New England) ---> DEBUS comments
Note: at the Stockyard Hill hearing (see footnote 15 below), the Senior Consultant Zoologist of Biosis Research Pty. Ltd contended that the correct number of eagles that have been killed to date at Woolnorth is 16. What they forget to say is the following:
1) the monitoring was only covering 30% of the Bluff Point turbines in the first few years.
2) some dead eagles were not included in the statistics because they were found near the road so it was argued a car may have hit them. Yet in matters of endangered species like the Tasmanian WT eagle, the precautionary principle is to apply.
(14) - The Red Kite : decimated by wind farms in the EU
(15) - Expert Witness Statement of Ian John Smales, Senior Consultant Zoologist, Biosis Research Pty. Ltd and hired expert of Stockyard Hill Wind Farm Pty Ltd - Stockyard Hill hearing, March 2010: LINK
(16) - In 2004, it was scientifically estimated that 2,300 golden eagles had been killed at Altamont Pass wind farm since the wind farm was built in the eighties (23 years to 2004) - Dr. Smallwood & K. Thelander, Aug. 2004, Developing Methods to Reduce Bird Mortality in the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area - SEE CHAPTER 3, page 73, TABLE 3.11, 1ST LINE : "116.5 golden eagles p.a. adjusted for search detection and scavenging." ---> SMALLWOOD
I have kept a copy in case the report is removed from the Web. I shall send it upon request (it weighs 12 Mb).
For overall raptor deaths at the Altamont, the same report (sponsored by the California Energy Commision (CEC) estimates that 1,300 raptors are being killed at the windfarm yearly – SEE CHAPTER 3, page 74, TABLE 3.11 cont´d, 6th line: "1300.3 raptors p.a. adjusted for search detection and scavenging." Over the life of the windfarm (27 years to date) this would represent 1300 x 27 years = 35,100 raptors killed at the Altamont.
The windfarm has 5,700 wind turbines – Dr Smallwood thinks repowering with larger turbines may help reduce the death toll somewhat, but not as much as claimed by the wind industry. Large turbines kill more birds as their rotors sweep larger areas, and the blades are not any slower at the tips. But, at least, there would be less of them.
Later reports show that 1,300 raptor victims a year at the Altamont was an under-estimate. One reports puts the number at 2,236 ---> LINK
Dr. Smallwood et al. confirmed in 2009 that bird mortality has been under-estimated in the past at the Altamont and at every other wind farm in the world, and he gives two reasons: the cripple bias and the scavenger swamping bias ---> see his report in (1) above. There are more, e.g. the wind farms´ transmission lines are practically never searched for dead birds (I know of one exception: Tarifa). But the most significant of all is the bias resulting from conflicts of interest.
(17) - Results of the 2009 Survey of Golden Eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) in the Western United States - Prepared For: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 212 Arlington, VA 22203 - by Western EcoSystems Technology, Inc. 2003 Central Avenue, Cheyenne, Wyoming 82001
Tel: 307-634-1756 Fax: 307-637-6981 http://www.west-inc.com
por: Mark Duchamp (06/04/2010)