Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Golden Gate, Santa Clara Valley Audubons answer article on Altamont

The following was published in the East Bay Express on October 27 in response to an article by Robert Gammon. The original article is here.

Climate Change Threatens Birds

While well-intended, Robert Gammon's article suffers from the author's preconceptions about the controversy in the Altamont Pass and a lack of research. For one, Mr. Gammon's article relies on data from 2007 and prematurely concludes that wind turbines in the Altamont Pass are "shredding raptors at an increasing rate." Yet, as Dr. Smallwood of Alameda County's Scientific Review Committee explained later in the second to last paragraph of the article, everyone involved is waiting for the most recent mortality estimates to be released. Until the most recent mortality estimates are released, it is premature to conclude whether the wind companies' mortality reduction measures have worked.

Mr. Gammon's article fails to provide any context for wind energy or avian mortality in the Altamont or the complexity of the controversy. According to the National Audubon Society, climate change is expected to result in the loss of 25-33 percent of all species on earth, including many species of birds. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change anticipates that climate change will be the most significant driver in the loss of global biodiversity by the end of this century. In 2008, Governor Schwarzenegger issued a widely-lauded executive order to mandate that California get 33 percent of its power from renewable energy resources by 2020. Wind power is necessary to reach this goal and to minimizing impacts of climate change. Unfortunately, some degree of avian mortality appears inevitable wherever wind farms are developed.

Notably, Mr. Gammon's article fails to include interviews with representatives of the California Energy Commission, the California Department of Fish & Game, or the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service — the agencies tasked with regulating energy development and wildlife resources in California. For decades, none of these agencies acted to reduce avian mortality in the Altamont.

Mike Boyd and Shawn Smallwood are right about many things. Too many birds continue to be killed in the Altamont unnecessarily. The settlement — to which CARE is a signatory — is a consensus document; and, we believe that the wind companies have not always met their obligations. We demanded that companies remove additional high-risk turbines after they missed some early deadlines. While we are concerned that the wind companies have not been adequately held accountable for the continued killing of birds in the Altamont, we all must wait for the most recent monitoring team report so that the Scientific Review Committee can determine whether measures implemented have been effective in reducing avian mortality in the Altamont.

We find it unfortunate that Mr. Boyd, or any observer, would consider Golden Gate Audubon (or any Audubon chapter) to be more "pro-wind" than "pro-bird." Our staff and volunteers dedicate every day to making the Bay Area a safer place for birds and other wildlife. Rather than offer cheap shots at those trying to solve these problems, we encourage everyone who cares about birds and other wildlife to get involved and help us solve this apparently intractable question: how do we develop new, renewable energy resources quickly and on a large scale in ways that protect current wildlife populations?

There are no easy answers, but we urge the East Bay Express' readers to help solve these problems by joining the stakeholder groups and public information meetings about wind power in the Altamont (and elsewhere) and by contacting their state legislators, the California Energy Commission, the Department of Fish & Game, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to enforce environmental laws and implement policies that protect birds and other wildlife as California develops renewable energy projects. Only with input from the public and the full involvement of state and federal agencies will we even begin to develop new energy resources wisely.

Mark Welther, Executive Director, Golden Gate Audubon

Bob Power, Executive Director, Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society