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By Russ Finley on Oct 8, 2014 with 13 responses

Renewable Energy Versus Wildlife Conservation


Migrating waterfowl at feeding grounds via Pembina Institute

The argument goes something like this:

Real environmentalist: “We should not allow the destruction of orangutan habitat for palm oil biodiesel!”

Apologist: “In fact by displacing fossil fuels, palm oil biodiesel is helping orangutans, as well as everything else that is alive on the planet! Orangutans are at serious risk due to climate change. Some primate species are forecast to to lose more than 95% of their current ranges!”

(1) From an article in Treehugger about wind farm impact on birds:

…. in fact by displacing fossil fuels they are helping birds, as well as everything else that is alive on the planet. … the bald eagle and eight state birds …are at serious risk due to climate change. …some species are forecast to lose more than 95% of their current ranges.

Another real world analogy to wind farms, the Elwa river dam, was recently removed in an attempt to restore an extinct salmon migration.  Using the reasoning presented in the Treehugger article about wind farms, what’s the point in restoring a salmon run if climate change will eventually destroy it? Right? The dam should be rebuilt so it can once again produce renewable energy.

There are a few missing links in this argument’s logic chain. Scientists recognized the sixth extinction event long before they did climate change.  Producing low carbon energy with that rebuilt dam would immediately and directly cause the extinction of that salmon run. Whereas, removing the dam (not producing low carbon energy at that location) will help assure there will be salmon left to save from the ravages of climate change, assuming humanity can avert climate change. In other words, find another place to generate low carbon energy.

Analogously, usurping raptor hunting grounds(2) and intersecting major migration routs with giant blenders to produce low carbon energy is not going to help eagles, hawks, owls, condors, vultures, herons, waterfowl, whooping cranes or bats survive climate change. They are going to need all the help we can give them (with or without climate change) in addition to attempting to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Conservation and development of renewable energy have to be done in parallel with priority given to conservation. The extinction event has been accelerating even in the absence of climate change, which of course will make it even worse.

One could argue that humanity should not be building new dams at all in places like the Amazon basin, and that wind farms should be relegated to offshore locations far from raptor and bat hunting grounds and major migration routes. And why are we destroying intact dessert tortoise habitat for solar thermal installations? We can’t find a place without threatened tortoise habitat?

The author’s strategy is to use close-up photos of naughty kitties to convince “bird lovers” to stop hassling utilities that own wind farms and to instead focus their ire on …cats:

“But bird lovers need to go against the real enemies rather than spending precious energy fighting one of the main tools that we have to clean up our power grid and have a greener world.”

The label “bird lover” makes an easy target because it conjures up images of retirees in their birding gear gathering into flocks of their own to count and categorize the birds they see (Greater Peewee, Spectacled Tyrant, Handsome Fruiteater …to name a few). In reality, state and federal governments, environmental groups, and their attendant armies of concerned scientists, naturalists, and conservationists around the world are working to minimize the impacts of wind farms.

Interestingly enough, the author’s attempt to deflect attention away from wind farms to cats appears to have worked, at least on his Treehugger readership. Drop into the comment field below his article to participate in the hate festival. Several comments had to be deleted. I did find one salient comment:

Wind turbines are creating mortality on birds that aren’t at risk by cats or large buildings. The bigger birds (raptors, owls, etc.) are long-lived and have low reproductive rates. They’re like the grizzly bears of the bird world. They have no way to compensate for excessive mortality.

If cats are the real problem maybe Treehugger should spend a little more time writing about cats, a little less time trying to trivialize the  damage done by wind farms.

More from the article:

Many people have this obsession with wind turbines killing birds, probably because it’s a really great story.

Riiight. I seriously doubt that state and federal governments, environmental groups and the attendant armies of concerned scientists, naturalists, and conservationists around the world are working to minimize the impacts of wind farms ” ….because it’s a really great story.”

Male Swainson's hawk

Photo of Male Swainson’s hawk in front of the turbine that eventually killed it

The photo above and the following excerpts are from an article by concerned scientists, naturalists, and conservationists from my local zoo:

With such keen eyesight, why do hawks not see these giant fans in their workaday flight paths?  Gretchen explains that “hawks are predators. After a long migration, their job here is straightforward, driven by instinct: build nests, find food and defend territory in the home range.” Making sense of strange, new human-built hazards is a secondary priority. “As Jim sees it, imagine waking up every day with hungry kids to feed. A huge, dangerous blender is lodged between your bedroom and your kitchen. Your eyes scan the ground, locking in on food, so even with all your flying skills, eventually you’re going to bump into it.”

Through focal observations, the keepers collect data on specific birds’ range behaviors, recording flight type, duration of interaction with or near turbines, and wind and turbine speed. They seek to discern patterns and trends holistically on two levels. The landscape level looks at whether populations are displaced by the turbines, abandoning their breeding grounds for safer but often less suitable habitats. The interaction level looks at whether the hawks become habituated to the turbines, flying near or through them.  In nesting territories, the mean rate at which hawks encounter turbine collision zones, a 400-foot radius around the blades, is once every 76 minutes.

From the Treehugger article:

As a meme, it really strikes the imagination because wind turbines are this green thing, right, so killing birds is antithetical to what they’re supposed to be doing.

Really? Killing hawks, owls, bats etc isn’t antithetical to what wind farms are supposed to be doing?

But if the goal is to save birds, we have to look at the actual facts on the ground and not just at whatever story makes for the catchiest headline.

Following is the headline to the Treehugger article: Wind turbines kill around 300,000 birds annually, house cats around 3,000,000,000

And if you just blew coffee (or whatever you were drinking) out your nose, I don’t blame you. Several commenters mentioned that based on the headline they also thought the article was about wind turbines killing 3 billion cats annually.

After having said all the above, the author concludes with a throw-away comment as a hedge against the unlikely event that somebody would call him out: “This doesn’t mean that wind power operators should stop doing what they can to protect birds. Wind farms should be properly sited and everything should be done to mitigate any risks.”

The Treehugger article was based on one found in the respected peer reviewed science journal …USA Today.  I had to dig around on the internet to find the actual link to the peer reviewed study that the USA Today and subsequent Treehugger articles were based on. The photo below was found on the website that linked back to the study.


Halved Golden Eagle via

The study is about the impact on small songbirds. It isn’t about eagles, hawks, owls, condors, vultures, herons, waterfowl, whooping cranes or bats, which cats don’t eat, although some eagles, hawks, and owls do eat cats. See the photo below of a great horned owl that landed on a power line with the cat it had caught. Both were subsequently electrocuted. The irony. Could only have been worse had they been struck by a wind turbine.


Electrocuted Great Horned Owl with Cat Prey via Imgur

I read the study, which was very obviously biased but I suspect that its conclusion is largely correct: wind farms kill a relatively small percentage of the total song bird population. The authors showed their bias by repeatedly comparing the numbers of small birds killed by turbines to the numbers killed by other things, like cats, which were not part of the study. There was no need to repeatedly do that comparison other than  to bias the article intent–to trivialize song bird deaths. It’s a moot argument. Song birds are not the big problem.

To convince myself that the study conclusion was reasonable I made a simple spreadsheet that calculated the number of song bird deaths as a percentage of the power supplied to the grid by wind. The total percentage of song birds killed struck me as relatively small no matter what percentage I chose for wind energy all the way to 100 percent (a study by the National Renewable Energy Lab suggests that a maximum of about 12 percent of total energy supply can be from wind by 2050).

An extreme example just to make a point about renewable energy would be the conversion of the entire Amazon rain forest into corn, soy, and sugarcane fields to make biofuel and tree farms to fuel power plants in place of coal. That act would be one step forward (displacement of fossil fuels) and a thousand steps backward (utter destruction of the very biodiversity we are trying to protect from climate change).

Climate change is expected to wreak havoc on the planet’s already rapidly disappearing biodiversity (wildlife) because it will further shrink/degrade what remains of the ecosystems wildlife needs to avoid extinction. Ergo, an energy scheme that reduces carbon emissions but also kills wildlife and degrades wildlife habitat is going to worsen the impact of climate change on the natural world (one step forward, some number of steps backward).

(1) If you want to read a more useful article about efforts to reduce the damage done by some wind farms I would suggest this one: For the Birds and the Bats: Eight Ways Wind Power Companies are Trying to Prevent Deadly Collisions  by Roger Drouin writing for Grist.

(2) If you look at the background of the wind turbine photo  chosen for the Treehugger article you will see degraded habitat; roads leading to wind turbines bulldozed through a hunting ground for raptors which soar/soared on wind currents while hunting rodents and ground nesting birds in the rocks below.

  1. By marykaybarton on October 9, 2014 at 9:45 am

    Thanks for pointing out the absolute hypocrisy that’s on display with these supposed “environmentalists” support of the industrial wind scam.

    Habitat loss is documented as being one of the main causes of bird & animal decline associated with “Global Warming / Climate Change,” yet that is exactly what sprawling industrial wind factories do. See:…/2…/09/ask-more-questions.jpg

    More on the Habitat Fragmentation driven by push for “renewables”:

    Just as wind industry salesmen always do, this wind-industry sponsored “study” tries to show that cars, cats, and buildings kill far more birds than industrial wind turbines do. What their “study” does NOT tell you is that there are hundreds of BILLIONS of cars, cats and buildings worldwide, while there are approximately only 250,000 industrial wind turbines worldwide. When you consider the fact that CO2 emissions have NOT been significantly reduced by wind factories, nor have any conventional power plants been shuttered thanks to wind, the fact is – industrial wind is just a new, additional source
    of bird deaths – for no justifiable reason.

    Furthermore, those billions of cars & buildings have greatly improved the quality of life for hundreds of BILLIONS of people worldwide, while industrial wind turbines do exactly the opposite, while providing, at best, a redundant energy source that can never provide reliable, dispatchable baseload power — Not to mention the massive Habitat
    Fragmentation the sprawling footprints of industrial wind factories leave in their wake. The argument can even be made that cats improve peoples’ lives by keeping disease carrying rodent populations under control.

    Most importantly, and as anyone who knows the difference between energy and power will tell you – NO machine can convert the diffuse energy of wind into modern power – period. More research and greater innovation cannot change this fact. We could build millions of thousand-foot-tall turbines, and place them around a small, windy area, or out to sea, and all of that environmental destruction still would NOT provide the firm capacity necessary to produce modern power — that is, the reliable, dispatchable, baseload power that nurtures modern culture. See:

    Wind is Not Power at All (Part III – Capacity Value):…/wind-not-power-iii/

    Manhattan Institute scholar, Robert Bryce, got it right in his recent presentation, MORE ENERGY PLEASE, when he said, “Wind is one of the great scams of the modern age.” See:

    Also see Bryce’s good article, “Wind Turbines Are Climate-Change Scarecrows,” and read his excellent book, “Power Hungry: The Myths of ‘Green’ Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future.”

    People who really care about the threats to our bird populations will insist that we


    Exposing the wind industry genocide:…/exposing-the-wind-industry-g…/

    Troubling Study Indicates Wind Turbines May Cause Harm To Bat Populations:…/troubling-study-indicates-wind-turbin…

    US Wind Turbines Kill Over 600,000 Bats A Year (And Plenty Of Birds Too):…/wind-turbines-kill-600000-ba…

    Industrial Wind: The Great American “S-WIND-LE” – Not Clean, Not Green, Not Free!:


  2. By Andrew Holland on October 9, 2014 at 4:53 pm

    I’d actually say that I’m closer to the quote you put up as a straw man:

    “In fact by displacing fossil fuels, palm oil biodiesel is helping orangutans, as well as everything else that is alive on the planet! Orangutans are at serious risk due to climate change. Some primate species are forecast to to lose more than 95% of their current ranges!”

    As we’ve all said, every source of energy has its downsides. Wind has them, so does coal, etc. But – I actually prioritize human preservation and preventing human suffering over all suffering of animals. Should we prevent what we can – of course. But – we should not stop development solely for animals. If it came down to saving the Orangutan or preventing a lot of warming, honestly, I would kill the orangutans because of the dire impacts that climate change will have on human civilization. Obviously its never as simple as that, but my moral judgement, and I think that of most people, is similar.

    And – I’m not sure your Amazon analogy works, because converting the entire Amazon rain forest into biofuel plantations would remove a huge carbon sink, adding greatly to climate change, even before you talk about fossil fuel displacelment…

    • By Forrest on October 11, 2014 at 9:12 am

      Palm trees present an attractive income source. This is a good thing if managed properly. The problem is management or inadequate regulation to ensure the progress or development of this environmentally friendly fuel isn’t destructive. They have some programs developing for purchasing such. The projection of mass destruction of habitat is premature. The same can be said for intelligent sighting of wind turbines. For example probably not good to utilize them in Hawaii that has many bird species on watch list. Also, in these environmental sensitive areas the common house cat should be of concern. Also, a straw man argument to claim all biofuels useless as they can’t provide the nations entire energy needs.

    • By Russ Finley on October 11, 2014 at 12:17 pm

      I’d actually say that I’m closer to the quote you put up as a straw man…

      That is an argument by analogy, not a straw man.

      If it came down to saving the Orangutan or preventing a lot of warming, honestly, I would kill the orangutans because of the dire impacts that climate change will have on human civilization.

      I’m not sure your hypothetical orangutan slaughter scenario works because converting their rain forest habitat “into biofuel plantations would remove a huge carbon sink, adding greatly to climate change, even before you talk about fossil fuel displacement.”

      There are many ways to generate low carbon energy. We certainly don’t want to destroy what remains of the natural world to do it.

      Several years ago the WWF commissioned a study in an attempt to put into perspective what it would take to reverse global warming (excluding any new nuclear). Note in the graph below that they were assuming about as much carbon removal from reforestation and better agricultural practices as they were counting on wind and solar to reduce carbon emissions. A modest reduction in wind and solar as a result of the cost of biodiversity (carbon sink) preservation would hardly be noticed in the grand total of what the graph shows would have to be done.

      “…no deforestation, no competition for land between bioenergy production and food production and protection of biodiversity and nature conservation.”

      Bioenergy is potentially CO2 neutral. However, the expansion of palm oil and tropical crops, such as sugarcane, for biofuel production could become a significant driver of deforestation. Bioenergy developments must therefore be appropriately regulated to prevent further deforestation.

      Should we prevent what we can – of course.

      Which pretty much sums up my article. Some examples of that would be “not” rebuilding the dam in the Elwa river so it can produce electricity again, putting solar thermal power plants someplace other than in the middle of threatened dessert tortoise habitat, not damning Amazon rivers in biodiverse regions, etc. The fact that we have, to date, successfully protected the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from energy development gives some measure of hope that it can be done.

      But – we should not stop development solely for animals.

      My article does not argue that we should stop development of renewable energy. It argues that we should give a high priority to wildlife conservation goals when developing it.

      If you meant to say that we should never stop any renewable energy project because research has confirmed that it will do significant damage to a part of the thin green web of life covering our planet that we co-evolved with, well, that’s a bit extreme.

      But – I actually prioritize human preservation and preventing human suffering over all suffering of animals.

      I’m with you. Although many dog lovers don’t seem to share our perspective,

      Ebola, Outrage And The Killing Of A Dog,Outrage And The Killing Of A Dog:

      Even as the Ebola crisis in West Africa exceeds 8,000 cases and 3,800 deaths — and as Thomas Eric Duncan’s family, friends and neighbors mourn his death in Dallas from Ebola — global outrage has erupted over the decision by health officials in Spain to put down a dog whose owner is hospitalized for Ebola.

      However, giving a high priority to wildlife conservation goals when developing renewable energy does not cause any suffering, animal or human, other than maybe a lower profit margin for the utility seeking the cheapest land to usurp for a dam, solar power plant, wind or biofuel farm.

      Also, suffering and extinction are not synonyms. A wind turbine does not cause an eagle to suffer. It simply kills it. Extinction is when a species that took millions of years to evolve, ceases to exist. It is the failure of a species to continue to move its genes into the future for various reasons, like competition from another animal (the sixth extinction event is being caused by the last of the upright walking primate species).

      On the other hand, the number of lawsuits against wind farms by individuals other than conservation groups suggests there is a measure of suffering being imparted on people by them. The people being displaced by land grabs for bioenergy across Africa, Asia, and South American are suffering, as are people displaced by mega dam projects.

      • By Forrest on October 13, 2014 at 7:42 am

        Comments on the emission graph. If GW ever developed to hard core problem, society would run to nuclear. The graph has no increase production of nuclear. Hydro is projected to have extremely low increase vs a big increase in sea energy. Don’t believe that. Hydro power per Energy department study claimed we could double U.S. hydro per environmentally minimum impact. It’s a great energy source, if GW was an actual danger, then we run to hydro. International community could do likewise. The bio fuel and bio mass greatly underestimated. If GW were a true concern, consuming 1.2 billion tons of U.S. identified bio mass for energy needs would be a priority. The fuel can achieves carbon negative rating. The Canadian pine beetle problem for example as well as waste ethanol and bio gas. The curve on reduced use of vehicles. Hopefully, we can and should increase use of equipment to improve quality of life and usefulness. I think that curve will not happen. That’s a good thing. Land use change including forestry. The forest can be managed per modern forestry and double tonnages growth per acre. Old growth forest do little, including wildlife. Nature left to its own devices extremely slow and low productivity. We need to quit thinking that just removing man will be a marvelous all empowering to nature condition. We need to balance the destructive story telling with constructive. Nature appears to love to destroy and reconstruct. Meaning nature arbores static conditions. I think we have just begun to exploit nature’s ability to amp up prolific habitat loaded with food. We need natural horticulture and habitat landscape design upon all land mass. Most citizens enjoy wild life and would invest to magnify the capability. Small islands or contiguous paths, small groupings, artificial housing, selective logging, mixing up habitat, lake and stream modifications to maximize feed fish. This intelligent use of land could become a international phenomena. Farmland can mix and match likewise especially with biofuel grass. We need to retrain and rethink how to act, living with wild predators and habits with pet ownership. Some environmentalist have dangerous thinking that only federal government land grabs good for the environment. Personally, I’m not impressed with federal actions and cost to do much good as compared to private sector. Environmentalist could greatly magnify their efforts by changing midst to work within private sector to make it happen and quit running to federal regulators to force biases. Better to provide incentives, information, and assistance to private citizens. For example, public lands per government ownership is attractive to citizens whom have no land ownership, but it would multiples more attractive to empower private ownership to share property per land tax. Meaning if your neighbor signed up per public land use they pay lower rate of property tax. If the property owner had options to utilize specialist, information, and youth work groups to improve walking trails, hunting, fishing, bird life, habitat, forestry, etc that would improve our society.

  3. By Forrest on October 11, 2014 at 8:53 am

    Some good news, a recent UW-Madison study on birds habitat and cellulosic fuel supply grass. Bird populations 3x if perennial feed stock is located within a kilometer of natural grassland. This is good news as the prairie species on a decline.

  4. By Russ Finley on October 12, 2014 at 3:03 pm
    • By Forrest on October 13, 2014 at 9:29 am

      If the list was subdivided by country and region, we would be better informed of personal influence/responsibility. Environmental information often disbursed to public to motivate citizens to support politics. To empower regulators, take away freedoms, choice, and avoid information that may lead to public becoming wary of solving the problem on their own. Meaning the public may support legislation or lack of regulations that go against benevolent environmentalist intentions. Elite Environmentalist often chose to control vs inform mass thinking, evaluations, action plan, and politics to prevent such go it alone decision making. It’s all one sided solutions.
      If indeed some species were poisoning themselves by eating leaded bird shot or bullets and doing so commonly, well if the science is accurate and not just based on rare cases, it wouldn’t be insurmountable to change more ammo to steel. Public must be wary that environmentalist in general as most hate hunting and would quickly attribute minimal evidence to the sport in hopes of minimizing effectiveness or popularity. Same tactic used to maximize expensive regs to make the sport to expensive for low income public. Ain’t they tricky.
      And again we need to sustain wildlife with quality of habitat, (even if artificial) and maximize what we have (even private property).

    • By Robert Frye on October 13, 2014 at 12:31 pm


      Please tell me how this business of protecting endangered species works. It is kind of a business for some… isn’t it?

      I’m in an area where “they” are trying to save the endangered Salt Creek Tiger Beetle. I see a dozen or more groups, agencies, organizations, individuals, etc., all lining up at the “Endangered-Species-Dinner-Plate”. How much of this “business” is primarily about money and lining up at the dinner plate for funds and huge grants? Who decides this priority pursuant to our tax money?

      I don’t pretend to be an expert in this field. AND, is why I’m asking you. I see little transparency in trying to track these huge sums of money. I’m a skeptic when huge sums of money are involved in this “Show-Me-The- Money- World”.

      • By Russ Finley on October 19, 2014 at 11:28 am

        Anyone interested in the efforts to prevent the Salt Creek tiger beetle extinction can google the term “Salt Creek tiger beetle.”

        ” Please tell me how this business of protecting endangered species works. It is kind of a business for some… isn’t it?”

        No, it isn’t. A short article from the Journal Star:

        ” Lincoln bought 80 acres of land this summer as a home for the endangered Salt Creek tiger beetle, a purchase sure to please some and anger others.

        The city paid $457,000, by an executive order, for the land along Salt Creek, purchased from Kevin K. and Susanne R. Norder.

        The money came from Nebraska Environmental Trust funds, so it’s lottery profits and not tax dollars footing the bill.

        The city owns about 370 acres of the 3,500 acres owned by partners in the Saline Wetland Conservation Partnership.

        The partnership includes the state Games and Parks Commission, the Lower Platte South Natural Resources District, the city and the Nature Conservancy.

        At last count there were just more than 350 Salt Creek tiger beetles, which are found only on saline wetlands around Lincoln “


        • By Forrest on October 19, 2014 at 3:17 pm

          The Tiger Beetle species is an interesting and popular bug to study. The Salt Creek Tiger Beetle a sub species? It’s only located on the Salt Creek within 35 acre zone. The bug has adapted to high heat and salinity of flat mud bank zones at edge of creek and wetland. This is a good example of how ineffective the power of federal government becomes when the country has a huge need for quick and cost effective remedies. The politics and cost to usher in federal regulations to protect endangered species will break the bank as the process just to clumsy, restrictive, political, inefficient, costly, requires expensive manpower, and not adaptive to local solutions and employing citizens help. The environmental professionals and universities are quick to eliminate nonprofessional help and warn all to stay away as only their expensive expertise can only be trusted. Meanwhile the public is provoked to alarm status to invite as much easy federal money to rescue and employ experts. They utilized state Lottery money on this project, but rest assured it is equivalent to tax money; just semantics. Colleges soon need grants to study the problem. Large tracts of private land must be purchased to kick the private sector off. After some $ millions and years, environmentalists and federal advocacy groups can claim success. How are we going to safe guard the millions of endangered plants, insects, and animals? Not this way. My guess private land owners just as concerned as federal bureaucrats and may be able to accomplish the mission for a penny compared to federal dollar. The country needs mechanisms for private sector to be empowered or motivated to step in and solve these problems. The research & conservation strategy best handled by professional groups, but given a tax break, good practical info, some positive PR, volunteer help, etc my guess the private land owners across the country would love to come to rescue of endangered species or at least allow the activity to help the species. Citizens don’t like to be threaten, commanded, and forced by the gun of feds. We really do an injustice to youth, when we indoctrinate their public education to private sector biases and business hatred while filling them up on wonderful ideals of federal controls, regulations, and land ownership. It’s all one sided propaganda. Not many in the education profession have even worked within provate enterprise and outside union politics. Not a diverse unbiased education system.

          • By Robert Frye on October 19, 2014 at 9:18 pm

            Very good. Well said!

        • By Robert Frye on October 19, 2014 at 9:13 pm

          “The partnership includes the state Games and Parks Commission, the Lower Platte South Natural Resources District”
          What’s the origin of these operating budgets? Tax dollars – right?

          Add Fish and Wildlife, The University, and the Lincoln Zoo to this list. These are all taxpayer supported entities. They all get paid for Tiger Beetle research, studies, and projects. Tax dollars – right?
          Where do the “endangered-species-grants” come from? Tax dollars – right?
          I’d like to wager you the largest steak dinner you can eat that there are 10′s of millions of tax payer dollars in this project.
          Regardless, I’m going to respectfully disagree and say that it IS “a-taxpayer-dinner-plate-business”. They love the money more than the mission.
          I’m looking for the balance sheet on this Tiger Beetle Project. I’d also wager that neither one of us can get it. How convenient is that?…for those bellied up to this plate.

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