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Satellites, Eagles, and Wind Farms [Landscape Ecology]

October 25, 2010

Good news for Golden Eagles in Sweden:  scientists are using satellite transmitters to better understand how the eagles are using the landscape, an important step in determining where to site a wind farms.  From ScienceDaily,

“Hopefully we can identify the golden eagles’ favourite habitats. When we’ve done that we can see where wind farms can be established without disturbing the eagles,” says project manager Tim Hipkiss at Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences’ Department of Wildlife, Fish and Environmental Studies.
The satellite transmitters will provide information on how far the eagles fly and how they move about their territories before and after wind farm establishment. The scientists have already observed that the eagles fly further than previously thought.
The potential risks with wind farms are that the birds collide with the rotor blades and lose valuable hunting habitat.
The project “Effects of wind farms on the habitat use and reproductive success of golden eagles” is financed by the Swedish Energy Agency (Vindval programme) and the power companies Vattenfall and Statkraft.

Brazos Wind Farm in the plains of West Texas

Image via Wikipedia

Like Europe, wind farms are spreading like wildfire across the U.S., but often with little (if any) peer-reviewed study on the impact to wildlife. If we are serious about developing alternate sources of energy while taking care to lessen the impact on wildlife, more studies like these are needed.  Proper siting is obviously the first, and may be the most important, aspect of erecting a wind farm: knowing how both migrant and resident birds, not to mention bats and insects, react to such structures is clearly imperative.

UPDATED to add:  a brief overview about a new effort to understand potential mortality at wind farms can be found here, “An Answer is Blowin’ in the Wind.”  Key points from this piece that underscore where we currently stand:

• We lack adequate scientific data to make informed decisions on where to safely locate wind facilities.
• We lack enough scientific evidence to accurately estimate the risks of wind turbines to individual birds and populations.
• Methods for obtaining data about the effects of wind power are not standardized, making them difficult to use in policy making.
• Technologies for monitoring and mitigating risk are poorly developed.

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