By Howard Meyerson
Lansing, MI – Michigan wind farm operators looking to assess the wildlife impacts of their operations by collecting the carcasses of birds and bats killed or injured by wind turbines can now get a state wildlife salvage permit to do so.
State “scientific-collector” permits were previously available only to scientific, academic, non-profit and educational groups for salvage, research, live animal programs or bird banding. But state officials sought to expand the program after getting requests from the wind-power industry. The change was approved at the April Natural Resources Commission meeting.
“They will have to report their findings to us,” said Russ Mason, Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ wildlife chief. “The information would then be public.”
A salvage permit is not required when the wind farm is built on private land, Mason said. But it will be available to those operators in order to facilitate the collection and analysis of wildlife deaths caused by wind turbines. They would be required for public land wind projects were one ever to be approved.
Birds and bats impacted
Michigan wind farms have had some an impact on warbler and bat species, according to federal wildlife officials with the US Fish and Wildlife Service. One Upper Peninsula installation on Michigan’s Garden Peninsula is located in what wildlife officials call a “funnel for migratory birds and bats.”
“What we find is they (wind turbines) whack more bats than birds,” said Burr Fisher, the FWS biologist overseeing wind power projects in the state. “Most of the birds are night migrants going through an area. Tree bats are being hit harder. They had more mortality than all the other bats together.”
Fisher’s agency issues salvage permits to wind farms. The data collected is reported to FWS. He estimates that 25 bats and 12 birds are killed at that site in the course of month when they are flying.
Some have questioned why Michigan doesn’t just tap into federal data rather than establish a separate permit, but Mason said federal jurisdiction covers only those species listed on the federal endangered species list and federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. There are other species found on the state threatened and endangered species list.
“This is going to help inform our decisions about subsequent development,” Mason said.
No established siting guidelines
Michigan does not have established siting requirements for wind development nor voluntary siting guidelines. And FWS recommended practices are strictly advisory; they are not required.
Mason said having formal siting guidelines would be useful. Most important would be to develop them for coastal and offshore sites on the Great Lakes due to the proliferation of bird migrations up and down the shorelines.
“Wind development will have an impact in those areas,” Mason said. “If wind farms were proposed for Saginaw Bay or Lake St. Clair there would be a negative impact.”
Jonathan Lutz, executive director for Michigan Audubon Society said having siting guidelines is crucial.
“With the amount of Great Lakes shoreline we have in the heart of the Mississippi Flyway it is absolutely necessary to have siting guidelines for wind farms,” Lutz said.
Amy Trotter, Michigan United Conservation Club’s resource policy manager said her group has not been engaged in the discussion about wind farm salvage permits, but she views them valuable.
“Most of the discussion has been about siting; no one talks about the wildlife impacts. But we need a holistic view and wildlife impacts are important to our membership,” Trotter said.
The demand for state salvage permits is expected to grow as wind power development progresses in Michigan. It has not been high so far, according to Casey Reitz, the DNR’s wildlife permit specialist.
“I have issued maybe two to wind farms or their contractors in the past six months,” Reitz said. “That could go up. There is more construction going on.”
Copyright © 2013 Howard Meyerson