Lower Columbia Basin Audubon Society Logo shows Long-billed Curlew flying above shrub steppe and Columbia River

Lower Columbia Basin Audubon Society

Serving Benton and Franklin Counties since 1965


Conservation


Join - Renew - Donate


Conservation Issues


Scout Energy - Horse Heaven Hills Wind Turbine Project

Background

The Lower Columbia Basin Audubon Society has been reviewing the development of 244 wind turbine towers on 67,000 acres in the Horse Heaven Hills ridge line from Interstate 182 to south of Benton City. The development will also contain a solar array.

LCBAS is concerned about the potential impacts to birds and wildlife including deaths, displacement and habitat loss.

Due to the negative impacts to migratory and resident birds, the National Audubon Society has proposed a set of siting criteria for wind turbines (PDF Download: Responsible Wind Power and Wildlife). An excerpt from this publication is copied below. Wind energy information is also available on the Audubon website (Wind Power and Birds).

National Audubon has issued the following statement on wind energy:

“Audubon strongly supports wind energy that is sited and operated properly to avoid, minimize, and mitigate effectively for the impacts on birds, other wildlife, and the places they need now and in the future. To that end, we support the development of wind energy to achieve 100% clean electricity.”

LCBAS Decision Options

  • Oppose the project due to bird and wildlife impacts.
  • Support the project due to the low impacts to birds and wildlife and the need to switch to non-carbon based energy production. This would be a national perspective.
  • Take no position and send a request to Scout Energy that they need to institute bird deterrent systems such as a lighting warning system, radar detection that stop blades from rotating, painting one blade a different color, “dying bird’’ vocal system, raptor vocal systems and any newly developed deterrent technologies.
  • Take no action

Excerpt below from National Audubon, “Responsible Wind Power and Wildlife, January 2019.”

What risk does wind energy pose to birds? While wind energy helps birds on a global scale by curbing climate change, wind power facilities can harm birds through direct collisions with turbines and other structures, including power lines. Wind power facilities can also degrade or destroy habitat, cause disturbance and displacement, and disrupt important ecological links. Placing wind projects in the path of migratory routes makes this problem worse, especially for larger turbine blades that may reach up into the average flight zone of birds that migrate at night. An estimated 140,000 to 500,000 bird deaths (USFWS Wind Turbines) occur per year due to turbine collisions, which is substantial, but significantly less than deaths caused by outdoor cats and building collisions. Audubon strongly supports wind power and recognizes that it will not be without some impact; however, harmful effects to birds and other wildlife can be avoided or significantly reduced in the following ways.

  • Federal, state or local planning for wind energy in “low impact” areas where permitting can be more efficient
  • Proper siting and operation of wind farms and equipment through federal (USFWS Land-Based Wind Energy Guidelines) and state guidelines
  • Development of new technologies that help minimize harm to birds and other wildlife
  • Mitigation of habitat and wildlife impacts through conservation measures
  • Strong enforcement of existing laws that protect wildlife, including the Endangered Species Act, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, and the (Audubon.org) Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
  • Encouragement of wind developers and permitting agencies to consult with wildlife experts, including Audubon staff and chapters, to help inform study and siting decisions and to support efforts to improve wind siting and technological solutions to reduce harm to birds.
Top

Migratory Bird Treaty Act

By Dana Ward

The previous administration proposed to roll back key protections against the unintentional killing of migratory birds under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). The proposed rule would codify a controversial legal opinion issued by the Department of the Interior in 2017 declaring the act does not prohibit unintentional killing of birds.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act has been the safeguard against the extinction of nearly 1,000 species of birds in North America. The administration’s rule would break the current protections under the MBTA, replacing it with an ill-conceived approach that throws out years of bipartisan assurance to balance industrial activity with protections for birds.

Passed by Congress in 1918, the act is one of the United States’ oldest wildlife conservation laws and has a long and successful track record of protecting species such as the Snowy Egret, Wood Duck, Sandhill Crane and Red-tailed Hawk. For more than 5 decades, both major parties’ administrations have applied the act to prohibit, without a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, both intentional and unintentional killing of covered species. Unintentional killings has driven commonsense standards such as requiring oil and uranium producers to put nets over liquid waste pits to prevent birds from landing in them, as well as improved siting and operation of wind turbines such as will be constructed on Horse Heaven Hills. If these proposed changes are instituted, companies will no longer face legal consequences or have incentive to use best management practices to avoid activities that are deadly to migratory birds.

Bird populations are already facing threats from climate change and subsequent habitat loss. This is not the time to weaken the MBTA protections. This rule change will only lead to more bird killings. LCBAS supported National Audubon by signing on to a recent letter to the administration that the Migratory Bird Treaty Act works and to withdraw the proposed change.

Top

Columbia River Treaty Roundtable Forum

As you are probably aware, the U.S. and Canada are currently negotiating changes to the 1961 Columbia River Treaty. The original treaty negotiations were about flood risk and hydropower operations. As of 2024, the current flood risk management provisions change to a less-defined approach; 2024 is also the earliest date at which the Treaty can be terminated with 10 years written notice from either signatory. The modernized treaty negotiations consider these same two issues but also consider improving the Columbia River ecosystem. LCBAS is sitting in on meetings of a group called the Columbia River Roundtable. This is a forum of citizens, businesses, and other organizations from the U.S. and Canada who have joined together to stay informed on the negotiations. The group has agreed to a set of common principles related to protecting ecological health and ecosystem functions. They have monthly phone calls from 11 am - 12 noon on the third Thursday of every month that includes an update from each country and sometimes a featured speaker.

In addition to affecting the overall ecosystem health of the Columbia River system, the treaty renegotiations could impact the Hanford Reach National Monument and could give us additional talking points on the discussion of reconveyance of the shoreline in the bi-county area. If you agree to their set of principles and are interested in joining this Columbia River Roundtable, please contact Debbie Berkowitz at secretary@lcbas.org for more information.

Top

AUDUBON MISSION STATEMENT - To conserve and restore ecosystems, focusing on birds and wildlife, for the benefit of humanity and Earth's biological diversity. Audubon educates adults and children about the environment, advocates responsible public policy and legislation for natural resources, and conducts science-based projects using birds as indicators of health of the natural world.