Food justice and the consequence of wind turbines in Lake Michigan

January 20, 2013

Somehow, these stories are related…

Story #1 – No sooner did Whole Foods CEO John Mackey compare Obamacare to “facism” than he was already walking it back. But before you make your decision to boycott the chain (as I have been considering), you might want to look at this article in The Guardian.

Story #2 – I saw this post on Daily Kos that featured a link to another story from The Guardian and one from Time Magazine about quinoa (pronounced KEEN – wha) and asparagus, two of my favorite foods. Apparently, the desire of Americans and people in other wealthy countries to be healthy is having unfortunate consequences in poorer countries.

Story #3 – Thanks to listener Rick Stabile for alerting me to this commentary in the New York Times by Mark Bittman. Seems as though we’ve known the way to farm the land and preserve our soil all along–intelligent crop rotation.

Or maybe they’re not related at all. We’ll talk about it this morning.

Last day to register for Wild Things 2013 Conference on February 2

On Saturday, February 2, more than a thousand people will gather at the UIC to hear more than a hundred speakers in what is likely to be one of the best environmental conferences of the year. This is the fifth biennial Wild Things Conference, Organized by Audubon Chicago Region in cooperation with the Habitat Project, the Volunteer Stewardship Network, and Chicago Wilderness through funding from the USDA Forest Service and US Fish & Wildlife Service. It also doesn’t hurt that organizations like the Chicago Park District, The Field Museum, the Forest Preserve District of Cook County and Openlands are involved.

The keynote speakers will be Doug Tallamy, who was on my show a couple of months ago and continues to preach the gospel of biodiversity, and Joel S. Brown, who speaks on how urban species might be evolving. Here are the abstracts of their talks.

Since there are about 90 talks in all, I really can’t describe them all to you. However, you can check out the full schedule here. You should also be aware that today, January 20, is the final day to register online.

One presentation that should be interesting will be Wind Turbines in Lake Michigan, How They Might Impact Birds, by Bob Fisher, Past President and Donnie Dann of the Bird Conservation Network. Many unanswered questions remain, regarding the impact of offshore wind turbine farms on the natural environment of the lake. This presentation focuses on questions relating to the use of the lake by wintering waterfowl, as well as passerine birds migrating over the lake.

In case you missed the story, the Lake Michigan Offshore Wind Energy Advisory Council was created by the Illinois General Assembly in 2011. It’s mission was to report its findings and recommendations to the Governor and General Assembly by June 30, 2012 in order to assist in the evaluation and consideration of offshore wind energy projects in Illinois waters of Lake Michigan. Among the topics it considered:

  • Appropriate criteria for the Department to use to review applications for offshore wind development of Lake Michigan lakebed leases.
  • Criteria for identifying areas that are favorable, acceptable, and unacceptable for offshore wind development, including, but not limited to, impacts to wildlife, protected habitats, navigation, commercial fisheries, and recreational uses of Lake Michigan.
  • A recommended process for ensuring public engagement in the Department’s process for leasing Lake Michigan lakebed for offshore wind energy projects.
  • Options for how the State shall be compensated for Lake Michigan lakebed leasing.
  • A summary of the lessons learned from other domestic and international offshore wind development experiences, including, but not limited to, those related to public policy, regulatory, and siting concerns for offshore wind development.
  • Identification of local, State, and federal authorities with permitting, siting, or other approval authority for wind power development in Lake Michigan.
  • Recommendations for needed State legislation and regulations governing offshore wind farm development.

The full report can be found here. In regard to migratory birds and bats, here’s what the report found:

Wind energy facilities should be constructed to avoid any unreasonable or unlawful impacts to migratory birds and bats. Sites including significant offshore stopover
locations, waterfowl and bat foraging areas (e.g., reefs), migration and travel orridors, wintering areas and colonial bird nesting locations should be protected against unreasonable impacts from offshore wind energy facilities.

Birds and bats may be directly killed or injured by wind turbines through collisions and pressure changes encountered within the rotor sweep, as well as displacement of their habitat or their prey’s habitat. Spring movements by nocturnal migrants may be one of the most significant sources of potential mortality; land birds which find themselves over the Lake at dawn head for shore to rest and feed, a movement which would make wind turbines near to the shore more dangerous to them. Typical long-range flights occur at altitudes However, weather events (fog or overcast low clouds, sudden storms and wind shifts) especially in the critical time before dawn when migrating passerines head to shore to seek locations for feeding and resting, could lead to altered flight patterns or altitudes increasing mortality from turbine blade collisions.

Migratory waterbirds spend the winter at the southern end of Lake Michigan in relatively shallow waters. If these species prove sensitive to the presence of wind turbines, the turbines could serve to displace these birds from favored wintering areas, thus denying them access to primary feeding areas. Migratory Canada Geese wintering at LaSalle Lake in LaSalle County have been observed foraging in nearby agricultural fields occupied by wind turbines with little displacement effect and mortality. It is unclear whether this will prove true on Lake Michigan. Fish (and their predators including birds) may be attracted to wind turbines, increasing exposure and
mortality. Existing research at European wind energy projects shows responses vary by species; some species Photo Credit: Adele Hodde will avoid wind turbines entirely, others will not. Current knowledge is insufficient to reliably predict behavior or impact for all species.

Meanwhile, bird mortality is something that I’ve covered on the show before–but mainly in regard to how many deaths are caused by cats and buildings. This USDA study states that it’s possible that up to a billion birds are killed in the U.S. each year by various means, including collisions with structures, cats, pesiticdes and more.

As wind power continues to develop world-wide, the confluence of wind turbines and migratory routes for birds and bats continues to be a concern for environmentalists.

I am happy to welcome Bob Fisher to the program today to discuss this fascinating topic.