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Project could receive green light as soon as November 14, putting threatened species such as Marbled Murrelet and other wildlife at risk

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If the Humboldt project goes forward, Marbled Murrelets would face a gauntlet of turbines between foraging grounds at sea and nesting sites on land. The species is listed under the Endangered Species Act. Photo by Thomas Hamer

(Washington, D.C., November 13, 2019) The Humboldt Wind Energy Project proposes to place 47 wind turbines on Bear River and Monument Ridges in Humboldt County, California. This proposed project poses substantial risks to federally Threatened species, such as Marbled Murrelet and Spotted Owl, as well as other species of conservation concern such as Bald and Golden Eagle, all of which reproduce slowly and are vulnerable to loss of individuals to collisions with turbines. Other concerns have also been raised by experts, including questionable calculations of the numbers of Threatened birds likely to be killed by the turbines; inadequate proposed measures to compensate for mortality of birds and other wildlife; and insufficient accountability for long-term monitoring and protection of wildlife. Despite this, the proposal has moved forward quickly over the last 18 months and may be approved as early as Thursday, November 14.

“It’s hard to conceive of a worse place to put wind turbines,” said Joel Merriman, Director of the Bird-Smart Wind Energy Program at American Bird Conservancy (ABC). “ABC supports wind energy projects that provide adequate protections for birds. The Humboldt Wind Energy Project doesn’t come close. In its 37-page comment letter, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife indicated that ‘all or portions of the wind turbine facilities fall into Category 4, Project Sites Inappropriate for Wind Development.’ We couldn’t agree more.”

The Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) on the Humboldt project was released in April 2019 and received many comments and suggestions from local experts that would have reduced impacts to birds and other wildlife. These have largely gone unheeded in the Final EIR (FEIR). Despite this, the Humboldt County Planning Commission held a public hearing on November 7 and will hold a second on November 14, with a possible vote for project approval on the 14th. The project has been put on a fast track: Stakeholders had only four business days to review the FEIR before the first hearing and will have only nine days before the hearing where the proposal may be approved. Reviewing the FEIR is no small task, since the combined documents amount to hundreds of pages.

“The Northcoast Environmental Center (NEC), along with many concerned citizens, participated in commenting on the Terra-Gen Humboldt Wind Energy Project DEIR,” said Larry Glass, President and Executive Director of the NEC. “Whether you support this project or you have serious questions about it, the developer’s response to public comments printed in the FEIR is completely inadequate. Many of the issues of concern to the NEC and others were dismissed or not sufficiently responded to. This document should be withdrawn until adequate responses can be provided.”

“This proposed project site overlaps the National Audubon Society-designated Cape Mendocino Grasslands Important Bird Area,” said Merriman. “It’s also a hotspot for hawks and eagles. It’s close to Marbled Murrelet critical habitat. Marbled Murrelets and Spotted Owls are known to be present in the area. The list of concerns goes on and on.”

“Because of the high likely impacts given the sensitive area, the public rightly demands that all feasible technology to avoid and minimize impacts be implemented before considering approval,” said Tom Wheeler, Executive Director of the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC). “But too many proven measures have been left on the table — things that have been adopted, often voluntarily, at other wind projects. We expect better here in Humboldt.”

In contrast, the Skookumchuck Wind Energy Project in western Washington State is the only approved wind energy project in the Marbled Murrelet’s breeding range. This project was required to curtail (turn off) turbines during high activity periods in the Marbled Murrelet breeding season. The Humboldt project, on the other hand, dismissed the idea of curtailment entirely, ignoring best practices and industry precedent despite posing a significant risk for a multitude of species.

ABC, EPIC, and the NEC support thoughtfully planned wind energy projects that incorporate adequate protections for birds. These organizations acknowledge the role of wind energy in combating climate change, but maintain that wind energy must be developed in a way that does not cause new environmental problems.

“This proposed project does not provide enough information, proposes inadequate mitigation, and ignores precedent and best practices. This puts too many rare and iconic bird and other wildlife species at unnecessary risk,” said Merriman. “We urge the Humboldt County Planning Commission to please send this project back to the drawing board until an acceptable proposal can be developed.” 

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American Bird Conservancy is a non-profit organization dedicated to conserving birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. With an emphasis on achieving results and working in partnership, we take on the greatest problems facing birds today, innovating and building on rapid advancements in science to halt extinctions, protect habitats, eliminate threats, and build capacity for bird conservation. Find us on abcbirds.orgFacebookInstagram, and Twitter (@ABCbirds).

The Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) advocates for the protection and restoration of Northwest California’s forests, using an integrated, science-based approach, combining public education, citizen advocacy, and strategic litigation.

The Northcoast Environmental Center has engaged in conservation and environmental protection in northwestern California for over 47 years. Our mission includes educating agencies and the public about environmental concerns that may have an effect on our local resources and citizens.

 

(Washington, D.C., July 19, 2018) The U.S. Department of the Interior is proposing new rules to implement for the Endangered Species Act (ESA) that will make it more difficult to recover Threatened and Endangered birds.

“These rules put species listed as ‘Threatened,’ rather than the more dire category of ‘Endangered,’ at greater risk of endangerment by eliminating the blanket protection known as the 4d rule,” said Steve Holmer of American Bird Conservancy. “Under these changes, birds newly listed as Threatened could legally be killed or harmed. The changes would also make it more difficult to list species that the best science indicates should be listed, and to conserve and restore habitat, due to the weakening of Sec. 7 consultation for management of federal lands.

“Several bird species listed as Threatened under the ESA — the Marbled Murrelet and Northern Spotted Owl in particular — likely owe their current existence to the ESA’s blanket 4d rule against take and the interagency cooperation mandated by Sec. 7,” continued Holmer.

One of the proposed changes is to adopt the 4d rule process currently used by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for marine species. Instead of providing blanket protection for species newly listed as Threatened, NOAA puts 4d rules in place as threats arise, leading to delays in conservation action.

For example, because the Hawaiian monk seal is listed as Endangered, NOAA is addressing the emerging threat of the disease toxoplasmosis on the seal. “If the monk seal were listed as a Threatened species instead of Endangered under the ESA, it would require additional protection from toxoplasmosis in the form of new 4-d rule,” said Holmer. “The overall effect could be substantially delayed protection and an increased risk of further population losses.”

Seventy-eight percent of mainland birds listed as Threatened or Endangered under the ESA have populations that are now stable, increasing, or have recovered enough to be delisted, according to a 2016 report published by American Bird Conservancy. The Endangered Species Act: A Record of Success analyzed population trends and recovery success for all U.S. listed birds, including those in the Hawaiian Islands and U.S. territories where the recovery success rate is lower due to the high number of threats.

“Added funding could help continue the upward trend of 41 listed U.S. bird populations and make their eventual recovery possible,” said Holmer. “Black-capped Vireo was recently delisted, and Kirtland’s Warbler and Nene (Hawaiian Goose) are on their way toward delisting due to successful conservation. We are supportive of these delistings provided that adequate conservation measures are assured moving forward.”

A proposed definition change to the ESA would make it easier to eliminate critical habitat, because any loss would have to be considered “as a whole.”

“Critical habitat is essential for maintaining and recovering species, but this change would allow the loss of habitat to occur drip by drip,” Holmer said. “Eventually there could be little critical habitat left.”

Another change could undermine the listing process by allowing for misleading economic analysis to be included in the listing rule, potentially inviting political interference. The benefits of wildlife conservation, which provide billions of dollars to the economy, are undervalued or not even included in these analyses.

“Maintaining the existing science-based listing process is crucial to conserve declining bird populations,” said Holmer. “Just this decade, seven new populations of birds were listed. If slanted economic analysis were included, it is likely that some of these species — such as the Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Red Knot, and Gunnison Sage-Grouse — may not have been granted ESA protection due to political interference. American Bird Conservancy is urging that the existing science-based listing process be retained.”

A 60-day comment period has been set for these proposed changes. Submit comments to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Photo: Changes to the ESA may reduce protections for birds such as Red Knots. Photo by Ray Hennessy/Shutterstock

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American Bird Conservancy is dedicated to conserving birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. With an emphasis on achieving results and working in partnership, we take on the greatest problems facing birds today, innovating and building on rapid advancements in science to halt extinctions, protect habitats, eliminate threats and build capacity for bird conservation. Find us on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter (@abcbirds1).