New Guidelines a Step Forward for Bird-Friendly Wind Development

What do wind turbines and home prices have in common? Location, location, location.

America needs energy from every safe source possible, but wind power creates unique threats to birds. So it was a big deal when Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced new wind energy siting guidelines today that will help us reduce our dependence on fossil fuels while protecting wildlife.

For the first time ever, major wind developers have pledged to voluntarily incorporate bird-friendly guidelines in the construction of new wind energy projects and to modify existing turbines.

These guidelines provide for mediation for potential disputes about where to put wind farms. But they are also a roadmap for collaboration between industry and conservationists.

The new guidelines will help steer wind turbines away from important habitat toward land already seeing the impacts of development. They will provide added protection for sites with high risk potential for birds. And, from now on, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will have a seat at the table for decisions on where to site wind projects. That's new and it's an important new safeguard.

The wind industry and conservationists agreed not only on protecting birds and bats in the air, but how to address what's known as habitat fragmentation on the ground. Now, wind developers will be expected to avoid building turbines in a way that cuts up and divides critical habitat areas in forests, grasslands or other threatened places.

We know from our Audubon science team that warming trends driven by carbon pollution from fossil fuels have already disrupted bird migration patterns up and down the four superhighways in the sky we call flyways. Nearly 60 percent of the 305 species found in North America in winter are shifting their ranges northward by an average of 35 miles. You've seen it in your own backyard.

Simply put, warming trends are one of the most significant threats to birds, their habitats, and global biodiversity.

National Audubon Society held one of the 22 seats on the Wind Turbine Guidelines Advisory Committee that was created in 2009 to develop these guidelines. Other Members experts came from the Nature Conservancy, Defenders of Wildlife, Massachusetts Audubon Society, and Bat Conservation International as well as major wind companies such as Iberdrola, AES Wind Energy, and Horizon. There were also state wildlife agencies and tribal representatives. The committee worked closely with the Department of the Interior and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for three years to develop workable, consensus-based guidelines..

The guidelines forged by this diverse group aren't only for the birds; they will create jobs for local economies and help make our nation a healthier place to live for people and wildlife. It's a real-world, bipartisan approach that recognize it's all about location, location, location.

David Yarnold is president and CEO of the National Audubon Society.