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New guidelines released to protect birds from wind turbines: Is it enough?

Although you would think renewable energy sources like wind energy are amenable to birds and wildlife, the two have been at odds for a while.

Like most controversial issues, different studies show different results, but anywhere between 100,000 and 440,000 birds die each year as the result of collisions with wind turbines (the 440,000 number comes from the Fish & Wildlife Service). Organizations, such as the American Bird Conservancy (ABC), have been fighting to get a set of guidelines implemented to make wind power “bird-smart.”

In a step forward, last Friday the Obama administration instituted new voluntary guidelines for selecting the safest site for wind farms and developing them. While many viewed this as an attempt by Obama to continue promoting wind energy without sacrificing the lives of birds, others say the voluntary guidelines simply aren’t enough.

The ABC argues that the guidelines will do little to prevent bird deaths, and said it will result in more bird deaths and lawsuits.

Having voluntary guidelines is not the same as mandatory rules, but according to TG Daily, there are some incentives:

While the voluntary guidelines don’t carry the big stick of mandatory regulation, they do come with a carrot: DOI suggested that developers found to be in violation of laws and regulations – whose turbines, for instance, kill a protected species – could potentially escape trouble if they can show “documented efforts to communicate with the Service and adhere to the Guidelines.”

Even though the ABC is still dissatisfied with the guidelines, Audubon president David Yarnold supports the guidelines as a compromise and a step in the right direction.

Currently, collisions with wind turbines amount for just a minute portion of all human-related bird deaths. Window collisions cause up to a billion bird deaths a year, oil fields and waste facilities kill about a million and power lines kill up to 174 million.

This seems like a small amount, but as wind energy becomes increasingly popular, those numbers will continue to rise if nothing is done.

Do you think having voluntary guidelines that promote safer construction for birds is enough or should they be mandatory?

Timothy Martinez Jr. is a writer and freelance journalist. His work has been published in The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, Remapping Debate in New York City and other publications. He’s been a bird lover since he was young and currently lives in New Orleans, L.A.