"Green energy is only green energy if it's good for fish and wildlife, not the Fish and Wildlife Service, fish and wildlife."
--Doug Zimmer, US Fish & Wildlife Service
Energy Northwest scrapped its plans for a 32-turbine wind farm in southwest Washington yesterday due to our favorite scrappy little seabird, the marbled murrelet.
The 32 turbines were to placed on Radar Ridge, a windy and logged over spot near Naselle. That ridge is located on the flight path of the murrelet's twice-daily commutes between the ocean (where the birds forage for fish, roost, and socialize) and the old-growth forests (where the birds nest and raise their chicks). Murrelet biologists have identified 89 murrelet nests in this area and provided research to show that the wind turbines would impact (aka kill) this critical population. Accordingly, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the organization responsible for enforcing the Endangered Species Act, placed restrictions on the wind farm that Energy Northwest found "untenable."
Despite the murrelet's status as a protected species under state and federal threatened and endangered species legislation, the 2009 Fish and Wildlife Service review of the species showed the population from San Francisco Bay to the Canadian border has declined as much as 34 percent between 2000 and 2008. In the Washington, Oregon, California, about 18,000 birds are estimated to remain.
In addition to the potential mortality from murrelet-turbine encounters, the murrelet faces threats from oil spills, oil pollution, bycatch, increased predator populations (crows, ravens, and jays), and logging of its nesting habitat.
What do we make of this news?
While I applaud effort to move our country toward alternative and green energy solutions, these solutions cannot come at the expense of the marbled murrelet and other wildlife. While the murrelet has the spotlight in this story, keep in mind that this secretive little seabird is an indicator species in the old-growth forest ecosystem. What's bad for the murrelet is bad for the salmon, the owls, the songbirds, the tree voles, the Douglas squirrels, the Doug-firs, the hemlocks, the red-cedars, the streams, the soil, the fungii, and all the macro- and microscopic life forms in these ancient forests. An old-growth forest without murrelets is a degraded forest. Just drive around the Willapa Hills in southwest Washington and you'll see what degraded looks like.
Wind farms are not the right alternative, not at Radar Ridge and I venture to say not anywhere else. These giant, passive-seeming pin-wheels in the landscape look clean and green and harmless. They don't look like oil derricks or oil platforms. They don't look like coal mines. They don't come with belching steam towers. But they do harm wildlife and the marbled murrelet in particular--a species we have driven to the brink of extinction.
Reducing our dependence on foreign oil is critical, but it should not mean increasing our dependence on domestic oil. Nor should it mean increasing our dependence on domestically harvested coal, corn, or wind if the extraction, growing, or harvesting of these resources further degrades our environment.
My thanks to Energy Northwest and to the Public Utilities Districts of Pacific County, Grays Harbor, Clallam County, and Mason County for thinking green. Thanks to the Fish & Wildlife Service, the Pacific Seabird Group, Seattle Audubon, Willapa Hills Audubon, Grays Harbor Audubon, the Columbia River Alliance for Nurturing the Environment, and other conservation groups for believing there is a greener solution.