Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Wind Farm Proposed for Puerto Rican IBA

A wind farm has been proposed for a site within Puerto Rico's Karso del Sur Important Bird Area.

The windfarm was proposed for construction on forested land that is both ecologically fragile and exceptionally important for biodiversity. This karst limestone area has been designated by the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources as a 'High Conservation Priority' and borders the Guánica Biosphere Reserve.

The forests and shrubland in this IBA are home to 19 (of the 23) restricted-range species found on Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, including the largest known population (c.20% of the total) of the Critically Endangered Puerto Rican Nightjar Caprimulgus noctitherus. The IBA also supports a regionally significant breeding population of Roseate Tern Sterna dougallii. Small numbers of Brown Pelican Pelecanus occidentalis nest on Don Luis Cay—one of the few nesting locations for the species in Puerto Rico.

"There are alternative and better locations for wind projects in Puerto Rico. However, the proponent refused to negotiate an exchange of development rights to relocate the project to an appropriate place", said SOPI spokesperson, Luis Silvestre.

The location for this particular development was deemed inappropriate. It was expected that construction and operation of the industrial windfarm would have caused significant negative impacts to the area's unique habitat and biodiversity. The area is also home to Puerto Rican Crested Toad Peltophryne lemur and the endemic Blue-tailed Ground Lizard Ameiva wetmorei. The IBA has more than 700 plant species including the Critically Endangered Woodbury's stopper Eugenia woodburyana, Vahl's boxwood Buxus vahlii and Puerto Rico manjack Cordia rupícola, and the Endangered lignumvitae Guaiacum officinale and Stahlia monosperma.
I support wind energy when thorough environmental reviews are completed and turbines are sited and operated in ways that cause the least amount of damage to birds and other wildlife. This project is an example of exactly what not to do. Wind farms can harm wildlife in two ways. One way involves bird collisions with the blades or turbine towers; this is probably the best known danger. In addition, bats may be harmed by changes in pressure around the blades.

The second way wind farms harm wildlife is through the destruction and degradation of their habitats. Land needs to be cleared for the turbine site and for roads to transport construction material to the site. What wildlife habitat then remains around the site will be more vulnerable to invasive species and less able to support species that specialize in the habitat that was cleared.

Clearing land and building an industrial wind farm in an Important Bird Area should be out of the question, especially in an area with so many sensitive and restricted-range species. Putting turbines in a bird-rich area like an IBA is likely to result in too many collisions, some of which will be critically endangered birds like the Puerto Rican Nightjar. Many of the species that inhabit the IBA are classified as critically endangered or endangered precisely because their range is so small. Any further range reductions that occur because of destroyed habitat will hasten the species' slide towards extinction. For those reasons, building a wind farm at sites like this will not be appropriate. I am glad to see that the Planning Board of Puerto Rico has blocked the site permit.