Broadcast meets the Bufflehead

More than a year ago, I wrote of new proposed regulations on the construction of broadcast towers because broadcasters are having an increasingly difficult time in being allowed to build them. It's not because of local regulations. It's not because of aviation regulations. It's because of bird regulations. You read correctly, bird regulations.

The new battle cry has become “Damn the broadcaster. Save our Sooty Storm-petrel, Piping Plover and Tufted Titmouse.” Broadcast towers are now regularly attacked for “killing tens of thousands of birds.” One avian actuary claims he's seen 10,000 birds killed in one night by a single tower. Unbelievable to me, this expert claims that 50 million birds “fall victim” to towers each year.

Recently, the bird zealots have taken on a new target — wind generators. One large new wind generation plant targeted for the East Coast of the United States has been delayed for years because of avian environmentalist demands. As the battles between the opposing groups of business and environmentalists develop, they often take strange turns. In one case, experts on both sides argued about the rotational velocity of the wind generator blades versus the flying speeds of different species of birds in an attempt to prove their respective viewpoints. Could a Scale-throated Earthcreeper or Blue-footed Booby outrun those nasty windmill blades? After all, we wouldn't want those blades to whop one of our feathered friend's fanny, would we?

An unemotional examination of facts shows that power lines, including power lines leading to wind farms, are actually a much greater danger to birds than the wind turbines themselves. This was confirmed in a study by the Danish Ministry of the Environment.

In fact, studies show that birds are seldom actually bothered by wind turbines. A Danish radar study near a 2MW wind turbine with 60-meter rotors showed that birds tend to change their flight route some 100 meters to 200 meters before the turbine and easily pass above the turbines at a safe distance. Falcons were even found to be nesting in cages mounted on wind turbine towers.

A Canadian study further confirmed that migratory birds do not collide with wind turbines; they fly around them. Can you imagine that? The birds are smart enough to avoid these vertical obstacles. Now, why does that not surprise me?

OK, so what does this have to do with broadcasting? First of all, broadcasters need power. If it takes wind to get that power, fine. Build windmills. And don't lose your lunch over a White-rumped Sandpiper or Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.

Second, birds and towers do mix. Broadcasters need to be able to build towers. We can't let a few narrow-minded zealots defending the Slaty-breasted Tinamou or Black-capped Gnatcatcher stop an entire industry. After all, eight different studies over a 3-year period have shown that wind generators do not adversely affect birds. It's not a huge leap to say that broadcast towers don't either.

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