When I was a teenager my father was the oversight supervisor for the first major windmill built in Northern California. It was a towering structure with a single blade longer than a football field. It stood atop a barren hill in Cordelia where the wind was sometimes so strong it could hold you upright if you leaned out into it. Standing under it was like being below a giant scythe at harvest that swept by again and again just missing you every time. Years after it was built my father loved to bring guests to its strange wonder, proud of his role in its launch. I remember one of the things I was most struck by at that time was learning that PGE had to hire biologists to identify any birds that were killed by that giant blade and report them. I remember thinking that counting dead birds was a very strange way to make a living.
The giant windmill eventually got a cracked shaft and is no longer standing today. Now there are many windmills all over the state and producing various amounts of power – and all of them have to count the birds they kill. I thought of this because yesterday we learned that the department of the interior just ‘opted out’ of the restrictions imposed by the Migratory Bird Act which has made it illegal to kill birds without permission since 1918.
Think about that a moment. Since the end of WWI we have agreed with many other countries that killing birds was a big deal. MBTA has enjoyed such broad support in so many regions of the world that I admit even I was surprised by this. (I’ve been known to watch jealously as birders made friends with politicians because of the luxuries afforded by that standard.) Saving birds is usually much easier than saving beavers. Both sides of the aisle have often acted like a friend to birds. I guess birds don’t build dams and they usually fly somewhere else before they get too annoying. Audubon has never been the Sierra Club – nor had to be. They are polite and mind their manners working with industry and big business to help winged creatures they care about.
Announcing that business has a permanent ‘open season’ on birds is a huge deal for birds AND humans. I have to say I’m curious how this will affect the ‘polite’ birders of the world. Maybe they’ll get a little more noisy and start to sound more like the people who protect beavers or coyotes.
I know if it had happened years ago PGE would have fired those biologists and been happy to pocket the money. Same with the least tern population they had to count at the powerplant where Jon worked or the peregrines that nested on the smoke stack.
I can’t help but think that any industry that doesn’t have to take worry about birds today, is an industry that won’t worry about us tomorrow.