On Wind Farms and Witch-hunts

Here’s a tip for those in the bird conservation community who persist in their witch-hunt against free-roaming cats: be careful what you wish for.

For several years now, the National Audubon Society and American Bird Conservancy have co-opted, twisted, and misrepresented any scrap of published science they could find—however indefensible—suggesting that such cats might have an impact on bird populations. And, as I’ve demonstrated time and time again, there’s an audience out there for such propaganda.

But what if their campaign has been too effective—with the wrong audience?

According to a story in last Friday’s edition of BloombergBusinessweek, the Department of the Interior has “loosened restrictions designed to reduce the threat [to eagles] from wind farms.” [1] This, not surprisingly, did not go over well with, among others, Audubon leadership.

“Instead of balancing the need for conservation and renewable energy, Interior wrote the wind industry a blank check,” complained Audubon CEO David Yarnold in a statement describing the move as “greenlight[ing] eagle slaughter at wind farms.” “It’s outrageous that the government is sanctioning the killing of America’s symbol, the bald eagle.’”

And we know from previous experience that it takes a lot to outrage David Yarnold.

He didn’t seem at all outraged, for example, when Ted Williams, long-time editor-at-large for Audubon magazine, publicly recommended the use of an over-the-counter pain reliever—toxic to cats—as one of “two effective, humane alternatives to the cat hell of TNR.” Following a brief suspension, Williams was back on the job, a one-eighty Yarnold seemed to justify, at least in part, with “Audubon’s long-standing view, strongly supported by the best available science and laid out in a resolution by our board of directors […] that cats—particularly feral cats—are a leading cause of bird deaths.” [2]

Frank Gill, Audubon’s chief scientist from 1996 to 2005, adopted a similar interpretation of “the best available science” over the three editions of his book Ornithology, a standard university text, demonstrating a clear a shift in the direction of the witch-hunt agenda.

Audubon’s not alone, of course; ABC launched its Cats Indoors program in 1997. Sixteen years later, the organization is still promoting some of its original materials—containing misinformation debunked nearly 10 years ago by Ellen Perry Berkeley. [3]

More recently, ABC sent a letter to DOI Secretary Sally Jewell “urg[ing] swift action to address the threat to wildlife populations and human health posed by feral cats,” and, in a move that once again betrayed a troubling disregard for science, hired long-time TNR opponent Michael Hutchins—whose work I’ve criticized almost since the time I launched this blog—to “oversee the organization’s Bird-Smart wind energy campaign.”

All of which confirms their commitment to the witch-hunt—and, more broadly, to science only in the service of their own agenda.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to tell if all of this campaigning against free-roaming cats and TNR had anything to do with DOI’s decision—which, sadly, will likely mean the deaths of more eagles. But it wouldn’t be the first time the argument’s been made: seen against the alleged impacts of cats, wind turbines seem utterly benign (a topic I touched on in a March 2011 post). Either way, though, it had to sting—especially in light of a landmark settlement just last month in which Duke Energy agreed to pay $1 million as a penalty for birds killed at its Wyoming wind turbine farms.

Adding to the sting was the source of the decision: DOI oversees the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, with which ABC has enjoyed a cozy relationship for years.

The worst, though, may be yet to come, if supporters of Audubon and ABC take the news as evidence of the organizations’ misplaced priorities. Perhaps the chickens are finally coming home to roost.

Literature Cited

1. Doom, J. U.S. Eases Turbine Bird-Death Rule as Cats Kill Millions. BloombergBusinessweek, 2013.  http://www.businessweek.com/news/2013-12-06/u-dot-s-dot-eases-turbine-bird-death-rule-as-cats-kill-millions

2. Yarnold, D. Audubon and Ted Williams. The Perch, 2013.  http://magblog.audubon.org/audubon-and-ted-williams

3. Berkeley, E.P., TNR Past present and future: A history of the trap-neuter-return movement. 2004, Bethesda, MD: Alley Cat Allies.

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