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Nothing in nature is ever simple

By Gary Bogue
Wednesday, May 31st, 2006 at 12:13 pm in Golden eagles, Raptors, Wildlife, Wind Turbines.

The letter and my answer below will appear in my Times’ column for June 1. This is for those who read my blog but not my column. I think they may be interested in this little exchange. /Gary

Dear Gary:
I read staff writer Denis Cuff’s article in the Tuesday Times (May 30) about using sheep to keep the grasses at the Altamont wind turbines trimmed. The idea being that if there is no ground cover for the ground squirrels then they will have to find another area to frolic. Which in turn will remove the food supply that attracts the raptors.

If this test works I believe we’ll have a win/win situation. We’ll retain the turbines, feed the sheep and save raptors from getting caught (and killed) in the turbine blades.
Greg Poynter, Richmond, CA

Dear Greg:
Unfortunately, nothing in nature is ever quite that simple.

Many thousands of birds have died at Altamont since those wind turbines were installed 20 or so years ago. Instead of investing the funds to simply redesign the turbines so they won’t kill the hawks, eagles, owls, falcons and vultures, or anything else, they have continually tried to first ignore the situation, and then to focus on low-cost, ineffective solutions when pressed to deal with it.

Now they want to disrupt the local ecosystem by using sheep to overgraze the area to try and make the ground squirrels leave, so the raptors will supposedly go seek their prey elsewhere and not be killed. I’m not so sure this will be that effective. There will still be plenty of other rodents (gophers, field mice, voles, rabbits, and other creatures) for the birds of prey to eat.

Other creatures will also be affected if the ground squirrels are driven away. Burrowing owls use ground squirrel holes to build their nests, and tiger salamanders also like to live in those holes. Gopher snakes and rattlesnakes feed on ground squirrels. And who knows what the effects from overgrazing will be on other species of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds, spiders and insects?

And what about the huge numbers of bats that are being killed by wind turbine blades in other parts of the country? I’m sure bats are also dying at Altamont, and bats don’t care about ground squirrels. In fact, all that sheep poop may even attract more insects and therefore more bats to eat them and be killed by the turbines.

As I said, nothing in nature is ever simple.

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2 Responses to “Nothing in nature is ever simple”

  1. Gaelen Says:

    I also just wanted to point out that I run my dogs every day at the Lime Ridge Open Space, and despite the fact that they keep the grass there relatively short in some areas, those areas are still overrun with ground squirrels. Short grass does not appear to be a deterrent. If anything, I think shorter grass would encourage the hawks because the squirrels would be easier pickings!

  2. Stephen Bailey Says:

    Gary,
    Great articles, love the column.
    Could you suggest sources of data for actual bird and bat kill rates due to the windmills?
    Several of my High School students are researching this subject, and found your site interesting.
    Suggestions for data?
    Stephen Bailey, Livermore High School

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