Public Editor

Language in Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge editorial possibly slightly misleading

An editorial earlier this week about Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge used information from a fact sheet issued by the American Wind Wildlife Institute. In its original form, the editorial read:

Studies have "reported an average of fewer than 14 bird fatalities ... per MW per year," according to the American Wind Wildlife Institute, and apparently turbine fatalities are somewhat lower in the Great Plains. For a 200 megawatt wind-power field, as this one is planned to be, that's 2,800 deaths a year of all species. Fatalities tend to be higher among bats than birds.

However, Taber Allison of the AWWI was concerned that some language in the fact sheet (which is being revised) may make some readers misunderstand those numbers. He wrote:

Those of us at AWWI were very interested to read your May 18 editorial, “At Missouri’s Squaw Creek refuge, wind energy and wildlife preservation appear to collide.” In particular, we were glad to see that you used information from AWWI’s “Wind Wildlife Factsheet.” AWWI seeks to collect and make available the most comprehensive and scientifically accurate information on wind and wildlife, and we are always glad to see others using our work as a source.

However, it appears you have misinterpreted our sentence describing the average number of songbird fatalities reported at wind energy facilities. The sentence as written in our factsheet states:

“All publicly available results have reported an average of fewer than 14 bird fatalities (for all species combined and adjusted for detection biases) per MW per year…and fatality rates at most studies range from three to five birds per MW per year…”

What this is intended to say is that 14 birds per MW per year is the highest fatality level reported at any facility: all other publicly available results have reported lower numbers. This is not, as your editorial suggests, the mean number. Most publically available results range between 3 and 5 birds per MW per year. This would translate to approximately 600 - 1,000 bird deaths per year at the proposed 200 MW facility, less than half of the 2,800 your editorial suggested.

Additionally, we find the sentence in your editorial that reads “For a 200 megawatt wind-power field, as this one is planned to be, that’s 2,800 deaths a year of all species,” may be misleading to some readers. It is difficult to tell whether you are implying this number of deaths for each species (which is incorrect) or that the figure represents the cumulative deaths across all species (which is correct). We would urge you to reconsider the wording of this sentence.

We recognize that as written, this paragraph in our factsheet was not as clear as it should have been, and it’s easy to see how you came to the figures you published. As a result, we are in the process of revising this paragraph and will post an updated version to our website shortly. In the meantime, we encourage you to revise the online version of your editorial and run a correction in print. AWWI believes that only the most accurate and complete scientific information should inform debates at national, regional, and local levels on the issue of wind energy’s impacts to wildlife, and we thank you for considering our recommendations.

The editorial has been altered online, and now reads:

Studies have “reported an average of fewer than 14 bird fatalities ... per MW per year,” according to the American Wind Wildlife Institute, and apparently turbine fatalities are somewhat lower in the Great Plains. For a 200 megawatt wind-power field, as this one is planned to be, that’s a maximum of 2,800 deaths a year of all species. Fatalities tend to be higher among bats than birds.

This is a good clarification, but the original editorial wasn’t exactly wrong. For that reason, I don’t think it’s necessary to run a clarification in the print edition. Still, it’s worth noting here.

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