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Wind energy facility threatens endangered Lear’s Macaw

Lear's Macaw
Lear’s Macaws fly near a rock wall in Brazil. Photo by Rafael Cerqueira/Shutterstock

French energy company Voltalia is rapidly pushing forward with construction of a wind energy facility that threatens the endangered Lear’s Macaw, a parrot that numbers only about 2,000 individuals and exists solely in the Brazilian state of Bahia. The project is destroying Lear’s Macaw habitat and once operational, will put the parrots at risk of fatal collisions with turbines. Conservation groups have pleaded with the company to relocate the project to minimize impacts, but Voltalia is continuing with construction.

The wind facility would be located in Brazil’s Caatinga region in an area that is globally important for conservation. It is recognized as an Alliance for Zero Extinction site because of the presence of the macaw. This area is also designated a Key Biodiversity Area by a group of leading global conservation organizations because of its biodiversity importance.

“It’s baffling that anyone would even consider a wind facility here, let alone approve one,” says Mike Parr, President of American Bird Conservancy (ABC). “The Lear’s Macaw already faces too many threats to its continued existence — it doesn’t need another. Constructing a wind facility here would put tenuous and hard-won conservation gains in jeopardy. In no uncertain terms, this wind energy project is dangerous and irresponsible. It must not proceed in its intended location.”

“We fully recognize the immense importance of shifting from fossil fuel-based energy sources to renewables, as well as the importance of sustainable development and energy provision in Brazil,” says Joel Merriman, Bird-Smart Wind Energy Campaign Director at ABC. “We do not take this stance against the project lightly. However, given the very real threat of irreversibly impacting a highly threatened species, it is imperative that the project be moved to another location.”

Thanks to decades of conservation efforts led by Brazilian organizations, such as Fundação Biodiversitas, the Lear’s Macaw has recovered from the brink of extinction. The species was reduced to fewer than 100 birds in the 1980s due to trafficking for the pet trade and other threats. Now, conservationists work to keep the population healthy by overcoming persistent threats like the poaching of parrot nestlings for illegal trafficking, electrocution at power lines, and lack of new growth of their main food, the Licurí Palm. Adding one or more wind facilities to this long list of threats could reverse the positive trajectory of this species’ recovery.

“Appropriate siting is far and away the most important part of minimizing a wind energy facility’s impacts on birds,” says Merriman. “On that count, this project has failed spectacularly. The Lear’s Macaw flies in flocks at fast speeds, high off the ground, making it high-risk for fatal collisions with wind turbines. They are also active in periods of low light at dawn and dusk, further increasing collision risk. This is a long-lived, slow-reproducing species, so the loss of even one individual is a concern.”

Illustrating concerns over the plans to build turbines in the macaw’s habitat, a petition asking for the project to be relocated has generated more than 60,000 signatures, primarily in Brazil and France.

“There is far too much at stake with this project,” says Parr. “Renewable energy is vitally important in the fight against climate change. At the same time, we have to be smart about where we place wind turbines. This project does nothing of the sort, putting an imperiled species at risk. Plans must be revised to move turbines to a lower-risk location.”

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American Bird Conservancy

American Bird Conservancy

American Bird Conservancy is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization whose mission is to conserve native birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. It contributes the “Eye on Conservation” column in each issue of BirdWatching.

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