Taking Action to Save the Birds of Monhegan Island

As many of you know by now, Monhegan Island has become near and dear to our hearts. It is an iconic birding destination in spring and fall which we, and many other birders, enjoy frequenting on our own as well as while leading tours. Unfortunately, the construction of wind power turbines within 3 miles of the island is closer to becoming a reality, and now more than ever requires action!


We are not opposed to wind power. But we are opposed to poorly-sited projects that put inordinate numbers of birds at risk. This is quite possibly the worst place in the state of Maine for such a wind power project due to its concentrations of migratory birds. And therefore we feel personally and professionally obligated to do whatever we can to defeat the plan, change the design and lighting to minimize impacts, or, if all else fails, mitigate the potential consequences.

Our most recent statement was posted to the blog this past December, as this misguided project was resurrected from the dead.

Our initial concern about the project was described in this letter and press release from 2013. The link includes our letter, as well as some links to press coverage of our concerns.

In the case of Monhegan, aesthetic concerns are directly tied to not just a sense of place, but the tourism economy. Jobs and livelihoods are put at risk – along with property values – if there is an outsized visual or auditory impact. The visual impact on some of the best views from the island – many of which have been made famous by some of the region’s most famous artists – will be negatively impacted by the placement of this project.

Additionally, while I will not speak for others, suffice it to say that birding tourism will decline. In addition to the direct mortality of birds that is likely, especially under the weather circumstances that cause “fallouts” that are the thing Monhegan birding legends are made of, there are no small number of birders who simply won’t want to look at those blinking lights atop the turbine towers (the biggest direct threat to migratory birds as it will attract and disorient already stressed and confused migrants). I for one will be forgoing my 2-3 tours annually to the island – I simply cannot imagine looking out at those blinking lights knowing the conditions that we are hoping for to bring countless birds on the island for our enjoyment will result in the death of countless birds as they collide with the turbines or simply drop dead of exhaustion. I’ll have to go somewhere else.

Instead of addressing the impacts that such projects cause, the wind industry simply denies the problem exists, suppressing data that proves otherwise, and hiding the facts behind a cloak of “proprietary information.” We know what they are hiding, and they are hiding the massive destruction of birds and bats from poorly sited projects (not all projects, if sited correctly and operated accordingly, will have a sizeable impact). We have the knowledge and expertise to reduce, if not eliminate, much of the direct threat that lighted structures of all kinds have on birds. But instead of addressing lighting color, intensity, and flash interval, the wind industry (unlike the communications industry), simply denies the problem exists.  Just like Big Tobacco and Bog Oil, it’s cheaper (or something) to deny, deny, deny than do anything at all.

Unfortunately, due to false pretenses and false promises, the project was approved and is once again on its way to becoming a dreadful reality. Luckily, people who believe in the island – its people, its birds, its economy, and everything that makes Monhegan, Monhegan, are not lying down as the University of Maine and Aqua Ventus clearly hoped. They are not willing to give up everything that makes this place so special for some free electricity and internet (maybe).

Below, I have copied the statement released on July 5, 2016 by the Monhegan Energy Action Coalition. Jeannette and I, and our business, Freeport Wild Bird Supply are fundamentally opposed to the construction of industrial wind turbines and towers in close proximity to Monhegan Island. Therefore, we are willing to put our money where our mouth is (this gets expensive; I have a big mouth!) and we will be supporting the campaign to raise money for the defense of the birds that pass through Monhegan Island.

First of all, Freeport Wild Bird Supply will be donating $500 to the fight. We urge you to consider a donation, of any size, to protect the birds and the way of life on Monhegan Island (see the letter below for instructions).

Additionally, we will donate 100% of the proceeds of EVERY optics sale in July to the cause. In other words, every cent we would earn from selling any pair of binoculars, spotting scope, phone-scoping adapter, or tripod through the end of the month will go to the fight. So if you have been thinking of a new pair of bins, do it this month, and help us save the migrants of Monhegan in the process.

We will also, personally, and professionally, be continuing to support the Monhegan Energy Action Coalition in any way we can, and we urge you to join us. Please, for the sake of the birds and birding on Monhegan, read the following statement that was released yesterday by Travis Dow for the Monhegan Energy Action Coalition, and we encourage you to add to the support.

“Hello Everyone…Travis, here. A new group is forming. Here is a statement (and a plea for donations) that we put out today. We have yet to have a name, but here is our intent:

A group of concerned Monhegan community members have sought legal advice concerning the Maine Aqua Ventus wind turbine project. This project would place two 585 foot wind turbines 2.7 miles off the southern coast of Monhegan. The information about potential impacts from the project on our unique and iconic island has been contradictory and incomplete. Given the possibility of too many unknowns and unintended consequences, we are compelled to protest the siting of this experiment.

Our objective is to uphold and protect Monhegan’s environmental, historical, and social legacy:

* In 1954, a Certificate of Organization was issued to the Monhegan Associates and was registered with the State of Maine. The Associates have been charged with a mission to preserve Monhegan’s environs, “as well as the simple, friendly way of life that has existed on Monhegan as a whole.” The Associates own approximately 380 acres of land, comprising about two-thirds of the island;

* In 1966, Monhegan was designated a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service.

* In 1997, the waters around Monhegan were designated a Lobster Conservation Area by the State of Maine, and have had a regulated fishing season since the early 1900’s;

* Monhegan is an important landfall for migrating birds along the North Atlantic flyway;

* Monhegan is home to the highest ocean-side cliffs on the eastern seaboard. The island’s iconic vistas have been recorded by some of the most important artists and writers of our time, including, George Bellows, Edward Hooper, N.C., Andrew and Jamie Wyeth, Rockwell Kent, and many others;

* Monhegan is one of the last year-round island communities in Maine and is heavily supported by an active tourism economy.

* Monhegan is home to many of us.

It must be emphasized that we are not against the wind turbine project itself, just the siting of the project. We are not willing to risk Monhegan’s extraordinary legacy for an experimental wind project. The project can move. Monhegan’s character is irreplaceable.

Legal counsel has informed us that Monhegan may not have been afforded due process and that there is likely a case to be made that a variety of legal procedures were not properly followed. It is also clear that we cannot delay.

We are in the process of raising $25,000 to retain Doyle & Nelson as legal counsel. Jon Doyle is the attorney that helped Monhegan establish the Lobster Conservation Area. We have already raised over $13,000.00, from a large number of people, and your contribution will help reach this goal. Any amount will help. Checks can be made out to Doyle & Nelson, and sent to Travis Dow at P.O. Box 132, Monhegan, Maine 04852. Checks will not be cashed until reaching this funding goal. For more information, contact Travis at tgdow@hotmail.com, .”

surf at Lobster Cove

7 thoughts on “Taking Action to Save the Birds of Monhegan Island

  1. Joan Campbell

    Gladly will donate. Also, are there entities to which we can write letters to voice our opposition?

    1. Derek Post author

      Thanks, Joan. And good question. Right now, I honestly don’t know of what more we can say and to whom. Let me do some digging and I will get back to you as soon as I can. Thanks again for your support.

  2. Douglas boynton

    I have lobstered on Monhegan for 45 years and been very active in land conservation and efforts to sustain the island community. I believe your opposition is misguided.
    Global warming is the biggest threat to birds and our way of life on Monhegan and many other places in the world This short term (20 year) experimental project has the potential to develop a heretofore unusable green energy source—winds 50 miles offshore. We should encourage this and other similar projects and allow them in our back yards so we can be part of the solution.

    Monhegan has been a leader in conservation. Why stop now with the catastrophe of global warming looming?

    1. Derek Post author

      Thanks for writing Douglas. I respect your opinion, but I wish I shared your optimism of the value and impact of horizontal axis wind turbines. Delivering a fraction of their promised generating capacity, it’s a design that is just not efficient and effective enough in all places to generate enough electricity to compensate for their significant biological impacts. While wind is undoubtedly part of the solution of reducing our output of fossil fuel emissions, a small number of horizontal axis turbines attempting to generate electricity only where resistance is less (not where wind is best), will not make a difference. Instead, we need to think SMALLER, not larger, decentralizing energy production to use less impactful technology on a smaller scale closer to where the energy is used. Distributed electricity generation is the answer, in my opinion, not destroying the wildlife and quality of life of “remote” areas in order to transmit electricity (with the resultant significant loss of energy during the process of transmission) over long distances.

      Meanwhile, let me ask you, what do you think will happen in 20 years when this so-called “experiment” is over? Do you think UWind will come in, dismantle it, and poof, everything is back to normal? What happens if the massive subsidies these type of projects rely on gets cut off? What if the technology fails? Or, what if it works well enough for it to be extended for another 20 years? We’ve seen horribly destructive and non-productive wind “farms” continue long after their promised lifespan and long after their negative consequences were well known. What if these things do start to kill thousands of birds, their carcasses washing up on the shores of the islands? Do you think they’ll be taken down?

      And please keep in mind, this isn’t just about birds and birding. We NEED birds, especially in the face of a rapidly changing climate. Unquantifiable ecosystem services, such as pest control and seed dispersal are becoming ever more important to allow the ecosystem to adapt to the real and present changes in our climate…for OUR survival.

      Wind power has its place, perhaps even on Monhegan with land-based or offshore, low-footprint, non-lighted vertical axis or other revolutionary technology. But it’s time to stop trying to build a bigger horizontal axis turbines and ignore and deny their consequences that go way, way beyond birding ecotourism.

      Of course, if the wind industry cared at all about being “green” we would have access to all of their post-operation research, and we could work together to experiment on how to reduce impacts. The communications industry, FAA, and FCC have all agreed on how to reduce the death of birds at lighted towers, but the wind industry ignores it and simply denies the problem exist. And that is simply a lie. And until poorly-sited projects are not steamrolled into fruition while the political climate is conducive, we won’t be able to work towards a future with actual “green” energy that doesn’t destroy the very things were are claiming to want to save from climate change.


  3. Pingback: Protect Monhegan! | Maine Birding Field Notes

  4. Rosemary Lowe

    There are few places like Monhegan Island left, on this over-developed, over-populated planet. With Climate Change already upon us, it is crucial to save remaining places & non-human species, where the destructive human footprint is limited. Just because something is labeled as “green or sustainable” doesn’t mean it’s so, since these terms are so overused and often misleading. Any battle to save our planet is well worth the effort: endless pressure, applied endlessly, until we win.

    1. Derek Post author

      I agree! We need a massive amount of renewable energy development, but there are better and worse places to do it. Development for the sake of development anywhere at anytime is not productive in the long run, especially when it puts biodiversity at risk.


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