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Clad in hazmat suits, employees from the National Wildlife Refuge System's Northeast Region prepare to don respirators during HAZWOPER training in April in Hadley, Mass

Vertical-axis wind turbines similar to those slated for construction at Izembek, Alaska Peninsula and Becharof Refuges are designed to minimize impact on birds.

Credit: Courtesy of Bright Idea Energy Solutions, LLC

Bird–Safe Wind Power in Alaska

Several National Wildlife Refuges in Alaska will begin a $3.l million experiment this summer, trying to balance wildlife protection with growing calls to boost production of renewable energy. The renewable power source will be wind power.

Eleven wind turbines are being built near the headquarters buildings for Izembek, Alaska Peninsula and Becharof National Wildlife Refuges. Alaska Peninsula/Becharof Refuge manager Bill Schaff says in Alaska, heating is the biggest drain on the refuges' power use. The hope, he says, is that the turbines will reduce heating costs by 40 to 50 percent, using thermal heat to augment the existing electrical heating system.

But birds are notorious for flying into solid materials that look like open space — think plate glass windows or the whirring blades of windmills. So the refuges' challenge is to tap wind power without endangering birds.

The Refuge System hopes to reduce any impact on wildlife by the design and placement of the turbines. They will be vertical-axis wind turbines, a design thought to be safer to birds than horizontal axis turbines. No guy-wires will support the monopoles on which the turbines will sit; electrical lines to the thermal heating system will be buried underground, and anti-perching devices may be put on each turbine to discourage birds from perching or nesting there.     

"It's hard to predict there will be zero bird collisions," says Schaff, but he says refuge experts will monitor the situation for three years to ensure harm is minimal. "We want to be double or triple sure we're not having an adverse impact."

For more information on Izembek Refuge, visit or contact Nancy Hoffman at or 907-532-2445.

For more information on Alaska Refuge, visit or contact Bill Schaff at or 907-246-3339.

For more information on Becharof Refuge, visit

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