If you haven’t already heard, another out-of-town developer,
Terra-Gen, wants to install up to sixty (60), 600- foot tall wind
turbines on Monument and Bear River Ridge’s (Tsakiyuwit)
iconic coastal prairies, which would be visible from virtually the
entire Eel River Valley, areas around Humboldt Bay, and portions of
the Lost Coast. When you crest Table Bluff heading south on U.S.
101, and drop into the Eel River Valley, the lush green prairies
frame the skyline and the ancestral territories of the Wiyot and Bear
River tribes. To the Wiyot these are sacred cultural landscapes,
which represent generations of indigenous stewardship, cultural
prescribed burning practices, and tending of the wild. The list of
significant negative impacts both to tribal cultural resources and
biological resources is notable and too long to list here, but can be
found in the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) on Humboldt
County’s website (at this link). I encourage anyone that cares about our local ecology, tribal
cultures, and natural aesthetics to peruse the DEIR and express your
concerns in an official comment letter, which must be received by
June 5th for consideration into the final EIR.
Why are these prairies important? Bear River (Tsakiyuwit) and Monument Ridges can be seen from over 500 miles above the earth’s surface and represent one of the largest native coastal prairie systems in northwest California, rivaling Bald Hills in Redwood National Park. Rare plant and animal species have been found throughout the project area, which remains mostly native herbaceous prairie and forest/prairie ecotone. In the larger context of altered and modified landscapes, where most non-forested habitats and grasslands are dominated by invasive non-native species, it has been widely acknowledged that “native perennial grasslands in California are among the most endangered ecosystems in the United States” (Peters and Noss 1995), while also being biodiversity hotspots, with documented species richness “nearly twice that of relatively diverse serpentine California grasslands, and other North American grasslands” (Stromberg et al 2001). Many of the coastal prairies described by the early Euro-American settlers have since been converted and encroached by young trees, in the absence of indigenous land management, placing a greater emphasis on the few native coastal prairies that remain. Issues related to habitat loss and conversion have been brought into public light, as more people notice the decline of our oak woodlands for example, yet being even less common on the landscape, decline of our native coastal grasslands has been even more severe and widespread, highlighting the significance of the botanical and ethnobotanical resources found on the Bear River and Monument Ridge prairies. If you think about it, there’s probably a reason you don’t see wind projects like this in coastal Del Norte, Mendocino, Sonoma, or Marin Counties…….the public would never allow the slew of negative impacts associated with such wind projects, and I think we generally feel the same way about our North Coast…? Now’s the time to voice our love and concern over such landscapes and the species that depend on them!
While proponents of the wind project tout the reduction of CO2, diversification of the State’s “energy portfolio”, and a decrease in the dependence on foreign energy supplies, these are all marketing strategies (or scams) of the wind energy industry, that upon further review don’t hold much air (pardon the pun), see this link. In the scheme of the developing and industrialized world, the benefits are questionable and marginal relative to the destruction of theses prairies, their soils within the foundation pad footprints, the pads permanent installation on the prairie, and the alteration of the ridge-top ecology and hydrology. (Yes, the mammoth concrete pads do not have to be removed should the project be decommissioned, being a permanent modification to the ridges). The wind project is not economically viable on its own, which is why Terra-Gen is rushing us to get through the review process, so it can beat expiration of the Renewable Electricity Production Tax Credit (PTC) in 2020, and why company rep Vajdos said earlier last year that “The project needs to move quickly in order to work financially. Terra-Gen is paying for the construction, [and] “The only way we can get a return [on that investment] is by building [the wind farm].” On MasterResource, A Free Market Energy Blog, it is noted that “The U.S. Treasury estimates that the PTC will cost taxpayers $40.12 billion in the period from 2018 to 2027, making it by far the most expensive energy subsidy under current tax law” and that “after billions in public hand-outs, the wind industry has never been able to stand on its own and there’s no reason to believe this will change” (see this link).
I would hope that the North Coast sees the greater and better investment being in the preservation of one of its premier biodiversity hotspots. Just this week Sir Robert Watson, chair of the United Nations Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), released a report on the present, unprecedented, and accelerating rates of extinction across the globe, noting that “biodiversity needs to be considered as an equally important issue to climate change. It’s not just an environmental issue, it’s an economic issue”, highlighting the importance of undeveloped native ecosystems and species richness in moderating climate and providing ecosystem services, recreation, inspiration, and indigenous culture.
While we have long known that forest ecosystems serve as important carbon sinks, a recent study by UC Davis found that grasslands may be equally important carbon sinks for the 21st century (see this link). The grassland prairies on Bear River Ridge would be greatly reduced by the wind development’s concrete pads and road expansion, not to mention the increasing risk of wildfire along the new transmission corridor along Shively Ridge, all the way to the Bridgeville substation, thereby likely negating the touted project goals of reducing carbon emissions.
These impacts don’t even take into consideration turbine related fatalities to birds and bats, which will be significant due to the projects position along the Pacific flyway and the high-quality habitat of the site. A related primary concern to the Wiyot is potential future impacts to California condor re-introduction, and the general consensus that Bear River Ridge and the Lost Coast will be critical habitat for the giant birds that need steep drop-offs to create the thermals they need to stay aloft, along with the abundant availability of marine-derived carrion found near Cape Mendocino. The condor is central to the Wiyot’s creation story and an immensely sacred animal.
The Wiyot Tribe recommends that the project be denied on the grounds of un-mitigatable impacts to Tsakiyuwit, its culturally important sites, flora, fauna, and the remainder of Wiyot territory that is within its viewshed. The Wiyot have experienced mass genocide and been robbed of most of their sacred lands around Humboldt Bay and the lower Eel River. Much of their ancestral land has been developed, or the native vegetation types they helped to shape and tend, converted to alien pasture grasses and weeds. In the spectrum of impacted landscapes, Tsakiyuwit has persisted to the present as an iconic gem of native coastal prairie, that still holds the signs of the Wiyot’s caretaking and stewardship. We have the opportunity to protect this iconic cultural landscape, and this gateway to Humboldt Bay, for future generations to be able to look up and see the checkerblooms blowing in the free wind, with the birds gliding aimlessly, absent of the stamp of human greed and destruction, the way that Wiyot ancestors would have seen this amazing place, unencumbered, all the way to outer-space.
If you care about the beauty and ecology of the Eel River valley, Bear River and Monument prairies, and the Shively Ridge corridor, please review the DEIR (at this link) and submit your comments by 5 p.m. June 5, 2019 to be considered, and direct them to:
Humboldt Wind Energy
County of Humboldt Planning Department
3015 H Street
Eureka, CA 95501
Thank you for time,
Adam Canter, Wiyot Natural Resources Department