New wind farm threatens to derail one of conservation’s success stories

Endemic to the Caatinga dry forests of Bahia state in northeast Brazil, Lear’s macaws nest in burrows inside the sandstone cliffs that dot the landscape. Although first described in 1856 from an illustration by the poet Edward Lear, and known from a handful of parrots found in commerce throughout the 19e and 20e century, the first wild Lear’s macaws were not discovered until 1978. However, upon their discovery, studies quickly revealed a species on the verge of extinction, habitat loss, hunting and trafficking for the pet trade leaving the world’s population of Lear’s macaws as low. like 60 birds in the 1980s.

Conservationists quickly got to work, undertaking intensive conservation efforts, which included engaging local communities to stop the trade and habitat clearing, as well as establishing and strengthening station protection. Canudos Biological Reserve – a private reserve where most of the world’s Lear’s macaws roost, which is supported by American Bird Conservancy (ABC, Birdlife USA) and managed by ABC’s Brazilian partner, the Biodiversity Foundation.

These efforts have led to a remarkable recovery of the species, and there are now nearly 2,000 Lear’s macaws in Bahia, this increase recognized by the species’ downlisting to Endangered in 2011. However, its extremely limited distribution makes this precarious recovery, and a new wind farm being built by the French company Voltalia threatens to jeopardize these extraordinary conservation gains.

Benefiting from a license from the National Environment Agency in 2020, the project is located in the Canudos region of the State of Bahia – a Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) and a site of the Alliance for a zero extinction (AZE) given that it is home to the entire world population of wild Lear’s Macaws. At the beginning of 2021, Voltalia cleared land to make way for the wind farm and recent images have shown that the first wind turbines are now installed. This is despite the fact that the Public Ministry of the State of Bahia recommended the suspension of the project in July 2021.

“The increase in the Lear’s Macaw population in recent years is an example of a successful conservation story resulting from a collective effort by NGOs, government and the local community.” says Pedro Develey, director of SAVE Brasil (BirdLife Brazil). “The installation of a proposed wind farm in the species’ small range disrupts these conservation gains.” The fact that the wind farm overlaps an AZE is also in direct contradiction to Voltalia’s own sustainability commitments to meet the International Finance Corporation’s performance standards for environmental and social sustainability.

Although Voltalia has conducted a small impact assessment – ​​in addition to proposing certain mitigation measures within the facility – a full environmental impact assessment will only be carried out once the facility is in operation. operation. This is of concern, as Lear’s macaws have multiple characteristics that often make the species vulnerable to wind farms: they are large and highly mobile, often flying up to 70 km at high speed in search of food, usually during the dark hours of dawn and dusk, making collisions more likely. “In my opinion, I do not think that the site where the Canudos wind farm is implemented is adequate because it is in the center of the route of the species towards their main resting and feeding areas”, says Lorinho Reis , a birding guide to Canudos. . “I believe wind turbines, as well as power lines, will pose a high risk of collision and electric shock to flying animals, especially macaws that fly in groups, which means a single incident could kill several people.”

Conservationists are already working hard to protect the species from several persistent threats, including the capture of hatchlings to supply the illegal pet trade, collisions with power lines and lack of palm growth. Licuri, their main source of food. Adding collisions with wind turbines to this list of threats could be enough to halt recent population recoveries, especially since the species is long-lived and therefore very sensitive to increasing rates of destruction. adult mortality.

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