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New wildlife protection system to be put to the test

UNITED STATES: A pilot database intended to help the US wind industry better understand risks to wildlife and its habitat should be ready for beta testing this month - with a final comprehensive version expected to be complete by mid-2014.

The project, known as the Research Information System (RIS), is the work of the American Wind Wildlife Initiative (AWWI), a collaboration of environmentalists, conservationists, government wildlife agencies and wind-industry leaders.

The RIS pilot will be populated with sample data and tested over the next six to nine months by analysts selected through a competitive process. A major part of the work includes ensuring that the data is secure and cannot be used to incriminate wind developers for prosecution under federal laws, such as the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

"We've had a lot of co-operation from developers who have provided us with sample data," said Taber Allison, AWWI director of research and evaluation. "So the more we can provide in terms of confidence to companies sharing the data - that we won't misuse it and that their proprietary and confidentiality interests will be addressed - the more likely we'll convince them to provide more data to us."

As well as mortality statistics for birds, bats and other wildlife, the RIS will include preand post-construction data. One time-consuming challenge is organising the complex array of raw data collected by myriad firms that store it under vastly different protocols and formats.

Availability

A decision has not been made on how much data will be publicly available. "That's a challenge we still have to address," Allison said. "But the AWWI board, which is composed of equal representation from the wind industry and the conservation community, is 100% behind the RIS."

Yet some industry watchers, such as Kelly Fuller, wind campaign coordinator for the American Bird Conservancy - not an AWWI member - are already sceptical. "There's a concern that the database might be used to hide information from the public and that's wrong," Fuller said. "The wildlife belongs to the public and secrecy isn't going to help the wind industry."

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