Best Hemp CBD Flower Strains: Top 5 Brands of 2020
By Alex Middleton
The CBD market is witnessing an upward trend owing to the growing realization of its commercial potential. CBD has been garnering a lot of attention from a medicinal perspective. The legalities surrounding CBD are shifting, paving a path for the flourishing industry.
The drift is visible in states in the US and across a substantial number of countries around the world. The global Cannabidiol (CBD) market is expected to gain further traction in the coming years due to its versatility.
Research that is still in preliminary stages points to the possible use of CBD in relieving chronic pain, anxiety, and stress. There are promising studies indicating that CBD could play a significant role in controlling or reducing seizures in epileptic patients.
New studies are constantly evolving, suggesting the relief that CBD can provide in cases of depression. Additionally, clinical trials are underway in assessing CBD's possible use in improving the quality of sleep and, more importantly, to gauge its potential in addressing other ailments that stand to benefit from the anti-inflammatory properties of CBD.
Contrary to marijuana, CBD is non-psychoactive. It does not make people high (or stoned). The really low levels of THC in CBD take care of this aspect. Users ingest it more so for the fact that it eases pains, aches, and stress.
Before all the benefits or the so-called therapeutic effects are fully realized, ensuring CBD gets absorbed in the body, specifically in the bloodstream, is essential. Route of administration is the key - this is where the concept of bioavailability comes into the picture. Bioavailability is the rate or degree at which the substance is absorbed, and yields expected results.
Every day a new, innovative product gets launched - oil, tincture, cream, gummies, etc. What sets the products apart is the amount of CBD absorbed. Extracts or oil, tinctures (placed under the tongue briefly before swallowing), and topical products are available.
However, CBD flower steals the show. It has been observed that inhaling has a bioavailability rate of 34% to 46%, at times as high as 56%, while for oral ingestion, the number is 10% to 20%, with tinctures being somewhere in between.
Hemp bud or CBD rich flower contains high CBD and low THC (less than 0.3%). The hemp plant is bursting with compounds such as cannabinoids and terpenes that are believed to possess the ability to produce incredible effects. The CBD rich strain being bred is sold legally in the United States. Obtaining it is as simple as visiting a dispensary in states where it is recreationally legal, while in other states, it can be ordered online.
Let's face it, with a new company emerging every other day, wanting a share of the lucrative industry, choosing the right one becomes an arduous task - myriad sources and a plethora of products at competitive prices. That is precisely why we compiled this list that serves as a guide, providing answers to questions revolving around buying hemp flower online.
Our favorite brands of hemp flower based on relevant criteria are graded and listed here:
Top 3 CBD Flower Brands Online
- Cheef Botanicals – High Quality & Editor's Pick
- Cannaflower – Wide Variety
- CBD American Shaman – Best CBG Flower
Parameters for Picking CBD Flower/Bud Brands
Various criteria feature when choosing a product. Narrowing down to the top few involves scrutiny and comparison of all aspects. We rated the brands based on some critical parameters - methods adopted to grow, the brand's reputation, traceability, transparency, and finally, ease of shopping.
Methods Adopted to Grow
With growing awareness regarding pesticides, there is an inclination for organic products. Organically grown ones take precedence.
When purchasing any product, factors such as small amounts of chemicals that may have inadvertently gotten in the hemp flower during cultivation are considered. We've probed into the methods used by the brands in growing their hemp.
Reputation of the Brand
Reputation sheds a lot of information regarding a business, its practices, and its approach to many things. The CBD market is booming, attracting a lot of newcomers into the industry, offering numerous products. We've investigated criteria such as reliability and trustworthiness of brands, with input from customers.
Traceability and Transparency
Being knowledgeable about the product being purchased is a good practice. It does not necessarily apply to the buyer. Sellers also benefit from adopting a total transparency approach. It helps the brand win the customer's trust and, in turn, enhances sales.
We've reviewed brands, checked the degree of traceability being offered by the brand, implying, disclosing information pertaining to the source of products - where it is grown and whether the product is tested.
Also, its in-house testing or testing done by an external laboratory and whether reports are available. If available, are they accessible to the buyer, or at least can they be procured upon request.
Ease of Shopping
With most legal issues out of the way, CBD products are treated on par with other consumer goods. Thus, a good purchasing experience comes into play, which involves marketing and customer care in addition to a user-friendly online store.
Additionally, we will discuss the aforementioned critical parameters for each of the brands listed here and provide our verdict that highlights the specific characteristics of the products and what makes each of them unique. Having said that, let's get started and discuss our top picks of hemp bud brands.
Best CBD Flower Brands & Strains Available Online
1. Cheef Botanicals – High Quality & Editor's Pick
Cheef Botanicals is the outcome of an effort to offer natural, organic products putting to good use the experience accumulated over 25 years from the organic food industry in combination with hemp aficionados.
The organic approach is what is making them a superior brand. Artificial additives are a strict no, while gluten-free and devoid of lactose aspects are prioritized. The entire line comprises premium products. And what serves as the icing on the cake is the money-back program being offered.
It is a 100% money-back guarantee program wherein the entire money is returned within thirty days of delivery if one is not satisfied with the product purchased. They are a leading brand for the last couple of years, setting an example for new entrants with their strict adherence to an organic, gluten-free approach, also providing a money-back guarantee plan.
Here is the list of the company's CBD flower products:
Hawaiian Haze is a tropical flavor strain. It has a citrus touch to it. Being fruity and earthy with 18% CBD, it is a winner for a regular care routine and evening gatherings.
Lifter can be labeled as a sweet-sour strain possessing the lemon's zesty hints and a little bit of redwood. Similar to Hawaiian Haze, the strain here is also 18% CBD.
Sour Space Candy is richer in CBD when compared to Hawaiian haze and Lifter. This particular strain has about 20 percent CBD and THC content as low as 0.06%. This product rich in CBD helps to improve focus and also instantly lifts your mood.
As the name suggests, it is a sour flavor strain. This product is one of the most sought-after strains of the hemp flower. THC content is limited to 0.094%, while the CBD content is as high as 20.165%. It is a fast-acting product. One feels energetic on consuming this strain, can also be called a mood booster.
On the lines of CBD, CBG has surfaced and gained popularity, whether for recreational purposes or as a potential candidate in medical applications. Owing to the low THC content, it is bereft of the 'high' factor and has advantages just like CBD.
An important point to be noted, highlighting the fact as to why this brand is so popular, is that they were the only ones to offer the strains that are CBG dominant until maybe a couple of months back. Other companies have only recently included similar products to their product portfolio.
Methods Adopted to Grow
This company is committed to a pesticide-free approach, not to mention GMO-free. The company roped in sustainable growers based out of Oregon and Colorado that ensure the criteria are met.
Reputation of The Brand
Despite being a relatively newer brand, their reputation or the status, they achieved in the industry through their practices is commendable.
Traceability and Transparency
Right there, on the product page, lab reports are available. Lab test results of the products can be accessed by anyone, anytime. Also, they share the source of their hemp, emphasizing the confidence in the quality of their product and assuring customers of the strict standards they promised.
Ease of Shopping
The company website is simple. It walks you through the process of shopping and checking out without any hassle. The company website is not complicated, encouraging one to visit again. Customer care is robust, willing to address any issues or answer any questions.
This brand, without a doubt, tops the list. They have an attractive refund policy. They are dedicated to offering premium products. Quality is at the core of their mission. The hemp flowers are grown organically.
Being pesticide-free, limiting the usage of chemicals, and above all, the affordability factor makes them unique. The credit for the industry's steady growth can be attributed to Cheef Botanicals making a conscious effort to retain premium quality yet being simple and practical.
Click here to Get the Best Deal on Cheef Botanicals' CBD flower.
2. Cannaflower CBD – Offers A Wide Assortment Of Strains
What makes Cannaflower exceptional is the degree of transparency the company projects. There is deep traceability - a detailed stepwise breakdown of methods used for growing and implementing all the processing techniques.
They host a wide spectrum of strains, which are of premium quality. The pricing is also reasonable, making for a great combination. The integrity of their products and transparency is vital to the company.
Methods Adopted to Grow
They have embraced natural practices. The company grows its own hemp. The entire process is sustainable. The brand adheres to strict organic methods. The brand is proud of the techniques they have adopted for growing and processing their product - their soil practices are such that therapeutic cannabinoids and aromatic terpenes are created and plants without the use of herbicides.
The company claims the product is a representation of the commitment to their farms, the expertise of its trimmers, and the patience of their slow curing process.
Reputation of The Brand
The business practices of the company are noteworthy. They demonstrate exemplary practices - a trait that the brand mastered and is deeply ingrained in the company owing to the fact that they have been in the cannabis industry for a long time.
Traceability and Transparency
They vouch for quality and transparency - promise to supply a federally legal hemp product. The quality guarantee is evident in their approach towards testing the products and making the results available for customers.
The lab test is conducted by an external testing firm that does all the testing for each and every product. Upon completion, the lab provides a certificate of analysis. The brand offers a detailed analysis certificate to customers.
Ease of Shopping
Cannaflower website is minimal. It is a pleasant shopping experience, as the process is smooth and straightforward. For orders exceeding $50, the company offers free shipping. Every order gets processed with heat-sealed packaging. A URL is provided that directs customers to the online COA (certificate of analysis).
Cannaflower CBD offers a natural experience, one that can be achieved without emptying pockets. The brand carries a good collection of hemp flowers. A unique feature that lets you shop based on the effect the product offers is available. The feature assists in finding the right product. A genuine and dependable brand for one's hemp bud needs.
3. CBD American Shaman – Finest CBG Flower
CBD American Shaman finds a spot in the list of the top few CBD brands. Their products are rich in terpene, which is super concentrated. The CBD strains offered by the company are diverse and potent. The company plays a significant role in pushing the industry to a better position through participation in various industry-related endeavors.
Methods Adopted to Grow
The company grows and harvests its own plants. The main goal of the brand is to ensure consistent quality. The brand assures 100% organic, non-GMO, free of gluten products devoid of insecticides.
Reputation of the Brand
Owing to the quality standards, premium offerings, and good business practices, the company has established itself as a reliable brand offering a multitude of products - a one stop-shop for buyers.
Traceability and Transparency
The company website carries results of tests related to each product offered. They test every batch of the products they offer with help from an external laboratory and also perform in-house lab tests. After making a purchase, the buyer is provided a batch number to view the test results.
Ease of Shopping
CBD American Shaman website offers a simple and easy check out process with a good shopping experience. The support team, being knowledgeable, is ever ready to help with any concerns.
A great brand with good products boasts of a transparency policy that stands as an example for other brands. We recommend trying the CBD flower if you are looking for variety.
Click here to Get the Best Deal on CBD American Shaman flower.
4. Secret Nature: Offers Best Hemp Buds
A brand one would not have missed when looking for CBD flowers. They have a reputation for keeping the entire process simple. The flowers are of superior quality, and the business practices adopted by the company are basic, simplifying the process of any transaction with the company.
Secret Nature grows its own hemp. Complete processing is also done by the company themselves. It is, thus, in complete control of quality and is capable of enhancing the quality.
Secret Nature is an eco-friendly brand. In an effort to explore the full potential of hemp and provide the customer with maximum benefits, the company upgrades its practices constantly. The CBD flower offered is natural, with nearly non-existent THC.
With a wide range of CBD content (15.44% to 24.442%), Secret Nature boasts of 12 distinct strains. They host a wide variety of oils, vape pens, tinctures, and numerous other hemp-based products.
Methods Adopted to Grow
The terpene infused hemp grown by Secret Nature is grown indoors. The eco-friendly approach is what the company is lauded for.
Reputation of the Brand
The company is known to charge higher than most brands. Their attention to detail and green practices, in addition to exceptional quality add to the high cost.
Traceability and Transparency
The company offers a detailed, full lab test report of all products. They are happy to share their process details, highlighting the efforts put into the high-quality product. The company wants its customers to know in detail about the flowers and the processing involved.
Ease of Shopping
Secret Nature has a highly evolved website, modern and elegant, yet easy to navigate, shop, and check out, ensuring a good shopping experience.
The brand leads in quality. It is organic and cannabidiol-rich. For all the fantastic features offered, the price is also premium, justifying the product and service.
5. Tweedle Farms
Tweedle Farms is based in Oregon. It is a family-run company. Most vape cartridge companies use hemp from Tweedle Farms, including many top CBD oil manufacturing companies. They produce good quality hemp that is sought after by many big brands.
What sets the company apart or the unique aspect of the brand is availability and emphasis on strains of CBDa and not just CBD. CBDa stands for cannabidiolic acid, which is an organic and raw form of the final CBD. It has potential medical uses.
Some of the top sellers are:
4 Strain Mystery Sampler
For the shoppers that are confused, the company offers a product called flower mystery pack with four strains of total 4 grams. You can get it from the freshest batch. It is a great way to try different types of CBD flowers - an amazing offering. The variety offered can be a good change from the usual you try.
A special flavor of sweet berries, it is indeed a unique strain, as the name suggests. It contains 19.66% of CBDa. They use 100% plant-based packaging for the products.
Methods Adopted to Grow
They follow a pesticide-free approach, which is also GMO-free. Tweedle Farms grows their flowers in Northwest Oregon on a farm that the company owns, just like Secret Nature, that operates its own farm.
Reputation of the Brand
Since 2016, the company has gradually built an exemplary reputation. The company assures that its hemp is sustainably grown, and the hemp flowers are responsibly sourced for good quality final products.
Traceability and Transparency
In what appears to be complete transparency, Tweedle Farms provides a terpene analysis in addition to a detailed lab report covering CBD, THC, and CBDa.
Ease of Shopping
For simple purchases, the website is designed to be user-friendly. The vast amount of information on the website provides answers to many questions in the CBD arena. With regard to customer care, the owners have taken it upon themselves to be the point of contact and ensure a quick response is provided to any query.
Everything is confined to their own farm. They are in complete control of every aspect and every minute detail gets attention - a very unique feature to Tweedle Farms. The brand is a buyer's go-to store for good quality CBD products.
How Are Hemp Buds Different from Marijuana?
Marijuana is very different from the hemp flower. Marijuana has high amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). It is rich in THC, the psychoactive ingredient that gives consumers the infamous high.
Both marijuana and hemp belong to the cannabis plant family. However, the differentiating criteria are CBD and THC levels. Hemp contains large amounts of CBD and very small amounts of THC. The amount of CBD present in hemp is the primary reason it is used to create CBD products. Also, most importantly, hemp is legal on a federal level and is not considered a drug.
Marijuana has greater than 0.3 percent THC, the chemical that causes the intoxicating effect. Marijuana is not legal in all 50 states of the US. It continues to be considered a drug, a substance that is controlled by the federal government. Some states have legalized recreational and medicinal use of marijuana.
Hemp flowers are low in THC content, not exceeding 0.3%. They are known to be CBD rich. Legally, the aforementioned percentage needs to be strictly followed to qualify as a legal hemp bud. Farm Bill of 2018 classified hemp as non-intoxicating, implying the THC content is negligible - little or no THC.
Most people are unaware that hemp has been known to mankind for a very long time. Hemp finds numerous applications in various industries. The recent change in legal status, supported by ongoing research, makes CBD a likely candidate in medical applications in the near future.
Does Smoking the CBD Flower make you High?
The impairing effect of marijuana is due to THC. CBD flower, on the other hand, does not contain any THC or has very minimal amounts of THC. Legally, the number is 0.3% or lower THC. The really low values do not suffice to produce the 'high' effect. For that matter, you do not experience drowsiness, too; getting high or impaired is a far cry.
The positive characteristic of CBD flowers is that they boost your mood. Studies underway hint at CBD flower being a cognitive enhancer. The natural properties of CBD have the potential to help curb anxiety and fix sleep disorders, something that is still in the clinical trial stage and is not established yet. The FDA issued a statement that CBD should not be used to treat, diagnose, or cure any ailment.
Is Buying Hemp Flower Online Legal?
In the United States, hemp can be purchased without any qualms. Processing and purchasing are allowed post the Farm Bill passed in 2018. According to the bill, hemp products can be sold, and it is completely legal, provided the THC content is below 0.3%.
The point to consider is to ensure what is being purchased. Double-check to ensure what you are buying is hemp with THC content equal to or below 0.3%. - that is what distinguishes hemp from marijuana and is an important factor to always keep in mind when purchasing CBD products.
CBD Flower and Drug Test - Does It Show Up in A Test?
Workplaces, specifically in the US, require drug tests before hiring you. People are concerned about the CBD flower showing up in the test.
Pure CBD does not turn up on a drug test. However, THC does. Since the THC content of hemp flower can vary up to 0.3%, it is worrisome as the advanced drug tests do detect THC. There are many types of tests, and not all are capable of detecting THC. The answer is yes, some tests do detect, but it is based on the kind of test.
Characteristics of a Superior CBD Flower Product
The finest CBD is characterized by features such as terpenes, CBD levels, and processing methods. An exceptional quality flower can be distinguished from regular ones with the help of these criteria.
The hemp plant's smell and taste are mainly dependent on the terpenes found in the hemp plant. They are aromatic molecules responsible for the characteristic taste and smell of the cannabis plant, in addition to its therapeutic benefits and medicinal values. It is the most significant feature that helps tell the premium flower apart.
CBD level contributes substantially to the benefit you are expecting from the hemp flower. In case of pain relief, the amount of CBD has to exceed a specific number to be effective. Typically, the value for an average bud is 10 to 15%. There are also specialty strains available that are rich in CBD and ensure CBD content greater than 20%.
The processing method plays a pivotal role in the selection process or while purchasing CBD flowers. Checking if it has been seeded or checking if it has been cured properly and trimmed right is essential. This is particularly important when buying the flower and not so much when buying a product made from extracted CBD.
Most brands have transparency policies that let you access the processing method employed. However, a consumer purchasing a product online generally trusts the brand or counts on visual clues to identify premium products.
Always check the smell, look, and feel for anything that appears to be off from the usual. Alerting signs are having seeds, appearing moist or wet, and having a strange smell. Discard the low-grade stuff with these signs.
Conclusion – The Finest CBD Flower Online
With the numerous brands and myriad products out there, one does need help figuring out the finest brands. We recommend Cheef Botanicals. The positives that make it our preferred brand are the assurance of an organic product that is completely natural at an affordable price.
Additionally, the exceptional quality flower strains offered along with test results from an external laboratory helps make a confident purchase. The lactose-free and gluten-free lineup of CBD-rich products supported by a money-back program pushes the brand to the top spot.
Having made our verdict, we do believe your journey would encompass trying more than one option. Our top 5 brands list is definitely a good place to start, considering the overwhelming number of companies surfacing with the recent surge in the CBD market.
By Jim Palardy
As 2021 dawns, people, ecosystems, and wildlife worldwide are facing a panoply of environmental issues. In an effort to help experts and policymakers determine where they might focus research, a panel of 25 scientists and practitioners — including me — from around the globe held discussions in the fall to identify emerging issues that deserve increased attention.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Ask a Scientist: What Should the Biden Administration and Congress Do to Address the Climate Crisis?
By Elliott Negin
What a difference an election makes. Thanks to the Biden-Harris victory in November, the next administration is poised to make a 180-degree turn to again address the climate crisis.
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By Suresh Dhaniyala and Byron Erath
A fast-spreading variant of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has been found in at least 10 states, and people are wondering: How do I protect myself now?
Airborne Particles Are Still the Biggest Problem<p>The <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-it-matters-that-the-coronavirus-is-changing-and-what-this-means-for-vaccine-effectiveness-152383" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">SARS-CoV-2 variants</a> are believed to spread primarily through the air rather than on surfaces.</p><p>When someone with the coronavirus in their respiratory tract coughs, talks, sings or even just breathes, infectious respiratory droplets can be expelled into the air. These droplets are tiny, predominantly in the range of <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0021850211001200?casa_token=KtyrsEfbeqcAAAAA:vv10sSxm33tzg0EQvNMIFtV7GCu5gE9QAzuyzHKr2_4Cl0OFkUJoGwzn4d0ZnEWS19NsOTuH" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">1-100 micrometers</a>. For comparison, a human hair is about 70 micrometers in diameter.</p><p>The larger droplets fall to the ground quickly, rarely traveling farther than 6 feet from the source. The bigger problem for disease transmission is the tiniest droplets – those less than 10 micrometers in diameter – which can remain suspended in the air as aerosols for <a href="https://academic.oup.com/cid/article/50/5/693/325466" target="_blank">hours at a time</a>.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="bb67b83dcafe589f350daf3df60fa29d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/UNCNM7AZPFg?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
What Can You Do to Stay Safe?<p>1) Pay attention to the type of face mask you use, and how it fits.</p><p>Most off-the-shelf face coverings are not 100% effective at preventing droplet emission. With the new variant spreading more easily and likely infectious at lower concentrations, it's important to select coverings with materials that are most effective at stopping droplet spread.</p><p>When available, N95 and surgical masks consistently perform the best. Otherwise, face coverings that use <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352431620301802?casa_token=-Dj6nGBAm24AAAAA:qq9BpbzCKaPDFcV73ohA2fCnhE_Zlkss6Bei3kUwq9QYndhHj0Vafbbd-ef_855lx6knDfUt" target="_blank">multiple layers of material</a> are preferable. Ideally, the material should be a tight weave. High thread count cotton sheets are an example. Proper fit is also crucial, as gaps around the nose and mouth can <a href="https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acsnano.0c03252" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">decrease the effectiveness by 50%</a>.</p><p>2) Follow social distancing guidelines.</p><p>While the current social distancing guidelines are not perfect – <a href="https://theconversation.com/what-a-smoky-bar-can-teach-us-about-the-6-foot-rule-during-the-covid-19-pandemic-145517" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">6 feet isn't always enough</a> – they do offer a useful starting point. Because aerosol concentrations levels and infectivity are highest in the space immediately surrounding anyone with the virus, increasing physical distancing can help reduce risk. Remember that people are infectious <a href="https://medical.mit.edu/faqs/COVID-19#faq-10" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">before they start showing symptoms</a>, and they many never show symptoms, so don't count on seeing signs of illness.</p><p>3) Think carefully about the environment when entering an enclosed area, both the ventilation and how people interact.</p><p>Limiting the size of gatherings helps reduce the potential for exposure. Controlling indoor environments in other ways can also be a highly effective strategy for reducing risk. This includes <a href="https://theconversation.com/what-a-smoky-bar-can-teach-us-about-the-6-foot-rule-during-the-covid-19-pandemic-145517" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">increasing ventilation rates</a> to bring in <a href="https://theconversation.com/keeping-indoor-air-clean-can-reduce-the-chance-of-spreading-coronavirus-149512" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">fresh air and filtering existing air</a> to dilute aerosol concentrations.</p><p>On a personal level, it is helpful to pay attention to the types of interactions that are taking place. For example, many individuals shouting can create a higher risk than one individual speaking. In all cases, it's important to minimize the amount of time spent indoors with others.</p><p>The CDC has warned that B.1.1.7 could <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/70/wr/mm7003e2.htm?s_cid=mm7003e2_w" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">become the dominant SARS-CoV-2 variant</a> in the U.S. by March. Other fast-spreading variants have also been found in <a href="https://virological.org/t/genomic-characterisation-of-an-emergent-sars-cov-2-lineage-in-manaus-preliminary-findings/586" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Brazil</a> and <a href="https://www.who.int/csr/don/31-december-2020-sars-cov2-variants/en/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">South Africa</a>. Increased vigilance and complying with health guidelines should continue to be of highest priority.</p>
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By Tara Lohan
A key part of the United States' clean energy transition has started to take shape, but you may need to squint to see it. About 2,000 wind turbines could be built far offshore, in federal waters off the Atlantic Coast, in the next 10 years. And more are expected.
Threats to Birds<p>One of the gravest threats facing birds is climate change, according to Audubon, which found that rising temperatures threaten <a href="https://www.audubon.org/2019climateissue" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">nearly two-thirds of North America's bird species</a>. That's why the impending development of offshore wind is a good thing, says Shilo Felton, a field manager in the organization's Clean Energy Initiative, but it also comes with dangers to birds that need to be better studied and mitigated.</p><p>The most obvious risk comes from birds colliding with spinning turbine blades. But offshore wind developments can also displace birds from foraging or roost sites, as well as migratory pathways.</p><p>Along the Atlantic Coast four imperiled species are of top concern to conservationists: the endangered piping plover, red knot, roseate tern and black-capped petrel, which is being considered for listing under the Endangered Species Act.</p><p>"Those four species are of utmost importance to make sure that we understand the impacts," says Felton. "But beyond that there are many species that are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act that could potentially see more impacts from offshore wind."</p><p>Northern gannets, for example, are at risk not just for collision but <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/308703197_Possible_impacts_of_offshore_wind_farms_on_seabirds_a_pilot_study_in_Northern_Gannets_in_the_southern_North_Sea" target="_blank">habitat displacement</a>.</p>
A northern gannet flying along Cape May, N.J. Ann Marie Morrison / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0<p>"There's <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0006320716303196" target="_blank">some evidence</a> that they just won't use areas where turbines are, but that also excludes them from key foraging areas," says Felton. Researchers are still studying what this may mean for the birds. But a <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0141113620305304" target="_blank">study</a> published in December 2020 conducted at Bass Rock, Scotland — home to the world's largest northern gannet colony — found that wind developments could reduce their growth rate, though not enough to cause a population decline.</p><p>Other birds, such as great cormorants and European shags, are <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0006320716303196" target="_blank">attracted to wind developments</a> and use the infrastructure to rest while opening up new foraging areas farther from shore.</p><p>"There's plenty of potential for a bird to use a wind farm and still to avoid the turbines themselves," says Felton.</p><p>Birds like pelicans, however, are less versatile in their movements and are at particular risk of collision because of their flight pattern, she says.</p><p>But how disruptive or dangerous offshore turbines will be along the East Coast isn't yet known.</p><p>Federal and state agencies, along with nongovernmental organizations, says Felton, have done good research to try to better understand those potential impacts. "But these are all theoretical, because we don't have a lot of offshore wind yet in the United States."</p>
Threats to Ocean Life<p>Birds aren't the only wildlife of concern. More development in ocean waters could affect a litany of marine species, some of which are already facing other pressures from overfishing, pollution, habitat destruction and climate change.</p><p>Scientists have found that marine mammals like whales and dolphins could be disturbed by the jarring sounds of construction, especially if pile driving is used to hammer the steel turbine platform into the seafloor.</p><p>The noises, though short-lived, could impede communication between animals, divert them from migration routes or cause them to seek less suitable areas for feeding or breeding. Research from Europe found that harbor porpoises, seals and dolphins may avoid development areas during construction. In most, but <a href="https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/7/4/045101" target="_blank">not all cases</a>, the animals were believed to have returned to the area following construction.</p><p>The biggest concern for conservation groups in the United States is the critically endangered North American right whale. There are fewer than 400 remaining, and the species' habitat overlaps with a number of planned wind development areas along the East Coast.</p><p>"Offshore wind is in no way the cause of the challenges the whales face, but it's going to be another pressure point," says John Rogers, senior energy analyst for the Union of Concerned Scientists.</p><p>Researchers aren't sure how right whales will respond to the noise from pile driving.</p><p>"But we are concerned, based on what we know about how whales react to other noise sources, that they may avoid [wind development] areas," says Kershaw.</p><p>And if that displacement causes them to miss out on important food resources, it could be dangerous for a species already on the brink.</p><p>There are a few other potential threats, too.</p><p>Ships associated with the development — more plentiful during construction — also pose a danger. In the past few years cargo ships, fishing boats and other vessels have caused half of all deaths of North Atlantic right whales.</p>
A juvenile right whale breaches against the backdrop of a ship near the St. Johns River entrance. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission / NOAA Research Permit #775-1600-10<p>And after construction, the noise from the spinning turbines will be present in the water at low decibels. "We don't quite know how the great whales will react to those sounds," says Jeremy Firestone, the director of the Center for Research in Wind at the University of Delaware.</p><p>Other marine mammals may also perceive the noise, but at low decibels it's unlikely to be an impediment, <a href="http://www.int-res.com/abstracts/meps/v309/p279-295/" target="_blank">research has found</a>.</p><p>And it's possible that wind development could help some ocean life. Turbine foundations can attract fish and invertebrates for whom hard substrates create habitat complexity — known as the "reef effect," according to researchers from the University of Rhode Island's <a href="https://dosits.org/animals/effects-of-sound/anthropogenic-sources/wind-turbine/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Discovery of Sound in the Sea</a> program. Exclusion of commercial fishing nearby may also help shelter fish and protect marine mammals from entanglements in fishing gear.</p>
Ensuring Safe Development<p>Despite the potential dangers, researchers have gathered a few best practices to help diminish and possibly eliminate some risks.</p><p>When it comes to ship strikes, the easiest thing is to slow boats down, mandating a speed of <a href="https://biologicaldiversity.org/w/news/press-releases/vessel-speed-limits-sought-protect-endangered-north-atlantic-right-whales-2020-08-06/" target="_blank">10 knots</a> in wind development areas, and using visual and acoustic monitoring for whales.</p><p>Adjusting operations to reduce boat trips between the shore and the wind development will also help. A new series of service operating vessels can allow maintenance staff to spent multiple days onsite, says Kershaw, cutting down on boat traffic.</p><p>For construction noise concerns, developers can avoid pile driving during times of the year when whales are present. And, depending on the marine environment, developers could use "quiet foundations" that don't require pile driving. These include gravity-based or suction caisson platforms.</p><p>Floating turbines are also used in deep water, where they're effectively anchored in place — although that poses its own potential danger. "We have concerns that marine debris could potentially become entangled around the mooring cables of the floating arrays and pose a secondarily entanglement risk to some species," says Felton, who thinks more research should be conducted before those become operational in U.S. waters — a process that's already underway in Maine, where a <a href="https://composites.umaine.edu/2020/08/05/diamond-offshore-wind-rwe-renewables-join-the-university-of-maine-to-lead-development-of-maine-floating-offshore-wind-demonstration-project/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">demonstration project is being built</a>.</p><p>If loud noises are unavoidable during construction, noise-reducing technologies such as bubble curtains can help dampen the sound. And scheduling adjacent projects to conduct similar work at the same time could limit the duration of disturbances.</p>
The foundation installation of the off shore wind farm Sandbank using a bubble curtain. Vattenfall / Ulrich Wirrwa / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0<p>Once turbines become operational, reducing the amount of light on wind platforms or using flashing lights could help deter some seabirds, NRDC <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/harnessing-wind-advance-wind-power-offshore-ib.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">researchers reported</a>. And scientists are exploring using ultrasonic noises and ultraviolet lighting to keep bats away. "Feathering," or shutting down the turbine blades during key migration times, could also help prevent fatalities.</p><p>"We need to make sure that offshore wind is the best steward it can be of the marine ecosystem, because we want and expect it to be a significant part of the clean energy picture in some parts of the country," says Rogers. "We also have to recognize that we're going to learn by doing, and that some of these things we're going to figure out best once we have more turbines in the water."</p><p>That's why environmental groups say it's important to establish baseline information on species before projects begin, and then require developers to conduct monitoring during construction and for years after projects are operational.</p><p>Employing an "adaptive management framework" will ensure that developers can adjust their management practices as they go when new information becomes available, and that those best practices are incorporated into the requirements for future projects.</p>
Putting Research Into Action<p>Advancing these conversations at the federal level during the Trump administration, though, has been slow going.</p><p>"We didn't really have any productive discussions with the administration in the last four years," says Kershaw.</p><p>And when it comes to birds, Felton says the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management's recently completed "draft cumulative environmental impact statement" covering offshore wind developments had a lot of good environmental research, but little focus on birds.</p><p>"Part of that comes from the current administration's interpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act," she says.</p><p>President Trump has been hostile to both wind energy <em>and</em> birds, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/05/climate/trump-migratory-bird-protections.html" target="_blank">and finished gutting the Migratory Bird Treaty Act</a> in his administration's the final days, removing penalties for companies whose operations kill migratory birds.</p><p>There's hope that the Biden administration will take a different approach. But where the federal government has been lacking lately, Kershaw says, they've seen states step up.</p><p>New York, for example, has established an <a href="https://www.nyetwg.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Environmental Technical Working Group</a> composed of stakeholders to advise on environmentally responsible development of offshore wind.</p><p>The group is led by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, but it isn't limited to the Empire State. It's regional in focus and includes representatives from wind developers with leases between Massachusetts and North Carolina; state agencies from Massachusetts to Virginia; federal agencies; and science-based environmental NGOs.</p><p>New York's latest solicitation for clean energy projects includes up to 2,500 megawatts of offshore wind and <a href="https://www.nyetwg.com/announcements" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">requires developers</a> to contribute at least $10,000 per megawatt for regional monitoring of fisheries and other wildlife.</p><p>Environmental groups have also worked directly with developers, including an agreement with Vineyard Wind — an 800-megawatt project off the Massachusetts coast that could be the first utility-scale wind development in federal waters — to help protect North Atlantic right whales.</p><p>The agreement includes no pile driving from Jan. 1 to April 30, ceasing activities at other times when whales are visually or acoustically identified in the area, speed restrictions on vessels, and the use of noise reduction technology, such as a bubble curtain during pile driving.</p><p>"The developers signed the agreement with us, and then they incorporated, most, if not all of those measures into the federal permitting documents," says Kershaw. "The developers really did a lot of bottom up work to make sure that they were being very protective of right whales."</p><p>Environmental groups are in talks with other developers on agreements too, but Felton wants to see best practices being mandated at the federal level.</p><p>"It's the sort of a role that should be being played by the federal government, and without that it makes the permitting and regulation process less stable and less transparent," she says." And that in turn slows down the build out of projects, which is also bad for birds because it doesn't help us address and mitigate for climate change."</p><p>Kershaw agrees there's a lot more work to be done, especially at the federal level, but thinks we're moving in the right direction.</p><p>"I think the work that's been done so far in the United States has really laid the groundwork for advancing this in the right way and in a way that's protective of species and the environment," she says. "At the same time, it's important that offshore wind does advance quickly. We really need it to help us combat the worst effects of climate change."</p><p><em><a href="https://therevelator.org/author/taralohan/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Tara Lohan</a> is deputy editor of The Revelator and has worked for more than a decade as a digital editor and environmental journalist focused on the intersections of energy, water and climate. Her work has been published by The Nation, American Prospect, High Country News, Grist, Pacific Standard and others. She is the editor of two books on the global water crisis.</em></p><p><em style="">Reposted with permission from <a href="https://therevelator.org/offshore-wind-wildlife" target="_blank" style="">The Revelator</a>. </em></p>
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By Frank La Sorte and Kyle Horton
Millions of birds travel between their breeding and wintering grounds during spring and autumn migration, creating one of the greatest spectacles of the natural world. These journeys often span incredible distances. For example, the Blackpoll warbler, which weighs less than half an ounce, may travel up to 1,500 miles between its nesting grounds in Canada and its wintering grounds in the Caribbean and South America.
Blackpoll warbler. PJTurgeon / Wikipedia<p>We used this information to determine how the number of migratory bird species varies based on each city's level of <a href="https://www.britannica.com/science/light-pollution" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">light pollution</a> – brightening of the night sky caused by artificial light sources, such as buildings and streetlights. We also explored how species numbers vary based on the quantity of tree canopy cover and impervious surface, such as concrete and asphalt, within each city. Our findings show that cities can help migrating birds by planting more trees and reducing light pollution, especially during spring and autumn migration.</p>
Declining Bird Populations<p>Urban areas contain numerous dangers for migratory birds. The biggest threat is the risk of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1650/CONDOR-13-090.1" target="_blank">colliding with buildings or communication towers</a>. Many migratory bird populations have <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.aaw1313" target="_blank">declined over the past 50 years</a>, and it is possible that light pollution from cities is contributing to these losses.</p><p>Scientists widely agree that light pollution can <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1708574114" target="_blank">severely disorient migratory birds</a> and make it hard for them to navigate. Studies have shown that birds will cluster around brightly lit structures, much like insects flying around a porch light at night. Cities are the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/fee.2029" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">primary source of light pollution for migratory birds</a>, and these species tend to be more abundant within cities <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/gcb.13792" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">during migration</a>, especially in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2020.103892" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">city parks</a>.</p>
Composite image of the continental U.S. at night from satellite photos. NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens, using Suomi NPP VIIRS data from Miguel Román, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center