WIND POWER VS WHOOPING CRANE ON THE PRAIRIE
SOURCE Earth Techling, www.earthtechling.com
June 20 2011
by Pete Danko,
The term of art is incidental take. It refers to the “harassment, harm, pursuit, hunting, shooting, wounding, killing, trapping, capture, or collection of any threatened or endangered species.” Incidental take is in the news now because the Obama administration has given notice that it is evaluating issuing an incidental take permit (ITP) – a free pass of sorts – in a 200-mile-wide corridor from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico where whooping cranes migrate.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it was acting at the urging of a collection of wind-power developers – including familiar names like Duke, Acciona, Iberdrola and NextEra – under the banner of the “Wind Energy Whooping Crane Action Group.” The service said an ITP, if issued, would “cover regional-level construction, operation, and maintenance associated with multiple commercial wind energy facilities” in portions of nine states, including Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas.
To obtain an ITP, the government said, an applicant must submit “a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) containing measures which would minimize incidental take to any species protected by the ESA, including avoidance of incidental take, and mitigate the effects of any incidental take to the maximum extent practicable; and ensure that the taking is incidental to, and not the purpose of, an otherwise lawful activity. If the Service determines that an applicant has satisfied all permitting criteria and other statutory requirements, the ITP is issued.”
The government said the species affected could include the endangered interior least tern and endangered piping plover, as well as the lesser prairie-chicken, a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). But it’s a population of whooping cranes that would also be covered by the ITP – Grus Americana, the tallest North American bird – that is drawing the most attention.
According to a 2009 government report, the Aransas-Wood Buffalo Population (AWBP) of cranes, the species’ only self-sustaining flock left on Earth, has been making a slow comeback, but still numbers just 247 individuals. So precarious is the AWBP population, the report said, that a rise in mortality rate of a mere three percent annually – as few as eight additional bird deaths each year – would reverse its comeback and spell doom for the species. For its part, the wind industry said it neither wants to nor expects to diminish the whooping crane’s long-term prospects, but rather it seeks to “streamline the ESA permitting process, allowing for the compatible goals of effective wildlife conservation and robust wind energy development.”
The public has until October 12 to comment on the proposed action (see http://www.fws.gov/southwest/ to download a copy of the notice).
WIND DEVELOPERS VS BIRDS
American Bird Conservancy, www.abcbirds.org 20 July 2011
(Washington, D.C., July 20, 2011) American Bird Conservancy (ABC)—the nation’s leading bird conservation organization—today raised concerns about new draft Department of the Interior (DOI) guidelines for wind development that appear to have been overly influenced by energy industry lawyers and lobbyists. The new draft reverses agency protection recommendations for many bird species and adds unrealistic deadlines that would lead to “rubber-stamping” of wind projects. ABC expects millions of migratory birds to be harmed by poorly-planned wind energy.
The draft guidelines were released ahead of a Wind Federal Advisory Committee meeting scheduled for today and tomorrow in Arlington, Virginia, where Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar is expected to speak.
“What is particularly surprising is that even the original guidelines proposed by Interior weren’t mandatory. Here, industry is asking for voluntary guidelines to be weakened. What they might succeed in getting, though, is a set of guidelines that lack clarity, plus greater likelihood of legal problems,” said Mike Parr, Vice President of ABC.
“What we are talking about is thousands of unpermitted wind farms that break bird protection laws and open up legal liability for wind developers and risk for investors. Mandatory guidelines would give developers certainty that they would not face prosecution, and would generate a dialog between wind developers and the Fish and Wildlife Service to help minimize and mitigate bird impacts,” he added.
“Given the Administration’s commitment to scientific integrity, it’s hard to understand why the peer-reviewed work of agency scientists was dismissed in favor of text written by an industry-dominated Federal Advisory Committee,” said Kelly Fuller, Wind Campaign Coordinator at ABC. “ABC would like to see the next draft include more of what the agency scientists wrote.”
Recommendations on wind energy were developed over a two-year period by an industry-dominated, 22-member Federal Advisory Committee and forwarded to the Secretary of the Interior in March 2010. Over the next year, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists made a series of changes to those recommendations to improve protection for birds. Those revised guidelines were then published for public comment in February 2011 (an overwhelming number of the comments called for the guidelines to be strengthened, not weakened). They also underwent scientific peer review. Last week, FWS re-issued a new draft of those guidelines, available at http://www.fws.gov/windenergy/docs/WEG_July_12_%202011.pdf that removed many of the key bird protection elements following pressure from industry.
“ABC supports bird-smart wind energy development in which birds can co-exist with wind energy. America must avoid repeating the mistakes we made with hydropower half a century ago, when we built dams without careful environmental review or consideration, necessitating spending millions of dollars today to remove them. We must likewise steer clear of the mistakes we are making today with coal, which result in costly impacts to public health and wildlife. These new guidelines are not bird-smart,” she added.
Parr said “The new guidelines would harm birds by only giving U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) biologists responsibility to review wind projects within new, truncated deadlines, and without the funding to hire the requisite additional staff. The new draft guidelines would also protect fewer migratory birds than the earlier version and move away from DOI’s legal responsibility to protect all migratory bird species, not just ‘species of concern’.”
In addition, the new guidelines remove protections for both birds and people that FWS biologists had recommended in their peer-reviewed guidelines, including:
Allowing greater latitude in installing overhead power lines between wind turbines, which increases the risk to larger birds such as eagles, hawks, and cranes, instead of burying the lines.
Removing a recommendation that wind developers address wildfire risk and response planning, something that could be potentially very important, especially in Western communities or areas experiencing drought.
Removing a recommendation that wind developers avoid discharging sediment from roads into streams and waters, a standard recommendation at construction sites that protects water quality.
Removing a recommendation to avoid active wind turbine construction during key periods in the life histories of fish and wildlife, such as the nesting season for migratory birds.
The publication date for the final version of the guidelines has not yet been announced.
Concerned citizens have until August 4 to comment on the current guidelines. Comments can be sent to email@example.com.
American Bird Conservancy (ABC) is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit membership organization which conserves native birds and their habitats throughout the Americas by safeguarding the rarest species, conserving and restoring habitats, and reducing threats while building capacity in the bird conservation movement.