Jan. 18, 2017 – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has issued its Record of Decision approving Power Company of Wyoming LLC’s voluntary applications for standard and programmatic eagle take permits, both of which are based upon PCW’s comprehensive conservation plans and coordination with the Service.
The Service’s decision follows the Dec. 8, 2016, publication of its Final Environmental Impact Statement. The Final EIS analyzed avian conservation measures for Phase I (500 turbines) of PCW’s Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project in Carbon County, Wyoming.
PCW developed two main conservation plans addressing eagles, bats and other migratory birds – the Phase I Eagle Conservation Plan and the Phase I Bird and Bat Conservation Strategy. Both plans are built on a foundation of over five years of scientific data-collection, over 5,000 hours of avian use surveys specific to the CCSM Project site, and ongoing coordination with the Service starting in 2010. The plans assure that eagle conservation is a priority both during wind project construction (standard permit application) and during operation (programmatic permit application), and they provide for mitigation and compensation in case of incidental eagle take.
Below are excerpts from the federal news release issued today about the Service’s decision:
The Fish and Wildlife Service is charged with administering the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, which allows for limited take of eagles under certain conditions. The Service analyzed the impacts of potentially issuing such a permit using an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The Final EIS (FEIS) for CCSM analyzed a potential range of project alternatives and accompanying mitigation actions to determine the impacts of permitting limited eagle take. The Service evaluated four alternatives, including issuing the permit as requested in the application, issuing a permit with different eagle mitigation requirements, issuing a permit for the project at a smaller scale, or not issuing the permit.
Through this analysis, the Fish and Wildlife Service determined that it could issue eagle take permits for the project as requested, which included significant avoidance, minimization, and compensatory mitigation measures. Those permits would cover any unavoidable disturbance of eagles during construction as well as take of eagles during the development’s ongoing operation for a five year period. The Service’s analysis indicated that it is likely that one to two bald eagles and 10-14 golden eagles per year would be harmed or killed by the CCSM project.
“Over 70 years ago, our nation made a clear statement about the importance of protecting eagles with the passage of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act,” said the Service’s Mountain-Prairie Regional Director, Noreen Walsh. “As the federal agency charged with implementing that law, the decision the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is announcing today demonstrates that by working closely with industry, we can develop our nation’s wind resources in a way that conserves our extraordinary wildlife resources.”
Upon completion of final permit application requirements, PCW would be issued a “take” (disturb, injure or kill) permit that would cover the anticipated eagle impacts. Under federal regulations, compensatory mitigation is not required for bald eagles because their abundance can withstand the impacts of the project. However, any golden eagle taken must be compensated for to ensure golden eagle populations remain stable.
One current source of mortality for golden eagles is electrocution on power poles that are not constructed to bird-friendly standards. Electrocutions occur when eagles contact two energized points, or an energized point and a “path to ground.” Existing power poles that are not bird-friendly can be retrofitted to reduce these risks. As part of their project, PCW has committed to providing compensatory mitigation by reducing this ongoing source of mortality. By retrofitting existing power poles that pose an electrocution hazard to eagles, they can reduce the level of ongoing mortality in order to compensate for any mortality that may occur from their wind turbines. The amount of take that will be permitted is deliberately conservative, meaning that the compensatory mitigation measures required of the operator will likely exceed their impact, providing a net benefit to golden eagles.
The thoughtful and detailed collaboration that occurred between PCW and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to arrive at a project design that supports renewable energy and safeguards golden eagles is not a new approach. The Service regularly works in partnership with developers to protect our nation’s wildlife while facilitating energy production.
The Service’s environmental analysis documents, and PCW’s avian conservation plans, are available at http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/wind/ChokecherrySierraMadre/index.php.
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