The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has worked closely with Alta Wind X LLC to develop comprehensive conservation measures for golden eagles and other wildlife in the vicinity of the company’s Alta East Wind Project. The 137-MW, 48-turbine Alta East Wind Project operates on a 2,274-acre site in the Tehachapi Wind Resource Area near Mojave, California.
The completion of Alta Wind’s conservation plan paved the way for the Fish and Wildlife Service to issue a five-year permit to the company, which also helps to ensure it continues to make eagle conservation a priority at its operations. The plan and permit are the second of their kind in the nation and serve as an example to other traditional and renewable energy producers in the area and elsewhere across the country of how to best protect America’s eagles.
“We are committed to ensuring energy development is compatible with the conservation of our nation’s wildlife and are delighted Alta Wind X chose to work collaboratively with us to protect golden eagles at their project site,” said Eric Davis, Assistant Regional Director of the Service’s Migratory Bird Program. “We hope this will encourage other companies to work with us to produce similar eagle conservation plans and provide a better future for California’s wildlife.”
In its permit application, Alta Wind X provided an Eagle Conservation Plan that describes robust measures the company will implement to avoid, minimize, and mitigate the project’s impacts to eagles. The plan was prepared in close coordination with the Wildlife Service using eagle conservation guidelines developed for the wind energy industry. The company also provided a strategy to conserve bats and other migratory birds.
“The Service strives to work proactively with energy producers to prevent eagle deaths by engaging them in the permit process. This helps developers implement sound conservation practices that avoid, minimize, and mitigate for eagle mortality and to obtain a degree of regulatory certainty for unavoidable harm to eagles that still occurs despite these efforts,” said Davis. “The result is an overall benefit to the eagle population.”
Although the Wildlife Service cannot require companies to apply for eagle take permits, it is able to investigate harm to eagles and to recommend prosecution for unauthorized take under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. While legal remedies are available to enforce the act, the Wildlife Service strives to first work proactively and collaboratively with industries of all types to avoid and mitigate harm to eagles.
In return for advancing eagle conservation, the Wildlife Service provides greater regulatory (and therefore financial) certainty to the permittees that ensures a company will not be prosecuted for take that cannot be avoided.
The Service determined that if the conservation steps outlined in the Alta East plan are taken, the project will result in no net loss to eagle populations in the area. Therefore, the agency will grant a permit to Alta Wind X or take of up to three golden eagles at the facility throughout a five-year period.
If the number of eagles killed at the facility approaches the permit limit, the Wildlife Service can re-engage in consultation with the company and request implementation of additional protection measures.
The issuance of the take permit is not the end of the Service’s involvement in this wind project. The Alta East Wind Project will provide valuable monitoring data that will help biologists learn more about the interactions of eagles with wind power projects and ensure avoidance and mitigation measures are adequate.
The full text of the FEA is available here.
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