The owner of a California wind farm wants to broaden its measures to mitigate possible injury or death of endangered condors flying into its equipment—by also funding the captive breeding and release of more condors.
Avangrid Renewables LLC in Portland, Ore., owner of the Manzana Wind Farm located about 100 miles northeast of Los Angeles, is seeking final approval of its California Condor conservation plan by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in its application for an incidental take permit of the federally endangered bird. (Incidental take is defined by the FWS as direct harm of an endangered species or their habitat through activities that are otherwise lawful.)
The plan calls for Avangrid to provide $527,822 in funding over five years to the Oregon Zoo, also in Portland, to increase its efforts at captive rearing and release of condors. The funds would pay to hire an additional full-time employee at $90,000 a year, which would enable the zoo’s Jonsson Center for Wildlife Conservation to rear additional condors, as well as $10,000 each year to transport the condors to the release site after they reach 1½ years old.
Other mitigation measures the wind farm wants to employ to decrease condor take include the use of biomonitors, GPS/GSM technology, high-resolution video imaging and other new technologies as they become available. The wind farm—as well as the FWS—are already practicing some mitigation measures, including power pole aversion training for condors and routine removal of animal carcasses in the area to reduce condor foraging near turbines.
While no condors have been killed by the wind farm since it began operations in 2012, FWS officials believe the additional mitigation will likely be necessary in the future as the condor population continues to increase.
The ultimate goal is to breed and release at least six condors to offset the potential incidental take of two free-flying condors and two eggs or chicks by the wind farm’s turbines and overhead electrical transmission lines, a ratio that was based on a population viability analysis. The potential take over the wind farm’s 30-year land lease term was determined to be this low due to the lack of nesting and roosting of condors in the general vicinity, as well as from the use of other mitigation measures by both the wind farm and the FWS, according to the plan.
In its environmental assessment of the wind farm’s mitigation plan, the FWS wrote that the level of mitigation proposed uses the upper range of replacement ratios, and based on the population viability analysis, “would fully offset the impacts of the permitted take.”
“Therefore, the proposed action would not result in significant adverse impacts to condors and would not impede recovery of the species,” the FWS wrote. “Conversely, if the take that occurs are juvenile or non-breeding birds, or if the actual amount of take is less than what is permitted, the potential exists that the mitigation associated with the proposed action would provide a net benefit to the recovery of the California condor.”
Joel Merriman, the Bird-Smart Wind Energy Campaign director at the American Bird Conservancy in Washington, D.C., said that having to consider a mitigation plan after a wind farm was built and in operation for several years has created “a challenging scenario.”
“Apart from taking the turbines down, the situation becomes, what do you do about it?” Merriman said.
As more wind farms are developed in an effort to boost clean energy sources, the challenge of protecting endangered species and other bird species increases due to the potential cumulative impacts, he said. The Bird-Smart Wind Energy Campaign outlines how wind farms should be planned and built to minimize impacts to bird species.
“It really comes down to thoughtful planning, collecting the right data and making sure the turbines are put in the right pace at the outset,” Merriman said.
Separately, Avangrid’s philanthropic arm, the Avangrid Foundation, announced this month that it was providing a $50,000 grant to the Oregon Zoo Foundation to fund the purchase of a new, larger commercial freezer for the zoo’s Jonsson Center to store more food for captive condors.
“The Oregon Zoo is a natural partner for the Avangrid Foundation,” said the Avangrid Foundation’s executive director, Nicole Licata Grant, in the announcement. “We are proud to support their efforts to restore this iconic species to the skies above the American West.”
The grant also supports the foundation’s commitment to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, in that it funds organizations and projects whose work contributes to the improvement of biodiversity and prevention of species extinction, Grant said.