Wind Power vs. Whooping Crane On The Prairie?

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.

whooping crane, wind power

image via Shutterstock

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).

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

  • Some additional useful info here: http://www.awea.org/blog/index.cfm?customel_dataPageID_1699=8401 – Regards, Tom Gray, Wind Energy Communications Consultantn

  • Wind Farmer

    Iu00a0can siteu00a0a specific example of an experience with a British Wind Development company who pushed to have a wind project sited IN SPITE of State and Federal Wildlife agency recommendations NOT to move forward with the project due to over 20 years of documented Whooping Crane activity.u00a0 So please spare the details how WILDLIFE FRIENDLYu00a0the wind companies REALLY are.u00a0 It is all about the tax subsidies and big money at the expense of the rate payers and endangered wildlife.