Wind Farm Approved With Condor Provisions

For the first time, U.S. wildlife officials have backed construction of a wind power plant with a provision that allows for the death of an endangered California condor.

Conservationists said the decision to grant a right-of-way to Terra-Gen for the 153-megawatt Alta East wind power project in the Tehachapi Mountains north of Los Angeles – with a “take” permit for one bird over the course of a 30-year lease – could threaten recovery efforts for the condor.

california condor wind power

image via Gary Kramer

The California condor, with a wing span approaching 10 feet, nearly went extinct in the 1970s, its worldwide population falling below two dozen. A captive-breeding-and-release program has nudged the population to nearly 400 total in the wild and captivity.

While conservationists expressed fear, the government cast the take-permit decision in exactly the opposite terms. Officials noted the site is not one suited to condors and listed numerous protection and mitigation measures agreed to by Terra-Gen, which operates several-hundred megawatts of wind power in the region.

“This is a positive step as we continue to support the conservation and recovery of condors,” Ren Lohoefener, regional director for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Pacific Southwest Region, said in a statement. “This project provides a basis for future consultations and an opportunity to engage other renewable energy companies and stakeholders with best practices that support condor recovery.”

Wildlife officials believe condors will be at little risk at Alta East, on 1,999 acres of public land and 593 acres of private land three miles northwest of Mojave and 11 miles east of Tehachapi. It’s not an area where the bird has historically hung out, and the site does not offer the sort of thermal updrafts that it likes to soar in.

In addition, the Bureau of Land Management said, the Alta East project was reduced from its originally proposed 106 turbines to 51. Terra-Gen also agreed to undertake “comprehensive condor detection and avoidance measures that greatly reduce risks to condors,” the BLM said. Initially, the wind farm will use a VHF-detection system and curtail operations if a bird is noted nearby. The Fish & Wildlife Service anticipates moving away from putting transmitters on the birds in the future, however, which means that Terra-Gen at some point will have to develop an alternative detection system, such as radar.

According to the Fish & Wildlife Service, “To date, there have been no documented condor collisions with wind turbines” in California or anywhere. So why go to these great lengths at this point? According to the biological opinion issued on the Alta East development [PDF]:

Collisions with the moving blades of wind turbines are a potential threat as California condors move into areas where wind energy development is expanding. Several proposed and existing wind energy projects overlap with or are in close proximity to the occupied and historical range of the California condor, including but not limited to, the Tehachapi Mountains, the Sierra Nevada mountain range, and the Salinas River Valley. Because of their communal feeding strategy, a single feeding event within a facility could kill many individuals.

While wind turbines pose something of a theoretical threat to condors, the birds face a long list of other human-related challenges.

Carcasses and gut piles left riddled with lead ammunition poison the birds; the Center for Biological Diversity estimates that of 161 condors released in Utah and Arizona since 1996, at least 38 have been killed by lead poisoning (yet the states refuse to require the use of nontoxic ammo).

Dating back to the early ’90s, when the birds began to be released back into the wild, 11 have died from collisions with or electrocution by power lines.

Breeding condors can ingest things like washers, copper wire, plastic and bottle caps and feed them to their nestlings; this “has been the major cause of nest failure in the breeding population” in California, biologists say.

Two condors have even been shot dead.

Against this backdrop, is a permit to take one condor in 30 years a big deal? The American Bird Conservancy thinks so. It worries about the condor and the broader damage the decision could have on various recovery efforts.

“The Department of Interior has signaled … that it is willing to sacrifice the money and hard work that are spent on private conservation efforts to recover endangered species in order to build wind farms,” the group’s Kelly Fuller said in a statement. “ABC is extremely concerned about the negative effects that this decision could have not only on the condor recovery program, but also on other recovery programs that rely on public-private partnerships, such as for Whooping Cranes.”

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.

  • Tom Gray

    It’s probably worth mentioning that condors and other wildlife face a series of threats from the energy sources we commonly use that are displaced by wind power. These include air pollution, acid rain, water pollution, mountaintop removal mining, mercury, and greenhouse gas emissions.

  • Jim Wiegand

    “With approval from the Fish and Wildlife
    Service”………..The wind industry has been able to conceal most of its turbine
    mortality for decades with bogus mortality studies.

    “With approval from the Fish and Wildlife
    Service”………..The wind industry has been able to enjoy meaningless voluntary regulations.

    “With approval from the Fish and Wildlife
    Service” ………..The wind industry has been allowed to destroy and develop the condor’s natural habitat with thousands of deadly turbines.

    “With approval from the Fish and Wildlife
    Service”………..The condor is now held prisoner by permanent feeding stations.

    “With approval from the Fish and Wildlife
    Service”………..In California any condor deaths will be blamed on lead poisoning even though the food provided for them is lead free.

    “With approval from the Fish and Wildlife
    Service”……….. There are no longer any free flying condors but just zoo
    animals enrolled in an outreach program.

    “With approval from the Fish and Wildlife
    Service”……….. Not say a single word is to be said that might tip off the
    public how deadly wind turbines really are.

    “With approval from the Fish and Wildlife
    Service”…………… Bird safe turbine designs have not been discussed as a way to save declining bird species.

    “With approval from the Fish and Wildlife
    Service”……….. Not one meaningful study on the detrimental impacts of wind
    turbines will be conducted.

    “With approval from the Fish and Wildlife
    Service”……….. None of the multitude of bogus wind industry studies will be
    refuted.

    “With approval from the Fish and Wildlife
    Service”…………….Any condors killed by turbines (that the public finds out
    about) will be covered with an “incidental take permit”.

    “With approval from the Fish and Wildlife
    Service”…………….Turbines can be stopped in an effort to save condors from
    being chopped up, but will continue to spin for all other species.

    “With approval from the Fish and Wildlife
    Service”…………….Condors that do wander from their small territories into
    wind farms, will be trapped because of their “behavioral problems” and condemned
    to captivity.

    “With approval from the Fish and Wildlife
    Service”……………..The public will not be told the truth.

  • jeffhre

    Though no bureaucratic program will ever be perfect, as noted – the condor population in California has moved from virtually extinct in the wild, to about 400…”With approval from the Fish and Wildlife Service”

    This project sets a precedence with a project, outside of condor migration areas, that projects adjacent to condor habitats will now have to exceed.

  • Jim Wiegand

    With approval from the Fish and Wildlife Service the condor’s habitat has been destroyed. There are no free flying condors. Without the feeding stations they would be wiped out by turbines. The only precedent set by all this has been another devious turn in the ongoing wind industry mortality fraud.

  • Jim Wiegand

    Wind turbines slaughter every species that can fly and because of the wind industry we are on a path of species extinction.

    I have been trying to get the word out here in America of how ridiculous and
    corrupt the FWS “incidental take permits” really are. For example if
    one of these kill or poaching permits is given for one condor or bald eagle
    then 50 could die because there is no industry oversight and they won’t tell
    you about others. Lately I have been trying to get the word out how ridiculous
    and corrupt the FWS “incidental take permits” really are.
    You will never get this information from the sellouts at Audubon or the FWS.

    For anyone that anyone thinks for one second this industry with their “voluntary regulations” can be trusted I will remind all readers that the FWS and wind industry haven’t told the world about all the eagles slaughtered by
    turbines in Texas. But even if by some great stretch that these folks were to be honest, if one dead eagle is found then many others will have died because they never come close to finding them all. At Altamont mortality studies found 10.8 dead eagles a year but the death toll estimates were 75-116 eagles every year.

    For endangered bats this lack of accountability will be a thousand time worse
    because they are much harder to find, they are quickly gobbled up by scavengers, and in all honesty the wind industry barely looks for these little
    guys. Altamont Pass has reported less than hundred bats killed and they have been running for some 30 years. Realistically the true number could be a thousand times more than this amount.

    I will also remind readers that the truth to all of this bird and bat carnage could be easily settled with 24 hour surveillance on turbines. But this industry has
    millions of skeletons to hide and they will have not any part of it. They would much rather pay big money to shill researches and conservation
    groups. This way they can keep selling their turbines.

    Even so there is a very important point to remember in all this. If a permit is
    given for just one many more will end up dying. There are no maybes about this, so if any FWS employees or industry employees do not disclose that many more will die than what the permit is issued for, it is clearly attempted
    fraud because they have known all this information for years.

    Communities need to wake up because these FWS “take permits” are
    really a license to kill, being given to an industry with ZERO accountability. It is for reasons like these that the perception of wind energy is quickly changing across the world from green to swindled.