This Endangered Bird Just Derailed A Major Wind Energy Project


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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter

A federal appeals court shut down a large wind energy project in southeast Oregon because it would have harmed the greater sage grouse, a bird that has long been at risk of becoming an endangered species.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that an environmental review by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) failed to adequately assess the winter population of greater sage grouse at a proposed wind farm. The farm would have installed 40 to 69 wind turbines and the infrastructure to transport the electricity to market on 10,500 acres of private land.

The BLM approved the project, only for several environmental groups to file legal challenges because a transmission line would have cut across public land. The appeals court’s decision claimed the BLM completed no surveys on whether sage grouse were at the site of the proposed wind farm during the winter.

The sage grouse likely doesn’t need much help from the federal government, as it isn’t even listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Research from the Western Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies published in 2015 found the species’ population increased by 63 percent over the last two years to a total breeding population of 424,645.

Sally Jewell, the Secretary of the Interior who runs the BLM, announced last September that the greater sage grouse would not be listed under the Endangered Species Act, but simultaneously announced restrictions upon oil and natural gas development and other public land users to protect the birds. Jewell’s Youtube video announcing the finding stated it was intended to support “energy that powers our nation” while a picture of wind turbines was shown. The finding and rulings promoted a wave of lawsuits from environmentalists, industry and the states of Idaho and Utah as well as several of Nevada’s counties.

Wind farms kill an estimated 573,000 birds each year as well as 888,000 bats, according to a 2013 peer-reviewed study published in Wildlife Society Bulletin. Wind farms are projected to kill 1.4 million birds annually by 2030. A single solar power plant in California killed an estimated 3,500 birds in just the plant’s first year of operation.

To put those numbers in perspective, the 2010 British Petroleum Gulf oil spill only killed an estimated 800,000 birds, for which the company was fined $100 million. In the last five years, America’s wind turbines killed more than three times as many birds as the BP oil spill did.

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