For over 25 years, the California condor has been pulling itself back from the brink of extinction. In 1987, the animal’s population was numbered at just 22 birds, but after an effective breeding program (in which all the known surviving animals were hauled to a sanctuary in order to ensure a sustainable amount of birds were bred) the California condor now numbers around 400, with at least half of these existing in the wild. And now, as the condor begins to inhabit the areas of California’s Tehachapi region where it historically flourished, its progress is being threatened by newly proposed plans to construct another wind-energy project in the area—and environmental organizations are not happy about it.
Together the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club have filed a suit against the United States Bureau of Land Management for what they believe to be a breach of duty. Under the Endangered Species Act, federal agencies are required to “ensure that actions they authorize, fund, or carry out are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any listed species or result in the destruction or adverse modification of designated critical habitat of such species.” And as environmental groups are quick to point out, the proposed 300-megawatt North Sky River project will adversely affect native bird populations including the vulnerable California condors and golden eagles.
For their proof, the environmental groups point to another nearby wind-energy site, the Pine Tree Wind Farm, that has a history tarnished with a high avian fatality rate. In a 2011statement concerning the Pine Tree Wind Farm, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service points out that the “first full year of fatality monitoring resulted in an estimated 1,595 fatalities per year… [making it] among the highest fatality rates being recorded in the nation.” So how is it that another similar (and larger) project has been green-lighted in an area already under stress?
The Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club contend that the BLM did not thoroughly investigate the possible repercussions that the North Sky River project will have on the area and its bird populations before granting NextEra, the company behind the operation, permission to proceed. In the past, this trio of conservation groups has proved valuable in reaching a compromise between renewable-energy companies and the land they utilize, permitting approximately 2,600 megawatts of clean energy since 2010. Yet despite this positive track record, NextEra has refused to work with the organizations in order to negotiate a plan that would accommodate for both the needs of the company and the needs of the native wildlife.
Kim Delfino, program director for the California division of Defenders of Wildlife, expresses the frustration felt by many over the BLM’s decision: “NextEra Energy and the Bureau of Land Management have thrown caution to the wind with the North Sky River project by ignoring the evidence of high rates of bird kills at the nearby Pine Tree wind energy project…NextEra had the opportunity to reconfigure the project to reduce the risk to endangered California condors and golden eagles. We’ve been left with no alternative but to resort to legal action to prevent further harm to one of the rarest animals in the country.”
It is for this reason that the case has found its way into a United States District Court. As the Defenders of Wildlife, the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity make their case in court, you can support their efforts by signing the petition here.
Photo Credit: apps1.eere.energy.gov/news/images/b-roll_tehachapi_wind_farm.jpg