Skookumchuck Wind Energy Project Needs More Protection for Birds
by Maria Ruth – The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is seeking public comment on a proposed wind-energy project to be sited in Lewis and Thurston Counties on 20,000 acres owned by Weyerhaeuser. The project will include 38 wind turbines, 16 miles of generator tie lines and support structures, meteorological towers, and operations and maintenance facility. It is expected to produce 137 megawatts of energy for the Puget Sound Energy (PSE) electrical system.
The project is expected to have a significant impact on protected bird species. The company planning the project, RES Americas, has submitted a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) and a Habitat Conservation Plan to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to offset the “take” (loss) of 75 Marbled Murrelets, 66 Bald Eagles, and 23 Golden Eagles from collision with the turbines over the 30-year expected lifespan of the project. The area lies within the Pacific flyway, and 68 species of birds as well as 10 species of bats were identified at the site, including several of “special status”—endangered, federal species of concern, state sensitive species, or candidate species.
Following the National Audubon Society’s statement on wind-energy projects, BHAS supports projects that are planned, properly-sited, and operated to minimize harm to birds and other wildlife. While the Skookumchuck project includes some significant proposed measures toward minimization and mitigation in their DEIS and Habitat Conservation Plan, we believe RES Americas has not yet met the Audubon standard. Black Hills Audubon has serious concerns about the high level of potential bird fatalities from this project:
- There is no plan to minimize or mitigate collision with turbines and other structures during construction, which is likely to overlap months of high-activity periods for migratory birds, locally breeding birds, and bats.
- The impact on Marbled Murrelets is not adequately minimized; 38 turbines could completely eliminate the vulnerable southwest Washington population of murrelets.
- Studies of bird, bat, and murrelet activity at the site were not thorough, so the DEIS underestimates the collision risk during all phases of the project.
- Additional murrelet activity studies should be conducted and combined with best-available research on the murrelet’s breeding biology to create a stronger mitigation plan.
- Migratory birds are especially vulnerable, given the newly weakened Migratory Bird Treaty Act that no longer prohibits the take of migratory species.
Black Hills Audubon—and all Washingtonians—can help RES-Americas get their proposed wind-energy project right; it could be the model for other wind-energy turbines along the Pacific Northwest Coast where the imperiled Marbled Murrelet flies.
There is no denying that we need new sources of clean energy. Wind energy reduces fossil-fuel carbon emissions and thus reduces the threat of global warming to wildlife. This is our chance to clean up the DEIS to help ensure the Skookumchuck Wind Energy Project deserves to be called “clean.”
Public comments are due to US Fish & Wildlife on January 14. Please visit the BHAS website for more information on this project and for talking points to consider for your public comments.
To review the DEIS or HCP, please visit https://www.fws.gov/wafwo/documents/SWEP/Final_SWEP_DEIS_20181109_508Compliant.pdf. To submit written comments: Online: Go to http://www.regulations.gov and follow instructions for submitting comments on Docket No. FWS–R1–ES–2018–0095. By U.S. mail or hand-delivery: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, c/o Tim Romanski, 510 Desmond Dr. SE, Suite 102, Lacey, WA 98503.