29 July 2016

Fauna Conservation Strategy Issued for Kilgore Project

Details on a strategy to “conserve” birds and bats associated with habitats at the proposed Kilgore wind turbine project has become available following its issuance to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The document comprises more than 90 pages as prepared by a consultant for BSH Kilgore, L.L.C.

Regulatory provisions considered were the Endangered Species Act, Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act, Nebraska Nongame and Endangered Species Conservation Act and the Nebraska Legacy Act.

Goals of the “strategy” are to:

* “Comply with all state and federal bird and bat conservation and protection laws and regulations during the project.
* “Ensure that impacts to bird and bat resources are identified and analyzed.
* “Implement various avoidance and minimization measures to address any impacts that result from the operation of the Project.”

This is the description of the project area: “Throughout the majority of the Project Area, the topography consists of choppy, rolling dunes. Very few trees exist within the Project Area, and those that do exist usually consist of deciduous or coniferous trees planted around farmsteads as wind breaks or in open areas. The most common tree species in the Project Area include cottonwood (Populus deltoides) and eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana). Grasslands in the Project Area are maintained as pasture land primarily used for livestock grazing. Center pivot irrigation systems have been constructed in a few areas where soils are more suitable for crop production. Based on observations during Project surveys, predominant crops within the Project Area are corn and alfalfa,” (Olsson Associates 2016). Two percent of the area is woodland, wetlands and developed areas.

Biological assessments are based upon surveys primarily within the 11,049 acre site near Kilgore where 25 to 30 turbines would be placed. This included a raptor nest survey (March and April 2015, including an aerial observation), prairie grouse lek survey (two periods of dates during April 2015), avian use point-count surveys at eight locations (40 hours of observations in April 2015), breeding bird survey (June 15-19, 2015 for 125 “pair-count locations”), bat acoustic monitoring (May to September 2015) and a survey and habitat assessment for the American burying beetle (in June and August 2015).

These field studies gathered "data necessary to:

  • "Design a project to avoid or minimize predicted risk
  • "Evaluate predictions of impact and risk through post-construction comparisons of estimated impacts
  • "Identify compensatory mitigation measures, if appropriate, to offset significant adverse impacts that cannot be avoided or minimized"

Prominent in the findings are:

No occurrence of Whooping Crane within a ten-mile distance of the project site which is at the western extent of the migratory corridor of this species; migratory occurrence records evaluated were those kept by the Fish and Wildlife Service. There are low intensity use locales northeast of Kilgore, primarily in South Dakota.
Minimal occurrence of the American Burying Beetle in comparison to other “control” survey locales within eastern Cherry county; site habitat was rated from fair to poor. One beetle was captured on the project site, and another about a mile to the east
Eight species of bats are “believed” to occur at the project site

There were 35 breeding season bird species representing 974 individuals indicated. An estimated number of breeding birds was “1,065 birds per square kilometer.” The larger number of species occurred amidst the grasslands at the project site.

This is a list of the avifauna noted during surveys done mostly in April and June, 2015:

American Crow
American Robin
Bald Eagle (a nest within a few miles to the south, along the Niobrara River was not found and not recorded by raptor nest survey efforts; this active nest is photographically documented)
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Blue Grosbeak
Brown Thrasher
Brown-headed Cowbird
Common Grackle
Eastern Kingbird
Ferruginous Hawk *
Field Sparrow
Grasshopper Sparrow
Great Horned Owl
Greater Prairie-Chicken * (seven leks denoted to have 32 males and ten females, occurring predominantly in grassland habitat)
Horned Lark
Lark Bunting
Lark Sparrow
Loggerhead Shrike *
Long-billed Curlew *
Mourning Dove
Northern Flicker
Northern Harrier
Red-headed Woodpecker
Red-tailed Hawk (a single occupied nest was the only indication of a breeding raptor)
Red-winged Blackbird
Sharp-tailed Grouse (three grassland leks comprised of mostly male birds)
Song Sparrow
Tree Swallow
Turkey Vulture
Wilson's Snipe
* Indicates a Tier I at risk species

There are at least 300 species of birds whose occurrence has been documented within Cherry county. The list for the "project site" is minimalistic. Notably missing in this list is an ubiquitous species within the region, the Killdeer. No species of meadowlark is listed though the Western Meadowlark is mentioned elsewhere in the document, as being associated with its extent of occurrence. Was there a wren present, notably the House Wren amidst the woodlands? There was also no noted occurrence of the Common Nighthawk, which is a regular resident within the county. Completely missing is any mention of any species of warbler.

Three species denoted by a greater number of observations were the Grasshopper Sparrow (186 birds observed), Horned Lark and Western Meadowlark (with the largest number of birds observed – 340 - during the breeding bird survey). Two other numerous species were the Upland Sandpiper and Brown-headed Cowbird.

Considering the potential for bird-turbine fatalities, the document states: “collision risk is expected to be low for this Project is based on the above mentioned avian summaries and records of fatalities at other wind energy facilities.” The document then presents a list of a dozen wind facilities and the known extent of migratory bird facilities. The average is 3.87 birds per turbine per year.

The report then considers the many potential or known impacts on birds, including disturbance/displacement, electrocution, habitat loss and fragmentation and other factors that occur when wind turbines are built within the project area.

There was no information in the report to indicate how bird-turbine collisions will be evaluated, any active measures to be taken to lessen the extent of any turbine collisions on migratory wild birds, nor how such impacts would be mitigated. The fact of bird mortality due to the wind turbines is an accepted fact as indicated by surveys associated with other places with multiple wind turbines.

It is an accepted norm that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regularly ignores the “taking” of many species of wildbirds, whether their demise is due to the spinning blades of a wind turbine or striking a pane of glass. It is the lack of action by this federal agency that so many deaths of birds occur, without any compensatory measures that are known to occur where there are wind turbines in Nebraska.

Several pages of the document considered the “pre-construction avoidance and minimization measures” associated with eagles, the Whooping Crane, the riverine Least Tern and Piping Plover, a subspecies of the migratory Red Knot, the northern Long-eared Bat and American Burying Beetle. There was then findings associated with “Construction Avoidance and Minimization Measures” for each of these species. Also conveyed was a section on “Operational Avoidance and Minimization Measures” starting on page 69 of the document.

Initial consultation for this assessment occurred with state and federal agencies occurred in September, 2012, the document indicates. There were also additional consultations, notably with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, with the most recent meeting in January, 2016.

This document has an indicated release date of July, 2016. It is prominently marked with a "Business Confidential Information" statement on the title page and within the footnote section of each page. It was submitted to the Fish and Wildlife Service and then made available - as a public document - to other people concerned with this proposed wind turbine project southwest of Kilgore.