Palm Springs, Calif. – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is seeking public comment on a draft Environmental Assessment and draft Conservation Plan in support of an incidental take permit application from the Wind Energy Condor Action Team (WECAT). WECAT is comprised of 24 member companies that own and operate wind energy projects in the Tehachapi Wind Resource Area in Kern County, California. The single permit application, if approved, would cover the incidental take of up to 11 free-flying California condors and 11 associated eggs or chicks over 30 years for the operation of the facilities.
“We are dedicated to partnering with the public, landowners, government agencies, and other stakeholders to identify innovative strategies for conserving and recovering listed and at-risk species,” said Scott Sobiech, Field Supervisor for the Carlsbad and Palm Springs Fish and Wildlife offices. “The Service has a demonstrated history of successful working relationships with wind companies, and this collaborative approach to conservation will reduce potential impacts to the California condor.
The Tehachapi Wind Resource Area in Kern County has the largest output of any wind resource area in the State. WECAT members currently operate approximately 1,282 turbines across approximately 200 square miles with 2.3 gigawatts of generating capacity, which represents approximately 72 percent of the current wind energy generating capacity within the Tehachapi Wind Resource Area.
“This permit application demonstrates the industry’s commitment to address risks to condors from operating facilities and to minimize and mitigate those risks,” Sobiech said.
This is the third permit application for wind energy facilities in the Tehachapi Wind Resource Area, all of which include comprehensive strategies to minimize and mitigate the take of condors. In June 2021, the Service issued an incidental take permit for the Manzana Wind Power Project, which has been in operation since 2012, and includes a conservation plan that provides mechanisms for the company to manage risk during operations, while aiding recovery efforts for the California condor. The Service is currently considering a similar application for an incidental take permit at the Pine Tree Wind Farm.
The condor is North America’s largest bird and is listed as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. There have been no documented cases of a wind turbine injuring or killing a condor. However, as the species continues to recover and the population in the wild increases, so does the likelihood of condor activity and potential for moralities at wind energy projects.
The draft Conservation Plan describes measures that WECAT members would take to minimize and mitigate the potential impact on condors from the operation of their wind energy projects. Minimization measures include a system to detect approaching condors and to curtail operation of wind turbines if an individual is at risk of collision. Additionally, WECAT would work with a captive breeding facility to fund the breeding of additional condors for release into the wild to offset the potential loss of any adult condors, eggs or chicks. A monitoring program would ensure plan compliance over the life of the permit.
Copies of the draft Environmental Assessment and draft Conservation Plan are available at https://www.regulations.gov by searching Docket Number FWS-R8-ES-2022-0170.
Comments on the draft documents will be accepted until March 24, 2023. You may submit comments online at https://www.regulations.gov by following the instructions for submitting comments on docket number FWS-R8-ES-2022-0170; or by mail to Attn: Docket No. FWS-R8-ES-2022-0170; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, MS: PRB/3W, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041-3803.
A copy of the notice was published in today’s Federal Register at https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/current.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service works with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information about our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov/cno or connect with us via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr.