An investigation has been launched into the deaths of migratory birds including several federally protected golden eagles at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s Pine Tree Wind Project in the Tehachapi Mountains, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Tuesday.
Should the inquiry result in a prosecution, the 120-megawatt facility on 8,000 acres of rugged terrain would be the first wind farm to face charges under the Endangered Species Act, which could cause some rethinking and redesign of this booming alternative energy source.
Wildlife service spokeswoman Lois Grunwald declined to comment on what she called “an ongoing investigation regarding Pine Tree.” But Joe Ramallo, spokesman for the DWP, said, “We are very concerned about golden eagle mortalities that have occurred at Pine Tree. We have been working cooperatively and collaboratively with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Game to investigate these incidents.
“We have also actively and promptly self-reported raptor mortalities to both authorities,” he added. “Moving forward, we will be ramping up further our extensive field monitoring and will work with the agencies to develop an eagle conservation plan as part of more proactive efforts to monitor avian activities in the Pine Tree area.”
An internal DWP bird and bat mortality report for the year ending June 2010 indicated that overall bird fatality rates at Pine Tree, were “relatively high” compared with the 45 wind energy facilities elsewhere across the country.
DWP officials acknowledged that as many as six golden eagles have been struck dead by wind turbine blades at the 3-year-old Pine Tree facility, which is designed to provide 1.4% of the city’s goal of a 20% renewable-energy portfolio.
“In June we were in communications with the DWP over our concerns that the golden eagle death rate at Pine Tree was not sustainable,” said Travis Longcore, president of Los Angeles Audubon. “We must deal with the problem right now because Pine Tree is only one of several industrial energy developments proposed for that area over the next five to 10 years. Combined, they have the potential to wipe this large, long-lived species out of the sky.”