CORPUS CHRISTI — A federal agency hopes to create what it says is an unprecedented plan to protect threatened and endangered birds from wind turbines across a broad swath of the United States, from the Coastal Bend to Canada.
The plan would provide conservation guidelines for development of wind farms across a 200-mile-wide migratory flyway from the Gulf of Mexico to North Dakota and Montana.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is holding an informational and public input meeting Thursday at the American Bank Center, the last in an initial series of meetings across the plan area.
Under the new approach, a group of major wind industry players would forge a bird conservation plan for the whole flyway, rather than doing it for individual wind farms as they are developed, said Tom Stehn, a biologist for the wildlife service and the whooping crane coordinator for Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.
“The key is they’re supposed to avoid or minimize impacts to endangered species, and where they can’t do that, then they mitigate,” Stehn said.
Mitigation could include setting aside conservation easements as protective rest stops for migrating birds, out of the way of turbines, or siting a wind farm away from bird habitats.
Species of concern include the whooping crane, interior least tern, piping plover and lesser prairie chicken.
The effort involves seven states and 19 wind companies, including Iberdrola Renewables, the Spanish-owned developer of Peñascal wind farm in Kenedy County. Collectively called the Wind Energy Whooping Crane Action Group, the companies are requesting an incidental take permit for the flyway.
Usually issued for smaller projects or areas, the permits give authorization for wind farms that might kill or injure protected species, in exchange for mitigation and conservation efforts on the part of the developers.
Stehn said the hope is that backing from the leading companies will draw support from smaller industry players.
The 200-mile wide corridor is centered on the path of whooping crane migration and some wider areas that include the range of the lesser prairie chicken.