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Federal agency issues First Wind migratory bird permit

SHEFFIELD – First Wind, the owner of the 16-turbine wind development here, has been issued a special purpose utility permit for migratory bird mortality monitoring, according to a copy of the permit, issued in July by the U.S. Department of the Interior U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, obtained by The Caledonian-Record on Tuesday.

That the permit had been issued was not known by most people until Monday night, when it was referenced during a public hearing held by two staff members of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, during which an attorney and a district wildlife biologist for the state took testimony for about three hours on a permit application sought by First Wind for a takings permit for an endangered species of bat which may have fatalities due to the turbines here.

The takings permit being sought in connection with any possible fatalities of the little brown bat is the first takings permit being sought by a wind production facility in Vermont, said ANR general counsel David Englander on Tuesday.

Englander and Scott Darling, the district wildlife biologist for ANR, both noted during the heated public hearing on Monday night that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service already had issued a migratory bird permit to First Wind; the permit being sought for the bat takings is now in draft stage and Secretary Deb Markowitz ultimately will decide the matter. Englander said he predicted the permit decision would be made within a few weeks of Monday night’s hearing.

According to a copy of the federally-issued permit, provided Tuesday by Englander, the permit was issued on July 5 to First Wind President Paul Gaynor and authorizes the wind company to “collect, transport and temporarily possess carcasses and partial remains of migratory birds (EXCEPT Threatened or Endangered species) found at the location/property specified…for monitoring migratory bird mortality associated with operation of the wind facility. To accurately determine species fatality rates, which is the important research justification for authorizing this special purpose permit, the monitoring study should include standardized carcass searches, searcher efficiency trials, and carcass removal by scavenger trials,” the permit states.

There is a section on relocation of birds noted, too, in the permit recently issued to First Wind, and it states, “Except for Endangered or Threatened Species and Bald Eagles or Golden Eagles, in emergency situations, you are authorized to relocate active migratory bird nests, including eggs or nestlings, found at the location/property…when the safety of the migratory birds, nests or eggs is at risk, or the migratory birds, nests or eggs pose a threat of serious bodily injury or a risk to a human life, including a threat of fire hazard or power outage. You may not use this authority for situations in which migratory birds are merely causing a nuisance. You must monitor relocated nests daily to assess success of the relocation.”

There is also protocol spelled out for any injured birds found at the site, and a reporting mandate for injuries and deaths of birds.

A separate reporting system for any deaths of threatened or endangered species is also part of the reporting requirements and site inspections may occur at any time, the permit notes.

John Lamontagne, spokesman for First Wind said Tuesday, “The USFWS collection permit is not related to the Vermont T & E permit. It simply allows us to collect birds and document them as part of the ongoing studies that are occurring at the Site.”