American Bird Conservancy and Biodiversity Conservation Alliance statement on the Interior Department “authorization” of the 1,000-turbine, Chokecherry–Sierra Madre wind farm in Wyoming
“This is a very troubling decision. From the incomplete impact analysis to blatantly bad siting, the Chokecherry–Sierra Madre Wind Project violates a plethora of the most basic principles of environmentally sound wind power production. This project is on track to become the single most deadly wind farm for eagles in the country, an Altamont Pass II,” said Kelly Fuller, Wind Campaign Coordinator for American Bird Conservancy.
“This project should be sited elsewhere, such as the High Plains to the east of the Laramie Range, where it would have had minimal impacts on rare and sensitive wildlife,” said Erik Molvar, Wildlife Biologist with Biodiversity Conservation Alliance. “Instead, it is being sited on lands that Governor Freudenthal designated as a Sage-Grouse Core Area due to the complex of breeding populations found there, and the projected impacts on Golden Eagles, a bird with a low reproductive rate, will cause far-reaching problems.”
Other issues include:
- The project will have a major impact on birds of prey, particularly Golden Eagles, as well as Greater Sage-Grouse, a candidate for Endangered Species Act listing. By some estimates as the turbines could kill many as 215 Golden Eagles every year; the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) itself estimated in the project’s Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) that Golden Eagle fatalities could be 46-64 eagles each year. That mortality rate would make Chokecherry comparable to Altamont Pass in California, where wind power-related mortality was found to have a significant impact in depressing eagle populations.
- The proposed Plan Amendment for the project does not provide the bare minimum in protection required by BLM’s own Management Plan, as well as other federal regulations and law. There are a multitude of unacceptable levels of impact, including siting the project on excellent sage-grouse habitat that was gerrymandered out of lands classified as key Wyoming sage-grouse areas specifically so this project could be built.
- This project is proceeding when plans to inventory for various sensitive elements are at best incomplete and in some cases deferred until a later time. In fact, BLM prepared the FEIS without even knowing exactly where the wind turbines would be located on the site. As a result, BLM is flying blind, unable to accurately assess the magnitude of impacts, plan mitigation measures that might compensate in some way for these impacts, and then evaluate the efficacy of these mitigation measures, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
- The FEIS failed to rigorously examine reasonable alternatives, a clear NEPA violation. All of the action alternatives in the FEIS would approve 1,000 turbines. All of the action alternatives would place these turbines in substantially the same areas, with only minor variations. Essentially, all of the action alternatives are variants of the same alternative.
- Lastly, it is both disturbing and alarming that this decision has been announced without the immediate availability of the formal Record of Decision to the public. It is a clear attempt to prevent opposing viewpoints from being able to immediately review and comment to interested persons on this fractured process in a timely fashion.
For more detailed information, see our protest letter.
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