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Wind project planners consider golden eagles

High-flying golden eagles and fast-moving wind turbine blades don’t mix well.

Focused on the ground while hunting, the eagles may not see the danger ahead, leading to fatal collisions. In preparing plans for what would be one of the largest wind projects in Oregon, Chicago-based power developer E.ON Climate & Renewables North America is having to take this into consideration, said Jerry Cordova, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Bend. E.ON’s proposed Brush Canyon wind project would be near Antelope and Shaniko, and just west of the John Day River.

“So there are lots of canyon lands, cliffs and things like that, (which) would provide habitat for golden eagles (near the project),” said Cordova said.

There are at least six golden eagle territories, places where a pair of eagles are known to nest, close to the proposed Brush Canyon wind project, he said, and counting the birds is ongoing.

Brush Canyon would have as many as 223 wind turbines with a generating capacity of up to 535 megawatts, according to plans filed with the state. Depending on the model of turbines, the blades may be up to 190 feet long.

Although wind turbines may appear to be lazily spinning, Cordova said the blade tips move at speeds upwards of 200 miles per hour.

While not listed for protection by state or federal wildlife managers, the golden eagle is protected under a pair of federal laws – the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act of 1940.

The Fish and Wildlife Service is working with E.ON to develop an eagle conservation plan, which also takes into consideration the potential impact of the project on other birds and bats. Cordova said the company could mitigate, or compensate, for eagle deaths by reducing risks to eagles nearby, possibly by retrofitting old power lines. Old power lines pose an electrocution threat to perching eagles.

Since fall 2011, plans for the proposed Brush Canyon project have been moving through a siting process overseen by the Oregon Department of Energy. The agency expects to release a proposed order, formalizing the plans, later this month, Cliff Voliva, a spokesman, wrote in an email. The golden eagle nests closest to the project were about a half-mile away, according to the draft proposed order, released in November 2013.

Other documents filed with the state in March 2013 say the project probably would not affect the birds much because there aren’t many golden eagles near where the turbines are planned.

Having studied golden eagles around Oregon since 2011 following 30 years of studying bald eagles in the state, Frank Isaacs, who lives in Philomath and has worked for Oregon State University as a researcher, said he recommends as many surveys as possible to determine how many golden eagles are in an area. The birds will maintain more than one nest in their territory, often rotating through the nests during different nesting seasons.

“Just because they didn’t see any eagles at a site, it doesn’t meant they aren’t there or they won’t be there,” he said.