August 6, 2015

Wind turbine ends golden eagle’s saga

By Carol Graham | The Independent | August 6, 2015 |

For 86 days, she soared over the Livermore Valley, her seven-foot wingspan a deep golden brown against blue summer skies.

A satellite telemetry device, #7833, tracked her travels from Mount Diablo to Sunol and the Pleasanton Ridge to the Altamont Pass.

But on July 25, the rehabilitated golden eagle’s life came to a heartbreaking, premature end.

She was found on the ground by two power workers at an older wind turbine farm in the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area. She was alive, but unable to fly. Her wing had been struck and badly damaged by a wind turbine. The workers took her to Lindsay Wildlife Experience in Walnut Creek for treatment.

“They had seen her trying to fly, and flopping on the ground,” said Lindsay’s Executive Director Norma Bishop. “Our veterinarians described her wing as shredded – bones were broken and missing. Once they realized how badly she was injured and that any attempt to save her would be futile, only prolonging her suffering, they euthanized her.”

The news devastated many who had been following the golden eagle’s story of tragedy and triumph.

Her first visit to Lindsay Wildlife Experience occurred March 26, when the roughly three-year-old, sub-adult received treatment for head trauma at Lindsay’s rehabilitation hospital, one of the oldest and largest in the country. Although the trauma’s cause was never determined, she made a full recovery within five weeks.

On May 1, she was ready for release.

“She was sent off with fanfare, complete with the firefighters who rescued her, donors who support Lindsay’s work, biologists who studied her, and doctors who healed her,” said Bishop. The release took place at Las Trampas Regional Wilderness, and was covered by Bay Area TV stations and newspapers.

Prior to the golden eagle’s release, she had been fitted with a satellite telemetry device which allowed East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) staff to study her flight path in the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area. Information collected from such devices leads to more accurate risk maps and the informed placement of new wind turbines to reduce golden eagle collisions.

“This is important for understanding Altamont’s impact on the local golden eagle population,” said Doug Bell, EBRPD Wildlife Program Manager. “Previous work by scientists suggests that Altamont’s old-generation wind farms represent a population sink for golden eagles; that is, the local population does not produce enough young to compensate for the high mortality rate caused by the old-generation wind turbines.”

In all, 18 golden eagles have been fitted with the devices, with ten currently active.

Over all, the old-generation wind turbines kill about 2,000 raptors each year. In the past 12 months, Lindsay has treated 238 raptors, six of which were golden eagles.

“Despite the fact that Lindsay’s top-notch veterinary staff has special expertise in handling raptors, very few survive to be released,” said Bishop. “During this golden eagle’s rehabilitation from March to May, dozens of people were involved in her care, with a cost of about $1,000 a day. However, the emotional investment we all had in this creature can’t be calculated. Her legacy is that she inspired us all with her majesty and resilience.”

Both Bell and Bishop agree that conserving energy is the first step in helping save the lives of golden eagles and other raptors.

“All forms of energy production come with a cost to the environment, whether in terms of producing carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels, or in terms of eagle deaths caused by green-energy production,” said Bell. “I hope people think twice about energy use, and use less.”

“Our use of scarce resources – water, land and power – and the ways we generate energy can threaten the survival of the magical creatures with whom we share this world,” added Bishop. “Lindsay is doing work essential to the survival of our native wildlife. People can donate, volunteer, and simply come visit our ‘ambassador raptors’ – the non-releasable owls, hawks, and vultures who will give them a bird’s-eye view of nature.”

As for the golden eagle who was released amid joyful cheers less than three months before her death, her spirit will live on in the memories of many. Said the veterinarian who treated her, she had a lot of heart and, even for an eagle, was very fierce.

“Her death, while tragic, is not the end of the story,” said Bishop. “It will not dissuade us in the slightest from our mission to heal and release wildlife, and to inspire all who see these magnificent creatures to do what they can to ensure their survival. Lindsay presses on because there is always another patient to treat.”

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