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76 Environmental Groups Rally to Save Whooping Cranes from Wind Proposal

 

A proposed wind turbine installation in North Dakota poses a threat to the critically endangered whooping crane, of which fewer than 400 remain in the wild, and yet the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is considering granting a permit for the facility's operators to kill the cranes, along with federally threatened piping plovers. In response, 76 environmental organizations are demanding FWS conduct a full analysis of the project's impact -- perhaps literal impact -- on the birds.

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Whooping cranes have been the subject of decades of effort to save the species since hunting and habitat destruction reduced the species to 23 individuals in the early 1940s. Despite this, FWS is considering issuing an incidental take permit for the cranes to the operators of the proposed 100-turbine Merricourt Wind Power Project, in North Dakota's bird-rich Prairie Pothole wetlands district. An incidental take permit shields the holder from penalty for accidental "take" of a species, up to a limit listed in the permit. Activity ranging from killing the species in question to "harassing" it is regarded as a "take" for the purposes of the permit, but in the specific instance of wind turbine operation, incidental take of a whooping crane is likely to involve a dead crane.

In response to FWS's considering the incidental take permit for Merricourt, 76 wildlife organizations led by the American Bird Conservancy (ABC) signed a letter urging FWS to extend its scoping period on Merricourt and conduct a full Environmental Impact Statement process, rather than the less-thorough Environmental Assessment it has planned. The groups also urged FWS to be more transparent in its process under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the law that requires Environmental Impact Statements:

 

Groups signing the ABC letter include the Endangered Species Coalition, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, many local chapters of the Audubon Society (including several in California), the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, and the Fund for Wild Nature.

"Because there are fewer than 400 individual Whooping Cranes left in the wild, a decision to potentially authorize the killing of any of these birds is of great public concern," said Kelly Fuller, Wind Campaign Coordinator for the American Bird Conservancy. "This is also a precedent-setting decision that the agency should take the time to make sure is done right."

For ongoing environmental coverage in March 2017 and afterward, please visit our show Earth Focus, or browse Redefine for historic material.
KCET's award-winning environment news project Redefine ran from July 2012 through February 2017.

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