Power Lines Kill Hundreds of Raptors Each Year in U.S.

An electric utility in Utah will work with an environmental group to reduce the hundreds of raptors that are killed each year on electric power lines.

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, US, 2001-06 [SolarAccess.com] An electric utility in Utah will work with an environmental group to reduce the hundreds of raptors that are killed each year on electric power lines. Utah Power and HawkWatch International say their Raptor Electrocution Reduction Program will identify power lines that present a danger to eagles, hawks, owls and other large birds. By identifying poles that are at risk for electrocution of birds, the poles can then be replaced. Electrocution occurs when a bird completes a circuit by touching two energized lines or by touching an energized and a grounded line. Species at high risk include Golden Eagles, Ferruginous Hawks, Red-tailed Hawks and Great-horned Owls. “Systematic collection of raptor electrocution data are limited, so we can only make estimates of annual mortalities based on what we know from limited data and surveys,” says Sherry Meyer of HWI. Most data are from utilities that report bird mortalities discovered by linemen repairing poles, or outages which may have resulted from an electrocution. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service received reports of 128 avian electrocutions in a 18-month period in Utah, of which 35 were eagles. During a six-year study in Nebraska, 500 raptors, mostly eagles, were killed each year. “It is safe to say that hundreds of raptors, if not more, are electrocuted on power lines in the west every year,” she notes. Raptors are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, Bald & Golden Eagle Protection Act, and Endangered Species Act, as well as state regulations. Utilities can be prosecuted for not retrofitting poles that electrocute birds. The wind energy industry continues to suffer from the negative publicity surrounding the death of raptors during the early phase of the Altamont Pass and other windfarms in California. Utah Power says it has actively cooperated with state and federal wildlife officials during the past decade on reporting bird mortalities and developing raptor-safe power line designs which are used on most new lines. Working with HWI represents an expansion of its efforts to operate a raptor-safe power grid. The Raptor Electrocution Reduction Program will develop a Geographic Information System to identify high-risk areas for electrocutions and to prioritize retrofitting efforts. The GIS will incorporate data on historic electrocutions, power line and pole locations and configurations, and the distribution of raptors and their habitat. Lines will be surveyed by HWI field crews and volunteers in selected areas to locate electrocuted birds and to identify problem poles, and high-risk poles where dead birds are found will be fixed and follow-up surveys conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of retrofitting efforts. The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service are contributing time, data, and expertise to the project. If the pilot program works well, HWI and Utah Power may expand the program to other states next year. HWI will promote the problem through participation in the Avian Powerline Interaction Committee, an industry roundtable formed 25 years ago to exchange ideas and formulate practices to address the problem. In the early 1970s, investigations into the shooting and poisoning of eagles produced evidence that power lines electrocuted raptors. Many power lines built before the early 1980s do not have sufficient clearance and can pose an electrocution hazard. HWI is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting hawks, eagles and birds of prey, and recently developed a Raptor Conservation Strategy that identifies threats to raptors. Utah Power is a division of PacifiCorp, a utility with 60,000 miles of overhead transmission lines in its six-state service area.
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