Wind power company vows to help save critically endangered California condor

March 30, 2021
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An energy company in California is teaming up with federal wildlife officials and the Oregon Zoo in an innovative project to ease the plight of the mighty, soaring condor, a critically endangered species of vulture threatened by giant wind turbines in the Tehachapi mountains north-east of Los Angeles.

Avangrid Renewables, which operates 126 turbines as part of its Manzana wind power project, will finance the breeding of birds in captivity to replace any that might be killed by the 252ft diameter turbine blades.

The company will be “working with a captive breeding facility to fund the breeding of additional condors for release into the wild”, according to a statement by Scott Sobiech, field supervisor for the US Fish and Wildlife (FWS) service’s Carlsbad and Palm Springs office, and reported by the Los Angeles Times.

The California condor, North America’s largest flying land bird with a 9.5ft wingspan, remains critically endangered, having been brought back from the edge of extinction four decades ago to a current population of about 518 birds in the wild, according to FWS.

There is no record of any condors having been killed at the Manzana plant, which opened in 2012. But the breeding initiative reflects the increasing threat to the species.

“Our goal is to minimize the risk of mortalities. We see this as a win for condors,” Amy Parsons, Avangrid’s operations wildlife compliance manager, said.

About 100 California condors currently inhabit the region in Kern county where the turbines are located, all the product of a captive breeding program established by the FWS in 1987, when barely two dozen of the birds remained.

The service began releasing birds back into the wild in 1992, and by 2008 numbers of wild condors overtook those in captivity for the first time in decades. The Times said some condors have recently been found roosting near Yosemite national park, 300 miles north of the Manzana power plant, for the first time in half a century.

The threat to wildlife from renewable energy turbines has been a growing concern for environmentalists. In 2013, a study by the Wildlife Society into bird and bat fatalities at California’s Altamont Pass wind resource area projected 573,000 bird deaths a year nationally, including 83,000 raptors, and 888,000 bat fatalities.

The proposed Avangrid mitigation project anticipates incidental fatal injuries of up to two free-flying adult condors and the loss of their two chicks or two eggs over 30 years, the Times reported.

The company will pay $527,000 over three years to produce six condors at the Oregon Zoo’s Jonsson Center for Wildlife Conservation, one of four facilities that breed condors. The Avangrid Foundation has previously funded the purchase of freezers and other equipment at the venue.

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