They are among the top goals of California environmentalists: preserving endangered species and replacing fossil fuels with clean energy.
Yet in the blustery skies above Kern County’s Tehachapi Mountains — where towering wind turbines churn with hypnotic rhythm — renewable energy and wildlife preservation appear to be headed for a disastrous collision.
After a decades-long effort to rescue the California condor from the brink of extinction, government officials say the critically endangered vultures are now at risk of being killed by spinning turbine blades.
Roughly 100 captive-bred condors currently soar above this rugged range between the Mojave Desert and the fertile Central Valley. Although there has yet to be a documented case of a wind turbine injuring or killing a condor, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says condor collisions are inevitable if the population continues to balloon.
The growing potential for condor kills has alarmed not only federal authorities but environmentalists and power company officials as well. A wind farm could face lawsuits, criminal charges and ample bad publicity for investors. Condor deaths could also hamper one of the highest priorities of the Interior Department: the development and delivery of renewable energy.
Now, federal wildlife authorities are taking the unprecedented and controversial step of helping a wind energy company breed the scavengers in captivity, so that they can replace any birds that are killed by the massive wind converters.
In a statement, Scott Sobiech, field supervisor for the wildlife service’s Carlsbad and Palm Springs offices, said a draft plan for Avangrid Renewables’ Manzana Wind Power Project includes “working with a captive breeding facility to fund the breeding of additional condors for release into the wild.”
As “the species’ population in the wild increases, so does the potential for condor presence near wind energy facilities,” he said. “Conservation plans provide a mechanism for wind energy companies to manage impacts to condors and help us recover this federally endangered species.”
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