Utilities, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service improving bird protection measures

A new joint effort by the electric utility industry and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will help to further protect raptors and migratory birds from power line collisions and electrocutions.

The Edison Electric Institute's (EEI) Avian Power Line Interaction Committee (APLIC) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) have developed a template for the nation's electric utilities to use to improve their own avian protection plans (APP). These APPs will provide the framework for a utility to evaluate its power lines and work with the USFWS to conserve and protect migratory birds.

The new APP template and the APPs to be developed from it will be consistent with the other voluntary guidance measures already in place. As such, the utility APPs continue an approach that emphasizes the long-term, proactive conservation partnerships that exist between the utility industry, the conservation community, and USFWS. The APP template will also be published electronically to help utilities expeditiously update their APPs as new information and resources become available.

"A utility can take the new APP template and use it to develop an APP that is specific to its own site specific wildlife needs," explained EEI Environmental Activities Director Rick Loughery. "This new process recognizes that what is needed in Idaho may be different than in another locale with different bird species and topography."

How to Protect Birds?

The new utility APPs will protect many raptor species, such as golden eagles, red-tailed hawks, osprey, and great horned owls in the United States. In open habitats where few natural perches exist, such as deserts, grasslands, agricultural fields and pastures, raptors are attracted to power poles, which provide roosting, and nesting sites as well as hunting perches.

The APP template offers a number of solutions for reducing electrocutions and collisions, the biggest dangers to raptors and other large birds. The large wingspans of raptors enable them to simultaneously touch energized and grounded wires, potentially resulting in electrocution. Although raptors are most often considered, the new APPs will also focusing on protecting smaller bird species, such as crows, ravens, magpies, small flocking birds and wading birds. Closely-spaced exposed equipment, such as jumper wires on transformers, can pose a hazard to small birds such as magpies or jays.

To minimize electrocution risk, the APP template features a number of ways that utilities can construct avian-safe poles with a 60-inch separation between energized conductors. Other corrective options include covering conductors and equipment or installing bird perch guards (triangles) or triangles with perches. These options may greatly reduce the chance of avian electrocutions. Since raptors will often perch on the highest vantage point, the installation of perch guards between closely-spaced conductors and the placement of perches above existing arms and conductors may keep a bird from contacting energized parts or wires.

To minimize collision issues, the new guidelines urge avoiding construction of new lines in areas of high bird use. The use of marker balls, swinging markers, bird flight diverters or other similar devices are also encouraged to increase the visibility of overhead wires

Protecting birds against both electrocution and collision hazards also protect against power outages that spark grass and forest fires, and result in huge costs to utilities.

"For an electric utility, launching an improved, comprehensive APP is not just good for the environment, it's good for business," said Quin Shea, executive director, environment, EEI. "Outages that occur as a result of birds and other animals coming into contact with power lines or electric infrastructure are costly to both customers and the companies."

A Tradition to Build On

In the 1970's, agencies and organizations including EEI, the National Audubon Society, the Rural Electrification Association (now the Rural Utilities Service) and the USFWS began working together to protect birds. The result was the first edition of Suggested Practices for Raptor Protection on Power Lines.

Since the first Suggested Practices, utilities and agencies have worked cooperatively to identify and improve the technology and methods used for protecting birds. In 1989, biologists from the utility industry, USFWS, and the National Audubon Society formed APLIC, initially to address collision issues of sandhill and whooping cranes. The scope of APLIC's mission later expanded to include electrocution and nest issues.

APLIC today serves as a clearinghouse for information and communication on avian/power line issues. Its membership includes electric utilities, EEI, Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), Rural Utilities Service (RUS) and USFWS.

Besides offering construction tips to protect birds, the new APP guidelines include corporate policy geared at protecting avian species through personnel training on areas ranging from nest management protocols to reporting bird injuries or death. Other sections offer information for utilities on a wide range of issues including permit compliance, public awareness education initiatives and mortality reduction measures among others.

For more information, visit http://www.aplic.org/.

This article originally appeared in the 05/01/2005 issue of Environmental Protection.

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