By Laura Almaraz
An Avian Protection Plan to prevent bird electrocutions on power lines has been launched at White Sands Missile Range.
Attention was brought to the issue of raptor electrocutions in 2010 when US Fish and Wildlife found that golden eagles were injured on a power line at WSMR and the Environmental Performance Assessment System found non-compliance with bird protection acts.
“If a golden eagle is injured, it violates the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act,” said Wildlife Biologist Trish Cutler. “We can incur fines for violating the acts… even if it is accidental or unintentional.”
The power line in the 2010 incident was retrofitted and, under the Avian Protection Plan, more power lines will be worked on to prevent electrocutions. Depending on the type of pole, exposed wires and any other equipment that can cause electrocution will be covered.
Some power lines are dangerous because birds of prey use poles for roosting, foraging, and nesting. The poles attract birds in flat terrains, such as the Tularosa Basin, because they provide a wide range of vision and they can swiftly fly down and catch their prey.
Power lines include a neutral line and a few energized lines. A bird can be electrocuted if it touches two energized lines. It can also be electrocuted if it touches an energized line and the neutral line, or any equipment connected to the neutral line.
Raptors like the golden eagle, which has a wingspan of about 90 inches, are large enough to touch two wires and be electrocuted.
According to Cutler, many power lines were built before the technology and knowledge of raptor protection existed. New technology is now available to make the power lines safer.
Poles and lines at WSMR have been evaluated and the range has conducted surveys monitoring golden eagle activity to determine where the most hazardous power lines are located. The most dangerous lines and poles will be retrofitted first and others will follow according to the danger they pose to raptors.
WSMR covers about 3,200 square miles and has hundreds of miles of distribution lines and thousands of poles. The range hosts three rural electric cooperatives including Socorro Electric Cooperative, Otero County Electric Cooperative, and Sierra Electric Cooperative. The plan is expected to take 15 years to complete due to the extensive distribution lines.
As a continuation of other projects to protect raptors, the Avian Protection Plan also addresses collision hazards for birds by implementing a plan to make lines more visible and includes a comprehensive nest management program.
The plan was developed by EDM International, Inc., a private organization specializing in avian protection and other environmental services. According to the organization, this is the largest plan they have ever put together.