|An NWP story: Changing the path of a transmission line for the better|
|Written by Wild Nevada|
|Friday, 30 July 2010 13:37|
For the last several months, a lot of the work and thinking here at the Nevada Wilderness Project has, in one way or another, been about renewable energy development on our public lands—and how to support the right kinds of projects, in the right places, and with a tangible, positive outcome for habitat conservation. You know… that “smart from the start” approach we’ve been talking about since the first of the year. In conjunction with advocating for wilderness and national conservation area designations for Gold Butte, this has made for a busy year so far.
We have some good news to report:
The Nevada Wilderness Project (NWP) was involved in a cooperative effort to re-align portions of the 500-mile Southwest Intertie Project (SWIP) in eastern Nevada that will help protect key sage grouse habitat near the line. NWP, the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) and LS Power (the SWIP line developer) worked together to re-route three sections of the line in Elko County to better avoid important breeding grounds, called leks, for the sensitive bird species. The re-alignment, which will be paid for by the developers and not taxpayers, was attached as an amendment to the supplemental appropriations bill and approved by Congress just last week.
Why this was worthwhile:
The section of SWIP line running north-south between Oasis, along Interstate 80, and the Idaho-Nevada state line, has approximately 30 of these special habitat areas for sage grouse. Past research has shown that overhead lines that are too close to leks, or breeding areas, contribute to increased amounts of predation, principally by raptors and ravens. Moving the line away from leks reduces perching and nesting opportunities for these predators.
With the new re-alignment, some areas with high concentrations of sage grouse leks will also be kept intact—not split up by the line and associated development—thereby reducing fragmentation of these key breeding grounds. Fragmenting areas that sage grouse and other wildlife depend on leads to population declines or die-offs. This area has already seen challenges that do not bode well for sage grouse, including the effects of wildfire that has resulted in the loss of vast acreages of the ever-so-important sagebrush habitat that sage grouse require.
How it began:
The realignment comes on the heels of NWP’s “SWIP Trip,” – last spring’s 501-mile hike of the line’s entire proposed route by nationally known long-distance hiker Adam Bradley. You may recall that the SWIP Trip was designed to get us out from behind our desks and away from the reams of paper that have already been produced in review of the SWIP project. We wanted to gather a different kind of ground-level intel that could help us grapple with what are called "cumulative effects"--the impacts of many different projects on the landscape.
These energy, agricultural, residential, biological and other projects or events may seem benign on their own, but when taken together over time, their cumulative effect on the landscape and habitat values can be devastating. We noted the intersection of two huge energy projects, the SWIP line and the Ruby Pipeline, as primary examples of events that can change habitats forever.
NWP staff traveled with Adam Bradley, meeting up with him at key spots along the SWIP, and serving as his “chase crew.” The result was a media and blog event to help educate the public about the SWIP line, cumulative effects, and the intersection between renewable energy development and habitat protection.
How the re-alignment got done:
Due to a permitting process by the BLM that only allows a review of a three-mile wide corridor, Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) biologists were constrained in what recommendations they could make to adjust the line and therefore improve its path for the benefit of the sage grouse. That's where our SWIP trip and NWP biologists entered the picture.
Conservation Director John Tull and Staff Biologist Gregg Tanner put their heads together on a better route, vetted it with key NDOW biologists and then pitched it to LS Power. The message: it will cost you more in the short run, but making these changes would be a big deal and improve the habitat and quality of the route. LS Power employees showed openness and creativity in working with us on the reroute. They demonstrated a real commitment to not just getting the line built, but in improving it in every way possible.
Why we think it’s an important accomplishment:
As an advocate with a PhD in Conservation Biology, John Tull understands how fragmented landscapes can destroy biodiversity. But he also recognizes NWP's responsibility to act once we've gathered the data and identified an opportunity.
“We recognize this reroute doesn’t solve the myriad of problems facing sage grouse. But this agreement with the developers sets the right course and shows that we can forge a path for renewable energy development that both developers and conservationists agree on.”
Gregg Tanner, NWP’s “rural circuit rider” as we like to call him, retired in 2005 after 32 years as a biologist and bureau chief with NDOW. He said he can't recall an energy company as responsive as LS Power, and said it bodes well for the future.
"Nevada's wildlife and habitats are under enormous pressure from energy development," said Tanner. "We hope this action will demonstrate to sportsmen and energy companies alike that Nevada's clean energy economy can be "smart from the start," if we work together."
Charlotte Overby, NWP's Communications Director, said this is a fantastic first outcome from the spring SWIP Trip. "When we set off on that 500-mile hike on Earth Day, our goal was to gather photographic and video assets that would help tell the public a story of a transmission line from different perspectives," she added. "We're seeing fruits from this effort that inform our work, and we’re confident will help result in better habitat protections over the next decade.”