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Eight State Habitat Conservation Plan Needs Public Comment

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  • Sunday, September 16, 2012
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  • The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced on August 30, 2012 that they are taking public comment until October 1, 2012 * regarding plans to produce an eight state Multi-Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSHCP). The MSHCP would be a basis for industrial wind projects to receive Incidental Take Permits  - permits to kill endangered and protected species without prosecution. The "planning partners" in this endeavor are the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) and The Conservation Fund.

    9/27/12 UPDATE: USFWS's Rick Amidon stated that the initial comment period will be extended by 60 days.

    The Coalition for Sensible Siting is asking citizens to:

    1.  Request an extention of this initial comment period beyond October 1, 2012.

    2.  Send comments about the multi-state Habitat Conservation Plan Process

    Send your comments or request information by any one of the following methods:
    U.S. Mail: Regional Director, Attn: Rick Amidon, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ecological Services, 5600 American Blvd. West, Suite 990, Bloomington, MN 55437–1458;
    Facsimile: 612/713–5292 (Attn: Rick Amidon); or
    USFWS excerpts from the Federal Register and press release include:
    Public Comments The Service is asking the public to help identify issues that are important to them as the plan is developed. The incidental take permit(s) will cover participating wind energy facilities in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin.  USFWS is requesting information and comment concerning the planning process, our permitting approach, biological aspects of the interaction of wind facilities and species, scientific data that may help inform the MSHCP or monitoring of impacts, and any other information that interested parties would like to offer.
    Comments merely stating support for, or opposition to, the MSHCP under consideration without providing supporting information, although noted, will not provide information useful in determining relevant issues and impacts. The public will receive additional opportunity to provide comments on the draft EIS and draft MSHCP when they are completed.
    Planning partners  in this effort include the conservation agencies for the eight states, The Conservation Fund, and the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA)
    The eight State conservation agencies participating in the development of this MSHCP are the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Indiana Division of Fish and Wildlife, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Missouri Department of Conservation, Ohio Department of Natural Resources, and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
    ‘‘Covered activities’’ under the MSHCP include the siting, construction, operation, maintenance, and decommissioning of wind energy facilities within all or portions of the eight-State planning area. Activities associated with the management of mitigation land would also be covered.

    Background In 2009, the Conservation Fund solicited the eight States that make up the planning area to support their submission of an application for a grant. The grant would fund development of the MSHCP and an incidental take permitting program. The grant application included virtually identical August 2009 letters of suppport from the eight States' conservation agencies.
    Review of the grant materials shows the grant activities would be completed between 2010 and 2012:.
    "Work for which funding is requested is scheduled to be accomplished in two years."
    Start: June 2010, End: May 2012
    Task 1: MSHCP
    Task 2: NEPA
    Task 3: GI Network Design Focus Groups
    Task 4: Mitigation Site Reports Focus Groups
    Task 5: Operational Mitigation Measures

    USFWS anticipates that "the issuance of individual ITPs would be the permitting approach under this MSHCP. Currently there are additional permit structure options being considered; however, under any permit structure, the MSHCP would meet all ITP issuance criteria found at 50 CFR 13.21, 17.22(b), and 17.32(b), and would be evaluated under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and Section 7 of the ESA (16 U.S.C. 1536)."
    "The MSHCP planning partners envision that under any permit approach, no additional NEPA or Section 7 analysis would occur, and ‘‘No Surprises’’ assurances would apply to the MSHCP. Evaluation of the MSHCP and permitting program would include public review by all interested parties. In the event that the MSHCP might need to be amended in the future (e.g., to add a species or consider an activity not previously evaluated), further public review would occur." 

    The Conservation Fund states that Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced award of this grant for the development of a landscape-level, multi-species habitat conservation plan throughout the states that "will provide conservation benefits to threatened and endangered species while accommodating wind energy development."

    "As the demand for wind energy grows, this plan will provide a means for wind energy developers to avoid, minimize, mitigate and compensate for adverse effects to protected species....  The...states will work in collaboration...[with] the wind energy industry and The Conservation Fund to lead a strategic conservation planning process that focuses on combining species’ needs with potential habitat mitigation across the landscape."
    Kris Hoellen, director of the Conservation Leadership Network for The Conservation Fund said. “This provides a better way forward for wind energy development that integrates economic and environmental goals.”

    Page 28/72 MSHCP Grant Application August 19, 2009

    Coalition for Sensible Siting's Kristi Rosenquist contacted Kris Hoellen to determine what, if any, work had occurred on this grant since its award in April 2010. Ms. Hoellen stated that they hired an outside consultant and talked about process. USFWS identified the consultant as SAIC. When asked what information had been gathered and considered already, Ms. Hoellen stated, "none".

    This seems odd since the USFWS just finished taking comments on their land-based wind turbine siting guidelines in July 2012. This is the same comment process for which AWEA stated in November 2, 2011, "Last fall, early draft version of Service’s eagle conservation plan guidance was leaked. AWEA staff obtained advance copy." In past years, AWEA has objected to any move by USFWS that would slow or hinder the installation of industrial wind turbines at any location in the US. AWEA is a major participating planning partner driving this MSHCP.

    The number of installed industrial wind turbines in the eight state region has nearly doubled in the three years since this grant application was made. State conservation agencies are normally charged with management of State owned lands, not private property. Nearly all industrial wind turbines in these eight states are located on private property leased by wind developers. There is no basis to believe that state conservation agencies possess any detailed knowledge of wildlife on these privately held lands. Certainly they do not posess sufficient information to produce an MSHCP with any meaningful baseline data. This problem with wind turbine siting became clear in Minnesota starting in 2011. 

    The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has become far more actively involved in the review of industrial wind permit applications in Minnesota since mid-to-late 2011. The increased scrutiny of the MN DNR is directly attributed to the grassroots work of local citizens in response to the AWA Goodhue, LLC site permit.

    The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (MPUC) required AWA Goodhue to produce an Avian and Bat Protection Plan (ABPP) after citizens revealed that incomplete and inaccurate wildlife information had been provided to the State by the project.  Subsequently, the ABPP presented at the February 23, 2012 MPUC hearing was exposed by citizens as an Avian and Bat Protection Deception Plan and was rejected by the MPUC.

    The MN DNR has pointed out numerous concerns and deficiencies to virtually every MN wind permit site application in the past year. This includes the July 2012 review of Spanish owned Gamesa's Eco Harmony wind project in Southeastern Minnesota. The MN DNR noted that the proposed site map shows 28 turbines on, or directly adjacent to, known mapped sink holes. This is also an area riddled with caves in which bats hibernate.

    Three years after the grant application, it seems likely that the other seven states' conservation agencies may also have a far different view of wind energy than when they wrote their letters of support in August 2009.

    The Coalition for Senisble Siting is concerned that the primary participants in forming and driving this MSHCP process are: 

    1. AWEA whose interests are purely financial for the wind industry - not wildlife,
    2. The Conservation Fund whose website looks like AWEA promotional material,
    3. USFWS staff under pressure to fulfill Ken Salazar's wind energy fantasies, and
    4. State DNRs with neither existing data, nor the staff to gather data, about wildlife on private land in their respective States.

    Region 3 USFWS staff have been instrumental in confirming citizen's wildlife reports in Goodhue County, Minnesota and providing feedback to wind project owner AWA Goodhue, LLC. Like the state DNR, USFWS does not have detailed wildlife data on privately held lands. A review of recent USFWS information obtained through FOIA requests make it appear that USFWS is under tremendous pressure from Ken Salazar and other political appointees to say and do whatever is required to allow installation of industrial wind everywhere.

    Is it really possible for USFWS to perform their mission, demonstrate scientific excellence AND support the development of wind energy all at the same time?

    "The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence.

    "The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is leading development of a Habitat Conservation Plan for the Midwest that will conserve endangered species, promote development of clean energy which in turn will reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide."




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