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GLIN==> Colorado Case Boosts Migratory Bird Protection

Posted on behalf of Rich Greenwood <Rich_Greenwood@fws.gov>

Sandy Cleva 703-358-1949
Patricia Fisher 202-208-5634


A Utah-based electric utility company was sentenced yesterday in U.S.
District Court in Denver, the end of a landmark case involving the
protection of migratory birds in the United States.

Moon Lake Electric Association, Inc., which was jointly investigated by the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Colorado Division of Wildlife, and the
Utah Division of Wildlife
Resources for illegally killing protected raptors, was placed on probation
for three years and ordered to retrofit its utility lines.  The company was
also ordered to pay $100,000 in fines and restitution for the electrocution
of eagles and other raptors that landed on
its powerlines and poles in northwest Colorado and eastern Utah.

"This case promises to strengthen protections for migratory birds in this
country," said Service Acting Director John Rogers. "We've worked with the
electric utility industry for decades to reduce bird mortalities and have
forged many successful partnerships.  And thanks to this case, power
companies should now have a better understanding of their
conservation responsibilities."

Moon Lake pleaded guilty in April to three misdemeanor charges of violating
the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and three charges under the
Migratory Bird Treaty Act. That plea, however, came after the company
unsuccessfully argued to the court that the prohibitions against killing
protected birds in the two laws referred only to illegal hunting and did not
apply to "unintentional" avian deaths caused by contact with
powerlines or other company equipment.

In January, U.S. District Judge Lewis T. Babcock refused to dismiss the
charges against Moon Lake in a legal opinion that concluded that both the
Migratory Bird Treaty Act and Eagle Protection Act provide a basis for
prosecuting utility companies and other businesses whose activities harm
protected birds.

The Service recently stepped up its proactive efforts to prevent
electrocutions of migratory birds in the Rocky Mountain region where urban
sprawl and industrial growth have introduced powerlines and poles into areas
long inhabited by eagles and other raptors.  These large birds of prey are
particularly vulnerable to electrocution hazards because utility poles offer
them a place to rest, hunt, or nest.  Their large wingspans increase the
possibility that they will make fatal contact with exposed conductors.

Over the past two years, Service special agents working on this effort have
identified areas where birds are dying, alerted the utility industry or the
land management agencies that "own" the hazardous poles, and worked with
these groups to find remedies. Avian electrocutions can usually be prevented
by adopting available bird protection measures.

Several government facilities (including the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, Pueblo
Chemical Army Depot, the Energy Department's Rocky Flats facility, three
national wildlife refuges in Colorado, and state-managed wildlife areas in
Colorado and Utah) and numerous utility companies have launched proactive
efforts to eliminate bird electrocutions after being contacted by the
Service or seeking agency help with the problem on their own.

Moon Lake had failed to respond to Service requests to correct repeated
problems with power structures that killed at least 17 raptors at an
oilfield in Rangely, Colorado.  The case against the company was prosecuted
by the U.S. Attorney for the District of Colorado and the Wildlife and
Marine Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.  During Moon
Lake's probationary period, the company must retrofit thousands of poles and
lines to reduce electrocution threats to eagles and other migratory birds.
Under this court-ordered mitigation effort, Moon Lake must hire a consultant
to advise management on electrocution problems; prepare and implement an
avian protection plan; and sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the
Service, the Colorado Division of Wildlife, and Utah Division of Wildlife
Resources that documents the retrofitting effort.

"Protecting migratory birds is a priority for the Service.  We will continue
working with the Justice Department to ensure that those who harm this
national resource are held accountable," Rogers said. "But as our
enforcement program in the West shows,
partnership and voluntary compliance may be even more beneficial for birds
in the long run."

Last April, Service Director Jamie Rappaport Clark announced plans to
improve Service and industry cooperation in reducing avian electrocutions
nationwide.  In a speech before the Edison Electric Institute in
Williamsburg, Virginia, Clark called for expanded training and education to
promote voluntary compliance; the sharing of the Service's knowledge of bird
behavior with manufacturers working on the design of  "bird-friendly" power
poles; and public outreach to help utility customers understand the problem.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency
responsible for conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish, wildlife and
plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.
The Service manages the 93- million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System
comprised of more than 500 national wildlife refuges,
thousands of small wetlands, and other special management areas.  It also
operates 66
national fish hatcheries, 64 fish and wildlife management assistance offices
and 78 ecological services field stations.  The agency enforces Federal
wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory
bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and
restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments
with their conservation efforts.  It also oversees the Federal Aid program
that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing
and hunting equipment to state wildlife agencies.
                                    -F W S-


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