Sunday, January 24, 2010

What They Didn't Show Us at the Oklahoma Wind Energy Conference

Keeping to my statement that I had planned to continue working on topics concerning the Lesser Prairie Chicken, I decided to tackle something I have been thinking about since the Oklahoma Wind Energy Conference in December. During the conference there were a number of presenters, but the few that I am thinking about showed the crowd slides of a few different maps. We had an example of the Oklahoma Lesser Prairie-Chicken Spatial Planning Tool , which if you don't use the link I provided you can find buried deep in the vaults of ODWC's web page. I've provided a little example of this tool that was developed through a pretty significant partnership between a number of NGO's and State and Federal level entities; it was developed so that planners/developers like Southwest Power Pool could use it to avoid the areas with the most significant habitat and accordingly significant local populations. Let me remind you though, unlike Wyoming, Oklahoma is relying on a volunteer-based approach to doing the right thing. The developers and planners can simply ignore this map if they like. No regulations here; just do whatever you please! Well........

So what am I getting at? Well, we were also able to view a number of other maps. These were from Southwest Power Pool and a couple of other planning/developing agencies. What bothered me was the fact that I've seen these maps a number of times, but what I haven't seen is anyone actually combining them. You know, the spatial planning tool for LPCH's and the wind farm/transmission line maps all on one page together. I thought about it a bit, and you know, why would they? They don't want the 1,000 people sitting at the conference to see just how carved up this population was going to become. Well I've taken some time to use the google earth habitat tool from above and a slide from one of Southwest Power Pool's presentations, and I've done just that.

So here it is for everyone to see. It is obvious what the little red boxes represent, wind farms (planned and constructed); the red and blue lines represent high voltage transmission lines (planned and constructed). Now, you tell me how a declining population of North American endemic grouse is going to survive the likes of this kind of development? Let's not forget the Lesser Prairie Chicken isn't far from the USFWS's threatened and endangered list. Sure it's only on the "warranted but precluded" list but let's think about what that means, because I don't think people really get it. To me it means yes, this species needs to be listed but there are a few other higher priority species at the moment and we just don't have enough money to spread around everywhere.....that is unless we elect another Teddy R. I think hell will freeze over before that happens, but oh wait, didn't the Saints just make it to the big dance? . . . maybe it could happen!

I'll say it again and I'll keep saying it. Responsible planning, responsible development, responsible construction, responsible maintenance, over and over again until the people that are in control of this situation start making the right decisions........

Responsible planning, responsible development, responsible construction, responsible maintenance,responsible planning, responsible development, responsible construction, responsible maintenance, responsible planning, responsible development, responsible construction, responsible maintenance. You're going to be sick of me before this ends. I may be a yankee, but my home and heart are in Oklahoma and I expect you to do the right thing! Am I getting your attention yet?


Horton, R., L.Bell, C.M. O'Meilia, M.McLachlan, C. Hise, D. Wolfe, D. Elmore and JD Strong. 2009. A Spatially-Based Planning Tool Designed to Reduce Negative Effects of Development on the Lesser Prairie Chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicintus) in Oklahoma: A Multi-Entity Collaboration to Promote Voluntary Habitat Conservation and Prioritized Management Actions. Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 79pp. (accessed: 01/24-25/2009)

Disclaimer: The second map was something I created using a power point presentation prepared by Southwest Power Pool. I did not steal this image, I simply created it using their slide for an example. There was an important disclaimer at the bottom of the slide which stated: "Please note in the legend (not included in my version) that some wind farms are under construction and have not been committed to yet". I think the same can be said for the transmission lines you also see, although I couldn't find that disclaimer on the slide.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Response to the OK Gazzette's Lesser Prairie Chicken Story

Last Wednesday, the Oklahoma Gazette ran a story by Carol Cole-Frowe on the Lesser Prairie Chicken and the issues concerning the species in Oklahoma. There really wasn't anything wrong with the story, all accept for the "cash for clunkers" comment, it should have been "cash for cluckers", get it Cluckers...chickens? I thought I would make a few comments, as well as discuss some general thoughts on this particular issue. To Ms. Cole-Frowe's credit, this is a story that needs more press; the article provided just that. I came up with a few questions of my own.

1) Why did it take so long to get this article published, considering the Wind Energy Conference took place during the first few days of December?

Wouldn't it be better to keep issues of particular importance and urgency flaming hot? I'm not pointing this out to berate author Carol Cole-Frowe; this is a general trend I see across the spectrum. The issue seems to be just dragging along. OG&E and ODWC, and a number of other agencies, are doing their best. But will it be enough? We need more public involvement; we need more people in the state that feel compassion for this species to send letters, talk to their representatives and in general create more turbulence. I can tell you that the powers that be do hear us when we express our interest. Look at the past actions of OG&E and how they have gone from making plans to buy public lands for wind development, to donating money for buying public lands for prairie chicken conservation. It works but we cannot expect these few agencies to carry all of the weight. I don't think the public is being loud enough on this topic.

2.) Where are the other large wind developers/planners, why is it that OG&E seems to be the only company willing to do the right thing, taking extra steps to make the best decisions they can?

I hope someone comments on this question and lets me know that this is not the case. I hope I am wrong. I haven't seen any of the other large players who are using NW Oklahoma as their gold mine stepping forward....One example, where is Florida Power and Light? I was not impressed with their presentation during the wind conference and I have yet to hear of any grand steps from them toward the fight for preserving the native prairies in the NW. Please someone tell me I'm wrong about this! I want to be wrong!

3) Will listing this species as threatened or endangered solve the problem?

This is the big question. The last I checked the USFWS's success rate for endangered species was not all that great, something like a 90% failure rate.....I'll have to dig around for a good number and citation to go with it.... I can think of only a handful of bird species that have been delisted recently, to include the Bald Eagle and Brown Pelican. Is it likely that this species could benefit from a listing?

Actually it depends on who you are asking. I asked JD. Strong, our Secretary of the Environment, this exact question, if listing the species as threatened or endangered in Oklahoma could help the issue. His answer? No! The issue is touchy because if the bird is listed there could be a negative response from landowners that actually have the birds present on their land. There is an issue about the government stepping in and tyring to tell landowners how to operate; nobody wants that.

So if we can't address the issue by listing them, what are we to do? ODWC has been purchasing land in key LPCH habitat and that will certainly help. But what we need to consider is whether these lands will actually allow this species population to expand or whether we are just creating outpost for the species which will only turn into a genetic sink. The population is critically low, wind development stands to carve up the NW region like Billy Bob at an all you can eat steak restaurant. The answer is both in acquiring new public lands, and in developing strategies with landowners who are willing to work for the good of wildlife. We need landowner incentives, a pool of money that can be given to landowners who are willing to keep transmission lines and wind turbines off their property for the betterment of all wildlife, especially prairie chickens.

I think I'll keep running with this topic for a few posts. There are many things that need to be said publicly that aren't. A lot of the conversations are happening at round table sessions, which is good, but the problem needs more public attention. I plan to do just that.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Great Gulls from the North

What a day Wednesday turned out to be. Ignoring the north winds which brought the thermometer down to a cool...cold...bitter cold 18 degrees, not counting the windchill, I spent the afternoon scanning over a couple thousand gulls hopeful to find a few rare birds. Patience and tenacity paid off. Below you will find photos of a number of species of gull seen during the day, I have also included a shot or two of another gull from Canton taken yesterday. So, enjoy the photos and please feel free to make comments or as ask questions about the identification of them.

Thayer's Gull (Larus thayeri, above photos are of the same individual) - This bird was located on the far eastern side of the dam on Canton Lake. I was able to view it from as close as 25 yards which provided me with pretty good photos for id confirmation. Seen on 6 January 2010, at around 2:30pm until 5:30 pm. I think the photos are just fine for id purposes so I won't go into any kind of lengthy description.

Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus)- This was one of two individuals present on Wednesday, the second was a first year individual which I was unable to photograph. This adult or another exactly like it was also present yesterday (8-January-2010).

Well, there is still some discussion about these last two photographs. My original identification was that this was an adult Glaucous Gull (Larus hyperboreus). My experiences with them have amounted to a few observations over the past five winters here in Oklahoma. I have only just recently begun seriously digging into gulls, and each year I catch the fever it seems. Unfortunately I couldn't get close to this bird, he wasn't as tame as the Thayer's Gull was. But we can see a few important identification points from the meager photos I did manage to get. I was also able to view for approximately 25 minutes through my scope from only about 125 yards away. What initially drew me to this bird was the lack of streaking on the head and the yellow bill with red gonys spot. Because it was sitting in the water at first, and facing me directly I needed to be patient and waited for the bird to turn. It became instantly apparent that this was not a Herring Gull. There was a complete lack of grey or black tongues on the outer primaries, they were completely stark white. I am very sure of this fact and viewed the bird both at rest and on the wing and never wavered in my opinion on this point.

It was very close to the same size of the Herring Gulls that surrounded it, however my impression was that it was a little smaller in size, not by much though. Perhaps just a difference between sexes a colleague later discussed with me. Other important points which brought me to my Glaucous decision was the pale eyes the bird had, another of which I am completely sure of. Also the pink legs, which you can see if you click on the photo with bird seemingly hovering over the ice.

So in the spirit of discussion..hopefully please feel free to make a few comments if you like. There were some opinions that this may have in fact been an adult Iceland Gull (L. glaucoides), so that is something to consider.

I'm still working on yesterdays photos, but will add them later in the day.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Selman Ranch Northern Shrike

I spent the early morning surveying fences on Cimarron Bluffs WMA. After exhausting myself and finally getting too chilled to continue I opted for a little "road" birding throughout the Selman Ranch. Birds were slim but I did locate a shrike. Unfortunately I couldn't get a great look at it before it flew off, but for what I did see of it I thought the chances of it being a Northern Shrike were pretty good.

I quickly made a dash for Sue's house to get a change of socks and shirt, and in the mean time Sue handed me her Canon with its 300mm lense, showed me how it worked and I hit the field for another hour late in the afternoon. I returned to the same general area I had seen the bird, spent about 20 minutes looking for it, and then wouldn't you know it posed for me! Enjoy!