Utilities face stepped-up pressure to protect eagles

Posted: Sunday, April 23, 2000

SEWARD (AP) -- Utility companies are under increasing pressure from federal wildlife officials to decrease the number of eagles being killed by power lines.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that 50 eagles have been killed across the state by electrocution so far this year.

Earlier this month, at a two-day workshop in Seward, the agency and utility companies from Alaska and the Lower 48 discussed possible solutions.

While eagles are not an endangered species in Alaska, they are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

Electric companies have been served notice that they could be hauled into court for eagle deaths.

Last summer the Justice Department prosecuted a Colorado utility for violations of those laws. In the precedent-setting case, a federal judge ruled that electric companies are accountable for eagle deaths caused by their equipment.

The Moon Lake Electric Association admitted they were responsible for the deaths of about 170 birds in Colorado and Utah. The utility was fined $100,000.

Fish and Wildlife fined Sand Point Electric Co. in southwestern Alaska $500 two years ago for killing more than a dozen bald eagles.

Many power companies believe they've been aggressive in trying to prevent raptor electrocutions, but it hasn't been enough, said Jill Birchell, an Alaska-based Fish and Wildlife agent.

''They're not doing in what my estimation they should be doing, even with the threat of prosecution hanging over their heads,'' she said.

In the last several years, Seward Utility Co. workers have installed 21 wooden eagle perches above power poles, said utility manager Dave Calvert.

''Nobody wants to kill eagles,'' Calvert said. ''Plus, eagles cost money when they cause the power to go out.''

Calvert said four eagles have been electrocuted so far this year in Seward.

The raptors use power poles as vantage points to search for food. Many are zapped when their wings, which can span up to eight feet, touch the power lines.

Birchell said the city clearly needs to take more action. It should insulate the jumper wires that connect two sets of lines and cover wires coming out of transformers.

Dennis Rankin, environmental protection specialist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C., acknowledged that costly protective devices are not always effective.

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