Never are the agencies of the federal government more efficient, more capable than when they are working at diametric cross purposes — canceling out one objective with another.
Agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management, which are under the Interior Department, have been doubling down on efforts to save the greater sage grouse habitat across 11 Western states, including Nevada, by shutting down ranching, farming, mining and oil and gas exploration.
At the same time the Interior Department has a policy of encouraging and expediting development of renewable energy production on public lands — solar, wind, biomass, geothermal — and providing rights-of-way to link those usually remote sites to the grid.
For example, the One Nevada Transmission Line Project buzzed to life shortly before midnight on New Year’s Eve, according to the Lincoln County Record. The 235-mile, 500-kilovolt transmission line built by NV Energy links Apex to Ely and is intended to carry wind, solar and geothermal energy to market. It cost $550 million with $350 million of that coming from federal tax money.
Those distinctive, especially designed power poles with the “helical strakes” to cut wind vibration now dot the landscape of eastern Nevada, stretching across what has been dubbed “essential” sage grouse habitat.
Now, along comes a study in the January issue of The Condor: Ornithological Applications. Authors Kristy Howe of the Wildlife Conservation Society and Idaho State University, Peter Coates of the U.S. Geological Survey, and David Delehanty of Idaho State University that found that in southeastern Idaho the number of ravens has increased eleven-fold between 1985 and 2009.
Ravens are one of the primary sage grouse predators. The sage grouse are too big for ravens to prey on but they attack the nests and eat the eggs and hatchlings. Ravens also prey on the endangered desert tortoise.
Therefore, it was interesting to discover that 58 percent of raven nests in that part of Idaho are located on power line transmission poles, 14 percent were on other human-made towers and only 19 percent in trees.
The report noted that transmission poles afford the ravens a wider range of vision, greater attack speed and easier take-off.
The raven population in the West has increased 300 percent in 40 years. “Such an increase likely poses an increased threat to sagebrush steppe species subject to raven depredation, including sage-grouse for which eggs and young are consumed by ravens,” the report said.
But the Interior does not list predators as high on the list of threats to sage grouse, of course, just human activity, except transmission lines.