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Regulators weigh wind project against sage grouse protection

August 24, 2021 GMT

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota regulators were to hear Tuesday from wildlife officials concerned about protecting the habitat of the sage grouse, a bird whose population has declined in North Dakota and elsewhere.

The Public Service Commission will hold a hearing and must decide whether to issue a permit for a wind farm that bumps up against sage grouse country in southwestern North Dakota, the only part of the state where the species lives.

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department says fewer than 30 male sage grouse exist in North Dakota. The agency recommends that regulators stop allowing energy projects within certain conservation areas and within a 4-mile radius of where the birds mate.

The department says eight of the 74 turbines proposed in Apex Clean Energy’s Bowman Wind project fall within those area, and they want the developer to relocate the towers before they go up, the Bismarck Tribune reported.

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Further energy development there could reduce the chance of the sage grouse population making a full recovery, and the loss of the bird from part of its range could prompt federal wildlife officials to list the species under the Endangered Species Act, the department said.

Apex earlier responded that the sage grouse conservation plan on which the state relies is voluntary.

The department’s recommendations “do not supersede the individual rights of private landowners to maintain and develop their land as they see fit, including generating a secondary source of income,” Apex Vice President of Environmental Affairs Ryan Henning wrote in a letter to the PSC.