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A simple solution that may prevent raptor electrocutions

Fern Davies

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Dominion program to help eagles and other big birds

Posted: Friday, November 6, 2015 9:45 am

BY REX SPRINGSTON Richmond Times-Dispatch

Dominion Virginia Power is voluntarily working to help big birds like eagles and ospreys.

The utility is putting more space between many of its local distribution lines to reduce the chance of big birds getting electrocuted.


“Expanding the wires is the right thing to do for the environment," said J. David Rives, the company's senior vice president.

The move drew praise from conservationists who are not involved in the project.

"This makes perfect sense, and I applaud them for doing it," said Ed Clark, president of the the Wildlife Center of Virginia, a wild-animal hospital in Waynesboro.

The move should help birds with big wingspans, including eagles, ospreys and great blue herons. An eagle's wings can span 6 to 7 feet.

Big birds sometimes land on the cross arms of power poles. If the bird spreads its wings and touches two power lines, it completes a circuit and gets electrocuted.

Most distribution lines are 44 inches apart. Now, Dominion is increasing that spread to 56 to 60 inches at poles in places the birds frequent, including along the James and Rappahannock rivers and along the coast.

The work began with a pilot project in New Kent County about two months ago and got underway in earnest this week at Curles Neck Farm along the James about 10 miles east of Richmond.

Dominion crews are widening the spaces between power lines by lengthening the cross arms that carry the lines. About 222,000 poles will be modified.

The 220,000 represent about 20 percent of Dominion's poles in Virginia, but about 80 percent of the big birds live near those poles, according to Dominion.

Crews will do the work when they tend to other business, like routine maintenance, on the poles.

"The program will take years to fully implement, but the costs will be relatively inexpensive," said Dominion spokesman Dan Genest.

Big-bird electrocutions have increased from about 10 to 15 a year in the early 1990s to about 20 to 30 a year today, Dominion said. Officials attribute the increase mainly to the growth in numbers of big birds such as eagles and ospreys. The birds soared back following the banning of the pesticide DDT in 1972.

On some poles, particularly those in places like swamps that bucket trucks can't reach, workers will climb poles and install on cross arms triangular structures designed to keep birds from perching there.

In the early 1990s, the company created similar "eagle protection zones" that covered 180 squares miles. The new program expands the area to more than 2,300 square miles.

Dominion's work should help reduce electrocutions, but eagles and other birds also die from hitting power lines while flying.

That's a tougher problem to solve, said Bryan Watts, an eagle expert with Virginia Commonwealth University and the College of William and Mary. One option is to put hazards in areas that birds don't visit as often, but even then some birds will die, Watts said.

Many birds face hazards because we want things like power, and we want things like big buildings, which also kill birds that collide with them, experts say. "We can't eliminate everything," Watts said.

"The truth is," Watts said, "Dominion has been a stand-up company, and I think has tried to do the right thing in regard to bird protection."



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