Power lines are leading cause of death for birds

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

The 345,000-volt transmission line that will head north from Hays to the Nebraska border will cross through the endangered whooping crane's migration corridor.

What steps will be taken to protect the cranes from crashing into the line remains uncertain.

"As you know, ITC works with environmental agencies as a standard practice to be sure issues are addressed," ITC Great Plains spokesman Joe Kirik said in an e-mail in response to an inquiry to see if bird flight diverters will be installed on the line.

"Power lines, I believe are the No. 1 killer of whooping cranes," according to Craig Mowry, manager of the Kirwin National Wildlife Refuge.

Kirwin is a frequent stopping-off spot for whooping cranes, often as the birds are flying to the more popular wetlands areas of Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira.

"There's no way to get to there from here without going across that line on the map," Mowry said of where the power line will be located.

Just last week, for example, a new record of 76 birds -- out of the 263 birds in the only remaining naturally migrating flock -- were spotted at the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge.

Last fall, 32 cranes stopped off at Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira.

The birds were in the area last fall, even though the reservoir was full and not as attractive to the wading birds.

"They're not like ducks," Mowry said, "they don't float."

Despite that, there were whooping cranes reported all around the refuge last fall, with reports of six to eight whoopers near Smith Center, Kirwin, Agra and Gretna.

Mowry has been watching the progress of the power line, hoping that it would stay well away from the refuge.

It will do that, heading north out of Hays before veering to the northeast to a point east of Plainville. It then migrates generally to the north, passing about 12 miles to the east of Kirwin. The second phase of the line will end at the Nebraska border northwest of Smith Center. Once it is complete, the line will stretch from Spearville to Axtell, Neb.

Mowry said he would favor the idea of bird diverters on the lines, given its proximity to the cranes' migration corridor.

"I'm no expert on power lines and whooping cranes," he said. "I just know the basics. But how could it not be helpful?"

Mowry said he hopes to attend Monday's public hearing on the power line, set for 7 p.m. with a question-and-answer session in the Stockton City Auditorium. The KCC's formal hearing will begin at 8 p.m.

ITC will be there from 5 to 7 p.m. to answer informal questions.