April 21, 2011
Back in 1992, you could often spot a ferruginous hawk soaring above Alberta's prairies. Fast forward twenty years and the ferruginous hawk is now an endangered species – with numbers estimated at 643 breeding pairs, down from 1700 breeding pairs in 1992.
Industrial and agriculture development in southern Alberta has contributed to a reduction in native grasslands, which are essential for sustaining a healthy population of ferruginous hawks. Transmission development is no exception to the industrialization that has impacted ferruginous hawk habitat, which is why the ferruginous hawk is one of AltaLink's key target species.
AltaLink is front and centre in ferruginous hawk habitat as we are working on several projects to connect wind generated electricity in southern Alberta. As we build transmission in this part of the province, it is our responsibility to ensure this development does not negatively affect the recovery of this species.
To support ferruginous hawk recovery, AltaLink stepped forward in 2007 to represent Alberta's electric utilities on the Ferruginous Hawk Recovery Team. When the ferruginous hawk was listed as an endangered species under the Alberta Wildlife Act, the recovery team – made up of researchers, industry and community stakeholders – was formed to assess whether the species could be recovered and if so, develop a recovery plan to bring back the number of hawks to a sustainable threshold.
The recovery plan details action such as restoring native grassland and installing nesting platforms. The full recovery plan can be viewed here. To measure the progress of the recovery plan, the recovery team conducts a detailed population inventory every five years.
In 2010, AltaLink dedicated $75,000 to the Alberta Conservation Association to perform this detailed population inventory. As part of the inventory, biologists assessed nesting sites in 142 study area plots 6.4 kilometres by 6.4 kilometres throughout southern Alberta. The results from the population inventory found that the population is low but stable compared to the 2005 inventory, however the population is still significantly low compared to numbers in the 1990s. This signifies that there is still a lot of work to do to ensure a sustainable ferruginous hawk population.
AltaLink will continue to support initiatives that aid in the recovery of the ferruginous hawk. The ferruginous hawk is an important species to AltaLink and we want to ensure that transmission development and the hawks can co-exist without an adverse affect on their population.
"Being an active member of the Ferruginous Hawk Recovery Team, installing nest poles, funding the inventory and having open communication with regulators is all part of what AltaLink is doing to protect and aid in the recovery of this species while continuing to provide reliable transmission," says Nikki Heck, Environmental Advisor.
AltaLink's next step in ferruginous hawk recovery is contributing $300,000 towards a research project at the University of Alberta. The research will look into the effects of industrialization on ferruginous hawks and help identify mitigation solutions so that the hawks and transmission infrastructure can co-exist without impacting each another.
"AltaLink is committed to protecting the natural areas and wildlife where we work. I believe that we are working towards this distinction and mitigating our impacts on the environment," says Nikki.