Wind Farm Poses No Threat to Bighorn Sheep

     (CN) - A California wind-energy project will not threaten an endangered species of sheep, a federal judge ruled.
     The Protect Our Communities Foundation, Donna Tisdale and Backcountry Against Dumps challenged the U.S. Department of Interior's decision to allow Ocotillo Express to build 112 wind-turbine generations on 10,151 acres of public land in the Sonoran Desert in Imperial County, Calif.
     In addition to the Interior Department, the plaintiffs named the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and three of its officers as defendants.
     The foundation argued that the government's approval of the wind project violated the Endangered Species Act by jeopardizing the Peninsular Bighorn Sheep. The Interior Department issued a Biological Opinion that the 955 sheep would not be jeopardized by the project. The sheep have been plagued by disease, parasites and predators, and their numbers were as low as 276 in 1996.
     In an opinion written by U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, the Southern District of California ruled that the biological opinion correctly concluded that even if the sheep lost up to 5,000 acres of their habitat, they would still be able to connect and reproduce.
     In addition, Curiel wrote that the government properly considered the fact that the sheep can be poor dispersers.
     "Federal defendants argue that the sheep tend to be poor dispersers but only outside of their home ranges. Within their home range, the PBS are more likely to avoid the project and move to another part of their home range," he wrote.
     Also, Curiel stated that the government properly considered the effect of noise and visual disturbance for the sheep, citing their tolerance of noise on Interstate 8.
     "Vision is the primary sense the PBS use to detect predators," he wrote. "Therefore, the wind turbines would be perceived as a threat and would lead to habitat avoidance."