As federal oversight of migratory birds is set to tighten, electric cooperatives have a new resource for tools and information to help them develop strategies to minimize the risk of bird deaths from electric power lines.

NRECA's Avian Protection Toolkit provides an overview of laws protecting birds, procedures for nest and bird management, and an avian protection plan template that co-ops can use to inform their own voluntary approach to safeguarding birds and equipment.   

“The APP template is a first-of-its-kind resource that can be tailored to best fit each co-op's individual needs and goals to reduce avian interactions with electric infrastructure," said Elise Laarman, NRECA regulatory affairs issue advisor.

“Developing and implementing an avian protection plan can help co-ops reduce bird mortality, improve service reliability and streamline compliance with federal requirements, which are expected to increase in the coming months."

The toolkit offers co-ops assistance at all levels of avian risk reduction planning. For co-ops that are new to documenting avian protection strategies, the APP template provides guidance collected from electric co-ops across the nation on methods they have applied to reduce bird deaths.

For co-ops that already implement a voluntary plan, the toolkit contains information on new trends in avian protection to keep them updated on the latest strategies, such as habitat enhancement.

“Electric co-ops are leaders in environmental stewardship and have a long history of implementing avian protection strategies to reduce bird mortality along their infrastructure.," Laarman said. “We hope co-ops find this tool helpful in continuing to build upon their good work in this space."

The Biden administration is stepping up protections and has directed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to propose regulations and permitting processes this summer under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to prohibit accidental deaths, or incidental takes, caused by electric infrastructure. A final rule is expected next year.

NRECA filed comments to USFWS that emphasized decades of proactive species conservation by co-ops and discouraged costly and overly restrictive permitting that would detract from co-op investments in protecting birds.

“Co-ops support a 'toolbox' approach that provides opportunities to tailor and address avian risk based on the local community needs, company size, budget and electric system design of individual companies," NRECA told the agency. “[N]o 'one-size-fits-all' method will reduce impacts to migratory birds from electric infrastructure."