Tribe gains ally in wind farm fight


The Nature Conservancy of Oklahoma recently reached a collaborative agreement with the Osage Nation regarding preservation efforts for eagles and other migratory birds — essentially joining the tribe in its opposition to a proposed wind-energy facility west of Pawhuska.

Osage Principal Chief John Red Eagle and Mike Fuhr, state director of the Nature Conservancy, signed a memorandum of understanding last Wednesday during the annual convention for the National Congress of American Indians. The 70th-annual NCAI event was held Oct. 13-18 at Cox Convention Center in Tulsa.

The agreement calls for the state’s charitable environmental organization and the Pawhuska-based tribe to jointly determine “the best practices for insuring the preservation of eagles, raptors and other migratory birds.”

In response to concerns about dangers the turbines represent to birds and other flying creatures, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to propose changes to Golden and Bald Eagle Management Regulations. Several tribes and Native American organizations have joined with the Osages in planning opposition to any changes that would call for the removal or relocating of eagle nests.

“Moving the nests could be detrimental, and cannot be tolerated,” Lasley said.

The Osage Nation is receiving wide support for its opposition to issuance of an “Eagle Take” permit to the wind farm operators. Such a permit would exempt the operator of the 94-turbine facility from being liable for federal penalties as a result from eagles being killed by wind farm equipment. Kill numbers allowed by such permits are based on the size and makeup of an area’s eagle population — which is this case is four per year.

“A take permit is issued for the life of the project, so we’re looking at 40 years,” Lasley said. “We intend to do everything we can to disallow such a long-term permit.”

Osage Assistant Principal Chief Scott BigHorse has meet with leaders from other American tribes about the eagle-related issues. He thinks there will be unified opposition to the endangering of the eagles, based on cultural and spiritual grounds.

Fuhr, as the state director of the Nature Conservancy, said the proposed location of the wind farm would not be appropriate. The Conservancy-owned Tallgrass Prairie Preserve lies a few miles southwest of the planned facility.

“There are too many issues involved for it to be sited in Osage County,” Fuhr said. “I’m hopeful that the company (building the wind farm) will find another location in Oklahoma.”

Since 1986, the Nature Conservancy of Oklahoma has used a strategic, science-based planning process — called “Conservation by Design” —to preserve the state’s natural landscapes and unique biodiversity. The group currently owns or protects 12 preserves involving almost 77,000 acres (120 square miles).

Osage Nation officials also have pointed out that the wind-energy facility is planned in an area where sacred tribal sites are located. The area is also where the Osages conducted their semi-annual bison (buffalo) hunts until the beasts were nearly exterminated in the 1870s.

“We’re not against wind farms, but we look at the ecology side,” Red Eagle said. “We want to conserve this area and the bluestem grass that grows there.”

The chief said tribal officials are taking steps necessary to protect Osage Nation resources and look after its sacred sites.

TradeWind Energy — a Kansas-based firm owned by an Italian corporation — recently acquired the Osage County site, which was approved for the wind-energy facility two years ago. The original Osage Wind proposal was made by a St. Louis company, Wind Capital Group. (Since gaining approval for the site, Wind Capital was taken over by an Irish interests.)

The wind-farm project is expected to involve at least 8,000 acres of privately-owned leased land located along State Highway 60 extending several miles east of Burbank. Tribal officials have previously stated that parts of the proposed site are in areas that are used for oil and gas drilling — which could bring the operation into conflict with the Osage Mineral Estate.

Also, the Osage Nation is currently working to require owners of the wind project to file for a sandy soil permit — which would further delay construction at the site. Other possible factors include a possible expiration of the county building permit and a production tax credit that is due to end on Dec. 31.

Osage Nation executive Raymond Lasley has pointed out that extensive excavations are required for the foundations of wind turbines.

“And that sand, limestone and sandstone is still part of our mineral reserve,” said Lasley.