Solar Project Nest

As a biologist looks on, a red-tail hawk flies near a tree where a worker removes its nest, which was close to a sPower solar project in west Lancaster.

ANTELOPE ACRES — The California Department of Fish and Wildlife turned over evidence within the last couple weeks to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office in regard to the removal in January of a red-tail hawk’s nest from a tree near sPower’s San Pablo Raceway solar project.

The red-tail hawk is federally protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

The 100-megawatt photovoltaic solar project is on 80 acres of a 424-acre site generally bounded by avenues H and G, and 75th and 90th streets west.

The Lancaster City Council approved the General Plan amendment and zone change for the project 3-0 at its Oct. 23 meeting, with Mayor R. Rex Parris and Councilwoman Angela Underwood-Jacobs absent.

Longtime Antelope Acre resident Dan Potter, who lives near the project site, filmed the nest’s removal.

The video shows a hawk sitting in the tree before the nest’s removal. Although Potter did not capture it on camera, the hawk flew away as a basket loader, which made a lot of noise, approached the tree.

“You saw that bird just fly out of the nest right? You saw the bird just fly out of the nest?” Potter called out to the worker, who is wearing a white hard hat and bandana over his face. The worker paused, looked toward the camera, shaded his eyes with his hand but said nothing.

After he removed the nest and returned to the ground, a red pickup truck pulls up. The driver takes the nest and puts it in the bed of the pickup truck. The first worker then pumps his fist in the air.

All of this was observed by a third person, reportedly a biologist, who is also wearing a hard hat and bandana over her face.

“They knew they were doing wrong and they did it anyway,” Potter said in an interview.

The removal was illegal, Potter said, so he sent the video to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

He said the nest has been there and active for more than 17 years.

Under the federal Migratory Birds Treaty Act it is illegal for anyone to keep a nest they take out of a tree, or find on the ground, unless they have a permit issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Don Goeschal of the Antelope Valley Audubon Society reported the nest removal to federal authorities.

“This is wrong,” Goeschal said. “They’re unconcerned, and it’s all about the money. The people here in this Valley, they don’t want the solar stuff.”

In response to an email seeking information about the red-tail hawk nest, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesperson referred the Antelope Valley Press to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“We don’t give permits to destroys nests,” Lt. Kory Collins of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife said.

Collins could not speak to the specifics of the case but said they conducted an investigation and turned over the evidence to the district attorney’s office.

“The investigation involved the destruction of a hawk’s nest,” Collins said.

Garret Bean, sPower’s vice president of Development, could not say what happened to the nest.

“sPower is actively coordinating with CDFW and biologists regarding wildlife and construction activities at our project site. sPower implements 500 foot exclusion zones around nesting birds and both the red tailed hawks, great horned owls and their young are doing well,” Bean said in a statement.

The energy from the San Pablo Raceway project will be sold through CleanPowerSF, a California Community Choice Aggregator managed by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

sPower has 21 solar projects in Lancaster, according to the company’s website, and more on the way.

Rather than focus on the number of projects the company has, Bean said in a follow-up email to look at the positive impact the company has had on the community.

Bean noted sPower has employed more than 5,000 local workers and invested hudreds of millions of dollars into the community to construct 600 megawatts of projects.

“This is the equivalent of removing 1.2 million tons of carbon dioxide each year and helps the region get closer to net zero,” Bean wrote.

Potter is also concerned about a family of great horned owls that live nearby in another tree. The owls are also federally protected.

“They want to start finishing their construction down there,” Potter said.

Potter expressed concern that construction could disturb the owls.

Bean cited a 2008 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report that shows red-tail hawks and great horned owls are among the most tolerant of disturbances, alhough the report did not say which kind of disturbances.

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