Northern spotted owl concerns have caused the state Department of Natural Resources to reconsider its plans to lease 2,560 acres of State Trust Land to SDS Lumber Company for future expansion of the proposed Whistling Ridge Energy Project in eastern Skamania County.
According to a notice issued by DNR's Southeast Region office in Ellensburg on Aug. 10, DNR "is no longer considering a lease." However, a spokesman for DNR said the agency could, with more guidance, reconsider the matter at a later date.
"The reason it was withdrawn was because of issues with endangered federal species," DNR spokesman Aaron Toso told the Vancouver Columbian last week. He added: "It will give us time to work with federal services to see how we can make wind energy work with our habitat conservation plan."
DNR currently has 24 active windpower leases, with five wind farms operating 65 turbines on unforested lands in eastern Washington.
The acreage SDS wanted to lease from DNR comprises scattered old-growth and second-growth forest that provides habitat for the threatened northern spotted owl. As such, DNR is required to manage the land as a spotted owl emphasis area.
SDS is seeking a permit from the state's Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council to build a 50-turbine, 75-megawatt wind farm on 1,152 acres of commercial timberland it owns in the Underwood area. The company first approached DNR about leasing adjacent state land for future windpower development in the spring of 2008.
SDS President Jason Spadaro, who learned of DNR's reversal last Friday, told the Columbian, "DNR wants to take a very cautious approach to wind energy on forest land. That's certainly very understandable. Their decision on how to handle it doesn't affect the Whistling Ridge project positively or negatively."