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TasNetworks – Wedge-Tailed Eagle Deaths


Rosalie Woodruff MP

Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Wednesday, 9 December 2020

Tags: TasNetworks, Wedge-Tailed Eagle

Dr WOODRUFF - You'll be liaising with people like another Tarremah in the future were that to be the case. Thanks.

Minister, transmission lines are known killers of wedge-tailed eagles and other raptors. I want to, at the outset, acknowledge the very hard work of the Raptor Refuge volunteers, and the welcome engagement between TasNetworks for the work of Raptor Refuge Inc. Can you tell me how many eagles have been reported killed over the last year by TasNetworks transmission lines, and what that number is, and whether you are confident in the number you have?

Mr BALCOMBE - To be clear, by far the highest incidence of bird strikes is at the distribution level. At transmission level, bird strikes are very rare.

Dr WOODRUFF - Sorry, I'll interrupt you for a moment. I meant power lines. I didn't mean to restrict it, of course I didn't. It was just in my mind from an earlier question.

Mr BALCOMBE - Thank you. To clarify that. By far the highest incidence is at the distribution level. From a perspective of threatened bird incidences, we had 18 strikes. I think the vast majority, if not all were, fatalities. That was down from 24 the previous year, and down from 33 in the year prior to that. It is trending the right way. It is still too high, but we are continuing to work on our Threatened Bird Strategy. We are making a significant investment.

Over the year we installed 65 kilometres of mitigation devices, which are bird flight diverters. Some of that is proactive if we identify high risk site. There are areas around Oatlands/Lamont, which our indications are high risk, so we have been proactively installing mitigation there.

We also have an agreed process whenever we have a bird strike. We go through and put mitigation in reactively. We do that within seven days, and why do we do that? If we have had a strike there, there is potential that there may well be another bird there. So, we put that mitigation in to prevent a further strike.

We continue to work very closely across the community. You made reference to Raptor Refuge. We work very closely with Craig Webb. The latest project that we have been working on with Craig has been something quite different. As you know, he has a fantastic new aviary down there. We helped him with some of the cost towards that new aviary, which is allowing those birds to fly somewhat freer than they otherwise would have in his previous facilities.

He also has a very significant risk with regard to bushfires, because if he loses that facility there is nowhere else to accommodate those birds. This year we have contributed $25 000 towards a fire prevention and sprinkler system to help protect that facility from ember attack. We continue to work with Craig with regard to bird strikes and mitigations. We have a constructive dialogue with him.

We are also working more broadly with the wider community. Initiatives include the citizen science project Where? Where? Wedgie! from the point of view of particularly trying to identify across a matrix where eagles exist; and we have done a lot of work around improved reporting. We have a greater level of confidence that we are capturing those birds that are being injured. Can I put my hand on my heart and say, yes, we are getting over this? I can't; but we certainly have worked very broadly with the community, the farming community in general and our own teams to ensure we are reporting strikes.

Where there is a strike obviously there is an area of risk, and we can then develop mitigation. We are doing much more work in that space. It is ongoing. The other element about it is that as we start to develop new parts of the network, we will look at the design standards we have. There are opportunities to think about how we build the distribution network in particular, where there are new elements and there are bird risk areas. We can arrange the set up of the distribution lines so they are more in a delta formation, which reduces the risk of the birds hitting two phases which triggers electrocution. We can offer perches for the birds to rest on, rather than sitting on top of power poles. We are doing extensive work in the north-west around identification of eagle nests in particular, as we plan out that north-west transmission area. We are doing a lot of work in this space.

Dr WOODRUFF - Thank you, minister. That is certainly substantial.

You have mentioned a lot of things, through you, minister, to the CEO; if that is appropriate, on the same line of questioning. You have mentioned the reactive mitigation work and the other things that are done when a strike is identified. I think one of the concerns is that maybe lower down in the working chain there is some resistance to accepting that a strike has been caused by TasNetwork's infrastructure. I think it is certainly the case that it would be, in a time when we are seeing collapsing numbers of raptors everywhere. We are really looking at the grave threat of losing a number of these birds in Tasmania. TasNetworks ought to commit to reversing the onus of proof -

CHAIR - Dr Woodruff, you need to ask a question please.

Dr WOODRUFF - The question is, now will you commit to working with Craig Webb and other vets to reverse the balance of proof, so there is the assumption that the bird has been killed by the power lines - instead of requiring volunteers and other people to deal with lots of post mortems and a whole lot of other things to identify the reason? Sometimes you cannot find the reason, that is the bottom line. In those cases it ought to be TasNetworks taking the responsibility; because there are hundreds of volunteers and that phone is running hot. These are being done by volunteers -

CHAIR - Can you ask the question.

Dr WOODRUFF - Will TasNetworks commit to working with Craig Webb to change the balance of proof and to be much more proactive about taking responsibility, that a strike is in fact a strike resulting from the transmission line and distribution line network?

Mr BARNETT - I will pass to the CEO; but before doing so I make it clear that as a Government we take this matter very seriously. I commend TasNetworks for their efforts. There have been considerable resources in past years committed to this very important work and the mitigating strategies that the CEO has outlined. I put that on the record. I am certainly very aware of the relationships with Craig Webb and Raptor Rescue. Having said that, I will pass to the CEO.

Mr BALCOMBE - The first point is, I am curious about the comment you make about lower levels. We have great engagement around our business around eagle strike. As I say, the majority of people who are discovering bird strikes in our business are the field teams. They're the same people who do the mitigation and they're the same people who take the photographs of the mitigation once installed and send it down to Craig.

There's a high level of collaboration with Craig. We have a process to follow, but if a deceased eagle is found within proximity of the power lines I'd say 99 to100 per cent of the time we will assume responsibility for that.

I don't understand where this conjecture is coming from. We go through process. Most carcasses go off to the museum for autopsies. That is done in an attempt to further understand the science around this. We are working with Craig very collaboratively. I have a great working relationship with him. The team has and -

Dr WOODRUFF - As I said, at your level it is a good relationship. Very good.

CHAIR - Dr Woodruff, I ask you to allow the full response. Otherwise the call will pass on to Mr Tucker.

Dr WOODRUFF - I was agreeing with the CEO.

 

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, TasNetworks has provided a very tiny honorarium to Raptor Refuge for the work they do with their volunteer-run 1800 hotline, which is running hot according to Craig Webb. It is $7000 that runs out at the end of July next year. Will TasNetworks commit to renewing that money and increasing it proportionate to the amount of work that is done by that volunteer group?

Mr BALCOMBE - I'll be frank, I don't see this as the forum to do deals. As I said, we have a solid engagement to Craig and his team. We are providing him with $25 000 to support a significant risk and we have a positive engagement. Once we're clear on what Craig's requirements are for the following year we have a one-on-one engagement with him. I'm not prepared to make and be bound by a question made in this committee to bind our organisations. You have my commitment that we continue to engage with him and we will do that.

Dr WOODRUFF - I find that slightly offensive that you would take that interpretation as doing a deal. As we all do at this table, we put questions on behalf of representatives -

Mr Street - He wasn't the only one.

Dr WOODRUFF - You have a very thin skin, Mr Street. The point is, proportionate to the amount of work that has been - I think that's what I said - not a particular figure. I just hope there is an understanding that there are multiple needs for that organisation to look after eagles, including bushfire and the 1800 number.

CHAIR - Dr Woodruff, the time for this GBE has now expired. I want to thank everybody for their time.