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Elementary students help with spring cleaning for the birds

(Above) Members of the Sagebrush Elementary Roots & Shoots club Royal Anda, Zane Arntzen, Marcus Thomé and Elias Thomé assist Jane LePage, Energy Northwest, with annual maintenance and debris clearing on constructed owl burrows located near Columbia Generating Station north of Richland, Wash. 

RICHLAND, Wash. – For the past five years, Energy Northwest employees have been playing housekeeper for migratory owls that make their home in the shrub steppe grassland surrounding the Pacific Northwest’s only nuclear power plant.

This year, EN’s Environmental Services department had extra assistance from members of Sagebrush Elementary’s Roots & Shoots Ecology Club.

Andrew Thomé, EN’s Information Services supervisor, led the group’s visit to Columbia Generating Station Feb. 27 to perform maintenance on 18 artificial burrows. The burrows act as a home for small migratory burrowing owls, which are listed as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need in Washington.

The owls typically make their homes in burrows, or holes, left behind by ground squirrels, prairie dogs, foxes, badgers and coyotes. As habitat for these animals shrink, the owls are left with fewer homes to choose from.

EN partnered with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife in 2012 to install nine sets of burrows near Columbia Generating Station, and employees have been regularly maintaining them since 2016. The annual maintenance includes ensuring the entrance tube is clear, opening the main chamber to check for signs of use and cleaning out any debris. 

Each set includes two burrows — one the owls use for nesting, and the other where they store their food supplies — and a low perch where the owls watch for predators. Each constructed burrow is created from half of a 55-gallon drum, and a 5-gallon bucket serves as a maintenance hatch. A 6-inch tube leading from the drum gives the owl access. The burrows are buried to look like normal animal burrows. 

“The habitat enhancement has been successful, with at least two of our burrows used by owls, who return to the same burrows each year,” said Jane LePage, EN environmental scientist. In addition, the student volunteers were able to explore the variety of wildlife that make the shrub steppe home. “The Root & Shoots Club also saw many deer and elk, found antler sheds, prickly pear cactus, mice and a snakeskin near the burrows, making the outreach and volunteer project a mutually beneficial and fun day.”

The burrow maintenance is just one way that EN works to foster environmental stewardship of the land occupied by Columbia Generating Station, as well as its solar, hydroelectric and wind projects.

“Environmental Services does a variety of biological resource programs, such as noxious weed control and migratory bird habitat enhancement,” LePage said. “We want to ensure that the work we do is designed to improve and protect our natural resources for a sustainable future.”

About Energy Northwest       
Energy Northwest develops, owns and operates a diverse mix of electricity generating resources, including hydro, solar, battery storage and wind projects – and the Northwest’s only nuclear power facility. These projects provide carbon-free electricity at the cost of generation – enough clean, cost-effective and reliable energy to power more than a million homes each year. As an independent joint operating agency of Washington state, Energy Northwest comprises 27 public power member utilities from across the state serving more than 1.5 million customers. The agency continually explores new generation projects to meet its members’ needs. ​
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