The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has asked the public for help in gathering information on eagle mortality in the wake of the death of a golden eagle at the North Sky River wind facility in Kern County on January 29. The eagle was found near a turbine just one month after the facility started operation in December 2012.
The facility, owned by Florida-based energy developer NextEra, had been the subject of lawsuits over potential threats to eagles and other birds.
"We are asking individuals as well as wind energy companies with information or knowledge about the death of eagles that may have been killed due to contact with wind turbines, to contact us," said Jill Birchell, special agent in charge of the FWS Office of Law Enforcement for California and Nevada, in a press release Monday.
When it's built out, North Sky River will hold 100 turbines on 12,781 acres of privately owned lands in the Tehachapi Mountains northwest of Mojave. At maximum output, the facility will generate 297 megawatts of power. North Sky River isn't far from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power's Pine Tree Wind Farm, itself the site of a number of reported deaths of raptors, including eight reported eagle deaths in a two-year span.
The request from FWS also comes after revelations that the agency held a series of secret meetings with high-level "stakeholders," including wind industry leaders and representatives of large environmental groups, to help craft policy as the agency works toward extending the timespan of "take" permits for bald and golden eagles from five to 30 years.
FWS is in charge of enforcing protections for eagles under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, and it's under the provisions of that law that the agency issues take permits to wind developers to allow those developers' turbines to kill eagles under certain circumstances.
According to Monday's release, no such permits have been issued in the Tehachapi wind development area.
"Un-permitted take of eagles is the illegal take of eagles," Birchell said in the release. "We want power companies or any company involved in planning to build wind generation facilities in the Tehachapi range, where a significant golden eagle population exists, to contact the Service well in advance of construction and work with our biologists to develop conservation plans that will avoid take of eagles to the extent practical and serve as the basis for an application to lawfully take eagles for companies who proceed with wind development in this area."
Criminal penalties for harming eagles run up to a maximum fine of $5,000 and a year's imprisonment for a first offense.
FWS is asking that anyone who may have information regarding eagle deaths can contact the FWS Office of Law Enforcement in Sacramento at (916) 569-8444 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.