Wind Group Wants More Concessions on Eagle Kill Permit Rules

Wind turbines near San Gorgonio Pass | Photo: Caveman Chuck Coker/Flickr/Creative Commons License

After the news broke Friday morning that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants to extend the reach of wind industry permits to kill bald and golden eagles, a national wind industry trade group is lauding the move, but saying the industry needs more concessions from those charged with protecting eagles.

In a statement published Friday, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) praised the extension of "take" permits under the Bald and Golden Eagle Act from five years to a maximum of 30 years, but said that "additional concerns" about the permit rule's impact on the wind industry would require more negotiation between wind companies, FWS, and AWEA's "partners in the conservation community."

"[T]his rule must only be a first step in creating a rational and effective approach to eagle permitting," AWEA said, "and we look forward to working with FWS, the Department of Interior, and our partners in the conservation community to address additional permit program concerns through future revisions to the Permit Rule."

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"This permit program promotes eagle conservation," said John Anderson, AWEA's Director of Siting Policy. "Congress actually sanctioned it decades ago by specifically authorizing a permit program under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act."

AWEA's statement goes on to claim that "fatalities of golden eagles at modern wind facilities are not a common occurrence," saying that wind turbine mortalities make up less than two percent of human-caused golden eagle mortalities.

As ReWire reported in September, a recent study by five USFWS biologists published in the Journal of Raptor Research tracked down 85 verified eagle mortalities at U.S. wind power plants between 1997 and June 2012, with four-fifths of those mortalities taking place after 2007.

The Journal of Raptor Research study deliberately excluded the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area from its calculations: that wind area is estimated to take out somewhere between 65 and 110 golden eagles a year all by itself. (Wind advocates routinely dismiss Altamont's death toll as reflecting older, less bird-friendly designs, but recent studies suggest newer turbines may not be any safer.) The study also relied on reports voluntarily provided by wind turbine operators, which -- in the absence of a credible enforcement mechanism -- are certain to be significantly lower than the actual death toll.

AWEA also says that the wind industry shouldn't be singled out as the cause of the new rules, claiming that extending the eagle take permit tenure from five to 30 years "was not developed for nor is it specific to the wind industry."

It's true that the new rule has been scrupulously written to avoid giving the impression that extending eagle take permits is solely intended to benefit the wind industry. Operators of solar projects have also approached USFWS about programmatic take permits for eagles, says the agency. Nonetheless, the wind industry is the only industry the rule mentions in any detail, and in the rule's description of the recent history of the take permits USFWS says:

During our review, it became evident that the 5-year term limit imposed by the 2009 regulations should be extended to better correspond to the operational timeframe of renewable energy projects.

One last bit from AWEA's statement attracted ReWire's attention, as it seems to conflict with what USFWS said today. From the AWEA statement:

[R]ecent research finds that golden eagle populations are stable or slightly increasing across the American West.

From USFWS's new eagle take permit rule, slated to be published in the Federal Register on Monday:

The 2009 [Environmental Assessment for the first round of take permit rules] acknowledged the lack of reliable scientific data on golden eagle populations and set conservative regional thresholds for annual permitted take of eagles in light of that lack of reliable data. The Service anticipates that scientific data quality on eagle population dynamics will continue to improve and any new information and data will be considered during the NEPA review for future permit determinations.

Which would seem to undermine AWEA's assertion that eagles have been found to be doing better across the west.

About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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