American Bird Conservancy (ABC) is reviewing the revised eagle rule announced today by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), asserting that the plan may mark a setback in protecting Bald and Golden eagles, two species that have inspired Americans for centuries.
“I can’t imagine many things more important than protecting a bird so widely regarded as one of this country’s most iconic species,” said Dr. George Fenwick, president of the American Bird Conservancy.
In its previous comments on this rule, ABC asked for more transparency and adaptive management through improved siting, mitigation, and compensation to minimize the impact of wind energy development on eagles.
The revised rule attempts to accomplish these goals through five-year reviews of the extended 30-year permits, mitigation, and compensation when sites surpass their agreed upon eagle take quotas, adaptive management, and public access to data on eagle fatalities.
“Remarkably, this approach relies exclusively on the for-profit wind industry to self-report bird fatalities, even when such information may prove detrimental to the industry’s bottom line. While some companies may play by the rules, others may not, making this system highly vulnerable to deception. I don’t see how such a system will work to protect eagles,” said Dr. Fenwick.
In addition, Dr. Michael Hutchins, national coordinator for American Bird Conservancy’s Bird Smart Wind Energy Campaign said, “These rules are still voluntary, rather than mandatory, which means that only wind energy companies who choose to work collaboratively with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will be subject to these requirements. All others will be allowed to continue to build wind facilities until they actually kill an eagle, and we’ll have to rely on the companies themselves to be forthcoming—in our opinion, a highly unlikely scenario in every case.”
Eric Glitzenstein, with the public-interest law firm Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal, which has worked with ABC on efforts to ensure that wind power projects are developed in a bird-friendly fashion, said that the Interior Department "cut legal corners and disregarded public comments in crafting this rule, which is little more than a regulatory subsidy to the wind power industry. We will be reviewing all available legal options to ensure that eagles do not suffer needless death and maiming from this ill-advised and scientifically bankrupt weakening of eagle safeguards. "
A 2004 study prepared for the California Energy Commission estimates that about 95 eagles were being killed annually in one area alone—the wind facilities at Altamont Pass in California. That estimate suggests that over the 30-year operation of those facilities, perhaps as many as 3,000 Golden Eagles may have been killed, with no prosecution by federal officials.
“Eagles are being asked to survive a brutal ‘one-two’ punch. On top of the impacts from the duration of take permits being extended six-fold, the birds will soon face an additional serious threat—a 12-fold increase in wind energy, if federal 2030 targets are achieved. So it is entirely conceivable, and probably even quite likely, that mortality impacts to eagles will get far worse,” Dr. Fenwick said.
The 30-year permit action was originally proposed in April 2012 and provided for a 90-day comment period. ABC and the Conservation Law Center led a response effort and sent joint comments opposing the proposal to FWS in July 2012. The National Park Service opposed the proposed action, along with nearly 120 conservation, wildlife, and animal protection groups including the Sierra Club, National Audubon Society, Defenders of Wildlife, National Resources Defense Council, and The Nature Conservancy. Native American groups such as the Hopi Tribe, the Nez Perce Tribe, the Intertribal Council of Arizona, and the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community have also expressed opposition to the change. In addition, thousands of concerned citizens responded to ABC action alerts on the proposal, writing to the Department of Interior asking that 30-year eagle take permits not be allowed.