Leading Bird Group Wants New DOI Secretary To Review Possible Revised Rule Weakening Eagle Protections For Wind Industry

Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Bald Eagle
Bald Eagle
- photo by George Gentry, USFWS

In a letter to the U.S. Department of Interior, American Bird Conservancy (ABC) called on the agency to suspend further consideration of a revised rule that would weaken protections provided to eagles pursuant to the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, by allowing private companies to apply for an unprecedented 30-year permit to kill these iconic species.

ABC, one of the nation’s leading bird conservation groups, instead called for the rule to be shelved until Sally Jewell, President Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Interior, has had time to fully review the proposal and evaluate its potential long-term impacts on eagle populations.

“The public places a high value on both Bald and Golden Eagles, two species that have inspired awe, pride, and patriotism in America’s citizens for generations. The Bald Eagle is America’s national symbol and was only removed from the endangered species list in 2007. Thus, this important and highly controversial decision should not be made without the full participation and careful consideration of the new Secretary of the Interior,” said Darin Schroeder, ABC’s vice president of Conservation Advocacy.

The new, far weaker, version of the eagle protection rule was drafted after requests from the wind energy industry, and represents a curious reversal of a FWS decision in 2009. At that time the USFWS wrote, “…the rule limits permit tenure to five years or less because factors may change over a longer period of time such that a take authorized much earlier would later be incompatible with the preservation of the Bald Eagle or the Golden Eagle.”

Currently, wind energy companies and other businesses can apply to FWS for a permit that allows them to unintentionally kill limited numbers of eagles as part of their normal operations if they also commit to a series of compensatory actions to offset this damage. A key part of these “programmatic incidental take permits” granted under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and implemented through additional regulations, is that the permits have to be renewed every five years. The five-year renewal allows the Federal Government to not renew the permit if there is good reason not to. The public is also allowed to take part in the renewal process. However, the revised rule allows FWS to issue permits good for as long as 30 years. By eliminating the renewal process, FWS also eliminates public oversight.

The Feb. 19, letter to DOI from ABC’s Schroeder also charges that invitation-only meetings were held regarding eagles and wind energy: “These meetings were held in response to a letter sent to the Secretary of the Interior last year, and they raise serious questions for the Fish and Wildlife Service related to the Federal Advisory Committee Act and other federal laws. Eagle take permits could affect the interests of many Americans and many industries, including the timber and rail industries, Indian tribes, and many more conservation and scientific organizations than have been allowed to participate in these invitation-only meetings.”

“All of these eagle meetings should have been open to the public. Eagles are too important to the American people for FWS to determine their fate behind closed doors,” said Mr. Schroeder. ABC’s letter requests FWS immediately stop holding the private eagle meetings and publish full transcripts of the eagle meetings that have already been held.

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