Oregon wind development will mark an important turning point for wind power and bird conservation

February 17th, 2012 · by Garrison Frost

Today, Audubon and the Portland Audubon Society submitted comments on an application for a permit that would allow the death or disturbance of Golden Eagles at a proposed new wind development near Bend, Oregon. The issuance of this permit potentially represents a major turning point in the development of alternative energy and its impacts on birds.  For the first time the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is attempting to directly address the impact of wind development on Golden Eagles, a fully protected species under the Bald & Golden Eagle Protection Act.

Audubon officials in general seek to find a solution that enables alternative energy development while at the same time ensuring the continued protection and growth of Golden Eagles. “Given the realities of climate change, it’s vital that we embrace alternative energy,” said Mike Daulton, Audubon’s Vice President of Government Relations. “But if we’re going to be issuing permits for development, it’s just as vital that we do it right.” (photo by Peter LaTourrette)

Golden Eagles are fully protected under the Golden Eagle and Bald Eagle Protection Act. Unlike the Endangered Species Act, there is no mechanism to allow for the killing or disturbance, called “take,” of these eagles. This presents a substantial obstacle for wind energy developers who face steep legal action if their turbines kill any Golden Eagles. The death of Golden Eagles at wind farms has pitted conservation groups such as Audubon against wind energy developments.

In recognition of the fact that some eagle mortality is unavoidable as renewable energy facilities proliferate across the western landscape, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has proposed a permitting process for wind projects that allows for the limited take of Golden Eagles if certain conservation efforts are included as part of the project, and if the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act regulatory standard of “no net loss” to bird populations is ensured. Further complicating this effort is the fact that even as the Service is drafting this permitting process, wind developers in Oregon are already applying for one.

“The Golden Eagle is one ofOregon’s most spectacular birds, and a species whose apparent population declines are generating increased levels of concern. It is critical that the Service create real protections for this species that minimize and fully mitigate for any impacts by development in their habitat areas,” said Bob Sallinger, conservation director for the Portland Audubon Society. “This is not just an opportunity to enable responsible wind development, but to also do right by a bird that has been greatly impacted by human activity.”

Audubon and local Audubon chapters have long sought to resolve the conflict between wind power development and bird conservation. LocalAudubonchapters first raised the alarm over theAltamontPassdevelopment in the San Francisco Bay area after it was learned that the project was killing thousands of birds a year, including Golden Eagles. Soon afterward, Audubon California hosted discussions with the America Wind Energy Association that eventually led to the California Energy Commission’s adoption of voluntary wind energy guidelines for the entire state of California. The federal government has recently moved to followCalifornia’s lead to develop national guidelines, andAudubonhas been a major contributor in those discussions.

“As our country has rushed to develop alternatives to carbon-based fuels, we’ve unfortunately set wildlife protections aside,” said Garry George, who oversees wind energy issues for Audubon California. “The goal in developing this permitting process is to identify wind project sites with unacceptable risk to Eagles that should be avoided, and to build in mechanisms that conserve Bald and Golden Eagle populations for sites that may have an acceptable risk to Eagles, track the impacts, and enforce violations when necessary. We want the guesswork taken out and we never want to see another Altamont.”

Categories: Alternative energy · Audubon California · Audubon Chapters · Bird conservation · Bird Habitat · National Audubon Society

7 Comments so far ↓

  • Joe Fiffick

    Is there a solution to this problem?

  • Wind farm files for first-ever eagle take permit – Ripe and Fertile Ground

    [...] groups appear to be striking a potentially conciliatory tone recognizing the importance of clean energy, but a challenge to the proposed take, and the wind [...]

  • Anne Stuart

    I’m heartbroken to hear of the damage evidently done at the Altamont Pass. I live about one mile away and hike very close to the wind turbines. I’m so glad that efforts are being made to protect these majestic and beautiful birds. A couple of years ago, my son and I passed three golden eagles on a fence close to Altamont. We turned around to see them. It was very exciting. Thank you so much Audubon Society for your outstanding work. I think the idea of a cage is a very good one.

  • Garrison Frost

    That question of the screens comes up quite a bit. And why not? We wouldn’t buy a house fan without one, right? But we’ve never seen this proposed, and our sense is that the cost would be astronomical, and put the economic feasibility of wind completely beyond the pale. Also, if one were to build a screen, it would have to be pretty small to keep all birds out, and that might reduce the amount of wind getting at the blades. All of this might be alleviated with the new vertical turbines that we’re hearing about.

  • Steve Loe

    Have their been protective shields tried that would keep the birds out but let enough air through?

  • DeeJay

    What kind of greed “allows” for the killing of just one of any protected or endangered species? Why can’t some kind of “cage” be built to cover the blades of the turbines that will permit the free turning of the blades but prevent the blades from taking the life of any bird?

  • Charles Kovac

    Hoping something can be worked out!
    One of my all-time favorite birds!