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.”