Bird Group Sues Over Federal ‘Take Permits’ Allowing Eagle Deaths At Wind Farms

A national bird conservation group is going to sue the federal government over a 30-year permit it will issue to wind farms. | credit: Flickr Creative Commons: ahisgett
A national bird conservation group is going to sue the federal government over a 30-year permit it will issue to wind farms. | credit: Flickr Creative Commons: ahisgett


By Courtney Flatt, Northwest Public Radio

It’s essentially a fight between conservation-minded groups. On one side, renewable energy companies want to build wind farms. On the other side, bird advocates don’t want those giant, blade-spinning wind turbines to harm bald and golden eagles.

Now, a national bird conservation group is going to sue the federal government over a 30-year permit it will issue to wind farms.

The permit will allow wind farms to legally kill a certain number of eagles. The birds are shielded by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

Matthew Stuber, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Region 1 eagle permit coordinator, said take permits have been an important management tool since 2009.

“A permit allows an activity to happen that needs to happen. And in doing so, it gets the best possible thing for the eagles. We’re actually able to get conservation, and hopefully in the long run, prevent that nest from begin disturbed at all by that activity.” Stuber said.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service originally wanted to grant five-year permit. West Butte Wind Farm in Central Oregon was the first facility in the nation to apply for a five-year “take” permit.

But the wind industry complained that five years was not enough time to find financial backers and get the project up and running. It wanted more continuity.

Now, to provide that continuity for wind farms, the service has extended the permit to 30 years. Permits must be reviewed every five years.

The American Bird Conservancy is suing the U.S. Department of Interior over the 30-year rule.

Michael Hutchins, the American Bird Conservancy’s bird-smart wind energy coordinator, the 30-year permit will make the process less transparent.

“Data on things like bird fatalities at a particular institution might be hidden from us, and therefore, it would be very difficult to do a legitimate review of what is exactly going on at any one of those facilities,” Hutchins said.

For its part, the Fish and Wildlife Service says this 30-year permit means regulators will have to anticipate more problems ahead of time.

“Before we issue a permit, since it’s a lot longer time frame, we need to try to foresee more possible situations and have a better, what we call, adaptive management plan as a part of these permits. That way, when we come in for the five-year check-in, we have things on paper of what we’ll do to respond to certain situations,” Stuber said.

Companies mitigate for eagle deaths upfront. One way to do that is to retrofit existing power poles, where historically, a lot of eagles have been electrocuted when their wings touch two power lines at the same time.

Fish and Wildlife officials say they can quantify how many eagles will be saved be retrofitting a certain number of power poles.

Hutchins said the American Bird Conservancy is not against wind energy. He said wind farms need to be sited properly to not disturb or kill eagles, even if they are producing green energy.

“It’s just a really big price to pay. I don’t think that we can see these resources as collateral damage to try to win the fight on climate change,” Hutchins said.

Bird Mortality at Wind Farms

Feds will let wind farms kill eagles for 30 years

By John Upston, Grist

The Obama administration recently sent a big message to the wind energy industry, imposing a $1 million fine under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act for a wind farm that killed birds in violation of wildlife rules.

On Friday, the administration sent a different message when it moved to make such rules more lenient.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it would begin handing out permits that give wind companies permission to unintentionally kill protected bald and golden eagles for 30 years, provided they implement “advanced conservation practices” to keep the number of deaths low. Such permits had previously been capped at five years.


Some wildlife advocates were appalled by the move, which they had opposed. From The Hill:

In a statement sent to The Hill, the president of the National Audubon Society, David Yarnold, said that the administration “wrote the wind industry a blank check,” and indicated that a court challenge court be in the works.

“We have no choice but to challenge this decision, and all options are on the table,” he added.

The wind energy industry, meanwhile, tried to put the bird-killing habits of some of its operators in context, pointing out that similar “take” permits are available for dirty energy producers. From an American Wind Energy Association blog post by John Anderson, an expert on turbine siting, which, when done well, can be one of the best ways of avoiding bird deaths:

The wind industry does more to address its impacts on eagles than any of the other, far greater sources of eagle fatalities known to wildlife experts, and we are constantly striving to reduce these impacts even further. In fact, the wind industry has taken the most proactive and leading role of any utility-scale energy source to minimize wildlife impacts in general, and specifically on eagles, through constantly improving siting and monitoring techniques.

Remember, the federal government won’t be handing out permits allowing wind turbine owners to kill birds carte blanche. “The permits must incorporate conditions specifying additional measures that may be necessary to ensure the preservation of eagles, should monitoring data indicate the need for the measures,” the new regulation states.