Audubon Opposes the Interior Department’s 30-Year Eagle Permit Rule for Wind Farms

Bald Eagle
Jim Grey

Summary

Audubon supports strong federal protection for the Bald Eagle, America's national symbol, and the majestic Golden Eagle under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. But a December 2013 rule by the U.S. Department of the Interior would weaken protections for eagles by making it possible for wind energy companies to acquire 30-year permits to kill and injure eagles. Audubon strongly supports properly sited wind energy, but this new Interior Department rule fails to provide the protection eagles need That's why we've put all options on the table to oppose the rule.

What Does Audubon Say about the Rule?

Audubon President and CEO David Yarnold issued the following statement to media nationwide: "Instead of balancing the need for conservation and renewable energy, Interior wrote the wind industry a blank check. It's outrageous that the government is sanctioning the killing of America's symbol, the Bald Eagle. Audubon will continue to look for reasonable, thoughtful partners to wean America off fossil fuels because that should be everyone's highest priority. We have no choice but to challenge this decision, and all options are on the table."

What Does the Rule Do?

The rule weakens protections for eagles by making it possible for the U.S. government to issue 30-year permits to wind energy companies to kill or injure Bald and Golden eagles, which are otherwise protected from harm by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. You can read the full rule at this link: http://www.ofr.gov/OFRUpload/OFRData/2013-29088_PI.pdf.

Why Is This Rule a Bad Idea?

Today, wind companies are required to obtain a five-year permit, and those permits can require them to take steps to conserve eagles. But in moving to 30-year permits, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has not approved a single Advanced Conservation Practice (ACP) that is scientifically defensible, so permits cannot be written now with scientifically sound practices for reducing eagle mortalities. Furthermore, the agency also has made clear that it does not have the resources to monitor these permits adequately.

This rule was not necessary to promote responsible wind power development; the Department of the Interior simply gave up on finding a solution that would both protect eagles and promote wind power.

With no effective conservation measures in place, and without adequate monitoring capabilities, the government would be locking in unproven and ineffective permit conditions for decades while protecting the wind industry from enforcement. It is a recipe for more dead eagles.

How Dangerous are Wind Farms to Eagles?

Wind farms kill eagles. The infamous Altamont Pass alone kills 65-70 eagles per year, and a study released in September 2013 by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists documented an additional 67 eagle deaths elsewhere over the last five years. But those are just the ones we know about. The toll is likely higher, and it's increasing. Nationwide, wind turbines have been estimated to kill 573,000 birds per year, including 83,000 raptors.

How Does This Rule Relate to the Wind Industry Guidelines Audubon Promoted?

Audubon supported and helped develop federal guidelines for the wind industry, released in 2012, to help minimize harm to birds and other wildlife. Of course, in order for those guidelines to be effective, the government must enforce existing laws that protect birds and other wildlife, including the Endangered Species Act, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. That enforcement is undermined by this new rule granting 30-year authorizations to kill eagles, which is why we're challenging it.

Does Audubon Support Wind Power?

Yes. Audubon strongly supports properly sited wind power as a renewable energy source that helps reduce the threat posed to birds by climate change. However, we also strongly advocate that wind power facilities should be planned, sited, and operated in ways that minimize harm to birds and other wildlife, and we advocate that wildlife agencies strongly enforce the laws that protect birds and other wildlife. You can read more about our position on wind power at our Wind Power Overview page.

What is Audubon Doing About the Rule?

We're challenging this rule, and all options are on the table. We will keep our network informed about how we plan to move forward in opposition to this measure, which weakens protections for eagles.

What Can I Do?

Send a message to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell online through Audubon's Action Center or by mail to Secretary Sally Jewell, Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street NW, Washington DC 20240.

If you have contacts within regional U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offices, voice your concerns about this permitting rule to the FWS biologists and others with whom you work.