Wind and Eagles
A Blueprint for Eagle Conservation
The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has developed a draft Eagle Conservation Plan Guidance document which specifies how it will work with the wind industry to ensure that new wind farm facilities are in compliance with the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. In the 2009 Final Eagle Permit Rule, the Service laid out how it will, at its discretion, issue "take" permits that allow for limited mortality and disturbance of bald or golden eagles by wind power facilities. These permits will only be issued in cases where the Service's own assessments indicate that doing so will not cause declines to the overall, regional population of eagles. In many cases, the permits will be issued with accompanying requirements that the project developer implement conservation practices on-site, and possibly mitigation measures off site as well.
Wind farm developers will be required to prepare Eagle Conservation Plans for proposed wind farms, and are to consult with the Service repeatedly, starting in the early planning phases of each project. The Service recommends using a five-stage, iterative decision-making approach for assessing and addressing the impacts that proposed wind farm facilities might have on eagles:
- Stage 1 - Landscape-level site assessments: identify potential wind facility sites and assess these areas as to their relative importance for breeding, non-breeding, wintering, and migrating eagles.
- Stage 2 - Site-specific surveys and assessments: collect quantitative site-specific data through scientifically rigorous surveys designed to assess the potential risk of the proposed project to eagles at and surrounding those proposed wind facility sites which pass Stage 1.
- Stage 3 - Risk assessment; (predicting eagle fatalities): input data from Stage 2, along with site characteristic risk-factor assessments, into USFWS models that generate quantitative outputs for predicted eagle fatalities per year.
- Stage 4 - Avoiding, minimizing, and mitigating impacts: implement Advanced Conservation Practices and compensatory mitigation.
- Stage 5 - Post-construction monitoring: document annual eagle fatality rates and disturbance effects and identify practices that can be improved in order to continually reduce these numbers.
Based upon the outcomes of the first three stages, proposed sites will be categorized into one of four risk categories:
- Category 1 - High risk to eagles with low potential to avoid or mitigate impacts
- Category 2 - High to moderate risk to eagles with opportunities to mitigate impacts
- Category 3 - Minimal risk to eagles
- Category 4 - Uncertain risk to eagles
Category 1 sites are unlikely to obtain approvals. Sites in other categories will be required to implement Advanced Conservation Practices; sites which cannot fully offset risks to eagles through Advanced Conservation Practices will be required to do compensatory, off-site mitigation as well.
National Audubon prepared comments on the guidance in 2011 which were co-signed by 76 Audubon chapters, Defenders of Wildlife, Natural Resources Defense Council, The Wilderness Society, the National Wildlife Federation, and the Sierra Club. Among other things, in these comments we expressed our opinion that the framework is conceptually strong and could provide a needed mechanism for protecting vulnerable eagle populations IF eagle permitting is treated as a requirement of project approvals, IF rigorous and standardized procedures are used by project proponents, IF adaptive management practices are employed by both proponents and the Service, and IF the persistent problem of unauthorized take is addressed. (See below for Audubon's comments on the Eagle Guidance can be found).
In February 2012, Audubon submitted comments on Oregon's West Butte Wind Project, the first wind facility to apply for a take permit under these rules. These project-specific comments build from the foundation laid in our 2011 comments on the Eagle Guidance. Our detailed response to this request for an eagle take permit reflects the fact that this permit will be precedent-setting. (See below for Audubon's comments on West Butte).
Recently, the wind industry has asked the USFWS to change the required permit for taking of golden and bald eagles at wind facilities from five years to 30 years. Audubon is preparing comments on this proposed change. Audubon opposes a 30 year term, and we have already conveyed that position to both the USFWS and to the wind industry. Audubon believes such a lengthy term is inconsistent with the protection of eagles. There is simply too much uncertainty over the status of eagle populations to commit to such long time frames and the proposal may constrain future adaptive management action. We also will be calling attention to the many significant data gaps that impede effective management of eagle populations as required of the Service under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. Ensuring that the USFWS has sufficient funds to carry out this work, as well as the need for a better array of mitigation options, will also be included in our comments.
National Audubon Society's comments on the Eagle Guidance (PDF)
National Audubon Society's comments on the West Butte Wind Project (PDF)
USFWS Wind Energy Development Information
USFWS Eagle Permit Definitions
Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act
2009 Final Eagle Permit Rule (PDF)