Groups Oppose First-ever Plan to Allow Killing of Eagles at Wind Facility

Golden Eagle by Stewart Dawber

(Washington, D.C., February 12, 2014) Two leading conservation groups, American Bird Conservancy (ABC) and Biodiversity Conservation Alliance (BCA), have voiced opposition to a federal plan that would allow a proposed mega wind facility in Wyoming to kill from 46 to 64 Golden Eagles annually.

The two groups have submitted a 15-page letter in response to a request from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for comment on the eagle-killing proposal, called an “eagle take permit.” The proposed wind project is Power Company of Wyoming LLC's Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project (CCSMP) that may include up to 1,000 large wind turbines and would be located south of Sinclair and Rawlins in Carbon County, Wyo. The project received initial federal approval on October 9, 2012.

“ABC and BCA support the development of renewable energy resources such as wind, but it has to be done responsibly,” said Dr. Michael Hutchins, National Coordinator of ABC's Bird Smart Wind Energy Campaign. “The serious gaps in data and key information surrounding both the project and the proposed permit make it impossible to conclude that appropriate protections for eagles are being followed under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.”

BCA's Wild Species Program Director Duane Short explained, “Because eagles and other raptors fly, they leave no tracks or trails to discern accurate and consistent movement patterns. Their migratory and local movements are therefore very difficult to track and harder to predict. Sufficient definitive and long-term data simply does not exist to assure this colossal wind farm will not severely impact eagle and other bird populations in this important wildlife area. In fact, the data that do exist suggests just the opposite—that significant impacts will occur.”
The two groups offered a host of serious objections to both the project and the take permit. In regard to the take permit, they pointed out that this project represents the first-ever eagle take permit for a wind energy facility and questioned the decision to grant the first such permit to a facility that could become the biggest of its kind in all of North America.

“Common sense, business sense, and scientific integrity all demand that FWS first establish a pilot eagle take permitting program, specific to wind energy generation facilities,” asserted the groups. “Such a pilot program, involving only small wind energy generation facilities, is needed to assess ‘on-the-ground' effectiveness of eagle permitting. … [There is] absolutely no experiential data to back up the effectiveness of the eagle take permit requirement.”

Also referenced was the concern that Bald Eagles— has only recently been removed from the Endangered Species List and now under threat from a clearly burgeoning wind industry—face a precarious level of uncertainty for the future. It could also be anticipated that the issuance of this permit could be precedent setting and result in increased pressure on FWS to issue more permits similar to this first one.

Project proponents and permitting agencies also have not taken into account several other factors that could limit eagle populations, including climate change, diseases such as the recent West Nile Virus outbreak that killed at least 50 Bald Eagles in Utah, and habitat-impacting infestations such as the mountain pine beetle epidemic that has affected large swaths of coniferous forests from Canada to New Mexico.

Golden Eagle populations are believed by some to be on the decline throughout their range. In order to slow these apparent declines, it is necessary to understand current migration routes, important stopover areas, winter movements, and potential hazards in both winter and summer ranges. “To date, this information is woefully lacking,” the letter says.

Cumulative impacts to eagles from factors other than wind energy have apparently not been adequately addressed at any stage of the project design and permitting process. For example, the groups say that BLM must fully evaluate the impacts of early project development with nearby oil and gas developments, the TransWest Express transmission line, and any other proposed or potential transmission infrastructure projects. “These projects cannot be viewed in isolation,” said Hutchins.

Also at issue is the fact that migrating eagles have not been properly monitored; sufficient eagle presence or absence and long-term movement information has not been provided; and neither BLM, FWS, nor the project proponent have established meaningful monitoring accountability.

Additional concerns included:

The groups said that BLM should defer approval of further site activities until eagle radar tracking data, a required Avian Protection Plan, and an Eagle Conservation Plan are disclosed for public review and comment.

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