Bird-Smart Strategies

We have an opportunity now—before tens of thousands more turbines are built—to significantly minimize bird mortality through Bird-Smart strategies, including mandatory permitting and improved science that lead to proper siting and mitigation.

Birds flying toward turbines, J Marjis/Shutterstock

What is Bird-Smart Wind Energy?

We developed and support the concept of “Bird-Smart” wind energy development, which is designed to minimize bird fatalities. Bird-Smart wind energy adheres to the following principles:

  • Ensures turbines are located away from high bird collision risk areas;
  • Employs effective mitigation to minimize bird fatalities;
  • Conducts independent, transparent post-construction monitoring of bird and bat deaths to help inform mitigation and;
  • Calculates compensation for the loss of ecologically-important, federally-protected birds.

We also recognize and promote the immediate need for innovative, scientifically valid research aimed at developing effective methods for pre-construction risk assessment and post-construction monitoring of bird (and bat) deaths.

Golden-winged Warbler

Golden-cheeked Warbler, Larry Thompson

Our Goal: Reduce the Loss of Birds from Wind Energy Development

We seek to reduce the loss of birds, particularly threatened, endangered, and other protected species, by:

  • Working to strengthen state and federal regulations governing wind energy development;
  • Encouraging independent, scientifically-valid pre-construction risk assessment and planning to ensure that wind turbines stay out of sensitive areas for birds;
  • Opposing the worst-sited wind energy projects;
  • Encouraging the development and use of effective methods of mitigation;
  • Fighting for scientific rigor and transparency in the collection and reporting of bird kill data;
  • Seeking compensation when public trust resources are taken; and
  • Educating the public and key decision makers.

Although offshore wind power is not yet operational in the U.S., an analogous set of siting, operating, and compensatory measures need to be developed to make it Bird-Smart.

Piping Plover and chick, Steve Byland/Shutterstock

Components of a Bird-Smart Wind Energy Project

The most critical component of Bird-Smart Wind Energy is proper siting. Wind energy projects should not be placed in sensitive areas for birds, including key migratory routes and stopover sites; breeding and nesting sites; areas where large numbers of birds congregate for feeding; or in sensitive habits, such as wetlands.

All wind energy projects should have an Avian Protection Plan that includes ABC’s Bird-Smart principles, as well as a means of implementing, tracking, and reporting through an open and transparent process.

Wind energy facilities should also comply with relevant state and federal wildlife protection laws such as the Endangered Species Act (ESA), Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (BGEPA), and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Currently, the laws are not being enforced with regularity.

We support the development of mandatory permitting regulations for all energy development, including wind energy. In 2014, we wrote to the Secretary of the Interior requesting that DOI and FWS conduct a National Wind Energy Environmental Impact Statement  that would identify areas where wind turbines should not be built.

Unfortunately, DOI has indicated that it cannot afford to undertake such a study at this time, although such a project is being undertaken in the Midwest due to risks to the endangered Whooping Crane.

Golden Eagle, dirkr/Shutterstock

Consideration for Eagles

Raptors, including Golden Eagles and Bald Eagles, are among the most vulnerable to wind turbine strikes and deserve special consideration. Although their eyesight is excellent, the birds often focus their attention on the ground, looking for prey, and can be injured or killed by the rapidly revolving blades. More than 2,000 Golden Eagles have been documented as killed at the infamous Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area in California.

Bald Eagle populations in the United States have recovered following a ban on the pesticide DDT, although not to the levels seen before DDT use was prevalent. However, both Bald and Golden Eagles are still protected by federal law under the BGEPA and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act MBTA. It is unlawful to kill, disturb or otherwise harass eagles, yet many have been killed by wind energy projects.

In order to protect eagles, FWS developed Eagle Conservation Plan Guidance for wind energy companies. This plan intends to protect eagles from wind energy development by limiting the number of eagles that can be legally killed by any given wind energy facility and by considering cumulative impact. Under this system, wind energy companies can obtain incidental take permits to kill a limited number of eagles, with the stated goal being no net loss to eagle populations.

Bald Eagle with chick, Robike Noll-Fories

30-Year Eagle Take Rule

As part of this guidance, and at the insistence of the wind energy industry, FWS decided to extend its incidental take permit from five to 30 years. In making this controversial decision, the FWS claimed a categorical exclusion from NEPA, stating that the change was merely “administrative” in nature.

ABC disagreed and filed suit in federal court in San Francisco in 2014, claiming that FWS violated both NEPA and BGEPA by failing to go through the NEPA process before finalizing this regulatory change. NEPA requires careful analysis and public comment before implementing new rules and regulations that have the potential to impact the environment, including federally-protected species.

FWS also failed to consult with Native American tribes before implementing this rule, which is also required by law. The confederated tribes of Arizona have filed an amicus brief supporting our lawsuit and describing their cultural interest in eagles and eagle conservation.

We’re pleased to have won this case in 2015. Now, FWS has introduced a new plan which still includes 30-year permits and the killing of a significant number of eagles. We are carefully reviewing the scientific basis of the plan.