The American Bird Conservancy (ABC) this week asked the Department of Interior to reconsider its plan to allow wind energy companies to kill bald and golden eagles for a period of 30 years, instead of the standard five years. ABC requested that Department of Interior delay its decision on the plan until President Obama's nominee for Secretary of Interior, Sally Jewell, has time to review the proposal.
ABC's request is urgent because wind energy projects already in operation have already had a significant toll on raptor and bat populations, and the wind industry continues to expand rapidly. In the past month, NextEra Energy's North Sky River wind project killed its first golden eagle within weeks of beginning operation on the western edge of the Mojave Desert. Both the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club lodged a legal challenge against the North Sky River project, and NextEra ignored their concerns. Although the Sierra Club is a party to the protest, its national level communications have shown disregard for wind industry impacts on wildlife. The North Sky River facility will industrialize 13,000 acres of prime eagle foraging habitat.
The North Sky River facility was permitted by the Federal government despite its location near the notorious Pine Tree wind project, which feeds Los Angeles with electricity and has killed several golden eagles. The owner of the Pine Tree project asked US Fish and Wildlife for proof that the golden eagles found dead beneath its turbines were killed by the turbines and not some other cause- a greedy attempt to protect profits instead of protecting wildlife.
Neither North Sky River, nor the Pine Tree wind projects have "permits" to kill eagles. Interior's plan to extend 30-year permits would facilitate a more rapid expansion of the wind industry into areas with high ecological value by weakening one of the potential legal obstacles- the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. Congress passed this law to protect iconic species that play a critical role in ecosystems across the United States.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service has not yet prosecuted an offending wind project for killing eagles or other endangered bird and bat species. Wind turbines in the Altamont Pass have killed 67 golden eagles, among other species, each year for three decades. Wind companies have begun to replace older and smaller turbines with much larger machines- over 420 feet tall claiming that bigger turbines can reduce eagle mortality, although a study indicates larger turbines kill more bats.
The American Bird Conservancy's letter this week also raised concerns that invitation-only meetings were held by the US Fish and Wildlife Service last year with wind companies and select environmental groups to discuss the future of permits to kill eagles. The Obama administration promised more transparency in government actions, but its decision-making on wind energy have left much to be desired.
Dozens more proposed wind energy projects will scar America's southwest wildlands. Interior's plans to essentially look the other way as the industry slaughters more wildlife is shortsighted and promises centuries of future regret.