RICHLAND, Wash. – A national bird conservation group is asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to collect more information before it issues a permit for wind farms to kill golden eagles.
Central Oregon’s West Butte Wind Project has applied for the nation’s first golden eagle “take permit.” That would allow the wind farm to legally kill, harass or disturb golden eagles. Conservationists generally like the idea because it would help monitor golden eagle deaths at wind farms.
“This is not one of those situations where we look at it and go, ‘Absolutely not. Under no circumstances. No way. Never.’ It’s just, Fish and Wildlife didn’t meet the standards that it set. This is the first permit. It really needs to meet the standards because it’s going to set the bar for everybody else in the country,” Fuller said.
Fuller said the American Bird Conservancy would like to know how many golden eagles nest in Oregon and whether the population is declining. The raptors are shielded by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.
The American Bird Conservancy said it supports wind power, as long as it is sited correctly. The organization would like to see mandatory “take permits,” that also include migrating birds. Fuller said without regulations, like take permits, scrupulous wind companies might have trouble competing with those that are not concerned about birds.
“The developer for the West Butte Wind Project, it’s a good thing that the developer applied, rather than just proceeding without applying. That was the right thing to do,” Fuller said.
West Butte Wind project manager John Stahl said the company worked for six months to design a golden eagle conservation plan.
“Some of my partners were reluctant to do this. I guess they thought that it’d be best to not do it, and then if something happens, then we’ll try to fix it later. But I just thought if we could work something reasonable out with Fish and Wildlife to give it a try,” Stahl said in an earlier interview.
According to the proposed “take permit,” (PDF) West Butte will retrofit 11 power poles every year, the entire time the project is running. That will cost the company about $50,000 each year. If a golden eagle is killed at the wind farm, West Butte will have to retrofit 11 extra power poles.
But Fuller said the American Bird Conservancy worries that mitigation plan does not account for migrating songbirds, whose wingspan is not wide enough to cause many electrocution problems. Migrating songbirds would need different mitigation efforts. Fuller said there is also a potential for bald eagle deaths, which are not planned for in the take permit.