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Wind Energy vs. Bald Eagle: Audubon Society Blasts Rule on Allowing Eagle Deaths

A new federal rule expands the time allowed for accidental eagle deaths due to encounters with wind turbines.

Wind energy proponents and wildlife advocates disagree on what new wind turbine rules mean for the bald eagle. File | Patch
Wind energy proponents and wildlife advocates disagree on what new wind turbine rules mean for the bald eagle. File | Patch

The Interior Department has finalized a controversial regulation that authorizes permits for wind farms to allow accidental golden and bald eagle deaths for as long as 30 years, reports the National Journal.

A leading conservation group quickly denounced the rule that lengthens the current five-year permit for the unintentional deaths of eagles caused by wind farms and other facilities. Under the rule change the time period allowed for accidental eagle deaths will lengthen to 30 years, the National Journal says.

“Instead of balancing the need for conservation and renewable energy, Interior wrote the wind industry a blank check,” said Audubon President and CEO David Yarnold on the group’s website. “It’s outrageous that the government is sanctioning the killing of America’s symbol, the Bald Eagle. Audubon will continue to look for reasonable, thoughtful partners to wean America off fossil fuels because that should be everyone’s highest priority. We have no choice but to challenge this decision, and all options are on the table.”

The struggle between energy interests and wildlife groups has played out nationally, and in Maryland.

A wind power project proposed on the lower Eastern Shore in Somerset County was told in April to scale back its plans to safeguard the area’s bald eagle population, reports the Baltimore Sun. Federal wildlife biologists say the population of the once-rare national bird has grown so much that there are about 400 bald eagles along the mid-Atlantic coast, including 30 nests within 10 miles of the project in Somerset County, and three in the immediate vicinity.

The Sun said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service warned the developer of the Great Bay wind project that it "appears to present significant risk to eagles." The agency estimated the original plan to put up 60 turbines east of Princess Anne could kill up to 43 eagles a year. The developer's experts disputed that, projecting deaths of 15 to 18 birds annually, but the agency said even that lower rate would result in more eagle deaths than any other wind project proposed nationwide, according to the newspaper.

Wind industry officials told the National Journal their industry poses little threat to eagle populations and that the permits will provide regulatory certainty to developers of wind farms.

"The wind industry does more to address its impacts on eagles than any of the other, far greater sources of eagle fatalities known to wildlife experts, and we are constantly striving to reduce these impacts even further," the American Wind Energy Association said on its website.

Golden eagle deaths at wind farms are rare, the Wind Energy Association site says, and represent less than 2 percent of all human-caused eagle fatalities. The group contends only a few bald eagles have died in collisions with turbines.

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