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Turbines get pass on killing eagles

Blue Mountain Alliance, a regional conservation group, recently raised objections to proposed federal guidelines that allow wind power turbines to kill a limited number of bald eagles and other raptors.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is revising its land-based wind energy guidelines, measures intended to conserve wildlife and their habitats, as the number of wind energy plants increases.

“We do not believe that the majority of people think that it is OK that our national bird is being reduced to a take for an industry that is not green and not clean,” said Debbie Kelley, Blue Mountain Alliance spokeswoman.

Birds are sometimes struck by the turning windmill blades; those losses are referred to in government language as “takes.”

The Blue Mountain Alliance, in a letter to the agency Aug. 4, said the guidelines are not rigid enough to ensure compliance by wind-power generators.

“They are not rules or regulations, they are suggestions,” said Kelley. “If they absolutely have to, they will issue takes for eagles and other raptors.”

Spokeswoman Joan Jewett of the FWS Pacific Regional office, said nothing in the law gives the agency authority over the development of wind power.

“The best thing we can do is come up with voluntary guidelines to help companies do the right thing as far as siting and … minimizing the effects of wind turbines on eagles,” Jewett said.

The guidelines also will employ a rule passed in 2009 under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, which allows wind developers to apply for permits authorizing incidental takes for eagles.

“The rule was developed in anticipation of the development of these guidelines,” Jewett said. “We got the permits in place, but we have not issued permits in this region yet.”

To obtain a permit, a wind turbine operator must develop an avian protection plan and take necessary steps to ensure its project is sited in the best possible place, participate in the mitigation program and monitor the windmill impact. The mitigation program requires companies to pay for improvements on powerlines and facilities that pose a threat to birds, Jewett said.

Even with the requirements, the Blue Mountain Alliance does not agree with allowing takes on eagles.

The first set of land-based wind energy guidelines was established in February and the latest draft is dated July 12. According the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s website, the public comment period for the next set of revisions ended Aug. 4.

The agency expects to have final guidelines in place this fall, Jewett said.