On Wednesday, we celebrate American Eagle Day, officially designated by Congress to recognize the cultural, historical and ecological significance of our proud national symbol and to raise awareness of the threats it faces.
Ironically, Eagle Day comes just five days after Global Wind Day, a worldwide event “for discovering wind, its power and the possibilities it holds for our world” (as described on the globalwindday.org website).
The proximity of these events to each other is notable because, although it has the potential to be a green source of energy, wind power as it currently is being developed kills hundreds of thousands birds each year, including bald and golden eagles.
Decades of conservation efforts to recover our eagles from past threats such as overhunting and poisoning by DDT now are being countered at the behest of the wind power industry, which has pressured the government to weaken eagle protections.
In 2009, so as to protect wind companies that would otherwise be in violation of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (BGEPA – the landmark law protecting these majestic birds), the government introduced a special five-year permit scheme that lets the wind power industry and others kill eagles during the normal course of their business.
Rather than being grateful for a means to operate within the law, wind companies continuously have flouted BGEPA and lobbied for a longer permit duration.
Incredibly, the Fish and Wildlife Service now is poised to grant that request with proposals to extend the “take permit” length from five to 30 years and to weaken the standards required to obtain a permit.
Allowing energy companies to sidestep BGEPA flies in the face of sound science and common sense, disregards the high esteem that most Americans hold for these spectacular birds and puts thousands of eagles in danger.
Wind power is a black box with regard to eagle and other bird deaths. Companies are not required to report the birds they kill, and many simply fail to make an adequate monitoring effort. Independent scientists routinely are refused access to wind power facilities, and data given to the government often is kept from the public.
Some companies even falsely claim that this information is proprietary, as if they owned the public’s wildlife.
So, the birds that are publicly acknowledged as being killed therefore represent just a fraction of the true toll.
Wind power can be a valuable tool in the battle against global warming, but without transparency and accountability and with 30-year take permits handed out to an industry failing on both those counts, we will see more wind development in inappropriate places and more dead eagles.
American Eagle Day reminds us of how close we came to losing our nation’s symbol and should give us pause to consider how we treat it today.
The federal government needs to keep our eagles flying strong by abandoning its proposal.
Fenwick is president of the American Bird Conservancy.
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