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Proposal for eagle-kill permits creates stir

Conservationists are criticizing a proposal to lengthen from five years to 30 years federal permits for the unintentional killing of eagles.

The changes to “programmatic incidental take permits” are part of broad efforts to provide clearer ground rules for wildlife impacts as public lands are opened up to wind farms and other renewable energy development.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is accepting public comments until noon on July 12 on the proposal. Regulators contend the changes would allow for more responsible development.

Spinning turbine blades inevitably kill some birds, and scientists say they are only starting to understand the impact of wind farms on vulnerable bird populations.

Kelly Fuller of the American Bird Conservancy said allowing 30 year permits would make it difficult to respond if eagle populations run into unexpected trouble.

“There are just too many uncertainties to be able to give that permit out for that period of time,” said Fuller, wind campaign coordinator for the Washington D.C.-based group.

The Fish and Wildlife Service administers eagle take permits under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. The legal provisions allow businesses to kill limited numbers of eagles during normal operations. In return, permit holders commit to compensatory measures designed to offset the damage.

The wind industry favors the lengthier permits, as well as provisions allowing them to be passed from one party to another without expiring.

Late last year, the West Butte Wind Project in central Oregon became the first turbine plant to apply for an eagle take permit.

Although no permits have been requested locally, the changes hold implications for wind development in eastern San Diego County and the neighboring Imperial Valley, where several large wind projects are in various stages of planning and construction.

Wind developers in the San Diego area have taken great pains to survey eagle populations and work around nesting areas, said David Bittner, executive director of the Ramona-based Wildlife Research Institute.

The institute has documented 47 pairs of golden eagles in central and eastern San Diego County, he said.

This year was an excellent breeding year, with 33 young counted, but the golden eagle population has dwindled substantially over the past 60 years with the rapid encroachment of human development.

Download: Extending eagle ‘take’ permits

[Also published as “Wind industry, conservationists at odds over eagle-kill permits“]