March 4, 2013
Canada, U.S.

Legal eagle deaths

Birdwatch | 04 March 2013 |

A month after a pair of Bald Eagles had their nest removed by a Canadian energy company, wind farms in the USA will now be immune from prosecution if they inadvertently kill the raptors.

Last month a pair of Bald Eagles had their nest removed from Summerhaven Wind Project wind power site near Fisherville, Ontario, Canada. The location is ultimately projected to support 56 wind turbines and be operated by NextEra Energy Canada, the largest North American producer of wind and solar power. The nest was well within Ontario’s Natural Resources Ministry recommended “minimum setback of 800 m from a renewable energy project component to a Bald Eagle nest”, but despite this, on 4 January the ministry issued a permit for NextEra to remove the nest and a large part of the nest tree the very next day. The company stated that removing the nest in the first days of January would allow the eagles time to seek an alternative location and “avoid disturbing them during their critical nesting period.”

While the Canadian incident may be a one-off, in the USA Bald and Golden Eagles have been shown to be at continued risk from being killed by wind energy projects, but in consequence the US Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed providing wind companies with extended and generous 30-year permits for the ‘programmatic take’ of eagles.

This is essentially a rule-loosening manoeuvre as, currently, the federal government allows renewable energy companies to get permits to avoid prosecution for the loss of a limited number of eagles as part of their normal operations – that is, through wind turbines and power lines – if they also promise to offset the damage.

Until now, the permits were renewed every five years, giving the public regular opportunity to assess a company’s site operations. Apparently, however, at the request of wind energy interests and in accordance with a recent rule change, the federal government is about to make the permits valid for a full 30 years without the possibility for public review.

When reviewing the five-year standard in 2009, the government concluded that it should not grant permits for longer than the five years “because factors may change over a longer period of time such that a take authorized much earlier would later be incompatible with the preservation of the Bald Eagle or the Golden Eagle.”

Clearly, there is no way to foretell the status of eagles accurately over the course of the next three decades, and the policy is considered far too lenient by many conservationists.

Requests have been made for the revised rule to be shelved until Sally Jewell, President Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Interior, has had time to fully review the proposal and evaluate its potential impact on eagle populations. The request from the American Bird Conservancy is available to read here:

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