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Osage nation fears windmill farm will harm eagles, tribal heritage

A controversial project in Osage County has the Osage Nation worried about cultural heritage. A Chicago-based developer wants to build a wind farm right in the center of a prime spot for bald eagles.

The farm is going up west of Pawhuska near Highway 60 and Highway 18.

Scott Bighorse is the assistant chief for the Osage Nation. The eagle, he says, is a centerpiece of his tribe’s cultural heritage. Eagle feathers adorn headdresses or fans, and help the Osage people honor their spirituality.

“We come from the Eagle clan,” said Assistant Chief Scott Bighorse. “This eagle is the closest living being to God Almighty, and we actually believe that he can look God Almighty eye to eye.”

Osage County is a prime location for eagles. The tribe says eagles nest in nearby Kaw Lake and hunt in the Tallgrass Prairie Reserve.

The Sutton Avian Research Center says Oklahoma is home to more than 120 bald eagle nests. But on a site, near Burbank in Osage County, a windmill farm is in the works.

Wind Capital Group is building 94 windmills on this land.

It says the project will create hundreds of jobs and provide power to 50,000 homes.

The tribe is not opposed to alternative energy but is worried about what it would do to the eagles. Wind Capital Group has applied for what’s called an eagle take permit.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says that permit allows an individual or a company to remove eagles, whether it’s through moving their nests or killing them.

John Red Eagle is the Osage Nation’s Principal Chief.

“It takes away the population; it takes away the natural habitat of the bird, of the eagle, and we don’t want to disturb that,” said Principal Chief John Red Eagle.

The tribe says the windmill project will harm the eagle population to the point of tearing at the seams of the tribe’s cultural identity.

“Once the windmill’s up they say they’re only going to kill 10 eagles. Well, how do we know that?” asked Scott Bighorse, Osage Nation Assistant Chief.

Wind Capital Group issued the following statement Tuesday evening:

“As with every project we have developed, Wind Capital Group has taken every step necessary to ensure the safety of wildlife in the project area. At the Osage project, we have worked with the Fish and Wildlife Service on wildlife matters for over four years. We have worked with the Fish and Wildlife Service on ways to protect bald eagles, and will continue to take every step necessary to ensure their safety.

“We understand that new assertions have been made by the Osage Nation, but we have not had sufficient time to review them. Our understanding is that the Fish and Wildlife Service provides a forum for the Osage Nation to formally comment and us to review and respond to those comments.”