The government body in charge of permitting an Osage County wind farm to kill up to three eagles per year without penalty may be obligated to issue the permit, though cultural aspects including Indian burials may still affect the determination.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has not issued a federal bald eagle “take” permit yet to Wind Capital Group, a St. Louis-based energy organization that is opening the 94-turbine Osage Wind farm in Osage County.
The Osage Nation, which has oil and other mineral interests in the area, has battled the planned wind farm for years and objects to the possibility of eagle killing for cultural purposes involving the eagle.
“We believe the eagle is the only creature that can look God in the eye,” said Scott BigHorse, assistant principal chief of the Osage Nation.
The permit for Osage Wind – filed late last year – may be the first wind farm in the country to gain such a permit although 15 total permits for wind farms are currently being looked at by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for approval, according to a USFWS official.
Jerry Thompson, the USFWS chief of the Southwest Region Migratory Birds Permits office, said his office is charged with maintaining a balance among migratory bird populations, such as the bald eagle, and the environment that may hurt the birds’ survival.
“We’re faced with trying to balance the Osage’s religious, cultural needs and their dependence on eagles with the needs of the industry to be able to operate and make some money and satisfy our energy needs,” Thompson said.
USFWS numbers on eagle populations in the eastern Oklahoma region show that up to 4.78 eagles per year may be killed without severely damaging the overall population.
According to the Department of Wildlife Conservation, 800 to 2,000 eagles inhabit Oklahoma each year, with peak numbers in January and February.
Thompson said the USFWS eagle kill permit has many requirements for companies seeking the permit, and long-term studies and conservative estimates help determine how many eagles can be lost each year.
“So when a wind farm like Osage (Wind) comes in and our estimates shows that they are under that (4.78 eagles per year), then we basically, by our regulations, are required to issue a permit if the applicant meets all the requirements,” Thompson said. “And that’s the major requirement when it comes to eagles.”
The permit process – a new process for wind farms – is on a first-come, first-served basis, Thompson said. So if another company wanted to claim an additional permit in the same region, it could only be for the difference between Osage Wind’s 3-kill permit and 4.78.
The permit is voluntary to avoid fines associated with federal laws protecting eagles – up to $500,000 for a company like Osage Wind.
Several federal laws protect the national symbol from harm, despite the fact that the bald eagle was removed from the endangered species list in 2007.
Federal law protects both the bald and golden eagle by prohibiting “the take, possession, sale, purchase, barter, offer to sell, purchase or barter, transport, export or import, of any bald or golden eagle, alive or dead, including any part, nest, or egg, unless allowed by permit.”
Osage Nation officials say the USFWS process for determining the potential for eagles killed is flawed.
“They (Wind Capitol Group) have followed USFWS protocol, but it’s been with the USFWS guidance,” BigHorse said. “I still have a big problem with their numbers. … And once these turbines are up, who’s going to be there to monitor?”
As USFWS officials continue to look at the cultural impact the turbines could have on the environment and the Osage Nation, BigHorse said the area could also be home to a number of Osage Nation plots from when the tribal nation uprooted from Kansas and settled in Oklahoma.
“We’ve got to make a big push on (USFWS) to come to these tribes and check for culturally sensitive areas where there could be burials,” BigHorse said.
BigHorse said Osage Nation historians have been gathering information on possible Osage homesteads for about three years.
“We have maps that shows where every one of the 2,229 Osages that were allotted these lands,” BigHorse said. “We know exactly where their draws were for their homesteads.”
BigHorse said several of the homesteads have been plotted out and are within the wind farm’s acreage.
The next step would be to determine if there are family cemeteries within the area that could factor into debates on environmental and cultural impact, BigHorse said.
“I think there’s just been too big of an energy rush for this green energy, and they didn’t consider all the environmental consequences,” BigHorse said.
“Therefore, we’re creating, I think, some bad trade- offs in order to rush for that cleaner energy – which I’m all for clean energy and getting these emissions under control. But my goodness, we can’t shut down one industry that’s been a bad boy and then unleash another that’s going to be a bad boy.”
Original Print Headline: Eagle kill permit under scrutiny |
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