A state inventory of California’ rarest animals, birds and plants reveals that Golden Eagle populations have suffered a precipitous decline statewide, including here in San Diego County. Statewide, only 141 element occurrences (eagle nests and foraging habitat) are listed in all of California. Locally, the inventory lists just 14 “occurrences” countywide—with only one (probably abandoned) nest remaining in East County.
“So much for Bittner’s estimates,” wildlife biologist Jim Wiegand with Save the Eagles International told ECM. David Bittner is the so-called eagle expert hired by major energy companies to justify wind projects locally. Bittner was convicted in federal court and sentenced in August to charges of failing to file data reports with the federal government and illegal taking of an eagle.
Wiegand has previously estimated local nesting sites at 10–a fraction of Bittner’s recent estimates.
Now, he says, “The 14 Golden Eagle occurrences listed for San Diego County probably represent no more than 8 nesting pairs of Golden Eagles. The one listed furthest to the aset is the abandoned eagle territory near the Ocotillo wind project that was described as being active in the EIS (Environmental Impact Statement).
Bittner had recently estimated that San Diego was home to 48 nesting pairs of Golden Eagles –and insisted that wind turbines posed no significant danger to them, though he claimed no active nesting sites existing near proposed turbine sites. His Wildlife Research Institute in Ramona had acknowledged a decline in eagle populations locally, but blamed that decline on hikers getting too close to nests.
Wiegand has suggested that wind turbines in Campo and Ocotillo may be to blame for eagle deaths, citing alarmingly high rates of eagle deaths at wind projects elsewhere, including the infamous Altamont Pass wind famr which has reportedly killed thousands of eagles through the years.
Bittner has taken over $600,000 recently from energy companies as a consultant on projects including Ocotillo Wind in Imperial Valley, Tule Wind in San Diego County’s ’s McCain Valley, and Energia Juarez Wind in Baja, Mexico.
Wiegand estimates that in all of California, only 75 to 90 nesting pairs of Golden Eagles remain. He notes that the California Natural Diversity Database, the inventory conducted by the state, reveals that approximately half of the state’s 58 counties now have no known Golden Eagle nesting sites. His estimate is based on data from a 2012 Bureau of Land Management survey and WRI data as well as the state’s inventory.
Rewire has reported that even before the state inventory data, Wiegand predicted that the Tule Wind project (recently approved by the federal government) could “devastate” Golden Eagles in our region, Rewire reported.
Despite these seemingly alarming facts, federal, state and county governments continue to approve and consider future projects for which Bittner provided the raptor studies, instead of ordering a moratorium on any new major project construction that relied on Bittner’s data pending evaluation by an independent wildlife biologist. Even more shocking in the wake of the species’ precipitous decline here, Iberdrola Wind is expected to apply for “take” permits for its Tule Wind project, allowing it to kill a limited number of Golden Eagles without risk of prosecution or fines.
For anyone else who kills eagles, there are steep federal penalties.
If the state’s inventory is accurate, Tule Wind could spell the death knoll for the species in our region, if built.
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