The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it will engage in public comment as it works to revise a rule governing how permits are issued for wind turbine develop.
The service released an evaluation of its new eagle management objectives to the Federal Register pertaining to the building and permitting of wind turbine farms.
The Federal Register states the Service has established a rule that allows for permits to be issued for reoccurring bald and golden eagle deaths in the same location as a direct result of collisions from rotating wind turbines. In addition, the Service has extended the eagle take permits from five years to 30 years.
The American Bird Conservancy, a bird conservation organization, filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Department of the Interior on June 19. The lawsuit claims the service has violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act when creating the permits.
The following day, the service announced it will host five public-information meetings in various locations around the country and opened a 90-day public-comment period.
Eliza Savage, an eagle regulations coordinator for the service, said permits have not yet been issued to wind turbine companies to allow for eagle deaths, but they plan to begin issuing them soon.
Currently, only permits for nest disturbance during the construction of wind farms have been issued.
Savage said the service hopes the new rules would provide more regulatory certainty when permitting wind developers.
“One thing we do want to come out of this process that we’ve undertaken is that we could do such a great comprehensive analysis under NEPA that we would be able to expedite permitting in the future,” Savage said.
“We could do something we haven’t done yet, which is really analyze thoroughly what it would look like to cumulatively permit a whole bunch of them so we don’t have to struggle so hard by issuing one at a time.”
She said the eagle take permits are not based on impacts to local area population of eagles but on the larger geographical area.
Savage said the service is also asking for public input on potential options for conservation actions to replace or offset project-induced losses called mitigation. Mitigation may include requiring permitted developers to fund conservation education programs. The service is asking for public input so those standards would be consistent for all developers.
She said wind turbine developers are not required to complete an Environmental Impact Statement or similar evaluation.
However, she said the service does issue permits to allow wind developers to remove dead or wounded birds to reduce the number of predators that might become attracted to the area. She said the developer reports the mortality rates to the Service and it is stored in databases. She said the Service does plan to make that information public for facilities that receive eagle take permits.
The Service states the permits could help project operators since bald and golden eagles can be impacted from directly colliding with wind turbines, nests can be disturbed from construction and stress in migratory areas can cause reproduction failure to a degree that could account for prohibitive take. The service states its new objective is “to not meaningfully impair the bald or golden eagle’s continued existence.”
Dr. Michael Hutchins, a national coordinator for the American Bird Conservancy’s Bird Smart Wind Energy Campaign, said the organization feels a public comment period and a detailed analysis should have been released before the permitting rules were established.
“We and others have been commenting on this from the very beginning and were ignored,” Hutchins said. “We do not think that our nation’s symbol should be treated as collateral damage in our fight against climate change since much of the problem can be addressed through appropriate siting and mitigation.”
Comments can be submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service online at www.eaglescoping.org.
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