Operators of the Stoney Corners Wind Farm in Missaukee and Osceola counties say they are considering obtaining a permit allowing the “taking” of a bald eagle if an eagle hits or is killed by one of its wind turbines.
Project Manager Rick Wilson said although the company doesn’t want to see any kind of bird suffer, there are more concerns regarding golden eagles than bald eagles because their hunting characteristics make them more likely to have a run-in with a 300-foot-tall wind turbine.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service expects to grant a permit to a 3,500-acre wind farm in California that would protect the wind farm’s operators from being penalized for five years for inadvertently causing the deaths of five golden eagles or bald eagles. In exchange for the permit, the company will pursue efforts to prevent the deaths of eagles by taking steps to keep them away from power lines.
Golden eagles tend to hunt ground animals and may be at higher risk of being involved in a collision because they are watching the ground for rodents, Wilson said.
Bald eagles tend to be more more skilled at avoiding hitting the turbines, probably because they have excellent eyesight and are known for being agile.
Wilson, who works for Heritage Sustainable Energy, said the company has to consider the option of obtaining a permit. It would be advantageous to already have the permit in case a golden or bald eagle does collide with a wind turbine.
Wilson said the company, which has other wind turbines besides the ones in the state of Michigan, is undertaking significant research into the impact of wind turbines on bats and birds.
A study at the Heritage Garden Wind Farm in the Upper Peninsula found that each wind turbine tends to kill six to seven birds each year and an equal number of bats.
The company is in the second year of a study in which it conducts a weekly survey of each turbine. The company documents the number of birds and bats killed at all its facilities, Wilson said.
He said company researchers have learned that there are much bigger threats to eagles than wind turbines, threats such as being poisoned by lead shot after eating deer and ducks hit by hunters, ingesting too much mercury by eating fish, contracting botulism and being hit by cars.
Generally, bald eagles are doing fairly well. Their numbers are recovering following a ban on the use of the insecticide DDT, which made it difficult for eagles and other raptors to reproduce, according to Scott Hicks, field supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Hicks works in the East Lansing field office.
Hicks agreed that golden eagles seem particularly susceptible to being killed by wind turbines. The outlook for other species is not so clear.
It is still relatively early in the development of wind energy to give a simple, definitive answer as to how much of a threat wind turbines pose to birds and bats, Hicks said. He added that researchers have discovered that wind turbines are more likely to kill bats than birds. Bats also are threatened by something known as white nose syndrome, which infects the muzzle, ears and wings of hibernating bats.
Wind energy developers can reduce the threat to bats by adjusting when they operate, for example, limiting night operation when bats are active, or by limiting operation at certain temperatures.
Hicks said that although wind developers are not required to apply for the federal permits, if a golden or bald eagle is killed by running into a wind turbine, the operators could be prosecuted under the Bald Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service does collaborate with wind developers to reduce the risk to animals that wind developments pose.
Hicks said until more is understood about the impact, it is best to locate wind farms outside of particularly sensitive areas, such as within three miles of a coastline.
Why it is important to you: Federal law protects certain species such as golden eagles and bald eagles.
What you need to know: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is making it possible for operators of wind turbines to receive permits allowing the deaths of a certain number of eagles without being penalized.
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