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Wind Energy vs. Bald Eagle: Audubon Society Blasts Rule on Allowing Eagle Deaths

A new federal rule expands the time allowed for accidental eagle deaths due to encounters with wind turbines.

By Deb Belt

The Interior Department has finalized a controversial regulation that authorizes permits for wind farms to allow accidental golden and bald eagle deaths for as long as 30 years, reports the National Journal.

A leading conservation group quickly denounced the rule that lengthens the current five-year permit for the unintentional deaths of eagles caused by wind farms and other facilities. Under the rule change the time period allowed for accidental eagle deaths will lengthen to 30 years, the National Journal says.

“Instead of balancing the need for conservation and renewable energy, Interior wrote the wind industry a blank check,” said Audubon President and CEO David Yarnold on the group’s website. “It’s outrageous that the government is sanctioning the killing of America’s symbol, the Bald Eagle. Audubon will continue to look for reasonable, thoughtful partners to wean America off fossil fuels because that should be everyone’s highest priority. We have no choice but to challenge this decision, and all options are on the table.”

The struggle between energy interests and wildlife groups has played out nationally, and in Northern California, including the wind farm at the Altamont Pass. The Golden Gate Audubon Society estimates that between 75 and 110 golden eagles are killed annually by windmill blades in the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area. 

A study for Alameda County put the annual figure between 2005-11 at an average of around 40 golden eagle deaths. 

Wind industry officials told the National Journal their industry poses little threat to eagle populations and that the permits will provide regulatory certainty to developers of wind farms.

"The wind industry does more to address its impacts on eagles than any of the other, far greater sources of eagle fatalities known to wildlife experts, and we are constantly striving to reduce these impacts even further," the American Wind Energy Association said on its website.

Golden eagle deaths at wind farms are rare, the Wind Energy Association site says, and represent less than 2 percent of all human-caused eagle fatalities. The group contends only a few bald eagles have died in collisions with turbines.

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