USFWS Eagle Rule is Sound. Misleading Anti-Wind Detractors? Not So Much.

In public venues, in news media, and in social media, anti-wind zealots continue to deliberately spread misinformation about the United States Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) recent rules on eagles and the Eagle Conservation and Management Program.

Anti-wind alarmists claim that wind power companies have been given a “free pass” to harm bald eagle populations, up to 4,200 per year. This is false, and in most cases is a premeditated attempt to tarnish the reputation of wind energy by suggesting that wind power poses an unacceptable risk to eagles and wind power operations are being given special treatment not afforded to other energy producers. Neither is true.

Some clarifications are in order and, while they won’t stop the perpetually deceptive tactics of NIMBY wind opponents, they will help the public understand the truth about the USFWS rule.

To start with, the issued rule in not specific to the wind power. It applies to any person or entity that might unintentionally harm an eagle through an otherwise lawful activity, after first taking every step possible to avoid and minimize the threat. Other activities and industries that could potentially impact eagles that are eligible for permits are oil and gas development operations, farming and ranching operations, mining companies, utilities, and the transportation sector, among others.

While being presented by detractors as a recent development, the program itself is not new. Over 400 permits have been issued under this program since 2009, only three of which were issued for for wind power companies.

Contrary to some reporting and the public statements of paid anti-wind groups, impacts on bald eagles by wind turbines are vanishingly rare, with only a handful of recorded impacts in the four-decade history of American wind power.

Moreover, any entities that impact eagles without a permit – including wind energy operations – could face a severe penalty.

It is a gross mischaracterization of the rule to suggest that it gives entities a “free pass” to kill eagles without consequences. Only in return for working with the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to offset any potential harm to eagles and to provide conservation benefits to the species is a permit issued.

Because of incorrect reporting in the media and by deliberately misleading and politically motivated comments, Dan Ashe, the head of the USFWS elected to issue some clarifying remarks.  (Read Dan’s column on this subject:  “Our Unwavering Commitment to Eagles”)

On how the program conserves eagle populations, USFWS said, “Let me be clear: incidental loss of eagles is not new, and whether or not we issue permits, it will continue to occur. But our permit system enables us to reduce those losses and to secure action that compensates for unavoidable losses when needed. We can’t eliminate human-caused eagle loss any more than we can eliminate risk from any other facet of modern life. But these changes will enable us to effectively manage risks to bald and golden eagles and ensure the symbol of America maintains healthy populations for generations to come.”

Further, USFWS’s eagle conservation program does not provide permits to companies allowing them to kill any significant number of bald eagles each year. The number of eagle deaths the USFWS expects to authorize annually from all new sources will never come close to reaching thousands. They stated that this figure is in no way representative of the losses it expects, or would ever allow, under the eagle conservation program.

Rather, the figure represents USFWS’s scientific estimation of how many bald eagles could theoretically be harmed over and above current mortality rates, both through natural and all human-related causes, without the species declining due to reproduction rates.

USFWS said, “Some have mischaracterized the ceiling of about 4,000 bald eagles cited in our documents as the actual number of bald eagle deaths we intend to permit. In truth, this number represents the maximum number of bald eagles in the lower 48 states (with an equivalent number in Alaska) that our best scientific estimates indicate could be lost annually over and above current mortality rates by any means – both natural and human-caused – without resulting in population declines. The reality is we expect to issue just a few dozen permits annually, most for nest disturbance, some for loss from wind power projects and other sources, such as power lines… The total number of eagle losses we will authorize annually from new sources will be in the hundreds, not thousands, and we believe actual eagle loss will be significantly lower.”

On wind energy’s impacts on eagles, USFWS said, “Public attention on eagle loss in recent years has focused almost exclusively on wind energy. In truth, wind turbine collisions comprise a fraction of human-caused eagle losses. Most result from intentional and accidental poisoning and purposeful shooting. The majority of non-intentional loss occurs when eagles collide with cars or ingest lead shot or bullet fragments in remains and gut piles left by hunters. Others collide with or are electrocuted on power lines.”

The misinformation and deliberately misleading attacks by anti-wind activists do a disservice to the American public, which is deserving of accurate information.