FWS proposes permit letting project developer ‘take’ golden eagles

Source: Phil Taylor • E&E • Posted: Wednesday, January 4, 2012

 

The Interior Department today released a draft proposal to allow a wind energy company to kill or harass protected golden eagles, a first-of-its-kind permit that drew cautious optimism from a bird advocacy group.

The Fish and Wildlife Service released its draft¬†environmental assessment¬†(EA) of a request from West Butte Wind Power LLC for a permit to allow the “take” of golden eagles at the company’s proposed wind project in central Oregon.The company was the first to apply for a take permit under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act under regulations FWS adopted in 2009.

As proposed, the West Butte permit would allow the company to kill as many as three golden eagles over a period of five years if the company meets its conservation commitments, FWS said.

“Our goal is to maintain stable or increasing populations of eagles protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act,” Chris McKay, assistant regional director for migratory birds and state programs in FWS’s Pacific Region, said in a statement.

Agency regulations allow permits to be issued if wind farms are otherwise lawful and the take is unavoidable even after strict conservation steps are taken, among other criteria.

The wind project, which includes up to 52 turbines about 30 miles east of Bend, is in an area not heavily used by golden eagles, the agency said. But the project must ensure there is no net loss to the bird’s breeding populations.

Kelly Fuller, wind campaign coordinator for the American Bird Conservancy, praised West Butte for being the first company to apply for the permit and said it gives the conservationists more opportunity to participate in the development process.

Federal law has long prohibited the taking of bald and golden eagles, but the restriction has rarely been enforced.

“This is an extremely important permit. … It’s precedent-setting,” she said, adding that ABC will be asking FWS extend its public comment period to an additional 30 days from the current deadline of Feb. 2.

The documents’ hundreds of pages will need more time for careful review, she said.

ABC last month petitioned Interior to develop a formal permitting process to comply with the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which makes it a crime to kill any migratory birds (Greenwire, Dec. 14, 2011).