Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle Mortality at Wind Farms: The Sanitized–and Rest–of the Story
“I therefore suspect that the most likely reason for this missing information concerning eagle mortality at wind farm facilities was due to editing from the upper level positions within the ranks of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. These are same people responsible for the wind industry’s voluntary regulations.”
“So here is the rest of the story. Due to the lack of accountability and monitoring, a single permit could actually result in the death of a hundred of any species a permit is issued for. So much for ‘green’ energy and the public’s sacrifice for paying more for electricity.”
A few weeks ago, an article was published in The Journal of Raptor Research, “Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle Mortalities at Wind Energy Facilities in the Contiguous United States.” Information from this article was widely distributed by media outlets across the country. Most of the headlines said 67 eagles had been killed in five years or 85 had been reported killed over the last 15 years. Unfortunately these are the numbers that the public will remember — whereas the hideous truth about eagle mortality remains buried in disinformation.
The four authors of this study all work for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). The fact is that so much information is missing from the article is of great concern, because the truth about wind turbine impacts should be disclosed and discussed. Since the authors are experts, I do not believe they could possibly have been so remiss with their findings.
I therefore suspect that the most likely reason for this missing information concerning eagle mortality at wind farm facilities was editing by upper level supervisors and political appointees within the FWS. These are same people responsible for the wind industry having only voluntary regulations for monitoring and reporting wildlife mortalities due to their installations – whereas other industries are subject to mandatory requirements and stiff fines for any fatalities.
In order to illustrate the seriousness of the problems with the article, I will present only the closing statement, and then follow up with a new summary that includes missing information and facts, and my expert opinion.
Summary Paragraph: Actual Article
“This summary likely conveys only a limited portion of eagles killed at non-APWRA wind energy facilities in the contiguous United States, considering the general lack of rigorous monitoring and reporting of eagle mortalities. Thus, our findings of the reported mortalities likely underestimate, perhaps substantially, the number of eagles killed at wind facilities in the United States.
Even with this limitation, we report that blade-strike mortality of eagles is geographically widespread in the United States, and both Bald Eagles and Golden Eagles are killed. Given the projected growth in wind resource development in habitat frequented by Bald Eagles and Golden Eagles, estimation of total mortality and better understanding of factors associated with injury and death at wind facilities through robust and peer-reviewed research and monitoring should be a high priority”.
The Rest of the Story (Unbiased, Uncensored Summary)
The recent U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finding that 85 eagles were reported killed at wind facilities in the entire United States over the last 15 years is grossly understated. This figure actually covers only the small percentage of eagles that were killed outside of the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area (APWRA) wind energy facilities, in other parts of the contiguous United States. The undercounting of actual eagle fatalities is due primarily to the lack of monitoring and reporting of eagle mortalities by wind farm facilities.
The objective of this study was to summarize documented cases of eagle mortality at wind energy facilities in the contiguous United States, excluding Altamont Pass and bring attention to the hidden eagle mortality taking place at wind farms across the country. This ongoing slaughter of protected species applies not only to Bald Eagles and Golden Eagles but also to all other flying species that must share their environment with wind turbines.
Even though many records of these mortalities are not public domain, most eagle carcasses are discovered incidentally, and reporting of mortalities at wind energy facilities is primarily voluntary, a reasonable examination of eagle mortality can be made from data that are already known to researchers.
From the list of 85 eagle fatalities, it can be seen that blade-strike mortality of eagles is geographically widespread at wind energy facilities in the United States. The combination of food sources for eagles, soaring winds and wind turbines all occupying the same habitat will always produce eagle fatalities. This holds true for both Golden Eagles and Bald Eagles.
At least half of America’s wind projects are located in eagle habitat, and yet the numbers of eagle fatalities actually reported for these facilities are very low – so low, in fact, that many investigators have become very suspicious that a deliberate cover-up is going on.
For example, the eagle habitat in Idaho and Montana is among the highest quality habitat available to Golden Eagles anywhere in North America, and yet neither state has voluntarily reported any fatalities. Texas probably has the highest population of eagles and by far the most installed wind energy capacity in the contiguous 48 states, and yet it has voluntarily reported just one eagle fatality. At one time, New Mexico reported some wind turbine related eagle deaths, but it stopped reporting mortalities in 2008, even though its installed wind energy has nearly quadrupled since the state first reported an eagle mortality in 2004.
Today, the wind industry insists that the eagle mortality at Altamont Pass is an aberration. While expecting the public to believe this claim, it is voluntarily concealing most eagle mortality at other wind farms by employing inept studies, simply not reporting eagle deaths, and even by conducting no studies at all.
All the turbines at Altamont pass have been shown to be prolific killers of eagles, including the industry’s newest turbines. These are the same turbines installed at most other wind farms. Fortunately the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area happens to be one of the only wind energy facilities that are required to annually report and monitor eagle fatalities. Because of this, comparisons and projections can be made for eagle mortality at other wind projects located in eagle habitat, to contrast the number of deaths that would be expected with the number actually reported.
What is known from the last 15 years of studies in the eagle habitat at Altamont Pass is that approximately 1,200 Golden Eagles were killed by about 500 MW of installed capacity, for an annual death toll of 80 eagles. This is a death rate of 0.16 per MW/per year. In the Western States of California, Idaho, Colorado, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Wyoming and Washington, most of the industry’s 32,000 MW of installed wind energy capacity is located in eagle habitat.
This is 64 times more installed capacity than found at Altamont. At a mortality rate of 0.16 per MW/per year, this represents the possibility that 4,800 Golden Eagles are being killed each every year, based on the installed capacity in these states.
Another important fact known about eagle/turbine mortality came from 2008 mortality study conducted at Altamont on 38 large 1-MW wind turbines. From this one-year study, three Golden Eagles were reported killed by these turbines, even though mortality searches were a month apart and search areas were three times too small – which means many carcasses were carried off by scavengers in between searches, many landed outside the search areas, and other birds wandered off to die beyond the search perimeters. However, even at this low mortality rate (0.08 per MW/per year), based on actual carcasses found, it is very possible that 2,560 Golden Eagles are being killed each year in these eleven states.
But even if the actual eagle mortality is only a fraction of these two previous estimates, this still represents a devastating and unsustainable impact for Golden Eagle populations. Moreover, the wind industry plans to install at least 10-15 times their current installed capacity in the coming years. A large portion of this expansion will be taking place in the Golden Eagle habitat of these states. The Golden Eagle population in the lower 48 states cannot possibly survive this coming carnage.
The Golden Eagle population is in very serious trouble and most likely in a rapid state of decline in every Western State. A severe decline has already been shown to exist in Sothern California. It came from evidence I found showing an 80-90 percent abandonment of Golden Eagle habitat. However – because of an absence of cumulative impact studies, rigorous monitoring, and accurate reporting of eagle mortalities by wind farm facilities – the public has still has no clue how devastating the wind industry’s turbines have been to Golden Eagle populations.
Of the 85 fatalities reported by the industry, Bald Eagles represented 7% of the total. This too is considerable and alarming, since most of today’s wind projects are not located in Bald Eagle habitat. In the future, Bald Eagle mortality can be expected to rise dramatically, because the wind industry is rapidly expanding into Bald Eagle wetland habitats across North America. In a few short years, wind projects will most likely be killing hundreds of Bald Eagles annually.
It is vital that Federal law require competent, honest and accurate studies at every wind project located in eagle habitat, so that total mortality and the cumulative impacts from wind turbines on eagle populations can be better understood, and proper constraints are put in place, to keep these vital and magnificent birds from disappearing in numerous regions. Golden Eagles and Bald Eagles are protected species – with severe penalties imposed on any other persons or industries – and yet the wind industry is currently not required to disclose or even look for eagle mortality. Under these conditions wind turbine impacts will never be understood and eagle populations cannot possibly be managed or protected.
There is also one other critical implication of so much eagle mortality being concealed: not one wind industry impact statement used in the permitting process can be considered reliable, when evaluating the proper siting of wind projects. So the FWS gives wind facility operators “takings” permits for their projects – allowing them to kill unspecified numbers of Bald and Golden Eagles, as well as other endangered species – without knowing the true number of these species being killed, or how these deaths will affect biodiversity, habitat stability or even the survival of these species in many areas of the Lower 48 States.
So here is the rest of the story. Due to the lack of accountability and monitoring, a single permit could actually result in the death of a hundred of any species for which a “takings” permit is issued. So much for wind power being “green” or “environment friendly” energy – and for taxpayers and ratepayers being forced to pay to subsidize this industry and then pay more for the electricity it generates.