“Wind turbines installed in and close to eagle habitats will always kill eagles, and there are no exceptions. Years ago, in the 1990s, radio tracking studies proved that wind turbines were the number one killer of eagles, but the study authors downplayed this, claiming there were enough eagles in the population to replace those lost from turbines. Nothing today supports that claim.”
[Part I was yesterday]
It is clear now that some 31,000 eagle carcasses have been shipped to the Department of the Interior’s Denver Repository since the beginning of 1997. A very high percentage of them were killed by wind turbine blades and transmission lines directly associated with wind energy installations.
However, current rules, and ongoing refusals by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to comply with requests that it release data on where and how the eagles were killed, make it impossible to get honest and accurate data from the government or wind installation operators. No other industry is protected in this way from scrutiny and accountability.
What the public will be very surprised to learn is that most of the 31,000 eagle carcasses that have been sent to the Repository since 1997 were recovered in the field and then shipped there by FWS agents, as this NPR radio interview explains (first minute).
FWS field agents are very aware of how many eagle carcasses they have received from wind farms and fields surrounding wind turbines. These field agents also know exactly how many eagle carcasses they have stuffed into shipping boxes for the Repository. There is also a trail of paperwork and forms that they must fill out for all these eagles.
However, theses agents cannot say a word about eagle carcasses picked up from wind farms, because it is considered “official business” or “proprietary information.” What these agents do on a daily basis becomes part of the official record and belongs to the Interior Department. The official record must remain in the custody of the Interior Department until there is an official authorization for a release.
In other words, FWS agents are under gag orders, reflecting laws enacted in December 1996, just before the eagle carcass flood gates were opened up for agents at wind farms. From that day forward, these federal agents face penalties of up to three years in prison for releasing any information. (One has to wonder whether Internal Revenue Service agents face similar penalties for releasing taxpayer information to political groups, and whether FWS or other government agents face similar penalties for releasing information about coal or oil company violations of environmental laws or harm to sensitive species.)
This is what the PacifiCorp lawsuit is about. The wind industry wants to make sure there is never any authorization for releasing any of this Official Record pertaining to wind turbine bird mortality through the Freedom of Information Act or other avenues. (I know several FWS field agents that want to protect wildlife and would love to see the data released about the thousands of eagles and other highly protected species they have been recovering from around wind turbines. But their hands are tied, and the eagles continue to die.)
Turbines Kill Because of Proximity of Eagle Habitats
Today more than half the wind farms in America have been built in eagle habitat, and now wind installations are being built in and near bald eagle nesting and hunting areas. The Interior Department is fully aware that wind turbines are one of the primary killers of eagles. An FWS document even disclosed the fact that wind turbines are one of the primary sources of carcasses sent to the repository in Denver. The following statement is quoted from an FWS document written about 17 years ago, when the Denver repository was first established:
Eagles turned in to the repository typically have died of natural causes or fatal encounters with power lines, windmills, vehicles, illegal shooters or trappers. The Repository does not accept poisoned birds because of the hazard they pose to human health.
Since that time, the Interior Department has imposed a virtual blackout about the eagle slaughter by wind turbines and the extreme danger these turbines pose to eagle populations. During this same period wind energy in America has grown tenfold. Yet being listed as a primary source of mortality, the number of eagles killed by wind turbines and shipped to the repository since 1997 has to total many thousands.
Wind turbines installed in and close to eagle habitats will always kill eagles, and there are no exceptions. Years ago, in the 1990s, radio tracking studies proved that wind turbines were the number one killer of eagles, but the study authors downplayed this, claiming there were enough eagles in the population to replace those lost from turbines. Nothing today supports that claim.
The declining number of eagle carcasses sent to Denver from California tells a completely different story. Therelease of bird mortality data from the Interior Department would show this and would most likely also show that the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area has not been the wind industry’s biggest killer of eagles for several years, because there are so few of California’s golden eagles left.
The Interior Department is also hiding the golden eagle tracking data that it was given in the Bittner Case, as part of his settlement and conviction. This data, collected by a hired wind industry biologist, has never been made public. If released, the data would likely show that many golden eagles fitted with transmitters had their movements and transmissions stop forever at wind farms located in Southern California. The press release in this case says:
Judge Bartick sentenced Bittner to three years’ probation, a $7,500 fine, and ordered Bittner to provide the government with the raw data compiled from tracking birds from 2007-2012. Bittner had previously withheld this data, but now it can be used by government biologists to evaluate the effect of proposed projects on the bird population.
Of course, an analysis of dead eagles shipped to Denver since 1997 is by no means a final tally of our nation’s ongoing wind turbine slaughter. The carcass data record only eagles that were found in and around wind farms – and many are never found.
Over the years, FWS agents have collected thousands of eagle carcasses, as required by law. If the FWS Bird Report programis any indication, most of the eagle carcasses received by the repository are coming from wind farms. In the last five years (through 12/1/2014), America’s electric utility industry has reported only 534 incidents of eagle fatalities or injuries. During this same period of time, the Repository received some 11,000–13,000 eagle carcasses.
These eagles are not flying into buildings, getting hit by cars, being shot, getting killed by cats or dying from climate change, as the industry would like you to believe. The vast majority of them were killed by “environment-friendly” wind turbines and their transmission lines.
Carcasses of other highly valuable species have also been shipped to Denver and other FWS holding facilities. These FWS storage facilities contain carcasses of endangered species like the whooping crane, condor and Hawaiian goose. The history of these carcasses is also very important to fully understand wind turbine impacts.
The release of the Interior Department’s bird mortality data will definitely cause PacifiCorp and the wind industry “irreparable harm,” because the wind industry’s eagle slaughter will finally be fully understood. But irreparable harm to this lawbreaking industry should not be the issue. The issue should be irreparable harm to vital, majestic, threatened or endangered wildlife species.
The public will be outraged by these death tolls, and that will not be good for the wind industry’s image. On the other hand, releasing this information would be the best thing that could ever happen for the eagles living in North America – which is why I write these articles: to save eagles.
Will the PacifiCorp Case Be Stage-managed?
When one considers what’s at stake and the parties involved, it appears to be a forgone conclusion that this case will be stage-managed and manipulated.
The wind industry is supposedly suing the Interior Department, but there are incredible conflicts with this case. The Interior Department and wind industry have been working together for decades to conceal bird mortality data and advance an agenda of greatly expanding wind energy installations and reducing or eliminating supposedly more harmful coal, natural gas and nuclear electricity generating plants.
FWS agents pick up carcasses (evidence) from wind farms, the Big Wind industry has been given voluntary regulations, the industry is not required to report carcasses, it is allowed to employ monitoring and collection protocols designed to minimize carcass counts, and the Interior Department has been treating eagle carcass data like a national security secret.
One would think the Interior Department would be protecting our eagles, by allowing researchers and the public access to information on the cause of death for tens of thousands of eagles and on locations where the carcasses were found. These numbers are vital for management purposes and for protecting eagles. However, as I have pointed out many times, this has not been the case.
The reality is that the Interior Department will probably not fight very hard for these eagles, as that would almost ensure that incredibly damaging information is released. So it is likely that any court case will be stage-managed, the department will simply cave in and agree to PacifiCorp demands, and the court will issue and injunction agreeing to the collusive arrangement.
The wind energy industry will put forth compelling arguments for the judge, stating that not being able conduct their operations as they exist will hurt them financially and impair future wind farm developments. A decision in PacifiCorp’s favor would obviously perpetuate existing arrangements, under which the Interior Department and industry are working diligently together to keep eagle mortality a secret. The Department will continue to withhold key information, and agents who pick up carcasses around wind farms will continue to be silenced.
The public will continue being kept in the dark and lied to. But the real losers will be the thousands of eagles this industry has already killed and thousands more destined to be killed in the future, to “fight climate change,” reduce our reliance on “dangerous” fossil fuels, and ensure an “environment friendly” renewable energy future.
The “rule of law,” and our proud tradition of ensuring that no one – large or small, rich or poor – is above the law, would be tossed aside. Vital wildlife species would continue to be slaughtered on the altar of renewable energy mythology. And it would all be done to exempt a politically favored industry from environmental laws that are strictly applied to all other industries operating in these same areas, with virtually no allowances being given to those other industries for any bird or bat disturbances, injuries or mortalities.
For those that are not paying close attention, I will point out a highly suspicious pattern that has been taking place within our American court systems. Legal challenges to wind energy developments are being routinely dismissed, the Department of the Interior and Environmental Protection Agency are routinely engaging in cleverly designed “sue-and-settle” lawsuits designed to implement radical environmentalist policies, and decisions like the one recently handed down in Osage County, Oklahoma have become common.
Eagle carcass data hidden by the Interior Department would have provided critical evidence for people who are trying to save bald and golden eagles destined to perish from a proposed wind turbine development in Osage county. Instead, in dismissing a lawsuit, District Judge Robert Haney declared in his recent opinion that the wind turbine threat to wildlife was “speculative.”
In the first place, the impacts are hardly speculative: it is well known and documented that wind turbines maim and kill countless birds and bats every year; the only issue is exactly how many. Second, speculation (often wild, even absurd speculation) has driven numerous environmental lawsuits and court decisions for decades – over power plants, pipelines, timber cutting, oil and gas drilling, mining, snowmobiling and innumerable other human and industrial activities. Why should wind turbines be the only activity to be ignored on the specious ground that its impacts on wildlife are merely speculative?
Moreover, the adverse impacts from pipelines (for example) are typically small and short-term, compared to the impacts from wind turbine and their transmission lines, which are generally devastating and decades-long – or even permanent, if certain species are eliminated across broad nesting and hunting habitats.
A pro-PacifiCorp decision would perhaps not be surprising, however, since the wind industry and its political allies seem to control nearly all the investigations that produce bogus mortality data, and the Interior Department has long withheld the devastating truth about turbine-related eagle mortality in America.
Other Losers: Wildlife and Pseudo-conservationists
Of course, other players also stand to lose if the Interior Department mortality data are released. Among them are the two-faced “conservation” groups that support wind energy and have been getting paid by the industry not to interfere with the wind turbine invasion that is taking place in so many eagle habitats across America.
In the real world, these groups receive funding through donations from members and wealthy foundations that oppose fossil fuels and support wind and solar energy; but they also receive funding directly from wind energy companies, and even get paid for habitat and wildlife “mitigation” work after wind projects are approved. They also receive financial settlements from lawsuits like one dealing with California’s Altamont Pass wind turbine slaughter.
In the end, eagles and other rare species are still being slaughtered by turbines, while these groups walk away with significant financial gains and an undeserved reputation for protecting wildlife and environmental values from rapacious developers.
Here is an excerpt from a letter that a long-time Audubon member sent me, explaining this situation:
At a Mt. Diablo Audubon meeting, we had a presentation by the California Condor Recovery Program. After the presentation, I asked why they signed off on a permit for a Southern California wind farm to ‘take’ (kill) condors.
He said they looked at “the big picture” and accepted funding for their program for the next 10 years by the wind farm as acceptable mitigation for loss of a few condors. This is an example of moral bankruptcy, as they sold out Condors to have jobs for the next 10 years.”
What hurts the wind industry will thus impact the bank accounts of so-called “conservation” groups. That is why I do not expect them to fight much to block wind turbine installations, or even say a word on behalf of eagles affected by this PacifiCorp lawsuit.
Our current administration in Washington, DC also stands to lose if bird mortality data are released. President Obama has forced the public to accept its wind energy agenda, and most recent wind turbine installations have taken place under his administration and under an increasing cloud of secrecy.
Mr. Obama once promised that there would more far more transparency from his administration. Instead, the wind industry’s increasingly absurd and unscientific research, and its stonewalling over the release of any data about eagle mortality, reflects a total lack of transparency.
If there were transparency, the public would know all about these thousands of eagle carcasses, and how little energy these turbines really produce. If there were transparency, the public would know the number of bald eagles killed by wind turbines. If there were transparency, the public would know the number of whopping cranes lost because of wind turbines and how few still remain from this struggling population. If there were transparency, the PacifiCorp lawsuit would be dismissed in a heartbeat.
In the end, however, even if PacifiCorp wins this case because of insider manipulation or a lame defense by the Interior Department, all these parties will eventually lose in the court of public opinion.
Most people increasingly understand that the lawsuit to stop the release of hidden wind industry mortality data is really about PacifiCorp and Big Wind having something terrible to hide. Most people also understand that no amount of rigged research and propaganda will change the facts about what is actually taking place.
Over the last 30 years no other energy company or industry has had the liberty to kill eagles so indiscriminately while remaining above the law. PacifiCorp and Big Wind should no longer get away with this, either.
Jim Wiegand is an independent wildlife expert with decades of field observations and analytical work. He has devoted most of his life to researching, protecting and preserving bird and other species threatened by human encroachment and development.