“The courts must reject the PacifiCorp request that eagle mortality data be kept confidential and hidden from public scrutiny. Moreover, Congress, the news media, environmental groups, and concerned citizens everywhere must demand that the information be released in its entirety…. Every industry must be treated the same under our endangered species, migratory bird, and other laws.”
For decades wind industry research has been using “studies” that are actually designed to hide the harmful impacts of wind turbines. Industry-related studies on health impacts, declining real estate values, whooping crane surveys, golden eagle surveys, turbines preventing climate change, wind turbine energy potential, and, especially, bird and bat mortality, have all been manipulated through fraudulent data collection methodologies.
These data collection methods have enabled the U.S. wind industry to hide 90% or more of turbine avian and bat mortality, in my estimation, from public view.
But much more than bogus research is going on here. Research that should be conducted has been deliberately avoided, and transparency regarding wind projects is virtually non-existent.
If confronted with all this misrepresentation, industry representatives make claims that data collection was conducted by independent experts and approved or designed by government agencies. In our crazy world, it absolves the industry from any accountability for the consequences inflicted by their wind turbine installations. As a result, the public has no idea that the Big Wind industry is hiding an environmental disaster.
Now some of this charade is about to explode into the public mindset. Some media outlets recently reported that a company which operates at least 13 wind energy facilities in three states is suing in federal court to block the U.S. government from releasing information to the Associated Press regarding how many birds have been found dead at its facilities.
PacifiCorp, an energy company owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway holding company, is suing the Interior Department to stop the release of this data. The lawsuit, filed October 17, said the disclosure will cause “irreparable harm” to PacifiCorp. In the complaint, the company also stated said that withholding the information is in the public’s interest, because that will ensure “open communication” between such companies and the government.
Remember these statements as you read on and ponder the implications.
First and most obvious, How does withholding information facilitate open communication or the public’s right to know the facts about this industry and the harmful effects it is having on important wildlife and their habitats? Obviously, it does not.
Second, Why would a so called “clean renewable energy” and a “green energy company” ever need to file a lawsuit to keep the wind industry’s bird mortality data secret? The reasons for this lawsuit are more about eagles than birds in general.
This lawsuit is primarily a preemptive strike to stop the release of data pertaining to thousands of bald and golden eagles killed by wind turbines. Eagles epitomize America and represent the amazing success story of how a magnificent endangered species recovered once shooting and poisoning them were prohibited. Many PacifiCorp wind turbines have been built in the heart of golden eagle habitat, decimating or nearly wiping them out in many areas. Data about these deaths would devastate PacifiCorp’s eco-friendly mantra.
The information pertaining to America’s dead eagles has been collected and concealed for decades by the U.S. Interior Department and its Fish and Wildlife Service, the very agencies charged with protecting this vital species – the very agencies that prosecute and fine people for merely possessing eagle feathers, or even “disturbing” eagle nests. Now that the public is aware of this hidden eagle carcass data and how important it is, interested parties want to see it.
The industry knows it has a dead eagle nightmare on its hands. The eagle carcass data being held by the Interior Department is the smoking gun that will show the kill-zone locations for thousands of eagle carcasses that have been shipped to Denver. These records will show how many of these dead eagles came from regions dominated by wind farms. They will expose this industry for its thus-far hidden slaughter of America’s highly protected eagles.
A judgment in PacifiCorp’s favor would set a legal precedent and protect this industry. It would also protect the Interior Department and a few other players in this madness, for their participation in a decades-old secret. Imagine the petroleum, mining, forest products, ranching or any other industry receiving such protections for slaughtering dozens or hundreds, much less thousands of eagles. It would never happen – and would never be tolerated.
The Hidden Eagle Carcass Numbers
Last year Elliott Negin, senior writer for the Union of Concerned Scientists, commented on the large number of eagle carcasses being shipped to the Repository in Denver:
“When an eagle is killed and people find a carcass, FWS asks them to send it to the National Wildlife Property Repository near Denver. About 2,500 show up every year, according to FWS, although certainly more go unreported. Using that number as a benchmark, the number of dead eagles annually [sic] from [January 1,] 1997 through June 2012 would amount to approximately 38,750 birds. Based on these admittedly crude estimations, at least 97 percent of the eagle deaths were attributable to causes other than commercial, land-based wind turbines. Often FWS can’t determine the exact cause of death, but apparently poachers, transmission lines, pesticides, and lead poisoning from bullet-ridden carrion killed significantly more than turbines.” [emphasis added]
(Note: The 38,750 carcasses is not an annual number; it is the total between January 1, 1997 and June 30, 2012. To the best of my knowledge there is nothing in the Repository records or carcasses to support his claims about numbers killed by poachers, pesticides or lead poisoning. Moreover, many of the transmission lines involved in eagle deaths are directly related to wind turbines and carry their intermittent electricity to urban areas.)
I have conducted far more research and have much better understanding of the Eagle Repository data than Elliot Negin does. His numbers, while extremely disturbing, are too high. They are too high because he mistakenly assumed the numbers of eagle carcasses coming into the Repository has been stable. It has not been.
The numbers of dead eagles shipped to the Repository during the period cited increased overall by about 250% since 1997. The numbers would even be higher if golden eagle populations were not now declining at an alarming rate in states like California, Oregon and Washington, leaving far fewer to be maimed and killed by wind turbines. But that decline is offset elsewhere.
Since 1997, two of the eight FWS regions in the USA with established wind energy developments show carcass numbers that are decreasing, while other FWS regions with new wind energy developments show increasing carcass counts, as turbines begin exacting their toll. Keep in mind that most wind farms are in places where eagles are easily killed and their carcasses easily found.
Gleaning Vital Information from Repository Data
Mortality data concerning the Repository is far from complete and very difficult to locate, but some of this information has inadvertently been released to the public. Here is what I have uncovered:
My estimate is that California was at one time shipping 300-500 eagle carcasses a year to Denver. It is also likely that the Interior Department’s eagle carcass data would show that Nevada, a state with a far greater eagle population and no installed wind turbines until 2012, was sending fewer than 25 eagle carcasses a year to the Repository.
Wind farms in these habitats are places where eagles are easily killed and their carcasses easily found. The Interior Department data would show that the primary reason for the increases in the eagle carcasses sent to the Denver Repository has been new wind energy developments.
The data would also show that the primary reason for the reduction in eagle carcass shipments from two FWS regions has been that established wind energy developments are killing off slowly reproducing populations, leaving fewer raptors to be swatted by turbine blades.
Conclusion: What Needs to Happen Now
This is a national disgrace – and a clear violation of endangered species and other laws – that must no longer be tolerated. The public has a right to know the facts.
The courts must reject the PacifiCorp request that eagle mortality data be kept confidential and hidden from public scrutiny.
Congress, the news media, environmental groups and concerned citizens everywhere must demand that the information be released in its entirety. They must also insist that steps be taken to end the slaughter, punish transgressors, and stop permitting and subsidizing further wind turbine installations, until the industry can demonstrate that new turbine designs will not kill and maim more bald and golden eagles.
Every industry must be treated the same under our endangered species, migratory bird and other laws. Merely because an industry claims to be eco-friendly, to produce “clean, renewable” energy, or to help reduce manmade global climate change must no longer excuse it from complying with laws that all other citizens and companies must follow.
[Part 2 tomorrow will discuss how little is known about the Interior Department’s involvement with windpower-related eagle carcasses. The article will also identify other players in this cover-up that stand to lose if the courts reject PacifiCorp’s lawsuit and request–and the eagle carcass information goes public.]
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 species threatened by human encroachment and development.