The wording of the Eagle Protection Act could not be any clearer. It “prohibits anyone, without a permit issued by the Secretary of the Interior,” from “taking” bald or golden eagles. The law defines “take” as “pursue, shoot, shoot at, poison, wound, kill, capture, trap, collect, molest or disturb.”
Despite that language, the Obama administration continues to cast a blind eye to the largest eagle-killing industry in America: the wind-energy sector. Not only is the Department of Justice refusing to prosecute the wind industry despite clear and repeated violations of two of America’s oldest wildlife laws — the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and Eagle Protection Act — but the administration is also helping the wind industry cover up the number of birds it is killing.
We know this thanks to some excellent reporting this week by Dina Cappiello of the Associated Press. The wind industry, says Cappiello, reports bird kills only on a voluntary basis, and “the Obama administration in many cases refuses to make the information public, saying it belongs to the energy companies or that revealing it would expose trade secrets or implicate ongoing enforcement investigations.”
Cappiello’s work also shows that the extent of eagle kills by wind turbines is more widespread that was previously known. She found that wind projects in Wyoming have killed four dozen golden eagles since 2009. One site, Duke Energy’s Top of the World wind project, has killed ten golden eagles in its first two years of operation.
The AP report on eagle deaths was published just one day after the Fish and Wildlife Service revealed that it will not prosecute the operator of a proposed wind project, to be located in Kern County, Calif., if that project kills a California condor. The California condor is among the world’s most endangered animals, with a total population of fewer than 250 birds in the wild. The proposed wind project will be built on public land.
The more studies that are done on wind turbines and bird kills, the more definitive proof we have that the machines are killing lots of birds. In March, a peer-reviewed study published in the Wildlife Society Bulletin estimated that 573,000 birds per year are killed in the U.S. by wind turbines, including some 83,000 birds of prey. The latest study’s numbers are significantly higher than an official estimate published in 2008 by the Fish and Wildlife Service that put bird kills by wind turbines at 440,000 per year.
The large number of eagle kills in Wyoming matters because that state could soon be home to one of the world’s largest wind projects. A subsidiary of Anschutz Corporation, the privately held company owned by Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz, is planning to build a $5 billion, 1,000-turbine facility known as the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project. Last year, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar praised the project, much of which may be built on federal land. Salazar did so even though the Bureau of Land Management has estimated that the massive wind project will kill 46 to 64 golden eagles every year.