Fish and Wildlife Program Aims to Reduce Eagle Deaths as Renewable Energy Expands

by Taylor Cunningham
(Photo by Liu Guanguan/China News Service via Getty Images)

The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced a new proposal that may help curb eagle deaths amid expanding renewable energy efforts.

On Thursday, the Biden administration said it hopes to enact a new permitting program for projects that kill bald and golden eagles, such as power lines and wind energy turbines. FWS believes the initiative will encourage the companies in charge of those projects to work with the government and minimize harm to the birds.

While the Federal Government already issues permits to kill eagles, this program would target the largely unregulated energy industry that has been disturbing eagles and their nests. And it would also ensure that the renewable energy efforts do not slow down.

While the administration did not detail the program, FWS Director Martha Williams promised that companies would have “multiple pathways to obtain a permit.”

Federal Permits Allow Companies to Cause the Death of 170 Golden Eagles

Bald eagles landed on the endangered species list in 1978. But its population has quadrupled in the last 14 years to about 350,000 birds, which took them off the list. However, they’re still protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Golden eagle populations are still suffering with only 40,000 birds estimated in the wild. And renewable energy programs are largely to blame for their struggle.

In the past decade, the number of wind turbines has more than doubled. Nationwide, there are nearly 72,000. And many of those are standing in Oregon, Wyoming, Washington, California, and Montana. Those states are the primary homes of the golden eagle. And the number of structures will continue to multiply under Biden’s climate agenda.

The government won’t share just how many eagles have died due to turbines because the information is considered sensitive. But multiple companies without permits have been federally prosecuted for killing large numbers of the birds.

This past April, Florida-based NextEra pleaded guilty to violating wildlife protection laws in Wyoming. But the company was responsible for over 100 golden eagle deaths in eight states. The conviction was the third in the wind power industry in a decade.

Last year, FWS handed out 34 permits that allowed companies to “take” up to 170 golden eagles. That means the companies were allowed to be responsible for that many deaths. The service also gave 200 permits that allowed companies to “take” 420 bald eagles. For each loss, those companies had to somehow save the life of one eagle somewhere else.

Around 2200 eagles die each year due to humans. Of those, the government estimates that more than 600 die in collisions with wind turbines, power lines, and cars, over 400 are poisoned, and around 700 are illegally shot.