Wind and Wildlife

Peter Lehner, Executive Director, New York City

We need to move as quickly as possible to the clean energy future, and scaling up wind power will be a big part of the solution. Wind and other clean, renewable energy will help end our reliance on fossil fuels and combat the severe threat that climate change poses to humans and wildlife alike. This does not mean, though, that we can gloss over the worry that as the wind industry has grown, the danger to eagles has also grown. Eagles and wind farms both go where the best wind is. As we seek to expand clean, renewable energy, we must also adopt additional protection for wildlife.

Unfortunately, a recent decision by the Obama administration on eagles and wind farms ignored conservation concerns, and could result in the unnecessary deaths of many eagles. This did not have to be. There was a better path—a science-based, conservationist approach to moving forward with wind energy--that the administration declined to take.

Despite the fact that wind turbine blades can pose a threat to eagles, the Fish and Wildlife Service essentially granted permission for wind farms to hurt eagles for a period of up to 30 years—without any clue as to what impact this might have on eagle populations. This lack of understanding is largely because of a lack of data. Not only do we not know how many eagles are killed at wind farms (a recent study said 85 over the last 15 years, with the caveat that this was an underestimate); we don’t even know how many eagles are out there in the first place. But instead of opting to improve our understanding of eagle populations, and the threats that wind farms might pose, the agency chose an approach that will lock in eagle deaths at wind farms for up to 30 years.

Striking a balance between wildlife conservation and wind energy development starts with understanding threats to eagle populations, and how our actions, including operating wind farms, are affecting them. Protections can then be put in place to decrease harm to eagles and avoid impacts altogether. A science-based framework can guarantee that all decisions we make to protect eagles are based on facts, not emotion or supposition.

Yet the Fish and Wildlife Service swept eagle conservation concerns and science under the rug. The agency needs to reconsider this rule so we can move forward with environmentally responsible wind development, and protect our iconic eagle populations.

We are working toward a future of 100 percent clean energy; that future also has plenty of room for eagles to soar.

Photo Credit: Wind and Wildlife/shutterstock