How do wind energy companies kill protected bald eagles and golden eagles via turbine strikes every year without facing legal repercussions? They have renewable permits issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) that exempt them from laws making it illegal to kill the birds. However, the U.S. District Court of Northern California has ruled that the FWS violated federal law by extending the duration of the so-called “eagle take permit” from five to 30 years without first investigating the impact it would have on eagle populations. The court made the ruling in August after reviewing a lawsuit against the FWS’s parent agency, the Department of Interior (DOI).
After facing extinction in the mid-twentieth century the bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) has rebounded to roughly 10,000 breeding pairs in the U.S., according to the FWS. The agency regards golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) numbers as stable at around 30,000 individuals nationwide. Both species are protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, as well as two other federal laws.
However, wind turbines often strike and kill eagles. Up to 75 of the birds have been killed annually by a single wind farm, the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area in central California, but mortalities at other installations are less well monitored. A 2013 paper in the Journal of Raptor Research documented 85 eagle kills at 32 other facilities between 1997 and 2012, but notes that the findings “likely underestimate, perhaps substantially, the number of eagles killed at wind facilities in the United States.”