The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) said Dec. 14 that it is still digesting the final rule from the Interior Department’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife (USWF) that is designed to protect and conserve eagle populations through revised permitting and licensing requirements.
“Though we’re reserving judgment until we fully digest the rule, we strongly support its core purpose — eagle conservation,” said Tom Kiernan, CEO of AWEA. “We hope the final rule provides a workable permitting framework that gives the private sector necessary clarity, while further reducing the already minimal impact the wind industry has, and maintaining healthy eagle populations for generations to come,” Kiernan said Dec. 14.
The revised rule engages a variety of industries more fully in eagle conservation and helps the Service better understand how human activities across the landscape affect eagles. The rule includes revisions to the permitting system for unintentional prohibited impacts to eagles and will help protect local populations by providing much-needed information to support greater scientific understanding and decision-making, USWF said in a news release.
Under the revised rule, permits may be granted only when the applicant agrees to specific measures to first reduce take to the greatest extent possible. To protect local eagle populations, the Service uses precautionary, conservative estimates to arrive at the eagle take number for each permit, meaning fewer birds will likely end up being taken than are permitted.
The permittee also must agree to assume additional responsibility for monitoring eagle loss at its facilities, which is critical to developing a better understanding of ways impacts to eagles can be reduced in the future.
Changes to the regulations include a new requirement that monitoring for long-term permits be conducted by independent contractors who report directly to the Service and for their monitoring data to be made available to the public.
The maximum term for a permit is extended to 30 years, but longer-term permits will be closely re-evaluated every five years. After each five-year period, the permittee will need to review the permit and monitoring data with Service biologists to ensure permit terms are being maintained and eagle populations are conserved. Other changes to the rule include revisions to permit issuance criteria, compensatory mitigation standards, criteria for eagle nest removal permits, permit application requirements, and fees, USFW said.
The eagle take permit program was originally proposed in 2007 under the administration of George W. Bush, and was not designed with the wind industry in mind, or any other industry, AWEA said in its Dec. 14 news release. The first rule was developed in anticipation of the delisting of the bald eagle under the Endangered Species Act, given that resulted in take permits no longer being available under the ESA. The bald eagle was delisted in August 2007, the first eagle permit rule was finalized in 2009.
The eagle permitting program is intended to reduce harm to bald and golden eagles from any unintentional source by setting very conservative limits to impacts on eagles and requiring permit applicants to submit conservation plans that offset any such impacts. In the case of golden eagles, permittees must even go beyond offsetting any potential impacts and actually provide a net conservation benefit to the species, AWEA said.