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Bird Conservation Group Suing Federal Government over Wind Farm Eagle Deaths

May 02, 2014 09:47 AM EDT
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The American Bird Conservatory (ABC) group on Wednesday announced its intent to sue the government over a federal regulation that grants wind farm companies 30-year permits to kill eagles without legal repercussions.

"The rule lacks a firm foundation in scientific justification and was generated without the benefit of a full assessment of its impacts on eagle populations," Michael Hutchins, National Coordinator of ABC's Bird Smart Wind Energy Campaign, said in a news release.

Under federal law, it is illegal to "take" protected species unless one obtains an "incidental take permit" from the federal government, according to The Washington Post. In December, the Department of the Interior (DOI) extended the maximum time period for which such permits can be granted from 5 to 30 years - ABC calls the regulation the "FWS 30-year Eagle Kill Rule."

The DOI rule provides legal protection for wind farms if they obtain these permits and make efforts to avoiding killing the birds, Fox News reported. Though, companies will have to employ additional measures if they kill more eagles than anticipated, or if evidence shows the eagle populations are being affected.

In the notice of intent to sue, ABC argues that the rule "undermines the nation's longstanding commitment to conservation of eagles-unique animals that are 'ubiquitous in U.S. culture.'"

The group says the regulation violates the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

Matthew Stuber, an eagle permit coordinator with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, told NPR these types of permits are an important management tool.

"A permit allows an activity to happen that needs to happen. And in doing so, it gets the best possible thing for the eagles. We're actually able to get conservation, and hopefully in the long run, prevent that nest from begin disturbed at all by that activity." Stuber said.

According to federal biologists, Fox News reported, wind turbines can reach speeds up to 170 mph. They have killed at least 85 eagles since 1997. ABC notes in their statement that the number of wind farms (there were 22,000 in 2009) is expected to grow in order to meet the 2030 federal goal of 20 percent of U.S. electrical generation coming from renewable energy.

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