Federal Officials Investigate Wind Farm Eagle Deaths

Published August 29, 2011

Federal wildlife officials are investigating the deaths of at least six golden eagles at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power Pine Tree Wind project 100 miles north of the city. Bird deaths at Pine Tree are unusually high, even for wind farms, and conservationists are calling for measures to reduce the deaths of federally protected birds.

Protected Species Killed

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports wind turbines kill approximately 440,000 birds each year, many of which are protected by the Endangered Species Act. The Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act also protect bird species that are nevertheless killed by wind turbines. 

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act allow for prosecution for the willful or negligent deaths of certain species of birds. Federal officials have never brought charges against the owners or operators of wind turbines in connection with bird kills. However, the investigation of Pine Tree may signal that the game is changing.

“Wind farms have been killing birds for decades, and law enforcement has done nothing about it, so this investigation is long overdue,” bird expert Shawn Smallwood told the Los Angeles Times

In addition to the bird deaths being investigated at Pine Tree, the Altamont Pass wind farm kills another 67 birds per year in northern California. Conservationists warn that golden eagles cannot sustain their current numbers while under assault from wind turbines. 

The California condor, another recovering species, is also at risk from the turbines, which span 200 feet in height.

Equal Treatment

A spokesperson for the Central California Cage Bird Club declined to comment specifically on the threat to birds from wind turbines, but said in general club members were “of course, for the birds.”

“It’s about time that the American public demands equal application of the law,” said Tom Tanton, president of the energy consulting firm T2 & Associates. “Once more, people understand the horrendous violations abetted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of the [Endangered Species Act] by the wind industry. They’ll force change, I hope.” 

“This is really no different than rich celebrities being treated different than the poor and indigent by the courts,” Tanton added.

Cheryl Chumley, [email protected], writes from northern Virginia.