Native Americans Protest Eagle Deaths at Wind Farms

Published December 26, 2013

In the face of continued raptor deaths and the Obama administration’s ongoing efforts to encourage new industrial wind farm developments, American Indian tribes are becoming increasingly vocal opponents of new wind farms.

No Meaningful Consultation
From the Osage Nation of northern Oklahoma to the Hopis and more than a dozen other tribes in Arizona, American Indians are urging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to abandon plans to permit wind farms to kill bald and golden eagles, which many tribes regard as culturally and spiritually important.

The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), the oldest and largest national organization of tribal governments, along with attorneys representing the Osage Nation and 20 Arizona tribes, met with the White House to discuss the FWS’ eagle “take” rules. After the meeting, the NCAI passed a resolution accusing the administration of failing to consult meaningfully with tribes while pursuing a rule to lengthen eagle take permits for wind farms from five to 30 years. The resolution said eagle permits should not be issued without the consent of affected tribes.

Unavoidable Eagle Deaths
Wind farms must be located where the wind blows fairly constantly, and such locations are prime travel routes for migratory birds, including protected species such as bald eagles and golden eagles. Exacerbating the problem, wind farms act as both bait and executioner—rodents taking shelter at the base of turbines multiply with the protection from raptors, and their greater numbers then attract more raptors to the turbines.

The 50-square-mile wind farm in Altamont Pass, California, provides the most prominent example of this problem. Despite legally binding agreements to reduce bird kills, the wind farm operators have been unable to end or even slow the increasing amount of kills. The Altamont Pass death toll includes many protected raptors such as golden eagles, red-tailed hawks, American kestrels, and burrowing owls.

FWS Issuing Longer Kill Permits
Since 2009, the Obama administration’s FWS has allowed wind power developers to apply for five-year permits to kill eagles as part of normal wind farm operations. In December 2013, the administration announced it will begin issuing permits allowing a much greater number of eagle deaths, extending permit lengths to 30 years.

The 30-year permits are designed to offer regulatory certainty for developers, whose wind farms operate at least that long. But Native American tribes and conservation groups say FWS lacks sufficient experience to accurately predict impacts and effective mitigation measures over a 30-year period.

“In return for the substantially higher prices of wind power and other renewable power sources, American consumers are being forced to pay for wind farms killing more than one million birds and bats each year,” said Jay Lehr, science director for the Heartland Institute, which publishes Environment & Climate News.

“Additionally, wind farms are ruining previously undeveloped prairies, mountain ridges, and coastlines. Where is the environmental benefit?” asked Lehr.

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis.