Wind Farms Endanger Golden Eagles, USGS Finds

Published November 29, 2016

Research recently conducted by scientists led by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) shows the growing number of wind energy facilities in the United States is killing increasing numbers of protected raptors, including the golden eagle.

Detailing ongoing problems at the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area (APWRA) in Northern California, the researchers found golden eagle deaths at APWRA affected populations of the raptor and its prey elsewhere in North America.

“Local Wind Energy Development has Broad Consequences for Golden Eagles” was published in the journal Conservation Biology on September 27, 2016.

“The results illustrate how golden eagle populations are interconnected across the western U.S., and suggest that golden eagle deaths, and mitigation for those deaths, at one location may impact populations in other areas,” USGS said in a statement.

Seen as New Threat

Golden eagles are protected by the 1940 Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and several other federal and state laws and regulations. The USGS statement expresses concern wind power production poses a threat to eagles nationwide, stating, “Few wind energy environmental assessments or mitigation plans consider consequences beyond local populations and ecosystems.”

“The results of our work here show golden eagle populations of the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area are sustained by immigration from elsewhere in North America,” said Todd Katzner, USGS wildlife biologist and lead author of the Conservation Biology article, in a USGS statement. “This discovery provides important perspectives on management of golden eagle populations. Mitigation for turbine-associated death could occur in other parts of the western U.S. and provide local benefit to the interconnected population.”

‘Ecosystem-Wide Impacts’

“Golden eagle deaths from any source, as well as management to help eagles, not only have consequences for local populations, but also affect golden eagles across a greater portion of their continental range,” the USGS said. “Eagles are top predators and changes to their populations can have ecosystem-wide impacts.”

“Here is yet another study showing how damaging wind turbines are to avian wildlife,” said Marita Noon, executive director of Energy Makes America Great. “The American people should be outraged this heavily subsidized industry is getting away with slaughtering birds and bats on an unimaginable scale.”

Jim Wiegand, vice president of Save the Eagles International, says new wind installations such as the Icebreaker facility proposed for Lake Erie will exact an even greater toll on eagles and other birds.

“Because of the perching opportunities they provide, wind turbines on Lake Erie will attract migrating birds and the eagles that prey upon them by putting the devastating rotor sweep of spinning turbines directly in the low-altitude flight patterns of migrating birds, often in conditions of low visibility,” said Wiegand. “The hundreds of turbines proposed for Lake Erie will kill off bald eagles using this region as they prey upon waterfowl killed by turbines and on fish congregating around the tower sites.”

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.