Unrestricted slaughter of golden eagles is perfectly okay…

…if you operate a wind farm, that is.

I was mildly irritated with a wind farm in Minnesota that received permission to apply for a permit to set up a wind farm that will kill up to 15 eagles a year. I discussed the issue here.

Then I researched a Los Angeles Times article that reports U.S. probes golden eagles’ deaths at DWP wind farm

Now I’m even more irritated.

That article said the DWP wind farm in the Tehachapie Mountains has killed 8 golden eagles in the two years ending February 2012. That’s four a year done in by the 90 turbines in the wind farm.

Four a year is small potatoes compared to the staggering toll at the Altamont Pass wind farm in California.

Multiple sources put the toll at around 70 a year. Check this out:

Los Angeles TimesWind power turbines in Altamont Pass threaten protected birds – June 6, 2011:

There are about 5,000 turbines in the wind farm (4,930 per Wikipedia). The article says:

The death count, averaging 67 a year for three decades, worries field biologists because the turbines, which have been providing thousands of homes with emissions-free electricity since the 1980s, lie within a region of rolling grasslands and riparian canyons containing one of the highest densities of nesting golden eagles in the United States.

Here’s the math from that paragraph:

  • 30 years x 67 eagles per year = 2,010 golden eagles

A wildlife manager says it would take 167 nesting pairs of golden eagles to replace the losses from wind turbines. He says there are 60. That would just be to replace the turbine losses, not enough to sustain the population.  That means the golden eagle population is shrinking.

And that’s okay with the state of California and the federal government.

The article suggests tolerating this death count is official policy of the U.S. Government:

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service authorizes limited incidental mortality and disturbance of eagles at wind facilities, provided the operators take measures to mitigate the losses by replacing older turbines with newer models that are meant to be less hazardous to birds, removing turbines located in the paths of hunting raptors and turning off certain turbines during periods of heavy bird migration. So far, no wind energy company has been prosecuted by federal wildlife authorities in connection with the death of birds protected by the Migratory Bird Act, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act or the federal Endangered Species Act.

I guess it’s okay because the death count is dropping – SFGate reports Altamont Pass turbines kill fewer birds.

Mitigation efforts cut the death count by about 50% from 2005 to 2010. The article reports the fatalities for American krestels, burrowing owls, red-tail hawks, and golden eagles:

At the start of the study period, deaths of all those species combined averaged 1,245 per year. By the end, the total had fallen to 625.

I guess that’s good news. Only 625 raptors a year.

The Golden Gate Audobon Society discusses the bird count in their article Avian Mortality.

The article reminds us golden eagles are protected under both state and federal law. Just to be clear, it is a crime to kill them. As in $250,000 and two years in jail. For each of those 2,000 eagles.

Let me do the math for you. That would be $502,500,000 in fines and 4,020 years in jail. Half a billion dollars and 80 life sentences (4020 divided by 50, which is 75 year life expectancy minus 25 assumed age for sentencing).

Penalties thus far? Zero dollars and zero years.

Their description of the issue:

Every year, an estimated 75 to 110 Golden Eagles are killed by the wind turbines in the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area (APWRA). Some lose their wings, others are decapitated, and still others are cut in half. The lethal turbines, numbering roughly 6,000, are arrayed across 50,000 acres of rolling hills in northeastern Alameda and southeastern Contra Costa counties.

There are a number of other articles if you want to do more research.

So, next time you sit back and enjoy your renewable energy, remember the Altamont wind farm kills off 70 golden eagles and several hundred other raptors a year. And that’s just from Altamont.

70 eagles a year.

Every year.

My posts on the slice-and-dice industry:

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