It's a surprising and difficult conflict: clean, alternative energy versus wildlife conservation. Currently, wind is the most economically competitive form of renewable energy generating enough power for more than 3% of households nation-wide and projected to expand to 20% by 2020.
"Wind power is a key part of the nation's energy strategy," said Fish and Wildlife Service Acting Director Rowan Gould, "and we are committed to facilitating that development." But, improperly designed, sited, and monitored, wind energy facilities can adversely impact wildlife, including bald and golden eagles and their ecological links. Collisions with turbine blades and power lines, forced avoidance of preferred sites along rivers and flyways, habitat degradation by noise, biodiversity loss, and changes in a landscape's hydrology, kill, injure, displace, or disturb eagles and their prey - upsetting the natural balance.
While the US Fish and Wildlife Service is tasked with supporting the development of wind energy, it must at the same time uphold the Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle Protection Act - the law protecting those species from population-reducing take and disturbance. In an effort to establish a consistent national framework that would help wind-facility developers consider best management practices to protect eagles and their supporting ecology, the Service wrote the document: "Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act Standards for Review of Wind Energy Projects," which helps Service and State wildlife agency employees assess wind energy projects, and which add to the more general wind power siting guidance in the Service's "Land-Based Wind Energy Guidelines."
Contributing to those Guidelines, the SPARS-managed, independent peer review of the USFWS Standards document brought together five wildlife biologists - all experts in bald and golden eagle ecology, eagle migration, and ranging behavior. Review of the document required knowledge of avian population biology, monitoring, and management, and an understanding of wind power generation projects: their siting and operation realities. Several reviewers brought specific experience in large raptor and wind power infrastructure interaction, as well as pre-and post construction considerations to minimize eagle impact.
After a two-week review focused by six specific questions crafted by SPARS, the panel members submitted their comments. The reviewers commended the Standards for considering the entire life cycle of eagles, including their annual activities and habits. They appreciated that the USFWS suggested creative alternative approaches to estimate eagle population by assessing prey availability. They encouraged developers to identify if and how migrating eagles use ridgelines and escarpments within a proposed project area "where potentially hundreds of eagles could be exposed to threats from wind projects each migratory season."
The final Guidelines (http://onlinepressroom.net/fws/) will incorporate some reviewers' recommendations; other insights - those recommending measures to protect sage-grouse habitat, for example, were added as appendices. Overall, the panel stated that Standards must address the cumulative impact of wind turbines - especially large-scale impact that change migration behavior - one of the biggest problems facing eagles.