Wind Power And Bald Eagles Tangle Again

Julia Ponder, executive director of the Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota, told Midwest Energy News that she knows of five cases of bald eagles being killed by wind turbines since the industry began. Meanwhile, in 2011 alone, the center received 29 eagles that had died from lead poisoning after feeding on deer gut piles left behind by hunters.

But when is the last time you saw the Heritage Foundation editorialize mournfully about all the bald eagles that die in order to accommodate deer hunting?

bald eagle, wind power

image via Shutterstock

Threats to bald eagles and other birds are many and varied in our modern world, but it’s wind power that finds itself under the microscope these days. And a proposed U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rule change, which would extend permits for the incidental take – that’s killing or injuring – of golden eagles and bald eagles from five years to 30 years [PDF], is the latest flash point in the debate over wind power’s impact on wildlife.

The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) recently extended the comment period on the rule from mid-May to July 12, but it has already drawn plenty of interest. There was that post by the Heritage Foundation gang, and it’s not difficult to find additional opposition to the proposed rule that seems to be motivated more by a disdain for the Obama administration and its embrace of clean energy than concern for the birds.

Nevertheless, real conservationists who to one degree or another support wind power are also coming out against the 30-year proposal.

In a statement, the American Bird Conservancy’s Kelly Fuller called the rule change irresponsible. “Just three years ago, the FWS concluded in a published rulemaking that they shouldn’t grant permits for longer than five years ‘because factors may change over a longer period of time such that a take authorized much earlier would later be incompatible with the preservation of the bald eagle or the golden eagle,’” Fuller said. “The underlying science has not changed, and there is no proven method for fixing a wind farm so that it no longer kills eagles, short of turning off the turbines.”

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

  • HN

    I question the truth of eagles dying from lead in deer gut piles.  Most states require hunting deer with a rifle or buckshot.  I have only found lead in 2 deer and I have shot dozens of deer in the 50 years I have been hunting them.  The rifle bullets & buckshot have passed through the deer or lodged in a rib or the backbone.  The lead bullet or pellet does not automaticly stop in the guts.  The lead is usually many yards away from where the deer fall dead. I don’t know why the eagles died, but I doubt it is from lead left in gut piles of deer. 

    • Pete

      Thanks for your note, HN. I’m not a hunter, so your input is appreciated.

      The incidence of lead in deer gut piles might indeed be small, but given that 164,000 deer were shot by hunters in Minnesota in 2011 the repercussions can apparently be significant. And according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the warm fall and early winter made this past year especially bad because it left remains exposed and available to scavengers. A DNR rep told WCCO in January, “the eagles are continuing to feed on a deer’s gut pile and getting poisoned by shards of lead.”

      Again, I’m no expert, but there does seem to be quite a bit of science backing up the idea that lead found in deers is harming eagles. In their 2009 paper, Stroud and Hunt wrote: “by far the greater potential sources (of lead poisoning) are rifle-killed mammal carcasses, including ‘varmints’ killed and left in the field and the gut piles and unrecovered carcasses of big game animals killed during the fall hunting season. Hunt et al. and Green et al. show the relationship of condor blood lead levels with deer hunting seasons and condor movements into deer hunting areas, demonstrating a direct effect of the use of standard centerfire bullets containing lead cores.” They also write: “Virtually all modern lead-based bullets fragment to some extent, most of them shedding 30% or more of their original mass. As a consequence, the abandoned gut piles of rifle-killed big game carcasses, as well as the carcasses lost to wounding, typically contain numerous bullet fragments available to scavengers.”

      Check out their paper (pdf) here: 
      http://www.peregrinefund.org/subsites/conference-lead/PDF/0109%20Stroud.pdfAlso see: http://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2012/01/03/bald-eagles-dying-of-lead-poisoning/And: http://www.soarraptors.org/leadresearch.html

  • TerryAHLSTEDT

    5 Bald Eagles in one wind farm alone. How about the number killed in other wind farms? One proposed farm expects to kill 20 a year. 500 Golden eagles are killed a year out West. Right now windfarms kill 440,000 birds a year. by 2030, when 100,000 turbines are expected to operate the death toll will be in the millions. All so greedy fat cats can get government subsidies to build wind turbines that will never provide but a fraction of our electricity need, cost a fortune to operate, and will increase the public’s energy costs. Windfarms are white elephants. This column is hypocritical garbage. Shame on you.

    • Pete Danko

      Ponder said five bald eagles at all wind farms nationwide, not a single turbine.

      • TerryAHLSTEDT

        In a few short years the wind industry will be killing at least a 1000-1500 eagles a year in the United States. This number will include several hundred bald eagles. Funny you don’t notice the 450,000 birds killed a year. Selective vision?

        • Pete Danko

          Discussed in some depth in this earlier article of mine:
          http://www.earthtechling.com/2011/12/dont-be-fooled-on-wind-power-and-birds/

          • TerryAHLSTEDT

            The Bird death toll is courtesy of the Fish and Wildlife People at the Federal Government, not some extremist blog.

          • Pete Danko

            Indeed, from Albert Manville, a very respected wildlife biologist, as noted in my earlier article.